Sunday, November 14, 2010

Have you ever wondered how as children we always wanted to grow up?

Talks of 'that school', own baths, writing with a pen, all the activities that proved that we had grown up were sought after. To be big, grown up, a 'big brother' was cool.

I remember the chanting of 'Bramharpanam'. The 7th standard guys were 'called for lunch' last. We were given the mats that were near the wall. We would all put out backs straight and say 'Bramharpanam' in a bass voice, sounding like puppies trying to roar.

And then Own Bath. Fifth standard was probably the worst of all the years. You were grown up enough to start hitting on 12th standard girls, but everyday for half an hour, you were at the mercy of amma, stripped off all your prestige. And then, come 6th standard, and we would arrive with buckets and mugs, and our initials written boldly on them. And even then, after you have had your 'own' bath, your hair was combed.

Sitting in the lines during Sports and watching 'big brothers' perform their activities. And then coming back to the hostel and enacting all the stunts again. Or looking at those ultra fair form boys with green stubbles, and then touching your own chin and realising that's a long way off.

And getting to write with ink pens. Fighting for Hero pens and proudly showing off ink stains on the shirt pockets, and Bluetooth in our mouths. And placing 'orders' for items crucial to the country's economy, like Natraj Plasto 621 Eraser and Luxor Sketch Pens.

It was always about growing up.

And now, I am grown up. I have my own bath everyday (well, almost), I have a different kind of Bluetooth in my pocket, and shaving is a pain. And now that I have done everything I wanted to do as a child, I want to go back.

I think elders realise the value of Children's Day more than the kids themselves. The poor guys are bombarded with boring stories of Chacha Nehru and stuff. We veterans, meanwhile, are cruelly reminded of an age when nothing was more important than getting hold of the magnet and radium.

Happy Children's Day, oldies!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


According to the Right to Education Act, that was enacted across the nation from the first of April this year, there are some major changes that are to take place in our education system. Primary among them is abolishing corporal punishment for children.

Like most of you, I thought it was laughable to imagine being a student in Parthi and not getting a few knocks now and then. How I wish this law was enacted way back in the 90s.

Or may be not. I mean, what would be the fun if every teacher was sweet and kind and nice? The world would have been beautiful and everyone would be form boys. Not fun.

Fact is, life for me was going from one knock to another. When your entire life is dictated by a bell, you cannot be a slow coach. I was always late for everything., dunnapotha or slow coach as we were called. And no, my birthday is in April, so I could not even be f'irst for lunch'. So right from Suprabhatam to Night Prayers, my body was undergoing tough physical kung fu style training.

The day would begin by Suprabhatam, for which I would be late. Even if I was on time, I'd doze and somebody would 'write my name'. This meant that in half an hour, I was going to get a tight whack with a cane on my hand. The Praveena Hand Whack (PHW).

The PHW was generally doled out after the morning Yoga session. For best results, it was conducted in cold, winter days on the terrace. A minder would read out all the names of the sinners who had the audacity of dozing during a prayer session that could put an owl to sleep. You were asked to stretch out your hand, and...

WHACK!! A thin cane came whipping down on your palm. The trick to minimise the pain of the PHW was a scientific process. You had to bring your hand down at the exact moment when the stick came down on you. Morning shows the day, and without doubt, more such endearments would be in store for me through the day. We were given 30 glorious minutes to finish breakfast, bath, and get ready for school. As usual, I was late. Once the dreaded Second Bell went off, I would rush to school. Without doubt, the prayer would have started and I would be among the others to sit outside the hall. Once the prayer was over, it was time for Bitex.

I dont know why its called that. Bitex. Sounds like some scabies ointment or something. But bitex would be used on us a lot. It was the usual uthak-baithak, but sprinkled with some creativity by Principal Sir. So you had to do a hundred of them, and each with Aamir Khan like perfection, while he would personally count. Here again, the easier way was to keep your hands on your knees, so it was easier when you were standing up, somewhere in the Nervous Nineties. So by the time you reached the class, your hands and knees felt like Shane Bond's. And then, you missed the first few minutes of class and got a few mottikayis for that.

The mottikayi was an indigenous home-bred torture weapon that could give foreign imports like Bitex a run for their money. The teacher would roll his hand into a fist, knuckles pointing down. And then raise his arm in a backlift, and wham, it came crashing down on your head. Though the mottikayi involved no sticks, two or three of these could leave you wondering if your head had become a golf ball.

But these were just physical punishments. They would heal in a while, and if they dint, you could always go to the dispensary and hope Ram Mohan Sir didn’t stab you with an injection. But the worst tortures are the mental ones. The ones that break you from inside. I have been subjected to three levels of such tortures.

Pantry Cleaning was the first of them. I have been subjected to it not once, but twice. The trick to seeing the quality of food in a hostel is by seeing the dust bins. The amount of stuff in the dust bin clearly indicated the students' opinion of the food. Now, the punishment involved cleaning the dust bin and then taking a stick and making sure none of the food particles got stuck in the pantry. If you were faint-hearted, you could faint somewhere in between due to the stench. Thankfully, John would give you a few whacks to render you senseless and so you couldn't make out the smell too much. There was no way you could escape this punishment, and there were no shortcuts, as John would personally come and check if everything was in order.

Cleaning the toilets was the next one. This one sucked, really. This punishment was given when other people were away for darshan, so at least you were saved of the embarrassment. This was reserved for crimes committed for which you were deemed unfit of a darshan. You had to take a pipe and go about washing all the toilets in the floor. While you thought you could get away with just spraying the entire place, John, whose brain works faster than Chacha Chaudhry’s, would come to check up on you. Grindingly, every bathroom, every lav, every wall, would be microscopically inspected before being approved.

The last level was the worst sort. It might seem harmless on the surface, but ask one who has undergone it, and he will tell you the extent of trauma your body has to go through to withstand it. This was one was called ‘Splitting the channa’.

Now, in HS, we were always told that PS had lots of money so they could give us awesome food, while HS was the poorer, more boring cousin. So there were efforts to maximize production by minimising costs. Primary among these efforts was sorting out the channa. Channa was stored in large drums, and after a few days it gave off a nasty smell. Some rocket scientist masquerading as a cook would add new channa to the drum of old channa. To sort out the old channa from the new would be the work of a poor soul like me. I have been subjected to this torture method not once but twice.

I don’t remember the first time. But the second time is vivid. Me and The Dude were caught roaming near East Prashanti during bhajans. This senior who was a maintenance guy (meaning he licked John’s ass a lot) caught us and took us to his master. John, without thinking twice, sentenced us to 2 hours of rigorous channa sorting. The drums of channa were rolled out and we were made to sort the good channa from the bad, in two heaps, while the others ran out to games.

I got to work, sorting out the channa while using extremely high levels of Pranayam. The Dude obviously dint give a rat’s ass, and sat with the calmness of a Zen monk. Calmly, he put his hand right in between the lump and like Moses, divided it into two lumps. I was shocked.

“But that’ll mean everyone in the hostel eats stale channa for lunch”

Calm smile, and The Dude walks off.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

If you were among the lucky few, Ganesh Chaturthi was a one week extravaganza that involved bunking classes, darshan and anything else boring. This was among the few indulgences that was in HS, and not PS.

It all began a week before the actual day. Each class made a palanquin in which to take Ganesha to the Kulwant Hall, and eventually to the back of the Sai Gita shed. The juniors were to make palanquins, and from tenth standards onwards they made chariots. The chariots were built like Tata Nano - minimum costs and maximum aerodynamics. The basic structure was a rickety trolley. This trolley would on a normal day be used for carrying sambar from the kitchen to the dining hall, but for that one week, these trolleys were coveted like Jaguars.

The rickety trolley would get four rods to serve as pillars and then the creative energies of a few guys would transform the humble trolley into the 'Chariot' for Lord Ganesha. So anyway, without digressing too much from the topic, lets get back to what the fun part about it was.

Every class had a group of guys who did this work. These Intellectuals put in their creative energies into creating a piece of art.

So these few guys were allowed freedoms. The entire week was bliss.

We were allowed to wake up late, bunk Suprabhatam and John's Daily Dose of Mindfuck. We could then have breakfast late. It was a fun, Godlike feeling to see everyone else scamper when the Second Bell rang, and we would be happily taking our breakfast to the terrace. Somehow, the Chitraannam and cocounut chutney seemed even more tasty then.

