The Torch from the Porch..

What shit! Don't tell me these puny looking, fragile, 11-year old kids are living alone, without their parents, in a crazily- disciplined hostel, run by saffron-donned monks? Seemingly yes, they are. And what's worse? Even we have lived like that in our times. Sorry, but I can digest this piece of self-rediscovery, only because I've been through it..

I visited my older school, one with the hostel, after about 5 years. 6 years after passing out, as an alumni. It was a strange feeling, as I had gone on a guardian meeting day - the only specified Sundays, when parents are allowed to see their wards. Standing on the other side of the fence, I realized how eagerly the kids on the other side were waiting to meet their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts or other local guardians. The eagerness was depressing and sad. Suman tried to steer the feeling to that of being funny, by pointing out to a weird, baby-faced, bespectacled kid , musing, 'If that kid suddenly calls you Baba! Baba!! you'll know how ND Tiwari feels off late..'

I won't lie, but whenever I see entities this fragile, I get a recurring, gut-wrenching feeling from the most elusive corners in my head. A feeling, to test the very frangibility of these entities - push them, hit them, shake them - make them shout out and explain why they exist the way they are. Explain the purpose of living in a utopia. I never figured it out myself. Perhaps the only explanation I'll get is that their parents got them to study there, they themselves don't know why.

How can someone live like this? How did we live like this, 6 years ago, 6 years of our lives. There was no cellphone, no laptops, no computer games, no whatzapp, no IM, no BBM, no TTYL, no WTF.. But we had our own fun, and most of those, collectively, made us oblivious to all those questions above.. Nicknames that only we'd know why (some totally deniable!) A football league to die for - the Rathayatra Football League. Some professors who have their own unique way of punishment - Bone Crusher, Hulk Smash, Spine Breaker - or perhaps something along the likes of our grey-haired Hindi professor Ram Lakhan Khan's slow, sing-song way of tranquilizing the impending blow on the back:

'Humare pitaji sochte hain,
ki humara beta bada hoga..
Bada ho ke Saadhu banega,
par unka beta toh chor ban raha hai!'

He might as well have said, 'Why So Serious?' before going 'KABOOM!' on our dorsum. And considering how tall and mild-mannered he otherwise looked, I won't really be surprised if he does something psychotic like that..

...

So as we stayed longer in the day, we eventually went to have the evening snacks served with tea. You know, reliving the old days, only to notice that the mighty dining hall seemed weirdly small! We sat at the faculty bench, as a few early birds stared at us through their thick glasses from the students' bench on the opposite side. The mess worker rang the bell. 'Ding-ding-ding-ding-(a prolonged continuation)-dang-dang-dang----DONG!' was exactly how it sounded.

But it used to sound different when we used to live in that hostel - the nearest room to the dining hall on the ground floor. Why? Because it was usually rung by Gago. Ga-who? Ga-GO.. Our floor warden, whom the world outside knew as a simple man with a stubble, named Gautam. I really don't know why he was known as Gago to us. But his ringing the bell differed in a way that in the end there was a sweet call - 'ding-ding-ding-ding-dang-dang-dang-DONG... Arko?'

Arka Banerjee was my roommate, and he was usually late for all kinds of meals - breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner. Arka will be about 10 minutes late and was perhaps punished for that often. So Gago, who was relatively fond of us, always gave Arka a heads up. After the lights out, at night, he'll come and check on us hoping that we're not making a ruckus. That was one of his regular duty, as on the front of our side of the hostel lived the headmaster in a secluded bungalow, meditating. Or maybe watching porn, as a few often wondered.

Every night, 15 minutes after lights out, Mugdha, residing in our neighboring room would come and recite one of his good-night jokes for us. We'd wait for the jokes, sitting inside the mosquito net. And if he forgets to do so, one of us would go and call him. One night, Gago caught us doing that. Before the ominous punishment, he was requested to let Mugdha finish his joke. Mugdha recited a joke where the protagonist (the one being joked upon) was named Gautam. It was a hilarious one and what was more hilarious was that Gago did not understand that the joke was on him.

Mugdha was let off the hook, that day. And the one who was 'hooked' was Gago. Every night he returned to our room at 10 minutes after half past ten, waiting for 'The Good Night Jokes' - yes, they were almost a brand by then. The jokes were absolutely non-sexual and the protagonist was always named Gautam. After each joke, we'd all share a laugh followed by Gago hushing us up and seeing us off to our respective beds.

One such fateful night, Mugdha managed to pull an extremely racist Sardar joke on Gago. We came out of our beds, into the corridor and were rolling on the floor laughing! Gago went into fits of laughter, as he doubled over the subsequent belly ache for laughing so hard. And then, almost all of us saw a flash in the darkness beyond the corridor at the same time. By the instant the divergent beam from the high powered, four-battery equipped army torch hit on us, we were down on all fours with only Gago in his pathological episode of laughter. The torch belonged to our headmaster, who stood there focusing his torch while standing on his porch, wearing something small and saffron next to bare minimum.

The focus was on Gago.

...

His face was still white at 9am, following day. We caught a glimpse of him standing outside the headmaster's door, waiting for his turn to be called. I remember the poor man gave us a wink as he caught us looking over at him, just before he entered the room. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the end of 'The Good-Night Jokes!'

