Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Love Story of Jharipani

Sunday was the day when a make belief world would be created in junior school when prisoners would role-play as free civilians. So much so, that some prisoners were actually allowed to walk out of the oh-so-feared wooden gates! Those lucky few were boys & girls who had an elder sister in senior girls’ school. Fortunately, I was one of them. So, I had the first-hand experience of stepping out of those high-teethed olive-green gates & stroll down the slopes of the road to a much better green valley, then again rally up a steep rise and walk into senior girls’ school campus. Those 40 minutes or so, spent with your sister were some really sweet and happy times, initially. As you moved to higher classes and hence were in senior boys’ school, you were not sure how much time would you actually get to talk to your sister, about each other. You were the postman, delivering & exchanging messages, letters, small gifts & sometimes, farewell speeches of the eternal lovers of our times. Not that we didn’t like it, frankly. For those couple of hours, when one lover is prepping you, was almost like making a movie. There was an idea. There was a script, some very racy, lucid, romantic, funny and sometimes, sad dialogues. There were real & imaginary characters (mostly competition to the lover). Sometimes, a situation was of an upcoming social event and hence a possibility to see each other. These meetings were really special since conversations would mostly be in quick sign language. Some special glances would keep the fire burning till the next such school gathering. The more daring lovers would meet in the school hospital. The conversation still was in sign language but a little more spaced out.

Anyhow, back in senior girls’ school playing field, while visiting your sister, you were treated a lot differently, when you came as a little sweet innocent kid from junior school, against how you would be scrutinized and scanned with piercing eyes of the teacher on duty, when you visited from senior boys’ school. Naturally so. And at that time, we really believed, we were the smartest and could actually fool the teachers, every time. Now that I look back and think, the teachers actually created those “loose moments” when something had to happen. They would look at you, your movements and then move out of sight and back in sight again just for those right few moments so that you can hand over the “stuff” to your sister and she could hide them in her book, sleeves or under the long pullover she wore today specifically for this job. Even the day of Rakhi wasn’t spared! Boys would smuggle gifts for love birds in the garb of Rakhi gifts for sisters. I think some sisters would be really jealous of some of these girls receiving these gifts. In fact, am sure, some sisters would be receiving such gifts through another brother! Who knows. The bro-code was to never spill the beans, lady finger or curd!!

Sunday of course, was also the day of other kinds of freedom. We had ‘late rising’, no morning prep-time, a much easier breakfast menu and an entire day of binge TV watching, including the national news for deaf & dumb, in between the regional movie. In junior school, kids were sent to their dormitories for Sunday siesta! That was magical. Most would sleep, some were lucky enough to get hold of some comics to read and there were some not so lucky ones who were listed to have a haircut. As it is, the hair cut was a problem. To top it, not being able to clean your head and clothes after the haircut would mean itching across your back of the head, shoulders & back etc, the entire evening and night. 

In senior school, one could not get a bed for a siesta. Some boys would find pretty soft, cozy and shady (I only mean tree shade!!) places to have a nap. Seniors would be in a much-relaxed mood but still dangerous, the not-so-junior classes would be planning how to screw lives of juniors. And juniors would be, well, preparing for their lives to get screwed. Sunday, though was special for a rare lot of eternal lovers and their 'innocent' delivery boys who were ready to script the best ever love story in Mussoorie Hills.



Saturday, July 22, 2017

New World in Old Globe

Going to Senior Boys School was a known surprise and an unknown certainty. We all knew what’s coming. As young boys we had heard of stories beyond that 2 ½ feet wooden gate that gave us an excitement that was deliciously dreadful. We would be giving up sections of the class and would be a single class called Cl VI. But there would be new gangs. We would be pitted agaisnt eachother in different houses. We would be favored as a ‘chic’ by seniors and hated just for the same reason by classmates and some seniors. We would be divided as junior section and senior section. And ofcourse, the talented and the not so athletic. But our first brush of division in affection would be in Junior School as Section A and Section B. Who had the better class teacher? The topper of which section got higher marks in tests and exams? Which section had more participants in school events? Which section won more awards? Which section had the ‘superstar’ of the entire class? And finally, which section finally had the boy & girl who became the Captain of Junior School? All these subtle, but strong mental and sometimes obvious comparisons, starting from Cl III to Cl V, made it a fiesty competition. We hardly saw each other eye to eye, shook hands or exchanged too many pleasantries.  And hence, no class had ever swapped their boys & girls.