This went on for a full, blissful week and the trolleys were transformed beyond recognition.

Then it was the day of the Immersion.

Our chariots would be ready in a week and Ganesha statues installed in each of our chariots with Puja and stuff. Each class got a Ganesha. This was one of the only time we really noticed the statues. Have you ever wondered how Ganesha manages to go around on that poor little rat? No wonder its always hungry and munching on that laddoo forever!

Each class would take out their chariots and palaquins (with their Ganeshas in them) and take out a procession to the Mandir. Each class of 60 singing bhajans, banging the hell out of duffs, and talams clanging along with the cacophony. Now imagine, more than twenty such processions going along, shouting, screaming, breaking coconuts, and generally having a ball of a time.

The screams also had a character of their own. While there was the usual 'Ganapati Bappa Moriya, Aadha laddoo choriya', some creative batches like ours came up with some awesome, completely non-tacky versions like 'Ek Do Teen Chaar- Ganesha is our Superstar'. I know. Sad.

The best part was that the chariots were taken around the Kulwant Hall and kept 'linewise'. If we were lucky, the chariots would be on the Ladies side. This was the only time we could go there after attaining puberty (which it was assumed we all attained in Class 8). This would make us guys ecstatic and we would start behaving animatedly - talking loudly (in a 'grave' voice of course), laugh at stupid jokes to draw attention and take pictures that could be only described as, well, bizzare.

After the photographs and the Prasadam, it was time to take Ganesh on his journey back. This was a more relaxed affair, mixed with a blend of nostalgia. It seemed a little weird. I mean, you create this chariot, install a statue, do puja and stuff, and then throw it in the river? It seemed like all of our efforts were going down the drain.

When we reached Sai Gita shed, our Ganeshas were taken out from the chariots and taken inside the shed. I don't know why Sai Gita shed was chosen to immerse Ganesha. May be it was the whole 'elephant head-elephant head same pinch' thingy they had going. Our chariots felt empty and were dragged back into the hostel compound, ready to be stripped of all their glory and reduced to the sad life of a kitchen trolley.

We then took pictures with our chariots - wearing the costumes that we had to the procession - a wide collection of dresses from Satish Babu, our very own Manish Malhotra whose collections covered the gamut from bhangra to 'Band dress'. There was usually a special dinner in store for us.

The Immersion Day did not have study hours and if we were lucky, Prushty sir and his Oriya boys would show us a thrilling Jackie Chan thriller.

The next morning, we wake up listening to Gantasala on the PA system. We go to Suprabhatam, and then back to classes. Thing fell into place. The honeymoon was over.

Makes me wish Ganesh Chaturthi, like Dussehra was also celebrated for 10 days. Come to think of it, Ganesha handles the Education Department among the Gods - a pretty important one for students. He deserves it.

But anyway, on this day, hope you remember those times. Singing songs, pulling your chariot, and celebrating a festival with your friends.

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi !!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Being Sick

Being sick was one of the best things in school. Don't get me wrong. It's not as if I did not enjoy the hajan-bhajan of daily life. But once in a while, it felt great to remain horizontal and watch all the other guys go about the motions while you drank Viva, and watched Pandavas kick Kauravas' ass.

Most guys like the sympathy that comes with being sick. Not me. Coz most of the times my fevers were marginal, and hugely exaggerated by sad expressions and naagin-style histrionics, which couldn't withstand extreme scrutiny. Calling in sick had to be done with extreme diligence. Too little, and you would be sent right back to class. Too much, and you would be quarantined to the General Hospital, where your only contact with people would be when your classmates would scream "Sai Ram, KVNSPA!" and wave at you while they were returning from darshan.

I remember the early visits to medical room. The large number of medicines stacked in the small room, the kind doctor aunty shooing away kids who come with mosquito bites, and the surreal, hypnotic picture of a Greek healer tending to a patient's leg that hung on the wall. By the time we had reached class, we knew which ailments were treated with homeopathy pills.

Being sick was awesome if your mathematics skills were neanderthal and a Unit Test had just gotten over. You got special mashed rice with rasam, mashed potatoes, Viva, Tinkle comics, and unlimited video shows. All was well till you got on the wrong side of Unnavalli amma. Now, UV amma was very impartial. So whether you were 'sick' or 'alright', she would give you a colourful boquet of abuses.

In high school when the only pleasure in our lives was watching NDTV's Natasha Jog for 15 minutes a day, these sick days were my only solace. Theories about how to get unwell were circulated in advance (put an onion in armpit, play in the sun and stand under a shower, manage to digest both the lunch and dinner etc.) The teachers checked your temperature if you claimed to have fever. I generally resorted to other bunker-friendly ailments like stomach pain, headache, loo-mos etc.

The main reason for me to bunk classes was so that I could read. I was among the tabooed 'readers' of the class. While I didn't have Kate Winslet aunty teaching me about the birds and the bees, I was involved in the flourishing black market of oojaar! inducing novels that did the rounds.

So once the teacher allowed me to stay back in the hostel, out came the novels and my flights of fantasy would begin. I have read some of the best books of my life when I was 'sick'. Sherlock Holmes, Asterix and Tintin, Famous Five, Harry Potter and the Krishnavatara series, all read against the backdrop of morning assembly prayers that seemed to come from a different planet altogether.

Once I was done with the novels, I passed them on to one of my friends, who would fall ill in the next few days.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

One among the many quirks that existed in school was the habit of collecting pictures of cricket players. Cricket, you see, was more than a craze. While we were taught that all religions were one, cricket was clearly not included in the list.

Pictures of cricketers would be collected and stuck in scrap books. Quantity was clearly more important than quality here, and so the person who had the most number of pictures was the winner. This resulted in a mad scramble for any picture of a cricketer. Even a Syndicate Bank ad that had Sunil Joshi and Venkatesh Prasad was fought over.

There was a bubble gum in those days called 'Big Fun'. The gums were terrible, but they gave free cricket cards. We chose it over the Big Babool - which was softer and had more flavours. Another source was magazines like Sportstar.

I remember during holidays, I would subscribe to three newspapers, and then cut out the pictures, paste them in my book, and bring it back the next year. We were true connoisseurs. The more desperate ones would resort to more risky techniques to acquire pictures. The only time we got to read newspapers was after lunch. We would have lunch quickly (difficult, when the punishment for eating slowly was being made to sit in the girls' side) and rush to the staff room. We would then request a teacher to give us the newspaper and read the Sports section. This was when the desperate among us would slowly tear the Sports page, fold it to the size of Vim Bar, and sneak it out in the pant pocket.

Cricket stickers had higher value among the collectors. You could exchange a sticker for five 'rare' pictures, two chintapandu balls, a magnet, or a bubble gum. Bubble gums promised a good bargain due to the effort involved in smuggling them into building. On Sunday when there was Parents Meeting, there were 2 guys who went around the ground with a bell, signalling to one and all that it was time. The trick was to make sure that you were among the bell boys. A prior understanding meant you were given bubble gums, which you pocketed and entered the building with the bell, while others were checked in the lobby for things they might have attempted to sneak in.

Coming back to Cricket Stickers. The cricket stickers were valued possessions and played a number of roles. One of them was being paid to seniors as some sort of 'tribute'. I remember a senior who would bully a friend of mine.

"Fellow, pay me 5 cricket stickers,ee"
"I dont have, brother...."
"Then pay me nuggets curry...."

As a result, whenever there was nuggets curry, my friend would eat slowly, wait for the 7th std. guys to say Bramharpanam in the '7th std bass voice', and then give him his nuggets curry. Of course, he could dip his chapathi in rasam or slip it under the mat.

There was this other senior who had a favourite bathroom. One day he saw me coming out his bathroom and stopped me.

"Why you went to my bathroom, ee?"
"It was empty..."
"So? You'll enter off,aa?....Now pay me 10 cricket stickers"
"Ok", I said dejectedly.
"No, pay me a cricket sticker with Sanath Jaysuriya and Sachin Tendulkar drinking coffee"
"From where I'll get that..?"
"Then pay me nuggets curry"

So whenever there was nuggets curry, I stuffed my lunch within seconds and went to the staff room to tear off the Sports page from the newspaper.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A misunderstood Robin Hood?

