OPANA reunion 2015
Syed Ehtesham Haider writes: "a wonderful write up of the recent OPANA Reunion in Pleasanton / San Francisco by Julius Mirza (OP ’52). For those who weren’t able to attend, this is the next best thing."
Reflections from the OPANA 2012 Reunion in New York City (Syed Ehtesham Haider)
The 2012 Reunion Luncheon for the North American Chapter of the Old Paulite Association (OPANA) was held on Saturday, July 7th at the Himalayan Yak Restaurant in the multi-cultural neighborhood of Queens, New York. The event was a huge success, drawing Old Paulites from several generations including their respective spouses and children. It was capped by an illustrious Chief Guest and Old Paulite – Mr. Rehman Sobhan, a noted Bangladeshi economist and public intellectual, who attended St. Paul’s during the era of Rector “Pa” Goddard.
But let’s start from the beginning. The Reunion officially got underway on the evening prior to the luncheon with a gathering at the ALOFT Hotel Lobby Bar in Manhattan, New York. To put it mildly, the disappointing start of the event belied the successful finish. There were only three people in attendance at the evening gathering, one of which included our Chief Guest! I wish I could describe the sorry state of affairs in greater detail for the reader, but unfortunately, I am unable to do so as I was one of those guilty of non-attendance. In all honesty, I had fully intended to attend, but the visit to the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building earlier in the day, with a five year old and a two year old in tow, amid the sweltering heat and crowds of New York, had taken its toll. I offer this not as an excuse but an explanation.
Saturday morning in New York came with a cloudless sky and temperatures already into the mid-nineties (that’s 35 degrees Celsius for those of you on the metric system). I got dressed in a pair of slacks and an open-collared shirt…ties and jackets were optional. Although I had forewarned him that it would probably be a “grown up” event, my five year old son, Shariq Laith, was determined to come along, carrying with him his Lego set to play with the other boys and girls that were sure to be at the party. We were picked up at our hotel by Intesar, my brother and a fellow Old Paulite. We wound our way through the streets of Lower Manhattan headed to the Upper West Side, to pick up our passenger, Mr. Sobhan, our Chief Guest. After making our pick-up, we crossed the island of Manhattan, went over the Queenboro Bridge and arrived into the multi-cultural mecca of Queens, with recent immigrants from South Asia, South and Central America, Southeast Asia and Africa. Amid the hustle and bustle, we located the restaurant and found parking in one of the side streets.
The Himalayan Yak Restaurant, serving ethnic Nepali cuisine, was selected as our event venue by the “organizing committee” composed of Andrew Raschid, Shing Wong, Rahul Shrivastav, Intesar Haider and I. Through the ensuing communications (thank you, Facebook!) we found out that Karma Tenzing, an old Paulite and a resident of New York City, knew the management of Himalayan Yak, so he was put in-charge of logistical planning. The menu was set for Nepali goat curry, chili chicken and heaping plates of chicken and beef momos.
As we entered the restaurant the courteous wait-staff ushered us to the upstairs private banquet hall where the lunch party was already in full swing. Andrew Raschid, dressed in his OPA tie and blue blazer, was signing in guests, and the Paulites and their respective spouses were mingling with each other trading war stories of which era had it worse. My son, true to his prediction, found a bunch of boys his age (sons of the other Old Paulites in attendance) and went off to share his Lego set with them. My bother found his batch mates – Dhamey Norgay and Ranjit Kapila in attendance. I was the only one representing my batch, but I recognized a lot of familiar faces who were either my contemporaries at St. Paul’s or those whom I had met at past OPA gatherings – David Raschid (Andrew’s brother), Sanjoy Datta, Sunanjit Saikia, Prasenjit Goswami, Arup Bose, Suresh Sharma and Rahul Shrivastav were just a few of the familiar faces. The other Old Paulites in attendance were of a newer vintage than me, having studied in St. Paul’s in the 90’s and 00’s. Overall, I estimated there were about 25-30 Old Paulites, 6-7 wives/girl-friends and 5-6 children, for a grand total of 35-40 people in attendance.
After we had our fill of lunch we settled into our seats with rice pudding and steaming cups of chai to listen to our Chief Guest speak about his time in St. Paul’s. Mr. Sobhan regaled us with stories of his days at St. Paul’s – the severe rationing and hardships endured during the Second World War, his friendly rivalry with Pa Goddard when England played Australia for the Ashes and lost, the single bucket of water for bath twice a week and the constant “chausing” to dining hall bearers for hot-buttered toast and coffee. It occurred to me that throughout Mr. Sobhan’s speech ran a refrain of the cultural legacy of St. Paul’s that has carried through the generations and imbued those who attended the school with a common experience – a bond that glues us together despite our dispersed geographies and varying stations in life. Following Mr. Sobhan’s graduation from St. Paul’s he went on to study at Cambridge University, returning to Bangladesh to play an active role in the Bengali Nationalist Movement alongside Bangladesh’s founder – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Currently he divides his time between Dhaka and New York and heads the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a leading non-governmental research organization focused on social and economic policies for developing countries.
After the Chief Guest’s speech, Andrew Raschid, our OPANA President, was the next speaker. He thanked Mr. Sobhan for his enthralling speech and led everyone on a “three cheers and one for luck” for the Chief Guest. He thanked everyone in attendance for coming and for keeping the school spirit alive, and offered thanks to the organizing committee and Karma Tenzing for putting together the event. Then, with sadness in his heart, Andrew said that with more than five years at the helm of OPANA he was honored to bear the responsibility of the office of Presidency, but the time had come to pass on the torch to a new generation. He nominated yours truly as the new President of OPANA to the surprising objection of none present at the gathering! He then led us in a rousing rendition of the School Song.
Following Andrew, Suresh Sharma was invited to tell us of his recent visit to St. Paul’s. Suresh described the decaying infrastructure of the Darjeeling surrounds, his difficulty of traveling up to school, and the sad but resilient fight of St. Paul’s, its staff and its boys to maintain the school as an institution despite facing severe headwinds. He urged us to continue to give generously to the various infrastructure projects earmarked by the current Estate Manager, also an Old Paulite.
I was the last speaker. I thanked Andrew’s selfless service in incubating and advancing the interests of our North American Chapter. I thanked everyone in attendance and told them that I was honored and humbled by the nomination, and that I would try and follow the example set by our outgoing president. In addition, I would seek the active participation of those present (and not present) to keep our Chapter dynamic and relevant. I ended my turn at the podium by leading everyone in the School Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.
As I stepped off the stage, the kids who had generally been well-behaved for the entire afternoon, had had enough of the Paulite restraint and civility, and were by now running up and down the aisle playing follow-the-leader. Amid the children’s shrieks of hilarity, the adults were getting in their last goodbyes. By the time my son, energized by his third Sprite of the afternoon, and his band of brothers invaded the stage and commandeered the open mike and drum-set, I knew that the time had come for us to depart or risk paying the restaurant management for damages incurred. As I wrested my protesting son from the middle of his drum solo, I said my goodbyes and promised to organize the next gathering within 12-18 months, most probably in the West Coast.
With fond memories and a tinge of sadness, we left the colorful environs of Queens for an equally hued Manhattan. Tomorrow we would wake up and get on an airplane bound for our hometown – Atlanta. But today, the faces of friends old and new, the words of an illustrious individual who had shared a common experience, and taste of chicken and beef momos were still fresh in my mind…
Moniti Meliora Sequamur
Syed Ehtesham Haider
St. Paul’s – Hastings / Westcott 1976-86