For some reason, the very last visual memory I have of this one place – no, lifestyle – in Princep Street, is of long red woollen caps with a white ball of fur on the top of each. They were supposed to be Santa Claus caps – and, paired with smart, black blazers, they formed the senior choir attire.
Most of the early mornings spent in church for the last five years of school were saturated with torn sleep and the sudden jolts of pleasure in synchronized singing.
I remember it was something in those very mornings in that very place that characterized a certain month and season. When we would be asked to turn the pages of our hymnals to ‘Joy to the World’ or even better, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, somehow, the already established cold winds would shudder in happiness and join the annual symphony of mirth, counting down to Christmas at Calcutta Girls’ High School.
The sudden eruption of wintry gusts gave rise to a certain consciousness that hung onto each stave notation and each voice drilling into the mines of the alto and trilling into the peaks of the descant, and felt a certain tumultuous joy in the flourish of the church organ.
Winter was made up of squeezing into PT uniforms that a whole year of detergents had shrunk, and sitting cross-legged in makeshift pavilions, peeling oranges and trying to be of use at the annual sports practice. When the entire House would march together, there would be a momentary rush of nimble adrenaline, and the open stadium, the steady beats of the drum and the picnic feeling of winter would garnish it beautifully.
This morning, as I rode towards college, watching mindless domestic mortals jaywalking with mufflers and sweater vests on, and felt the cold breaths lap against my face, I could not define the feeling in any way other than this: empty.
It is a sweet kind of nostalgia, one that does not push me out of my seat. I know I will never wear black ballerina shoes and a green Prefect badge to class again. Going to church and singing in a choir does not sketch itself very well on the horizon either.
In 2010, something about attending our very first annual school carnival and becoming the intellectuals we thought we had become on social media, and talking about new emotional discoveries to one another, and singing – oh, there always was singing – had unwrapped an identity whose fragrance I find in every sweater I wear.
In the later years, the few seniors that we were left in the choir made rather lovely alliances with the juniors. Listening to them break into songs of One Direction and Five Seconds of Summer and stuff I have massively grown out of (when we were in that phase, we had the Jonas Brothers, Avril Lavigne and – well, you’re already singing if you’re a ’90s kid) made the experience a little more fond and close-knit. We always made it clear how annoyed we were with the new wave of teen pop, but the juniors always managed to put at least one new tacky song in our playlists.
One time, we had a makeshift stage on the school grounds and the choir members stood on various levels of the stage, until we ended with one girl on the topmost level and voila! we were a Christmas tree.
Batches will keep coming and going, the choir will go through metamorphosis every single year. And every single year, beautiful experiments in scales and harmony would be done.
I believe every student with an emotional connection would feel that the thing they had an emotional connection to feels as empty without them, and they do without it. Perhaps, if I drop into school for the next Christmas programme, there will be a vacant chair on the left of the church organ, pining for their old alto to pick the set list up and cement the pitch gaps in between the sopranos and the descants.
Perhaps, the seat would simply be reserved in one of the pews we discussed world affairs in, but is now garlanded with fairy lights and flowers for Christmas service.
I miss many things about school, massively too, but this transcends memories. I am not talking not just of the choir. It takes some time to measure it in words. It is winter at that place, I think, with the wrapping up of the curriculum, the sudden laze and steady making and breaking of agendas for various events, frequently working on said events with teachers and talking about things outside the classroom.
Or, maybe because this drill has been so deeply embedded in my mind that no other routine can fit into the crevices it has left.
In truth, winter shall never be winter without this. This will trickle into everything I feel, speak or write about leaving things behind, because this is that cemented uncertainty, this inexplicable explanation, this nameless entity that we name nostalgia.