Janaki, Janhavi, Elizabeth and Jasmine were meeting again, in a smaller group after their silver jubilee reunion. They all had studied together in Maharani’s college, located in the heart of Bangalore, the then Air-conditioned city.
They had celebrated the silver jubilee a couple of months ago in a very unique and joyous manner. There were games, music, mimicry, buffet lunch, a photo exhibition etc. The “rapid round of strengths and weakness declaration” by every one present at the gathering was hilarious.
Janaki, Janhavi, and Jasmine had rarely met after graduation. Their promise made, to keep in touch, while leaving Bangalore, had faded with the passage of time. Meeting again after many years and catching up with each other was an exhilarating experience for them. Their memory cells were getting recharged and their faces were glowing, as they spoke about their various outings together.
Janhavi asked Janaki if she still remembered their school outing to Shivaganga. Of course she did. Janaki could even recall the incidents, which preceded the outing.
The class teacher had briefed the students in the assembly on a friday about the hillock Shivaganga, which was located around 65 KM from Bangalore. “ It is famous, for it looks different from different angles, like a Lingam, like a Nandi, like a cobra and even like Vinayaka, her favorite deity”, she had said while addressing them. The students were asked to get Rs. 5 the next day, in case they were interested in the school excursion on the coming Sunday.
Janaki was more than interested. But her worry was how to get her father to grant her that Rs. 5. As soon as her school was over, she ran to her grandmother, to get her advice on the matter. She had told Janaki that she had to approach her father during “Guliga kala” to get a favorable reaction. She even appraised her about when that auspicious Guliga kala (G.K.) would fall on Saturday, the next day. Janaki could not sleep a wink that night. She was restless until she could catch her father at G.K the next day. It did click. She got a nod of approval and Rs. 5/-.
Travel to Shivaganga by the rickety school bus with 40 schoolmates, five teachers including the P. T. Master, who was armed with a cane; the trek up the hillock which was about 1300 feet high; Glucose biscuits, the bun from the Brahmins Bakery and the bananas they received as snacks - came back to Janaki’s mind as if it had happened yesterday. She narrated everything enthusiastically in one breath, twirling her curly hair unknowingly, her childhood habit.
Janaki even recalled what happened after the excursion. She was asked to write about it and her pleasure had known no bounds, when her write-up appeared in her school magazine. Her mother had carefully preserved the printed article of hers for many years, in her cupboard.
Elizabeth interrupted her impatiently to talk about her experiences too. As a teenager she had suggested Goa located approximately 550 KM from Bangalore. Goa was a hotspot for college students. The college Principal had accepted the suggestions of the students, since they had listed out 3-4 famous churches they intended visiting first and foremost. She was impressed with her students’ interest in visiting St Inez and St Anthony Church and the most famous Basilica of Bom Jesus, which contained the relics of Saint Francis Xavier. To her history teacher, she had said that the group would like to go to Goa, to visit the historic VASCO city, which was founded in 1543 and remained in Portuguese hands till 1961. “The Portuguese had signed the historic Document of surrender in front of Vasco’s municipal council building. From then on it had become a Union territory of India”, the teacher had told them in class.
Elizabeth knew that these reasons would convince her parents too. She got Rs. 500/- to pay for her trip, on the condition that she would forego her pocket money for the next three months. Her father had conceded to her request subject to Janaki joining the trip. When she asked him why that was so, he had tersely said that he found Janaki more responsible than her. Elizabeth had not forgiven him for a long time for that. Her mother had gone out of her way to contact a friend of her cousin, who lived in Goa and had requested her to keep an eye on Elizabeth in Goa. For Elizabeth was it only the thrill of crossing the state and entering the union territory, of erstwhile Portuguese people and visiting churches or?
Janhavi asked her whether she could recall visiting at least one church, which they had listed to get the concurrence of the principal. Elizabeth said “The group wanted to go to Beaches first, which left them with no time for churches.” Janhavi quipped, “And you were the leader in pigtail and peddle pushers guiding the group to comb beaches in alphabetical order: Agonda Beach, Baga Beach, Candolim Beach etc.” Munching cashew nuts, picking up shells and bathing in the high majestic waves of the Arabian Sea had been fun & exiting. Elizabeth had to bribe her brother with a bottle of Feni from Panjim to extract a promise from him not to utter a word about her adventures to Papa. She had blabbered to him enthusiastically after her return from her excursion.