Between the mid-eighties and the mid-nineties, my first school was one located in a small town in Orissa. I still have vivid memories of certain things there; the two mango trees, the bougainvillea tree right at the entrance, and the huge playground that smoked of dust. We did not have electric bells. A huge piece of metal used to hang from the branches of the mango tree, and the bell man would hop onto a paved wall, and bang the metal, hammer in hand, to ring the bell. Unsuspecting little children unaware of him around and playing happily would often get startled and start crying at the loud sound of metal that reached the far corners of the school, heralding the end of a class period.
For the longest time, I wanted to know where the nuns lived. One day, I got lost on purpose, and walked through a small garden to see a door slightly ajar. I peeped through, looking at a room with the most antique looking furniture and a huge piano sitting at a corner, with stained glass windows. They used to call it the parlor. This was also the time when I was beginning to read Bronte and Charles Dickens, and the room had looked straight out of one of these novels. I always thought that our nuns from the school had come here to teach from Ireland. Later, I learnt that most of them were from Kerala. Back then as a fourth grader, my secret desire was to convert to Christianity, become one of them, and spend my evenings reading at the parlor.
Last night, I had a very vivid dream. I dreamed that I was sitting on the ground by the trees with a few professors from Virginia, discussing research ideas, and a proposal we wanted to submit to the National Science Foundation. They had no inkling that this was my first school. Everything looked ten times vivid, there were greener and more mangoes on the trees, the oranges were really orange (although I do not remember an orange tree in school), and there were many more children playing around us. And sitting there by the shade of the trees, we discussed research ideas. In my dreams, we had transcended all barriers- country, visa, race, and language. I had gone back to where all the education had started. Of course when I woke up, the rational mind could not connect the dots and kept asking, "How is this possible?" But in my dreams, memories from my childhood and other recent memories had nicely merged into one single landscape.