Everybody asks me why I think so highly about Enrico. I mean, he was a general pest, and pissed off everyone around him with astounding frequency. So what exactly was likable about him?

Well, the thing was that he was a rebel in the truest sense. Someone who can give Ryan from 5.someone a run for his money. Though it was easy to brand him as a poltergeist, I can now see why he behaved the way he did.

Think about it this way, You are a 5 year old from Italy. All of a sudden you are put in a strange land, where you do not understand the language, the people, the customs and the prayers. You cannot eat the food that is served on a daily basis, and you are considered an outsider wherever you go. And in those days, being a foreigner had its own Damocles sword. You were expected to be a hooligan, and had this reputation to live up to. But like I always say, he was quite nice at heart.

It was difficult to be his friend. All the teachers marked you out, and since Enrico was genetically created in such a way that he could never be punished, you bore the brunt of his being Italian. The punishments were accompanied with threats of TC and there were hardly 5-6 guys in the class who spoke to him on a regular basis. For others, he was trouble with freckles, and they just avoided him.

Though most of his hatred was directed towards homo sapiens, he had love for animals, especially puppies and kittens. I remember in Class 8, we had found two puppies without their mother in the stadium. We brought them and built some sort of a house for them in the terrace. We used to steal breakfast for them in the morning. And in the afternoon, since Enrico never attended any classes anyway, he was given the responsibility of taking care of the puppies. And he never forgot to do his duty! He also got along famously with Narsimha, the official hostel pet.

And he had strange urges. While everyone else would be in the Kulwant hall attending a discourse, he would want to check out the Kalpavriksha hill. Now, sneaking out with him was always risky. Since he grew up in Parthi, every hawker and shop keeper knew him. While we would try to sneak out being as inconspicous as possible, my heart would jump when all of a sudden, a voice would call out, "Hey, Henry! How are you?". And like a true friend, he would always go and meet the shop keeper, leaving me standing outside, hoping I had brought an Invisibility Cloak with me. Once we reached the top, he liked to stand on top of the highest rock and look down upon the entire town. Its a different matter that once Janardhanan saw us from the hostel and we were duly butchered.

Another incident that comes to my mind was when we were really young. We must have been in Class four. I dint go home during Winter Holidays (in those days, they were for a full month) and so I stayed with a relative in Parthi. Inside the ashram, all the students who were in Parthi (foreigners, lecturers' children etc.) would gang up and play.

And what fun we had! There weren't as many buildings as there are now. And since Diwali was round the corner, we would buy crackers from outside and choose ideal locations and victims for them. Under the chair of a sevadal enjoying a siesta, lighting a bijli bomb and throwing it into the East Prashanti toilets. East Prashanti had a lot of grumpy old people and we thought it was cool to be chased by the Sevadals. And then, we would go to his home and his mother would cook the best Italian food I have ever eaten.

So anyway, it was one of those days when I was waiting for him to come out of his house in Round Building - 3, so we could go on another of his rounds of destruction. I was waiting in the garden behind the Round Building - the one that has the bronze statue of Ganesh with an umbrella and other structures.

When I was sitting there, a guy approached me. He must have been about 25 years old. He enquired about who I was, and asked me if I watched movies. I don't remember the exact conversation, but he asked me if I watched films. I said yes (Bhakta Prahalad is a film, mind you) and he then asked me if I knew what heroes and heroines do after getting married.

After a while, he asked me if I wanted some money to buy chocolates, which I happily accepted. He then asked me to accompany him to the East Prashanti toilets. It was only when we entered the toilets did I realise what he was upto. When I was trying to run out of the toilets, Enrico arrived and saw that guy trying to get hold of me. He came and asked me what was the matter.

The guy was all smiles, explaining to Enrico something about toilets and hero and heroine and love.... I still remember the kick.

We weren't very tall then. But I remember him taking his leg backwards, resembling Sehwag when he sees an over-pitched ball. He raised his leg backwards, and brought it down right in middle of the guy's legs, jeopardising his chances of starting a family in future.

The guy was on the floor, screaming his heart out. Sevadals rushed to the spot and we ran from there, straight into his house.

I don't remember if I thanked him. I mean, he wasn't exactly the kind of guy who laid a lot of emphasis on Thank You, Please, and Sorry. But I remember thinking that he wasn't that bad a guy after all. May be some sort of a misunderstood Robin Hood.

Of rules, rulers, and rule-breakers

I have met a lot of friends after we passed out from school, and most of the time, I am surprised at the transformation that has taken place. Some who were considered 'duds' are now the most successful, silent guys have become extroverts, and there is a sense of rebellion in almost everybody. Another thing is that when they step out, almost everybody has long hair. (At least for a few years, till like me, they realise they look like a rickshaw wala).

But when there are talks of meeting up, it is always found that some of the guys are unwilling to meet up. Many are ashamed to admit they studied at Puttaparthi and instead say they studied somewhere in the outskirts of Bangalore. Some do not want to talk to the rest of the batchmates. This has never failed to surprise me.

How could this be? We were given the perfect education, weren't we? The flowers in the Garden of Sai or whatever. Why then would these so called flowers not bear to talk to each other then?

I think the problem was too much judgement. Even before we could make sense of the rules, the language, and the daily routine, we were categorised into good and bad. Into bright and dull. Into form boys and rakshashas. Too early in life, and these tags stayed for ten years.

If there is anything about my schooling that I regret, it is this categorisation. I know it is difficult to control a large number of kids, and that sometimes we did get under the teachers' skins, and onto their nerves. But still, sometimes the categorisation was too much. And it was in this habit that our education became pretty much one-dimensional. Sports was extra-curricular, other talents were only to be noticed during competitions. If there were two things you had to be good at, it was studies and behaviour. I found it a little stifling.

Rules are meant to be broken, I know. But some of the rules were completely ridiculous. One of the main problems I had with the school was the rule against talking. I talked a lot - while eating, during darshan, during classes, and also sometimes in my sleep. And I got punished for that too. But how can you ban talking? Children are human beings after all. How will they communicate if they do not talk?

We did not have parents to talk to, nor could we go talk to someone after school. The teachers weren’t exactly E.R.Braithwaites, so we couldn’t talk to them. And I really could not understand what the fuss was about talking. Come to think of it, talking to each other was illegal throughout the day, with games time being the only legal talking time. If children do not talk, do not communicate, what will they do? Write autobiographies? Develop spiritual theories??

Another rule I could not understand was the rule that banished people from going to others' rooms. I understand this rule was created when swami had once said that boys are going from one room to another like cats and dogs. Now, even someone with a basic understanding of things would tell you that the problem lay elsewhere. But the brilliant minds there could do nothing but take the statement verbatim and ban people from entering others' rooms. So, if you wanted to talk to someone about something, you could not enter their room. You had to stand at the door and speak to the person.

And then, there was a brilliant rule in C floor, under which, if you were caught entering a friend's room, your luggage would be sent to that room and you had to stay there. Now, this was completely baffling. Its like saying, alcohol is banned, but if you are caught drinking, you will be given a crate of beer and asked to drink it all. But nonetheless, I enjoyed this rule. Half of my time in C floor was spent in others' rooms, as most of the time the guys in my room were mini-Bhakta Prahalads.

Lastly, the habit of tagging people was more common in the high school than the primary school. If you were weak in studies in Class 1, the tag stuck till you left school. If you were talkative, it meant you were a criminal. Though it was alright in the primary school, there was a sudden transformation in the high school, when a seat in the eleventh standard was on top of everyone's minds.

A lot of my friends stopped talking to me, for fear of being branded as a bad boy. In Class 10, a lot of my friends would get letters from the teachers asking them to stay away from me. There have been instances when parents have called up, asked for me, and specifically asked me to stay away from their children. It took a little time to digest, but it did eventually sink in. That a seat in 11th standard was probably more important than sharing a Sardarji joke. And if they did speak to you, their palms would be reddened with a wooden ruler.

We might have been the flowers of Sai. We might have been monkeys in the Vaanar Sena in Treta yuga, and Gopikas in Dwapar Yuga, and struck third time lucky being students in Cyber Yuga. But behind it all, was a complex structure of trying to figure out who you were, who your friends were, and why everything was black and white.

