Wednesday, September 28, 2005


yesterday as I glanced through the newspaper, sipping my coffee, the door-bell rang.

To my immense surprise, it turned out to be my old pals from school. Ravi, Sri, Manu and I were very close friends. Ours was a residential school, and we really had a great time. We were infamous as the most rowdy bunch of students who pulled off some amazing stunts almost every week. It was not surprising that there was seldom a month when we did not get detention in our inimitable principle Mr Darkin’s office. So their visit brought back all those lovely memories. We chatted for a long time and soon the topic of our most daring escapade in school came up. Ravi asked me whether I remembered it all and why didn’t I write it down. It would make a lovely story. So here goes

We were in the tenth standard then. The tough taskmaster Mr. darkins was still the principal. It was a Saturday. And it all began with a pig. We had gone to check out the new girl in school in the girl’s hostel .But as fate would have it,instead of seeing any girl, we inadvertently came across the matron Mrs. Lama.

Mrs. Lama hated boys like us and threatened to let loose her pet pig on us if we were to be seen again. Rumour had it that her pig had strong carnivorous instincts and hence we bade a hasty retreat.

After dinner we gathered in our room for our traditional Saturday night dialogue. Even a nonchalant observer of our lives would surely agree that these dialogues normally culminated into something so fanatical a venture that its repercussions would leave us busy for the rest of the week. But learning lessons from the past was not something we indulged in and hence begun the brainstorming session on what crazy thing we could accomplish that evening to uphold our reputations as the chief entertainers in school. Sri was the first one to speak.

“Not a good day, was it?”

“Nope! Scary rather.” quipped Manu.

“Yeah, especially when the matron threatened to let loose her pet pig on us!”

Ravi was unusually quiet.

Being the head mischief-monger, his were the ideas which normally brought the much needed vigour in our dreary lives. His silence unsettled me. It was a familiar silence. The one which came before the most confounded of his plans. We all stared at him with mixed feelings. While Sri and Manu’s eyes betrayed their eager anticipation mine were filled with the dread of impending doom. Ravi begun quietly.
”I hate pigs. Dead or alive. How dare the matron threaten us with her pig! I say we hit back. Lets teach her a lesson she will not forget the rest of her life. Let’s give her a shock which will haunt her for the rest of her measly life.”

Ravi’s face was convulsed with rage. He really must have hated the matron for her threats. Manu and Sri exclaimed,” Yes, you are right. Let’s do it!”

I was quiet. Everyone turned towards me. Their intense stare was too much to bear. As usual I gave in.”Ok! Do not look at me like that. I am in. One of these days I am really going to regret being with you guys. So what’s the plan?”

“That’s my boy”, retorted Manu,” I knew you could not ditch your good friends.”

Ravi continued,” Ok guys, you will be happy to know that I have a plan ready. Listen carefully.” And he told us the plan.

You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named 'Bush', 'Dick', and 'Colon'. But no amount of craziness in the world could justify Ravi’s plan. It was impossible. Defied imagination. And incredibly stupid. It clearly showed that common sense did not figure in his top hundred character attributes. It must have been the antics of some fellow friend like Ravi which made Einstein say long back,” Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.”

Anyway, let’s cut to the chase. Instead of explaining his “plan” I would prefer to describe the way we got about implementing it. It will surely make the narrative more interesting.
The basic goal was to scare the wits out of Mrs. Lama. I wasn’t sure whether she would get scared, but I surely was. This idea had all the ingredients for a complete disaster. Visions of week long detention at the principles office flashed before my eyes.

Ravi led us to the place where all the action was to take place. The garden outside the staff recreation hall. We all knew that Mrs. Lama was the last to leave the hall after her daily ritual of viewing the late night news. Ravi had decided to strike right after she came out of the hall. We huddled together like our beleaguered cricket team and Ravi told us our respective roles. We would be divided into two teams. The ACTION TEAM and the SUPPORT TEAM. Manu and Sri quickly volunteered to be in the support team. And as the norm was I was left facing the most difficult task. The only relief was, if you can call it a relief that Ravi was going to be with me. The course of action was the following.

Me and Ravi were to perch ourselves on one of the branches of the banyan tree in the garden. Both of us would be shrouded in a white cloth with burning candles in our hands. Manu was to signal us as soon as he heard Mrs. Lama’s footsteps. As soon as she came to view I was supposed to wail and Ravi would sway the lit candle, like a man possessed. Sri hidden in the bushes below was supposed to imitate a dog’s bark which he happened to do quite well.

In view of the fact that Mrs. Lama hated dogs to death and anything ghostly terrified her, it seemed a good plan. But considering the fact that most of our well thought out plans resulted in an uncomfortable question answer session in Mr. Darkin’s office, I was pretty apprehensive about this one too. All of you will agree that it was one atrocious plan. Ravi seemed to read my thoughts and reassured me by saying,

” Do not worry dude! Nothing can possibly go wrong this time. We will be perfectly camouflaged and it will be smooth sailing all the way. Trust me. You are safe in our hands.”
Safe. This was probably some strange usage of the word safe I wasn’t earlier aware of.

