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.