In the early 60’s, a boy in JRI Orion might initiate teenage courtship by way of a shy, furtive glance at the object of his infatuation and curiosity (from hereon referred to as the Girl), or a self-conscious, tentative smile that would silently invite an encouraging response, beamed across the shed, the school grounds, a classroom, through a window, a door, the school gate.
He might send a painstakingly handwritten love letter either copied verbatim from an ancient book of love letters with Tagalog words so long disused they could trouble even Francisco Balagtas, or composed with so much agonised longing for and exaggerated praise of the girl.
He might attempt to impress the Girl with personally crafted love cards and original verses that passed for love poems or he might employ other means such as palipad hangin, pahatid sabi through barkadas or relatives, biro, paramdam, gifts.
Others went to some unusual lengths to satisfy the cravings of their young hearts.
Some made a ritual of walking past the Girl’s home, becoming almost giddy with delight at the sight of her rooftop. (What was it about rooftops that could trigger this strange sentiment?) (It’s not the rooftop, silly. It’s the open window on the second floor.)
One even regularly risked life and limb by climbing up belfries or church steeple for a glimpse of the Girl (talk about being hopelessly love stricken). (Ouch! Bullseye!)
Others surreptitiously followed the Girl to or from school to clamp their eyes on the Girl’s legs and commit her sway and gait to memory. (What they did later with the memory of it one dares not speculate on.) (Yeah, let’s not go there.)
Others shared with their barkadas their exasperation at what seemed to be unrequited love and sought comfort in their commiserations.
Some boy, neutralised by lack of nerve, could only watch from a distance and fantasize having a mutual understanding with his Girl, only able to emerge out of this phantom relationship when a new Girl caught his fresh fancy. (Or Girls from each section?)
Some drilled imaginary but perceptible holes in the back of the Girl with his eyes as he sat directly behind her in the classroom.
Dropped under the desks or left between the pages of the Girl’s books and notebooks were unsigned notes, cryptic notes, notes written with candles or invisible inks, notes that needed mirrors to be reverse-image read - (the incredible trouble they went to just to say what could have been more easily said in person)- even threatening notes and occasionally, suicide notes. (None had followed through with it, thankfully.)
Some were so brazen as to commit naughty acts such as peeping through holes in the walls, gaps between floor boards or half-open windows of the Girl’s home and such other resourceful trickeries for a glimpse of the Girl. (Hit me again! I am a glutton for punishment. And how about that daredevil that will speed up behind the wheels of a jeep “owner” for a microsecond glimpse of the object of his affection? One can only imagine what might have happened if our town had a law enforcement officer for underage speeders.)
Some even mobilised mothers or aunts as conveyors of their fond intentions, armed with baskets of fruit, or bumbong of freshly made ginaok or homemade tsoklate.
Some just kept their juvenile feelings to themselves but talked about it with ease and humour decades later when it was safe to do so. (Talk about an immense load in one’s heart for a long time.)
The boys had, of course, many more tricks up their sleeves as their resourcefulness, daring and inventiveness were limited only by their youthful imagination, (the boys may wish to enlighten the rest of us on this). But there was something vital missing here. There was hardly any one on one, face to face dialogue, no opportunities to explore minds and hearts to see if they would click together. Without this interaction, it was next to impossible to engage emotionally and grow a sustainable relationship.
Take the case of a boy we all knew and fondly referred to as Bokbok. He wore his smitten heart not only on his sleeves but all over him. He walked with his Girl’s aura around him. He couldn’t care less about the books he was supposed to study because she was the only book he was interested in. She was his school, his entire world and being. He was totally besotted with her, wanted no one but her and pursued her with obstinate single mindedness that dared and defied all odds. He cared not one whit who knew about it. And we all knew about it, didn’t we? What an awesome courtship it was!
It had been asked why not many ‘63 batchmates and schoolmates paired off as husbands and wives. Some of the girls tried to come up with an answer and offered a rather light-hearted lob at the boys: the term “TORPE” which might have bruised the boys’ sensitivity.
Many of the girls recognised the exceptionally fine qualities of our young men and would have been quite pleased to pair off with them but there wasn’t much they could do. It was a different era, a different time. A different cultural ethos ruled. In that particular environment the “good and proper” girls had to wait for the boys to make the right moves that, sadly, in many cases never came.
It would seem then that this shortage of pairings might in part be because in JRI at that time there were not many like Bokbok who handled courtship like a man possessed, knew exactly what and who he wanted and went for her with all his guns blazing!
Not many girls could have withstood the power of such openly intense, determined and surefooted courtship but most of them missed out on this kind of heady experience probably because none of the boys ever felt the same degree of overwhelming attraction and emotional fervour for any of the female batchmates that Bokbok felt for his Girl. (I know, girls, comparison with Bokbok’s Girl would have been so unfair to us.). The boys were not torpe, just not interested enough to want to put in the hard work. Thus the scarcity of batchmates pairings. (Or the zero degree of separation reduces the degree of aspiration. Because the boy sees the girl on a daily basis, his hormone is simply saturated with her mere existence. Over time her mundane presence becomes the catalyst for sisterly love rather than romantic desires.)
But all things considered, the conclusion of the matter is that after enduring all that teenage angst, most of us are in a pretty good place now and will not have it any other way. Things are as they were meant to be although occasionally the past is a fun and curious place to revisit. Our Batch 63 tapestry is the more colourful for it.
With my niece’s engagement to her batchmate/classmate, I feel like we’ve come full circle.