And then, may be you can understand why some of the guys do not wish to acknowledge their friends once they have left school. May be they are still scared of being judged, compared, and asked to shut up. If there is someone like that, leave them be. They have made the choice they have, and you have the memories of the days you spent together.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


At school, we never got to celebrate many festivals. Christmas consisted of breaking the decorations in the lobby and trying to guess who the 'Santa' was. Diwali consisted of throwing a lit sparkler in the air and screaming "Rocket! Rocket!" as it came down. But we did celebrate Holi. Not on the day when the rest of the country did, and not just once a year. It happened once a month, on Hair Cut day. I always felt it was some sort of retribution for the chimpanzee style hair cuts that we were given.

Preparation for the day began 3-4 days in advance. In the darshan line, we would take 2-3 sweets and save them in our shelves. We would exchange our ink pens for 'cricket stickers' and save them for the day. One of the first words of Telugu I learnt was 'Koncham', again, used heavily on this day. As we learnt early in life, bribery is not the way to get things done.

Hair cut day was always looked forward to. Nearly all the classes of the day would be missed, and I always made it a point to do everything in slow motion on that day so that I was one of the last persons in the lines. We sat in lines in the dormitory, waiting to be sent to the barbers.

There were two of them, 'Old barber' and 'Young barber'. It was assumed that the 'Young barber' was more contemporary and thus, more open towards new hairstyles. He was the more coveted among the two barbers, and we made sure that we were sent to him, so that we could have some hair left on our heads. Any PS student reading this, please note that its all crap. But we dint know it back then. Hope, like Morgan Freeman said in 'The Shawshank Redemption', keeps us alive.

When it was our turn to go, we entered the bathroom. In the passage between the toilets and the bathrooms, were the two thrones. A bucket upside down on a wooden chair.

Now, having hair was important to us. As a 5th grader, you needed to look different from the kiddos who still wrote with pencils. Having more hair meant a lesser portion of your scalp came off during the painful 'boochie checking'. Cap style was the coolest thing in the world and every guy's dream. Moreover, how would the 12th standard girl fall for you if you did not have hair on your head? We lived on hope.

So you gingerly entered the bathrooms. The first step was to fold hands, give a warm Oprah-like smile and say "Sai Ram". Then, you gave the bribe. Anand sweet that you had saved in your shelf, Swami's 'red robe photo' with the Vysya Bank calendar behind it, or a cricket sticker. The barber never denied anything, and happily pocketed the goodies. You were made to sit on the bucket, a white shawl (that had as much hair on it as Anil Kapoor's back) was wrapped around you.

Your regular pleas of 'Sai Ram, Koncham Koncham' fell to deaf ears. The barbers, embodiments of Sweeney Todd themselves, were cruel and heartless. Tearfully, you watched your hair fall on the shawl, another dream biting the dust.

Once you came out, the first few minutes would be spent looking at each other and laughing. You swore never to save another sweet for the damn barbers, and made a mental calculation of all the things you could have exchanged for the cricket stickers. But the day was not over yet. The fun began now.

In 5th standard, hair cut days were the only days when you were allowed to have 'own bath', instead of the embarrasing 'amma bath'. It was awesome! Two guys, generally 'Spiru-gurus', were made to guard the bathrooms in case a ma'am or amma was coming. Inside, it was absolute cacophony. We threw water at each other, formed teams and tried to make the other team fall on the ground, ambushed people coming into the bathrooms with buckets of water. Of course, if it was Bull Amma's dormitory, the guards needed to be more vigilant and if you were caught, she made you clean the toilets with your shirt or something. But otherwise, it was great fun.

After about an hour, a teacher came and drove us out. There were hardly two classes left in the day. After finishing bath, we went to Bull Amma's dormitory to look in the mirror dejectedly, secretly hoping that the 12th standard girl gave more emphasis to true love than good looks. The more desperate of us put our palms in front of our faces and blew with all our might, to see if any of our hair was 'flying'.

In a few days, we got over it. In another few weeks, and a series of painful 'boochie checking' sessions, when there was some semblance of hair on our heads, it was time again...

We would hide the sweet under our lap, raise our hand and say, "Brother, I didn't get."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

You know, aa fellow?

When your only contact with the outside world is the sports page of the Hindu, your window to the world is a large, dhobi box of rumours. These rumours gave us our first impression of the world. No one knows for sure how a rumour begins, and the best part is no one is interested in knowing it.

So here I present some of the most fascinating set of rumours that flew around at the time when Raveena Tandon was the hottest female in our country.

Keeping eraser dust in a notebook transformed it into a peacock feather:

Now, I would gift my entire porn collection to the person who finds the guy who made this up and bash his head inside out. This phenomenon was very popular, and there were people who had peacock feathers to prove their alchemistic talents of turning useless, black dust emanating from Natraj Plasto 621 erasers into the beautiful colourful peacock feathers that adorned the head of Lord Krishna. This really was the peacock feather in the cap of the well-behaved guys, who also believed that a certain amount of Divine Grace was required as a catalyst to this transformation. I remember storing huge amounts of dust in my notebooks. I only got thrashed for being a dirty pig, and felt guilty that I was not divine enough.

Sanath Jayasuriya has iron springs inside his bat:

In the late 90s, Sanath Jayasuriya played like a man possessed. And he reserved his best for India. We were a generation that grew up extolling the virtues of Sachin Tendulkar on the field and the dominance of someone else was unacceptable. Thankfully, someone came up with this ingenious bit of imagination for us to console ourselves with. Apparently, Sanath shaved off the top of his bat and installed iron springs in his bat. These iron springs propelled the ball into the stands upon contact with the bat. Truth is, Indian pace bowlers at that time were genuinely large-hearted and generous. Our opening bowler, Venkatesh Prasad bowled so slowly that he wore a wrist-watch in his left hand to keep in touch with time and reality.

Sri Lanka won the World Cup because after every over, they would get into a huddle and chant 'Sai Ram, Sai Ram.'

India had lost the Wills World Cup in 1996. Though we dint get to see a single match and knew fuck about what was going on on the field, there had to be a justified explanation of how Sri Lanka won the World Cup and we didn't. It surfaced when Ranatunga and Jayasuriya were found in the verandah on a Sunday morning wearing beige coloured dhotis, looking like Sevadals from Kerala. Apparently, after every over, they would come together and chant 'Sai Ram, Sai Ram'. I personally feel the team could have chanted the entire Rudram by the time Arjuna Ranatunga moved from mid-on to extra cover, going by his size.

The saga of Shambhulingam

For those who do not know, Shambhulingam was the school's ghost from the years 1993 to 1997. For one, he had to be a ghost of the highest standard to be able to dodge the 'Lotus' rule - which stated that all the buildings in the Ashram were immunized from ghosts by the construction of lotuses on top. This meant that the gymnasium was the only haunted building around and probably explained how our PT Sir made ghostly appearances only on Jan 26 and Aug 15th to hoist the flag. But anyway, Shambhulingam, like Shaktimaan, had no defined set of powers. While some believed he lived in the deer park and fed himself on a steady diet of nilgais, other believed he lived in the 5th standard dormitory. There is no proof that Shambhulingam was a male, for that matter, but I guess even ghosts liked to avoid going up the stairs. Some claimed to have heard heart-wrenching wails from the toilets in the night, proving Shambhulingam's existence, while others believe it could just have been RamTulasi amma singing some random bhajan.

Papa Shango and Undertaker

WWF was perhaps the second most followed sport after cricket, though WWF cards were way more popular than cricket cards. Bret Hart Hitman was the top star back then, and I still believe the older lot had more charisma in them compared to the present crop. Those were the days when StoneCold Steve Austin actually beat up Vince McMahon and flaunted it. Of course, the teachers hated WWE and Anantalaxmi mam called it a Tamasic sport. There were rumours that Headmistress aunty had burnt a guy's WWF T-shirt. The only person who I remember having the guts to wear a WWF T-shirt, was Rohit Parmar, who wore a white T-shirt that had Tatanka's face on it. The rumours associated with Papa Shango was that he drew out the hearts of his opponents. Undertaker was rumoured to have 29 lives. I remember being traumatised when I learnt that it was all fixed and stage-set.