In 1988, when we were in Cl V, something happened, and a day came when two students had to swap sections. A boy had to move from Section A to Section B and vice versa. This was the most devastating news ever. Section A didn’t want to let go of anyone. Section B wasn’t ready to accept anyone and vice versa. Battle lines had already been drawn. War cries had been shouted. Any such move was simply, mayhem. And yet, no one dare challenge the decision of ‘Big Maam’.

The unfortunate boys chosen for this historic move were Ajitesh Das moving from Section A to B and Ashutosh Kumar was to move from Section B to A. Das (and later Mowgli) as he was called by all, was a star in his own right. He was a very good musician. He could sing well, used to play table, was a gifted football player (as most bengalis are) and to top it all, was a notoriously charming young boy, with very, very innocent looks. Ashutosh Kumar on the other hand, was a notoriosuly innocent boy since he was at the helm of most mischiefs but had never been caught red handed. He was very intelligent and good at academics. Unknowingly, as fate would have it, they were in the middle of this fire (there is yet another ‘fire story‘ around Das. And an expectedly wickedly inncoent story around Ashutosh. For later, perhaps). There were speculations doing the rounds of who could be swapped. On the day it was announced, it was a complete disaster. There were open howling sessions and quiet whining time outs. There were heated talks and consoling dialogues the rest of the day.

But what we realized later in life was, in all of this, the entire two sections were together. They were in sync to what was being discussed & planned in their own sections. The only two boys who were all alone in that storm were Das & Ashutosh. Now, they were in their new sections, but not of their sections. Psychologically, there were still sitting at their old desks, with their old partner, wanting to share the next idea. But physically, there were now sitting with a new partner, unable to even ask for a pencil sharpener. For a 10-yr old kid, this would have been really unnerving. We didn’t realise it then. But we got a feel of it later and understand it now, I think. Or atleast, we acknowledge it now. I can only assume, what all would be going through their minds and hearts. They were aliens in a known arena; they literally were ‘behind enemy lines’. Two 10-yr old boys, far away from home, their parents and now distanced from their friends too. Out in the cold, literally in the hills of Mussoorie. What courage, what grit & what attitude exemplified by these boys! I salute them. It took days for the others to digest the fact and accept these young boys into their groups. But am sure, it took months for these boys to finally get to terms to reality. Whenever, I am reminded of this event, I am simply amazed at how disturbed these young boys would be during those times. They went silent and yet carried on, trying to adjust to their new world in the same old globe. Thank you boys, for giving us the lesson of a lifetime, while still being foes in a friendly setting. We never failed to stay friends, forever. 

The icing on the cake though, was the prized tight hug & kiss from Mrs. Sethi aka Ms. Sahani received by Ajitesh Das. We are still jealous of him. 

Perfect Diagnosis

I joined boarding school in 1987. In class IV. Initial few months were as expected, not very smooth. Interesting for sure. In the dormitory, I learnt to wake up early monring, , on my own, without being pushed & pulled by a family member, or cajoled and sometimes, threatened. Well, the morning rising bell was threatening, in a way. But, it was interesting learning - to start following instructions from staff members, some simply copying the neighbour tactics and small revolting but finally giving up work outs. The most interesting learnings came from observing the other boys, though.  How they would wake up from one side of the day, everyday. How they would pick dressing gowns from the peg and wear them, most would sleep walk to the cupboard to fetch their mugs which would contain their soap dish, tongue cleaner & tooth brush. Then, sleep walking in a queue for Ramkali aayaji & Santo aayaji to press out exactly the same amount of tooth paste every day for the entire year! Finishing bowel clearances, brushing, cleaning tongues, bath & then queuing up again for one the best 1 minute of the day, when again Ramkali aayaji & Santo aayaji would apply Brahmi Amla Kesh Oil on our hair. It was one of those rare moments of getting reminded of my mother, every morning. Aayajis were god sent to eight, nine and ten year olds in junior school. Even after 30 years of passing out, their smiles first thing in the morning, their cuddles and their rough but love filled palms, remain strong over my, now balding head. Aayajis were specially wonderful to new kids. They just knew what we wanted. And as kids, every kid wanted something different. They would know exactly what, when and how much of it was needed. They were not just god sent, they were almost like godesses, pouring their unlimited love and affection, without an eight year old uttering a word. There were Bearerji also. The older ones would become our advisors & protectors, while the younger lot would become our confidantes and friends in senior school. Senior school stories will have to wait for a new title.

