By Dony Kuriakose
If you’ve been to heaven on a boat, parachuted back to earth, dived into the ocean on the back of a dolphin and driven into space in a vintage car, you probably have a hang of what 39 of us experienced over 2 days in the third week of November. Frankly, 32 of us were in Wonderland with 7 Alices.
When the “Batch of ‘80” decides to party. It’s BIG, BOLD and BEAUTIFUL! It was Corbett in 2017 with the 22 of us and this time it had to be bigger. So for the 39th anniversary it was 39 of us from 16 cities across 6 countries, at The Tigress Resort, Ranthambhore.
On cars, planes and trains, we converged at the five star venue just outside the Ranthambhore forest reserve. 28 in a convoy of 7 cars on 15th morning, one advance car, one from Jaipur and the rest on trains or on their own. The arrivals started with Billa and two beauties (Soniyaa & Vaishali) in the morning and ended with the chicken hunt (Robbie and his car load) just after lunch.
The first couple of hours was for jappi, pappi, thappi and erasing the years that had elapsed, so that by the time we were done with lunch we were all back in class, circa 1980. A digestive pause and the beer and Vodka sangam started flowing in room 118. The cheer broke out with a hundred conversations at a time, as glasses in hand, almost 40 people packed comfortably into the large room and sit-out, leaning, lying, lounging and time travelling. Work went on as well, with millionaires, CEO’s and entrepreneurs, all batchmates labelling goodie bags for everyone and putting in stuff, to be handed out soon after.
We trooped into the large garden outside the rooms and stood in house lines for our goodie bags Shakti, Shanti, Jyoti, Jagriti and Kirti. Names were called and each person was handed a surprise bag with :
- one hunting jacket and jungle hat with school logo,
- a Borosil water flask with the eagle engraved on it,
- a name tag,
- a personalized luggage tag,
- a school tie and belt
- an elegant eagle lapel pin and…
- a special gift from Nityanand Singh to everyone
Also handed out were the school uniforms people had ordered and paid for.
That was the afternoon and we went off to our rooms clutching the bags and uniforms.
Dinner was Ethnic Night on a Rajasthani Palace rooftop with a jungle view in balmy weather. 39 regally dressed schoolmate emerged like a royal procession and headed for the first part of the evening, tying of Safaa’s – the bright colored Rajasthani turbans, for which we had organised two local experts. Soon there was a crowd of thakurs strutting around with whisky glasses in hand. Of course, in true AFCS style, some were wearing running shoes with their churidars 😛 You should have seen the look on the faces of the other guests in the hotel. They were so desperate to be a part of the gang, that a few of them requested and got turbans tied on their heads as well!
Proceedings started with a three storey cake for what Deepa called her best ever birthday. This was her second cake, after the first one was turned into Kishore’s face-pack 😉. As soon as the whisky was in, the Rajasthani singer for the evening was bundled off and replaced with our own Aravali ka Rahman – Sudhanshu Purohit! He and his guitar took the evening to another level altogether with a string of medleys from our times, in Hindi and English. The first one started with “Yeh jo mohabbat hai….and ended some 20 songs later with “Chaltey…chaltey, mere yeh geet…”. Sure, dude hum sab yaad rakhengey! There were more and there was dinner and the party continued in Room 117, till we remembered that there was an early morning tiger safari starting at 6:30. So we hit the beds reluctantly, past midnight.
Absolutely everyone was up and ready on time in the morning – wearing their brand new jungle jackets and hunting hats. We filled two canters with 20 people each and headed for the nearby Zone 3 of the jungle having fun and hoping for a tiger sighting.
Frankly, what happened next was a miracle.
15 minutes into the jungle, there was a frisson of excitement as one of the guides spotted a tiger – which actually turned out to be three. Famous tigress Arrowhead had picked our morning to take her two cubs for a walk! They approached the vehicles on a casual stroll, checked out the human specimens (we kept Murgi hidden- just in case), crossed the track at a distance of about 10 meters and generally chilled for almost 15 minutes before the mother took a poop and they ambled off into the trees. The guides knowing that they were heading for the water hole, repositioned us again to see them quench their thirst and chill a little more before the cubs started playing and even climbed up and down a tree, all in full view.
It was a total miracle for us and even the experts thought this was a remarkable show. We viewed, clicked and recorded like mad and were left breathless by the beauty and grace of the lovely animals at such close proximity.
Back to the resort, breakfast, beer and brunch happened in that order between the restaurant and room 117, before we set out again – this time in Gypsies, to zones 6 and 10. Saw lots of deer, Sambhar, wild boars and birds of many feathers, but the tigers had decided they had seen enough of us for a day.
Everybody went to shower and change into – the school uniforms! Soon 39 smartly dressed students walked though the hotel and all the other guests practically stood up to view us 😊 It was time for the gala dinner and we had a full house at the Shahi Mahal next to the pool. This was pure nostalgia. We started with a one-minute silence to remember the friends who have departed – Neelu Kohli, Rakesh Bandhu, Bindiya Chaddha, Anupinder Jit Singh, Atul Adahuliya and Pran Khanna…RIP.
Next was a very nice 5-minute AV show put together by the OC (Vivek, Sharat, Kishore, Shailendra and Dony) under the expert guidance of Vivek Gulati which had the priceless theme of “363 din parivaar ke, 2 din yaar ke…yehi zindagi hai, le le mazaa!” It had everything from poetry to pictures and a latecomer star. After the AV came the photo shoots where everyone went crazy with batch pictures, class picture, boy-girl pictures, random pictures… all in blue, grey and stripes with blazers being borrowed to cover bellies. You’ll surely see dozens of them being stuck up on the net and forwarded on your phones.
Then it was back to the standard Scotch & Sudhanshu. We started with a group sing-in of “Hum hongey kamyaab” and went on to a four-decade medley of songs in Hindi and English with others like Soniyaa, Namita and Bogie adding variety to the repertoire. On went the evening, for several hours of food, drink, song and spirit, finally ending in the wee hours with everyone high on melodies and memories.
That was it, the morning after and time to depart. No one wanted to leave, but leave we had to, so everyone did three sessions of goodbyes and hugs in batches from 7 am till noon. And we left, with heavy feet and light hearts. With loads of new memories added to the old ones including new nicknames – last time we had “Corbett ka Ghanta” and this time there were “Kachori Queen” and “Chimney Chameli” (to find out more, be there next time). And a bloody hangover that refuses to go away even days later!
Alice? Who the F**k is Alice?
We chased rabbits down the hole and “we were all mad there”. And it was a fine fun!