My parents once told me of one of the toughest decisions they had taken concerning me, the choice of the school I was to attend. My mom was especially insistent on sending her daughters to a convent school. She said that convent girls had a way of their own. Of course, I never understood exactly what that meant till I graduated from school and joined IIT. Unsurprisingly, one of the people in this place I best connect with, is another convent girl (as we like to call ourselves). Be it the inculcated sense of ethics or the ingrained fearlessness, I have, for some time now, held this belief that convent girls are a class of their own. We were taught to stand up for what we believed in, no matter what the world said. So whether it was spreading awareness to eradicate parthenium or unleashing anti-cracker campaigns, the school stood in support as we chanted together we can, and we will, make a difference. We were encouraged to break the traditionally set boundaries for girls; we were told we did not need to live up to conventional expectations of being docile, quiet and passive. We were pushed to question the known along with the unknown. Simultaneously, we were also brought up to be compassionate and empathetic. The school's idea of a day trip included orphanages and old age homes on at least as many counts as parks and picnic spots. But most important of all, the school taught us to be secular in the real sense of the word. Even today, I feel the same sense of strength and tranquility inside a chapel as I do in a temple (and frankly, the number of instances I have sought the same in a chapel might be more, given that it was the place we used to turn to right before exams in school). While I was in school, I used to assume that our generation being secular was kind of a given, at least among the educated ones. I was pretty surprised when I realized that wasn't true. Trust me, I have seen educated elite in my institute who laud the massacre in Gujrat despite having borne eyewitness to those gruesome acts. Nearly all of us face that time in life when we think we have hit rock bottom, only to be handed a shovel. In one such lowest of lows, one of the things that helped me pull through, was my friend telling me, "Remember, you are a convent girl". Its not just about the compulsorily knee-length tunics and plaited hair and chins parallel to the ground signaling that the world is our oyster. It is about how we see ourselves when we look in a mirror; it is about knowing that the world is our oyster.
I will always remember this trip to San Callisto Catacombs on the outskirts of Rome. Nitin and I, both missionary school products, will always associate those twenty minutes, spent three storeys below the grounds, with that strong spiritual thread that made us both remember our school assemblies, the values imparted, and our silent promises to always live up to them.