The things we'd do as kids...


Not many of you may still be bathroom singers now. But nearly all of you would have been bathroom dancers as kids. Am I wrong? No, I'm not including you here, Mr. ultra-nerd kid! You were, perhaps, thinking how dense the liquid (called water) is, over your brain, which is actually denser!

What all you did in the bathroom, tell me.. as a kid, and an innocent one at that!

Like my Mama's son here.. innocent, taking bath in the ultra-huge bathtub!

Whenever we went to Jhansi, me and my cousin brother Anshu used to plead my dad to get the thing - I dunno what to call it - the container with the atomizing sprayer coming out of it from one side, used to water the plants - a shower kind, for the veggies. A flower-shower. Veggie-shower. Yes, that. To fill it with water and pour on us. It was a time, when there was no regular water-supply available in the dry, water-starved Bundelkhand region. The city of Jhansi, included. And thus having a shower in the bathroom would have been as vestigial as my sister having some real brains. She'd never use it anyway!

So, as my dad would fill it up with water, he'd hold the thing on top of our heads. Maybe add a bit of discontinuity in the water-flow with his hands or something. Me and my brother would strip down, but just as much as till the waist-up. Even as brothers, we had some dignity to keep up to.. Something Ma never passed to joke on about! We'd jump, hold onto each other and skip, get wet, leap like frogs, slip and fall down, get up again. Somebody would pass on a soap in between us, and we'd be scrubbed crazy by somebody, all the while as we jump around. We'd throw the soapy lather at each other in frenzy. Still jumping. Laws of probability would act, as it gets into one of the four eyes. However it becomes a competition of trying to keep a straight face, as born within a difference of just 4 months, one shouldn't be the first to start crying with soap in the eyes. He'd be declared a cry baby. We'd make soap bubbles, only to be destroyed by the jet of water from the hose.

Our harried bathing would then finally, conclude. All that stopped as we soon grew up. The ritual was then completely striked out, as soon as the bathroom got real showers fitted. There is however, a slim chance for our kids to do the same, as at least one thing hasn't yet changed in Jhansi. The 24 hours water supply is still a dream.

...

When Anshu used to come to Allahabad, we'd be put out on the courtyard for the sake of taking bath. Ma would still try to get us to strip down completely. And we still maintained our dignity. We would block the water outlet hole with a sock or something. Then we'd start something our generation of kids would like to call 'water-fighting!' Two warriors. Two hoses. Two jets of water. Chaos rules the entire household for at least the next hour. The veranda next to the courtyard would thus experience rain nearly every morning. When water-logging was enough to shift the limelight over to the small puddle of about 5-6 inches, we'd lie in it and squint at the blue sky.

...

As I grew up, I tried weird stuffs. And as I can sense your chain of thought, hold your horses! I'm not talking about growing that old yet.. I would dip my head underwater (inside a bucket, that too..) and feel like the deep sea-diver that I was in my dreams. Would take in my GI.Joe action figures and Devilfish, the assault motor-boat from GI.Joe and drill them for a marine assault. The dual-engine Devilfish had 2 machine guns and 4 torpedoes attached. I'll call this, the acme of imagination, as a full length action movie is being replayed inside the bucket!! Bathing could wait till Ma hollers from parallel dimensions, lying just beyond the door.

Anshu, didibhai and me, in that order., in Jhansi..

Now to talk about some games we used to play. An embarrassing yet proud revelation, we used to enact 'Ramayana' in our own way. Guess that really proves we are our Dadda's true grandchildren! Ramayana is epic, accepted. But falls short of the awesomeness of Mahabharata. Similar to the Old Testament of Bible, they have the best stories! Anyway, we used to line up some chairs in the courtyard (not the war-zone courtyard, but a different one in Jhansi) to install a make-believe chariot and re-enact Rama and Laxman's journey to Lanka. When didibhai (elder cousin sister) started realizing we're kind of side-lining her, she protested. And we decided to include her in the team. No one really cared that if Sita was with us, why the heck were we on our way to Lanka? Perhaps she was a loan from the evil Ravana for the journey, you know, to cook food or something..

As we grew older for mythological epics, we made that into commando games with imaginary mercenaries attacking us, while still on our way to Lanka. And that makes a good excuse for us to make tents with mum's sarees and climb trees in the afternoon. Till we came to know that the tree we'd climb is haunted.. But then, that's another story! And also the youngest member in the family had arrived, and we didn't really could get on with the fact that Hanuman could be my youngest, cutest, dearest and loveliest sister, Mou.

Oh, there's something I forgot to add. So I add it now, as to miss this game would be to neglect all the hard work we had put into pulling it off. Baba had told us about the 'Bermuda Triangle' and we, then kids, did some research on the associated myths. Encyclopedias and GK books became our guide, thank you Dorling Kindersley. We realized it'd be some kind of a radiation trick that made the ships and planes go haywire, and to avoid it, the only thing one could do is.. any ideas? Yes, to hide under the bed and pass from one side to another! Such braniacs were we! Ma should have been more proud. Instead, she used to complain about the dirt that was all that left on our shirt as we came on the other side of the bed, alive and radiation free!!

So, what did you do in your childhood?
Mine, as you can see, was like living a classic, and I'm V proud of that.