Dipping your hand in a mug of running cold water can give you mumps

Being sick in school meant getting bread and jam for breakfast, and Viva milk twice a day. It also meant you could get to watch video shows irrespective of your class, and most importantly skip classes. If you were lucky to fracture your hand or leg, you were sent home. Though I remember climbing up the giant wheel after steeling my resolve, I never had the guts to jump and break a leg. My only option left was a serious disease. I did get chicken pox once, but sadly, you only get it once. That is when I was introduced to this painless disease called Mumps. My friend suggested the above mentioned technique to acquire mumps. I sat in the toilet for hours together with my hand dipped in the mug. All I got was a bad cold. Don't try this at home, or in the office.

The relevance of the white in your fingernails

Somewhere around the time we learned about the birds and the bees, came along this book called 'Health in your hands', by Devendra Vora, probably the most widely read author in school after RD Sharma and N. Kasturi. Mr. Vora, in his remarkable book suggests some very questionable remedies for some even more questionable symptoms. I remember clearly a diagram that showed that sitting on a wooden chair with a tennis ball under your scrotum improved virility. Among Mr. Vora's phenomenal revelations, was the one about the white semi-circles on our fingernails. Now, these semi-circles apparently represented the levels of semen in our bodies. Spending too much time alone after haircut meant that the semi-circles would deplete quickly. Depletion of these semi-circles would ultimately lead to, believe it or not, AIDS. I remember being petrified about the depleting levels on my fingernails and monitored it on a regular basis with some of my friends. I remember we vowed to abstain from spending time alone after haircuts and cultivate good thoughts in our minds.

Yokozuna chance of that happening, really.

PS. I know I have left out many of the other rumours. But there is a constraint of space here. You are free to add them in your comments and I could may be add another chapter to it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Last night, I was listening to one of my favourite songs, 'Like a Rolling Stone' by Dylan. My roommate was not snoring and I could hear the song quite clearly. Behind the dreamy harmonica, and Dylan's voice and guitar, I could hear the jingle-jangle of the first instrument that I had learnt to play.

Every student in Parthi knows to play 2 instruments by default - 'taalam' and 'duff'. Some, like me, also learnt to blow our own trumpet pretty early in life!

Quite early in childhood, we were allowed to bring 'duffs' and 'taalams' to the school. There were two types of duffs. Those made of metal that had 'Eagle Band Co.' written on them, and the Plastic/ Fibre ones that were bigger, heavier and thus, more sought after. Duffs were easily the more in vogue instruments back then, though taalam owners proudly defended their instruments by saying,

"Swami played taalam, he never played duff, eee"

Which would be retorted with,

"Go for dho,eeee. Swami is God, eee. He can play all instruments,eee"

The owners of duffs and taalams were quite sought after during Bhajans time. Slots would be reserved, and before Bhajans began, the owners would do a mental calculation of whom to give which bhajan. In times of extreme demand, the slots would be rationed out by the owners by giving the applicants 'half a bhajan' each. And the most coveted slot would be the Arati. I remember the craze. "Ae fellow, I don't want full Arati, eee. At least give me Narayana Narayana". Narayana Narayana, for the uninitiated was the climatic peak of the prayer session. Guys would doze all through, and then as if suddenly injected with steroids, wake up and clobber the hell out of the poor duff.

As was the norm back then, we had crushes on girls who were a minimum of 5 years elder to us. There was a senior called Priyamvada, who not only sang mellifluously, she played the duff beautifully. During Christmas, there were little dolls of angels that were put up all around. Everytime I saw one that had a tambourine in its hands, I was reminded of my love. It didn't take me long to realise my chances of getting her were as strong as Putana dancing the Raas Leela with Krishna.

When we reached Class 6, the duff became the subject of another of our innovations. This involved rotating it on our fingers. Records were set and people would bunk lunch so they could rotate the duff for a long time without a break. And you could not do it all alone, it had to be recorded by another person to attest your feat. I remember the record at our time was somewhere at one and a half hours. It was the only way you could show the person in front of you the middle finger and he would keep cheering you.

Over the years, I learnt to play the tabla and keyboard and the duff was relegated to crazy akhandabhajan nights that my mother would force me to attend. The good thing about the duff is that, like swimming once you play it, you never forget how to.

Today, the humble duff is lost somewhere amidst the other duffs in our lives: Homer Simpson's beer and Hillary. But when I listen to 'Mr. Tambourine Man', it always makes me smile.

We were all tambourine men once. We were not sleepy, and dining hall was the place we were going to.

To steal a few chapathis.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Two Suprabhatams and an Ashtotram

I never understood the relevance of Suprabhatam. I mean, god was omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, surely he could handle graveyard shifts as well? I later accepted it to be some sort of cajoling and coaxing for god to get up and get about.

But be what it may, Suprabhatam was an integral part of the routine. If morning shows the day, the quality of life could pretty well be determined by the Suprabhatams in PS and HS. The difference between Suprabhatam at PS and HS was the difference between a Summer Camp and a Concentration Camp.

PS: They say that in de-addiction centres, they cure you of your desire by administering it in small portions. Almost similar to how you were woken up in PS. The lights would be switched on. S. Bhargav would be chanting 'Karagre Vasate' somewhere in the distance. You woke up, rolled your bed, slept on it. You joined the line to pile the beds, and slept on it. And then put you bed on the pile, and slept on it some more. You stood in line for toothpaste, coaxed to brush your teeth, and then cajoled into the prayer hall.All at a sleepy, hazy, unhurried pace.

The lights in the Prayer Hall were switched off, with only the lamps lit, giving off a hypnotic effect that was probably the last thing to keep you awake. You somnambulate to the lines and take your place. Once the prayer begins, you fall on the back of the person sitting in front of you, who sleeps on the person sitting in front of him. This chain goes on till the wannabe-Swami Vivekananda sitting in the front of the line. This little hermit keeps shrugging off the person from his back, disrupting the chain of sleep behind him in the process and inviting the wrath of the entire batch on himself.

There was a senior girl on the mike chanting 'Om', to the accompaniment of the harmonium, a perfect lullaby to drift off into lala-land. Each 'Om' took its own, sweet time to emanate from the chanter, and lasted for about a minute, in the process guaranteeing you 21 minutes of blissful sleep. Prasunna mam did her best to extract a few 'Om's from you, but as long as you were smugly settled on the back of the person in front of you and didn't look up at all, all was well. The Suprabhatam too went on at a slow pace, if you were awake to notice it in the first place.

The Suprabhatam was followed by the 'Ashtotram', which flew by before you noticed it. "OmbhagawansatsaibabanamahaOmsatSwaroopaNamaOmSai.....", so on and so forth. By the time the entire session was over, sunlight seeped in from the meshed windows. You were woken up when your class was asked to leave. You stood up, bowed down once in front of the altar and left.

Of course, there were the 'Spirus' who were deep in meditation and unaware of their classmates who had left. Such divine souls would later on need to be tapped on the head by Anantalakshmi mam and would only then open their eyes to realise that rest of their classmates had left. But if you were a normal person, you slowly walked out of the prayer hall. Your sleep was driven away, and you charged downstairs for a breakfast of bread and tomato soup. Ready for another day of kick-assery.

HS: All the excitement about going to 'that school' would evaporate on the first day itself. You were woken up in an inauspicious manner. Your blankets were pulled off your bodies. If you still managed to sleep, the combined vocal talents of Anup Jalota and Narendra Chanchal were unleashed on the PA system to jolt you out of your senses.

As you trudged along to the Prayer Hall. This was a strange hall. Like a magical hall in Hogwarts, it served you food four times a day, showed you a film a fortnight, and fucked up your mornings everyday. The lights were switched on. There was no option for you to lounge yourself on the person in front of you. There was one arms distance between the person in front of you. All the teachers of the hostel were present. There were two guys of your own class, friends who mocked at teachers with you at night, who were monitors. They wrote your names down in little papers if you were found not chanting the prayers.

There was no way you could doze. If you did, the dickhead sitting behind you who desperately wanted a seat in Eleventh standard would nudge you awake, and get a smile of approval from Janardhanan. Not only were you not allowed to doze, you had to keep your back straight, and your hands in the meditation mudra pose, and had to chant the Suprabhatam. As if this was not enough, Janardanan's voice (as melodious as a chainsaw cutting through an old blackboard) ensured you stayed very much in the realms of awareness.

