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!!