It was yet another boring social-studies exam.
In the sole mission of regurgitating all the ‘by-hearted’ dates and kings, a curious event erased my lessons, leaving the brain dead and perhaps many other infantile brains around me.
‘Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1642,’ I wrote. (It was only in the morning that I had read it as 1442, but the scene of that hanging corpse delayed my memory by two centuries).
That morning as we hopped down from our school-bus, on the far side of the court road, and atop that hill, was a hanging corpse of an otherwise well dressed youth. Police were investigating a disassembled suitcase and its contents that were strewn around the road.
Being an apt diversion from the forthcoming exam, students hovered around the wrought iron school gate ogling at the twisted neck and protruded eyeballs which portrayed a momentary self-conflict before it settled for peace. Bits and pieces of gossip flew through the thick crowd. Some clever guy had even concocted this stranger’s ad-hoc biography: that he hailed from a neighboring city, had come down in an overnight train, and wanted to die in his own dignity. There was of course a suicide note, nearby, but incidentally it blamed nobody. This was not the last suicide in the area. The Aloysian jungle then provided a thick cover for people ruminating a quiet, private end.
This scene affected us much more because it was the very place we had visited on several occasions for our favorite treasure hunting. When the last bell rang at the biology period, it was as if the dogs were let out. We would screech and rattle our way from our middle school ground, past the high school Chemistry lab and that old Museum. Then it was time to tiptoe around Fr. Victor’s office and boogie down the jungle, tugging each other, somersaulting and dragging others on the way. It all culminated in a common ritual: hurtling large granite boulders into a half-broken well, which perhaps could have easily killed any of us.
In fact, I can think of at least three ways in which we could have met our ‘silent’ end – either crushed by a boulder, bitten by a snake or buried under the avalanche of granite boulders that we had cascaded. We then regaled in the childhood freedom by ransacking the pepper climbers, violently shaking the tamarind trees and throwing stones at the raw mangoes only to hear the frail voice of Ms. Concesso: ‘?.Kain thaun aili ba ye paddey chedey!’ (From where did these mischievous boys appear).
After this ritual, it was one final stretch towards the courthouse road –almost close to where the body was currently hanging – from where we would speed up to board the school bus. But, being tried and thirsty was an excuse to top the day with a pepsy candy. Avoiding the prying eyes of the conductor, the pepsy would make its way, trouser to trouser, across the length of the bus, leaving evidence of wet patches on our dirty uniforms and agitating the conductor further.
Then of course, when a bunch of confined kids are packed like sardines inside a school bus, all hell breaks loose. The mind indeed becomes a devils workshop. And on one such workshop hours, I challenged one of my good friends to stamp the bus gear at a traffic stop. After much hesitation, he agreed, stamped the gear and almost collided the bus against a car parked near Hampankatta. Our bus driver fumed and fretted, and owing to the fact that one of his hawai slippers was dangling on the gear box, my friend was caught and punished. I later told him that he should have disowned the other slipper still on his foot! The advice was great but the execution was too late.
On another occasion I had pinned down a friend of mine in a game of ‘to catch a thief’ and his repeated yells, made me squish him further. When I released my grip, I saw a large lump on his dislocated wrist – and as the swelling grew in size, I knew that my student days were counted. Owing to my own guilt, a few days later, while he was recovering at the Vinaya clinic, I made a suspicious visit. Fortunately for me, he had not betrayed my trust and fortunately for him he was given a promotion to high school without having to write the seventh standard exams! Now, tell me, wasn’t that a favor?
Perhaps the most amusing incident was when, during one of our middle school fancy dress competition, we took the word ‘competition’ too much to heart in that the lead actor sliced down a live hen as a sacrifice in an enactment of the famed ‘bootada kola.’ Not to mention, our class was disqualified for this macabre scene, but the actor, without any inhibitions, packed the hen home for a sumptuous dinner.
At another sendoff party event, an excess of three baskets of buns, was enough to conceive a game of ‘high-throw bana’ and within minutes of me taking the lead, a flurry of buns flew across the playground, and pretty soon there were hundred muddied hot cross buns. An inquiry into the incident only produced the usual suspects. I should admit I was not in any of them!
And how could we ever forget our school election experiences. As if by default the school pupil leader was chosen based on his height, because no one was willing to carry a tall guy on their shoulders. The usual promise of ice creams from the winners (which we then thought was an exercise in the great Indian democracy), was carried on over into the college years, when the winners and losers came together in a strange bond of brotherly unity (in a procession to a sisterly college!). Indeed, it was called sisterly college for no official reason!
Today, buildings have masked the events of time, and walking here may not be as eventful as it once was. No more hanging corpses and flying buns. No more Chandrans standing trial at the court house. No more hippy styles and long side burns. No more cucumber and mango slices making way to the last benches. No lecturers flashing torches to check our red-eyes during the ‘musical evenings.’ No more chain gangs and sand-pit wars. Most of all no more devils in the 10th D.
Author: Newton Dsouza- USA