If you still managed to defy the odds to steal thirty nine winks, you were made to go to the end of the hall and stand, making you wish you were a horse, one so that you could sleep while standing, and two so you could run over some of the teachers.

The chanting itself was so slow, it felt like an endodontic therapy being performed without anaesthesia. The other highlight of HS was the Ashtotram. In HS, Ashtotram was not just another prayer, it was the Holy Grail.

We were set questions in 'Human Values' that were as cruel as 'Write down the Ashtotram from No. 67 to 92'. Punishments included writing the Ashtotram in a paper 5 times during Games Time. So, there was no respite during Ashtotram time too. And it was chanted in slow motion as well. Om....Bhagawan...Sri...Sathya..ZZZ...Sai...(tap on head)...Babaya..."Bloody fellow, Go and stand"...Namaha...

It wasn't over as yet. To add free-flowing, triple refined, Iodised salt to the wound, Janardhanan sir would give us our daily dose of nuggets of wisdom. Little notes on the importance of devotion in day to day life.

Surprisingly, at the end of it all, you were still sleepy as hell. You trudged out of the hall, and in a colossal joke played by the heavens, were to be taken for jogging. By Rammohan sir!!!!

Friday, April 16, 2010


Before Rakhi Sawant and Mumait Khan made an entry into our lives, the word 'item' held a more purer meaning. It indicated the group we belonged to for Sports, and thus dictated how we spent the best days at PS.

Though Sports Time was without doubt the most exciting of all the phases spent in the year, the low points for me have been the 'items' that I have been part of.

It's better off in the First Standard. As a first grader, you really have no clue what is going on around you. You are made to stand 'heightwise" and then made to take your place in rows and taught some 'steps'. You are shepherded from the dormitory to the dining hall and the field. You are baffled as to why anyone would leave a wonderful breakfast of Chitraannam and go running to the field screaming "Swami came, Swami came!". You were still not comfortable with the idea of drinking Rasna from drums and your entire day was spent in "One, two, three, four, five, six, seveeeeen, eight!". You just enjoyed the days without books, classes, and 'meditation times' and hoped today was not the last day of this month long festival. When I was in my first standard, I was in 'Dumbles drill'. We wore some exotic Oriental hats, and carried dumbles in our hands and did some steps to the tune of 'Nanne munne bacche tere mutthi mein kya hai'. I remember being in the first row. Initially, I had trouble understaning that I had to stick to the right corner of my 'box', which was formed by 'tracks' on the field. These tracks were geometricaly perfect squares made of chalk that could put Julian Beaver to shame. I remember I used to keep moving from left to right and behind me another 15 would do the same. It was utter confusion, but enjoyable nonetheless. I remember telling my father that we had just had a one month holiday and feeling that my parents' choice of school for me wasn't all that bad, after all.

The real excitement came in Class 2. By this time, you knew what was coming. In this year, I was in this drill called 'Santa and Sardar' drill. This drill consisted mainly of alternate columns of children dressed as Sardarjis and Santa Clauses. I was a Santa Claus and my role consisted mainly of joyfully jumping around. The good thing about being small is that even your mistakes seem cute (not to your teachers, of course) and so there wasn't too much fuss about attaining Aamir Khan-ish perfection in the steps, as was the case in later years with all those dance items. The guys who were Sardars had the more complicated moves, and had to practice with handkerchiefs on their fingers. We guys just pranced about with utmost buffoonery. On the final day, since we were Santa Claus and no one has ever heard of a young, dapper Santa, we were given fake beards and moustaches to look the part. Some very practical person came up with the idea of pasting the beards to our skin with Fevicol. In addition, we were given green Santa bags which had helium balloons in them, to be let off at the end of the item.

The balloons bit was fun. Some of them would fly off before they were put in our bags. And some of them wouldn't fly at all, much to the chagrin of some of our guys, who would attempt to blow their balloons, blissfully forgetting their 'steps'. The Sardar guys did not have the balloons, and instead had stupid shiny handkerchiefs tied to their fingers. I felt good! Till the time we were asked to take off the costume. This was the teary part. I remember my beard came off in bits, and I had to be chased around to take off the last bit. I wish those Fevicol ads had come out at that time. The teachers would have realised the repurcussions to us. That must be the only time in the history of the planet when you would find 50 Santas, all in tears!

By the time we came to Class 3, we were grown up. We could say 'Shut Up' without our names going to mam. And when we were reallly angry, we could also utter the three 'B's - 'Bloody, Bum, Bastard'. The teachers came to ask us how many of us knew how to cycle. I saw some people raise their hands in the class. Not to be embarassed, I raised my hand too.

We were taken to the field for the auditions. When my turn came, I froze. I had never really ridden a cycle. The only time I had so much as sat on a cycle was in my native place. I sat on the front rod of my uncle's cycle and the experience was a pain in the ass, quite literally. And here I was. I still remember the cycle, it was brown and did not have a straight rod, but a curved one. But it could have been a Hungarian Horntail for all it was worth. Uma mam and Sashi mam were incharge, and they made me sit on the cycle. I gingerly pedalled a little, only to fall on the teacher on the left, who pushed me a little to steady myself. This caused me to fall to the right. After playing 'pass-pass' with me for a while, they realised I was as close to riding a cycle as flying a plane. I was reprimanded for lying and stood back and watched some of the other liars make fools of themselves.

All of us rejects had to be put in some other drill. A selection was made and some of my friends, like Mohanty, were selected for the 'Fisherman' drill. This selection was done purely on the basis of how rotten your luck was, it was not as if he was better than me at fishing or anything. The 'Fisherman' drill was at least better. It was for the senior guys, and the tune was the monster hit of the time, 'Tu cheez badi hai mast'.

And guess where I was put? In a god-awful drill called the 'Horse and Star' drill. And the worst part was that it was the 1st and 2nd standard boys' drill. Kids, who weren't even allowed to say 'Shut Up'. Now, this drill was absurd to say the least. We were to run along carrying a stick in between our legs, that would have the head of a horse at the front. To add to the machismo, there were big, fat golden stars stuck on our palms. I remember the indignity of it all. While my friends were zipping and zapping through the field in their cycles, here I was, running with a goddamned stick like Neville Longbottom trying to get on a Firebolt. Humiliating to say the least.

4th standard was alright, I guess. At least I was with guys of my own class. This was called the 'Caps and Wheels drill' or something. Where we wore red, foldable versions of Queen Elizabeth's hats. Of course, it was the surprise. The foldable cap was tucked in our shirts. In the middle of the act, we turned back, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seveeeen, eight! and when we faced the audience again, Presto! we were wearing Elizabeth's caps again. There were also these wheels that we held in our hands that were battery operated and would rotate when we pressed the button. Work of a genius who was totally aware that we were about 100 metres away from the stage in the first place.

5th standard was another low point. I don't remember what I had missed out on, but here I was, with juniors again. 3-4th standard guys who still wrote with pencils. And this act was another unbridled display of masculinity, called the 'Ribbon drill'. It involved holding a stick that had a ribbon tied to it and making beautiful shapes out of it. Not only that, there would be poles and all of us, would put one hand on our waists and run around the pole in circles, multitasking to ensure that our ribbons made beautiful patterns all the time. I mean, who on earth comes up with these ideas? Aren't they aware of the long-term effects on the minds of the children? Real depressing stuff again. I remember when we used to be going back home in the 'Orissa Group', we used to get to talk to the girls. And I remember how desperately I would try to change the topic when it came to sports, lest the girls I had a crush on din't ask me what 'item' I was in. There was this one year senior girl whom I had a crush on. Unfortunately, the topic drifted to Sports and my bloody friends simply had to boast about how they were in all these cool items like 'Cycling' and 'Poles' and stuff.

"So what item were you in?"
After unsuccesfully trying to ignore her, one guy revealed that I was in 'Horse and Stars'.
"What? Horse and Stars?" I remember her laughter, it sounded cruel and harsh.

I am pretty sure that was the last time I spoke to her.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bull Amma

We were in Class 3. Lakshmi amma was drying banians on the string near the dhobi box and we were playing in the dormitory. "Play all you want now, once Bull Amma comes, I'll see how much you will play!", she said. We took that threat with a pinch of salt. We had passed out from 'E' dormitory and there couldn't be anything scarier than the Seshukumari mam, could there?