One time in junior school, I got into a medical situation, due to which I had to hospitalized for over 2 months. The school doctor would come for a round twice a day. The Nurse/sister on duty would take rounds at will. It was Ramkali (namesake of the dorm one) and Santosh aayaji who were my saviours again. Especially, Santosh aayaji, who would hide & bring her home food for me since I could not eat the patient’s meals and was not allowed to be fed anything else. After a month’s trials in the school hospital, I was referred to Moradabad Railway Hospital, for X-Ray. I think I was staring at it for too long since Santosh aayaji just went and bought poori-choley for me. And I was supposed to be suffering from stomach infection. I didn’t say anything to anyone. But, Santosh aayaji came back and confessed her deed to Sister Francis. I still remember, Sister Francis, while twisting my ears, telling Santosh aayaji, “her mother would do the same. So would I.  Doctor shouldn’t know of it, ever.”

Monday, December 05, 2016

Locked By A Loiness

I had started taking classes at IMS, Bhawanipore, Calcutta, in evening time slot for my MBA preparations.  I left the classes, mid way, since they had shared most of the study material and I realized, if I can take care of the fundamentals, self study will save me travel time, gossip time and the embarrassing class test time and it's even more insulting result time.  Miraculously, I got calls from three MBA institutes. I sat through the GD/interview rounds for all. The sequence of final letters had made me think I will need to go back to University to finally become Master of my fate. The first letter was from an institute thanking me to appear for the rounds and stated I was put in the “waiting list” for top 15 people. I did laugh that i am in the top 15 of some list! The letter from the  next institute was a regret letter. The fair assumption was to wait for the Top 15 to shorten to Top 1, for me to get a final call. The day the third letter had come, I was told about it coming in and kept on the fridge. I didn’t even open it the entire day, assuming, it’s a regret letter so will read it at leisure with the last smoke of the day after dinner. I had moved out of my grandmother’s place and was living with one of my school batchmates in my parents’ flat in Calcutta. I opened it, read it, mind still programmed that it’s a communication, starting as “with regret, we inform you…….” . I gave it to my friend to read. He read it out loud is when I heard, “with pleasure to inform you……. “

We were supposed to report to campus on 1st June.  In the early hours of 1st June 2001, Karunanidhi was woken up from his sleep, apparently dragged out of bed and arrested on grounds of corruption. I never had much interest in politics. I still don’t. But the news was “super se bhi upar wala” fun! A former CM dragged out of bed by the current CM!! And all this had happened while she could not hold office due to major chaos over criminal offenses and guilty charges of corruption etc. I had only heard of the southern part of India and its fascination with living (and dead) legends. She surely seemed one to me. That was perhaps the first time I could feel, in some odd way, what, how and how much could Ms. Jayalalitha do when she meant business. People from the northern part of India who were to join with me in my batch had already landed on campus, a day or two prior to 1st June, fortunately, or unfortunately. Post this historic lock down, the state was closed for almost 2-3 days. Paralyzed, it took a week to get back to activity and almost a month before normalcy returned. The formal joining was delayed and happened ten days later. But that first week with only 5-7 of us in the entire campus was another great lovely, lazy and enjoyable wasting of time.

During my stay in Tamil Nadu, there were other episodes which made me like the lady, love the scents around and get fond of Chennai. I spent four good years in Tamil Nadu. I love Chennai. After Lucknow, the only city I would love to settle & die. And I believe, Amma is one of the prime reasons to make such a statement.