Then, she arrived. For the next 5 years, sneaking into the dormitories to bunk classes was like going to Dantewada jungle for a picnic. You never knew when you would be ambushed, and thrashed so badly that your insides would feel like scrambled pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. In some ways, she was an ideal amma. She washed the clothes, her dormitory was the cleanest. She knew how to silence a bunch of chattering ten year olds. (Arbit BA Trivia: She also played the harmonium and was well versed in karra samu - a martial art that involves use of a stick). Everything was perfect till you pissed her off. Then, heaven save you.

You did not dirty the dormitory. You collected your underwear in time. Otherwise, like a Sudarshan Chakra, it found you and stayed on your head after landing a slap on your face. If you wanted to pee in the night, you had to do it while brushing your teeth before going to bed. There were two doors to the bathrooms. She would bolt one of the doors from inside, and the other one from the outside, and then open the meshed window near the door. If you had to go pee, you had to open the close the window first. This would make a creaking noise. If she woke up, (as my friend once put it) you had to pee from the eyes.

Bull Amma was the only amma who was given deemed rights equal to that of teachers. She was the allowed to punish us and they were scarier punishments! Like, if you were caught talking by a teacher, you would be asked to stand in the old prayer hall. I was once caught by Bull Amma talking. She yanked me out of the bed, pulled an underwear drying on the window and put it on my head, and made me stand in the lobby downstairs. There were 12th std. girls studying there, I was not amused.

She did not like it if you went to the toilet in between classes. And since the toilets were upstairs in the dormitories, it made it very tough for us. If it was 'urgent', it meant a 100 meters sprint up the stairs, only to be met with a very pissed Bull Amma. Such situations were responsible for adding some colourful words to my Telugu vocabulary. Words like "Dunnapotta, Donga Sanyasi, Go Bite, and Lan*a ko****", all souvenirs of vicious encounters. Whenever we sneaked into the dormitory, we had to be on the look out for the maroon or dark green saree lurking behind the pillars. The CD dormitory was quite popular among the guys. There was a wooden almirah in the dormitory which had a life size mirror on the front. Some of the seniors would come to the dormitory and stand in front of it and adjust their 'cap style'. Bull amma would wait near the other door, waiting for the guy to step out and launch into attack.

The dormitory was her domain. She set the rules and you implicitly obeyed the rules. Unless you were early into bondage.

Or if you were Enrico Sandri.

Like Nadal and Federer, and Rakhi and Mika, Bull amma and Enrico saved their best for each other. If she was Bull Amma, he was 'Matador abbayi'. And they never had the small, mundane quarrels. Prayers in the assembly would be interrupted by a loud, "Oraaaaai Henrigaaaaaa!!!...BOOM! SLAM !! THUD !!!"

Enrico had done a One year diploma degree in how to piss Bull Amma off. While she would be mopping the dormitory, he would enter and do cartwheels in front of her, knowing fully well that she could not chase him. Not to be outdone, she deviced a strategy of her own. She would keep a long stick with her and hurl it at his legs. In one fight, she chased him into the prayer hall. Enrico ran upto the shrine, picked up the Muruga spear that was kept near the altar, and hurled it at her, breaking in into two. Even today, the spear has a tape joining it, a testimony to one of the greatest battles ever fought in the history of the school.

A few years back, we had gone to visit the school. She was sitting on the steps at the entrance. She recognised a few of us, smiled and asked us how we were. It seemed strange, the person whom we were petrified of seemed gentle, with kind eyes.

Just then, a kid who was being chased came running into the lobby. In a flash, amma caught hold of him. "Aaaaah....amma, sorry amma....aaaaahh"

Some things, they never change!

Saturday, April 10, 2010


TC: (abbr) Transfer Certificate. To be asked to leave the school. Often considered the toughest form of punishment doled out to students at Parthi. Some argue that being asked to clean Ram Mohan sir's room is the worst. Is generally used as a threat. Synonyms: 'kicked out'

TC - The very mention of the two letters made a person freeze. The utterance of these letters by a teacher caused a thousand prayers to be shot up into the heavens, along with a thousand promises. "Please God, I will not watch any films when I go home. Please forgive me this time and I will do 108 pradakshanas around Ganesha temple"

The two scariest letters if you studied in Parthi. I do not know about you people, but I was under constant threat of a TC. The very mention struck fear in my heart. And this was pretty much the case with all my friends. After our holidays were, the journey back was troublesome for me. Not because I was homesick, but because I did not know if I was going to be allowed to continue. One of my friends, KSR (K.Santosh Reddy), also felt the same way. I remember him telling me that when he arrived at the bus stand and saw the 'KSRTC' buses, he thought it was a sign from the heavens!! In our younger days at PS, it was said that every year, the worst behaved student would be given a TC. I am sure this was hogwash, I studied there till 10th standard. With TC always came legendary tales of misbehaviour. A guy in our class was given TC and it was rumoured that he was found at midnight sitting on top of the Parvathi statue's head. (Or heads, actually).

The closest I came to TC was in Class 6. It happened in the afternoon on a weekday. It so happens that this well-known foreigner friend of mine was as usual spending his time away from the class, discovering the small joys of life (catching frogs, going up to the dormitory and screaming "Go for dho" to the teachers from the windows etc.).

He sees an amma spreading clothes in the old prayer hall for us to collect when we came upstairs after the classes. Creativity gets the better of him and probably taking inspiration from the painting of Padmapada on the walls, decides to walk on each and every one of the shirts that were being spread out. The concerned aunty reprimands him for it, and soon realises why none of the teachers bother doing it. He screams at her, along with graphic details of what he'd like to do. Traumatised, she takes him to Warden Aunty. When interrogated, he coolly states that I had taught him all that.

Of course, I was blissfully unaware of all this. I was sitting outside a Neela Patel mam's class, obviously not figuring in the list of 'my good students' on that day. Now, the good part about being punished outside the class in 6th standard is that the senior girls' classes were right in front of you. On the flip side, a teacher from the Staff Room could see what you were doing from the windows in their room. I was furiously trying to catch a glimpse of somebody through the windows, when Vimla aunty came asking for me. On realising that I was already punished, she gave me a look as if I was a Kaurava whose thighs Bheem had forgotten to tear off.

I was taken to the dining hall, where tiffin was being served in the yellow Indian Airlines katoris.

"Is he the guy?" "Yes, aunty. He was already punished outside the class." BOOM! Punch to the nose!
'Shameless fellow, is this what you teach your friends?"
"Aunty, what..." and before I could say 'Tyson', another punch to the nose.

I was then called to HM aunty's room. I had always wondered what this room looked like while waiting in line outside the dispensary. But this was a wrong way to find out. Everywhere I looked, I could only see my impending doom. Tears after tears flowed, but I was unable to convince her that I had no clue what was being talked about. I was asked to pack my suitcase and Oblesu was called to take me to the station. (I know, there was no station in Parthi back then, but try mentioning that after receiving two punches that sent you out of the orbit!)

After much begging, an investigation was carried out. My friend said that I had taught him all that one day in the class. What probably tilted the case in my favour was his track record of how many times he actually came to the class. Finally, I was asked to go back to the classroom. I could have walked with my nose in the air, the problem was that I could not feel it in the first place. I was given strict warnings not to talk to him again.

That, of course, is a different story altogether!!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Studying in bathrooms

I don’t know the case with most of you, but most of my memories revolve around other things. Sports time. Games time. Plum cakes. Waiting for Arati Aunty’s car to confirm that we were going to be Cold Drink as ‘tiffin’. The time at school was constantly flying, and before we knew it, it was the end of yet another term.

And come exams time, the atmosphere would change. We would be taken to dormitories to study. And people would be allowed to take their books for ‘darshan’.

As we grew up, the word ‘co-operate’ found its way into our dictionary. A little warped, but apt nevertheless. To co-operate meant to be hand-in-glove in breaking the rules. Or knowing something was going on and looking the other way, pretending nothing had happened. And every class had a few guys who would not co-operate. This highly uninteresting group comprised mainly of form boys, children of teachers/lecturers who could not afford to be caught with their pants down, or the ‘spiru-gurus’ - the little torches of enlightenment who blessed our midst with their presence.

So we had to ‘co-operate’ with each other in order to break all the rules. And it seems an apt word now, considering the amount of time and effort spent in securing each of those missions. Smuggling in a pack of bubble gums. Studying in the bathrooms in the night. Or playing cricket in the dormitory. Each of these tasks required absolute co-operation from each other in order to carry it off completely.

But of all the things that we did, the most atrocious would definitely be the studying in the toilets. For those who are not aware of this phenomenon and have only used bathrooms in their lives strictly for toiletry purposes, it might sound a little strange that we actually used to study in the bathrooms and toilets. But it was just a day in the office for us when exams time was on.

I think it must have begun as a desperate measure to catch up on some last hour of study before the exam. Since you could not switch on the lights when there were another hundred people sleeping, someone must have come up with the novel idea of going to the toilets, anyway the lights there have to be on.

I personally wouldn’t have done it for the last night cramming. Those were the days when studies were still not that important to me. I still do not remember any serious worries over studies in school. Somewhat like the Harry Potter books, where they have a series of adventures through out the year and the yearly exams are just something that find a mention in the end for a little bit. There is a little bit of tension but ultimately they all do well and everything is happy with the world.

For me, it was more than that. I did it because it was against the rules, I guess.

It all began with the dinner. After dinner, we were made to study in the classrooms for a while. And soon after, as soon as the clock struck nine (doesn’t that sound like a dream now? Imagine being forced to bed by nine!), we were asked to retire to our beds.

We would smuggle the books within our night dress shirts like they were some book in a Dan Brown movie.

Prayer was generally around 9.30 and after asking god for forgiveness - for what we had seen, heard, thought, did, or intended, with or without our knowledge- we would pretend to sleep. Once the teachers were safety out of the dormitory, it was time to carry out or mission.

One guy would go to the bathrooms and switch all on the lights. And then the others would carry their books, mats and text books and then take up places in the bathroom. Yes, on the floor! And some would actually climb up on the walls of the latrines so that they can study in peace. I generally never studied much in those sessions. It was hard to concentrate in class as it is. But the idea of studying in the bathroom seemed so adventurous to me back then that I couldn’t resist it.

Of course, since we depended so much on co-operation, there were two guys who were made to sit near the doors of the dormitories to signal to us if there was danger approaching. A teacher on her rounds, or an aunty on the prowl. It always seemed futile to me, considering the strange locations we had chosen for ourselves to obtain knowledge.

In fact some of the guys would leave some portion of their studies exclusively for this time period.

“You studied speed and time problems a, fellow ??”
“No, ee. I will finish it in the bathrooms,ee”

Soon, we were dependant on these last hour sessions for almost every exam. Soon, the teachers got to know about it and there would be surprise rounds of checking in the night. I remember a lot of hilarious situations that ensued. When the assigned ‘guard’ gave the warning sign, everyone ran for their lives. There was this once when a teacher caught two guys who had hidden in the same toilet. His explanation that he was ‘waiting’ to go in broke no ice with the teacher. Poor guy got a lecture on indiscipline, and a practical demo of the fury of the gods at 12 in the night, and in the toilets.

Gradually, the teachers got the better of us. The surprise checks were replaced with checks every few hours. If anyone was caught in the bathrooms, he would be called to the old prayer hall, given some milk and biscuits and lovingly be asked to go to sleep.

Amusingly, this caused a decline in the trend of the late night toilet gyaan-fest. I think the fact that the teachers were now ok with it and it wasn’t a huge crime anymore made the entire process lose its appeal. At least for me, it was not something I wanted to do anymore.

What’s the point of waking up in the night, balancing your ass on the divider wall which gave you a bird’s eye view of two potties, and trying to mug up a shloka, when it wasn’t even illegal?

I stopped studying in the bathrooms after that.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Think of it, ours must be the only institution that taught students for only 7 months a year. Apart from vacations, we enjoyed two months of ‘in-school holidays’, one for ‘Birthday’, and the other for ‘Sports’. The season would be ushered in gradually. We all knew it was coming, but the teachers, till the last moment would make it seem like studies were still important. Sometimes, they would hold Unit Tests in late November so children studied.

But there was no stopping it. It would begin with the marching sessions. Slowly, the ‘minder’ would be asked to ‘mind’ the class as the teachers would be missing for the classes. And then, before we realised, it was here!

For the next two months, a pink statue that had four heads would play an important part of our lives. That and squares made of white chalk. And stinking shoe racks and drums of Rasna.

The selection of ‘items’ was always important, as in this phase, new friends would be made. Seniors and juniors would mingle freely and you could call them by their names without adding the suffix ‘brother’. Perhaps the most obvious differentiation was seeing colour everywhere. When the entire batch of 120 guys went to bed every night wearing uniform pyjamas, it was a luxury to wear normal clothes, also called ‘home dress’.

Hygiene was the last thing on our minds then. I’m sure if the Dettol Doctor had visited us then, he would have had a mild heart attack. Night practices, playing with stones; we were a doctor’s nightmare. And another important thing during ‘Sports Time’ was that rules were made a little flexible. Wake up at a leisurely 8 AM, wear whatever you want, don’t even touch your book, and no speeches about kundalini chakra.

During the next two months, everyone would pursue an interest with earnest. Since we dint have classes and there wasn’t anything else to do, we chose a pastime. And each of them was weirder than the other. Some juggled throughout the day, with handmade balls made of tamarind – rolled to perfection on the elephant slide and could give those so called rolled on the thighs Cuban cigars a run for its money. Some played 5 stones, or cricket cards, or WWF cards. I used the time judiciously. I used to stare at girls.

Sports time was payback time for the ascetic life that was imposed on us during the rest of the year. As each of the items performed, or rather ‘practised’, the other groups would be allowed to look. The teachers (if they were ‘important’ teachers) would give in their suggestions. And we could stare all we wanted. Sports time was Christmas time for you if you had the hots for someone. Many crushes were created and many hearts crushed in these two months.

The next two months would fly away in a blur. Between practice sessions in the dormitory with audio cassettes and National Panasonic cassette players. Baths in the dining hall in the evening. With ‘steps’ and ‘formations’ and ‘item-wise practise’. Ravalgaon Orange toffees if you did well. No bhajans in the evenings. (Did we go for Sunday morning darshan during Sports Time? I can’t seem to remember) It was a colourful mist of lazy, sweet days that came in drums of orange, pineapple and green apple flavours.

Of all the memories that I remember of Sports Time, the gloomiest one was of the evening of January 11th. When we would return to our dormitories, and take off the white pants that had satin strips stitched to the sides, and could listen to the music playing from the stadium. Somehow, the evening of January 11th was one of the saddest days of the year. When night settled on that day, I was filled with a strange sadness. It was back to waking up in the morning, filling your ink pen and those sky blue shirts and dark blue pants that had to be taken out of the shelves, after throwing away the ‘5 stones’, orange chocolates, and WWF cards that were hidden under it. And just like that, the best time of the year was behind us.

Neatly arranged, and packed into the suitcase.


It was a Tuesday and I was stuck in a meeting with a client who looked evil and boring at the same time. While she spoke in a high pitched, giggly tone, her curly hair seemed like little snakes. So while the rest of the country was enjoying Sachin score yet another test century, I was sitting here, talking niceties with Mendosa. Or was it Mesopotamia? What was that name of that monster??

And then I realised it. I had forgotten it. My favourite story as a child, forgotten. Dumped in the attic of memories, never to be brought out again.

It was then that the sad part of growing up struck me. It is not the dull routine that we settle into everyday. It is not the fact that we are stuck with the same partner for life. The saddest part of growing up is that we forget.

The tiny pleasures of life. The stories of good versus evil. Little things that made our eyes widen up in joy. It is these things that we lose (apart from of course hair, flexibility, and Cartoon Network).

We grew up in an age when remembering something depended solely on us. You had to talk about it with someone, or fantasise during ‘meditation time’, to crystallise and give shape to a memory. There were no cameras, or facebook, or scrap books. Even more shocking was the fact that I wasn’t sure exactly what all I had forgotten. I mean, you only know it when you can remember it. How can you remember the things that you have forgotten?

This blog is intended to act as a suitcase of memories. Neatly packed, arranged, and there for me whenever I need to revisit my childhood. You are free to agree, disagree, argue, comment, add, like, or dislike whatever you want. It’s like a walk down memory lane.

In two’s. Class wise. Holding hands, and without chappals!