Our white bed sheets which were going to play the double role of being our camouflage along with creating the illusions of spirits perched on a tree branch were ready. So were the candles. With all the props at hand, all we needed to do was get into our positions. Climbing the tree was not a simple task for me for the simple fact that I had never climbed a tree before. Friendship makes you do strange things. I tried asking myself what I was trying to accomplish by trying to climb a banyan tree wrapped in a bed sheet among swarms of killer mosquitoes when I should have been in bed reading Wodehouse. Ironically, I was in a Bertie Wooster-esque situation myself. Woodhouse would have rubbed his hands in glee considering the infinite possibilities this situation offered.

Ravi with a look as if he was the best thing to happen to the world after Tensing Norgay, slithered up the tree. I on the other hand had to put in one hell of an effort. Putting Humpty Dumpty together seemed an easier job at that moment. But I managed it at last. I seated myself next to Ravi and tried to make myself comfortable. Which I must say was useless for only a bird could be comfortable where I was. And I was sure I was not one. Ravi whispered,

“Dude, practice your wail a bit. You have to sound like a witch.”

I told him that as I had not been lucky enough to meet a witch or come across her wail, I didn’t know how it sounded like. Ravi replied,“Well, try to imitate the sound our math teacher makes when she gets angry!”

I thanked him for the suggestion and proceeded with the imitation. What came out was something significantly different. Something akin to the pressure cooker whistle. Sri shouted from below,” Is everything alright? Anyone sick up there?”

Ravi quickly replied,” Yeah, everything fine, just a rehearsal. Be quite. You will give us away. And you Sayan. Do not ever make that noise again or I will strangle you. From now on just wail normally. Screech rather. There is no need for any special effects. We are not competing for an Oscar”The admonishment over, silence returned to the banyan. It was getting really hot under the sheet but I refrained from mentioning it to Ravi in fear of further rebuke. The mosquitoes were getting braver by the minute and the hordes just kept getting bigger. When was this damned news going to get over?

Suddenly, we saw a torch shine among the bushes. It was Manu’s signal. He must have heard footsteps. The moment I had been dreading had arrived. We were waiting for Mrs. Lama to turn round the corner before we begun our act. Ravi had the candles lit and I was wondering whether I would get the wail right. At such moments of anxiety, the mind plays strange games which cause the utmost distraction. Suddenly out of the blue I begun thinking,

” did da Vinci really paint the last supper?”

“If no, who did?”

Ravi’s nudge bough me back to reality.A figure had turned the corner and it definitely was not that of the matron.The tall, well built frame. The characteristic walk. The walking stick. They all looked deceptively familiar. To my horror I realized what I was seeing.It was not Mrs. Lama. It was Mr. Darkins.

I would have loved to know the reason of his unexpected appearance but that was the least of my problems. You see, the realization had come a tad too late. Ravi had already begun his candle swishing and I was halfway through my wail which I must mention was quite a good one. When I had begun wailing I did not remember, but the truth was that I had. The sound was enough to attract the principal’s attention to us. Now Mr. Darkin is a man of courage. He was not the one to be frightened away by a bed sheet and a wail. He shouted,” whose’s there?” and he shone his powerful torch at us. The light fell directly on me. I felt my world falling apart. It seemed that my whole life was some kind of dream and wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it. My wail withered away in to a whimper. Suddenly the student in me took over and all that came out from my mouth were the words.

“Good evening, sir”.

Even today I wonder what made me say something like that. But perhaps that was the best reply anyone could come up with in such circumstances. Back to the story.Mr. Darkins too seemed slightly taken aback. He asked,” sayan, is that you? What are you doing up a tree at his time of the night. And why on earth do you have a bed sheet around you”?And on seeing Ravi he exclaimed,” and who is sitting next to you? Hey, what are you doing with that candle”?

Ravi was looking totally flabbergasted. This was not what he had bargained for. Everyone knew how Mr. Darkins terrified him. He managed a stuttering reply.“Sir, it’s me Ravi! We are…… I mean I am…….. we… well. Sir we were having a chat.”A chat! Mr. darkens would never buy that. He knew some of his students had out of the way habits. But he would never believe that people had begun to chat under bed sheets on treetops. His face clearly showed that he was pretty annoyed to be in such a situation at this time of the night. And then to make matter worse begun the barking!

My wail was supposed to be the cue for Sri to begin his canine role. It was obvious he hadn’t heard the ensuing conversation and hence had gone on to play his part. It turned out to be one of his best efforts till date. He sounded exactly like an angry Alsatian.But by this time Mr. Darkins was absolutely sure that something was wrong. He stepped towards the bushes to find the source of the cacophony. But before he could discover Sri hunched behind the foliage, something so appalling happened that his attention got diverted. A new drama was unfolding. And we and Ravi were the stars. The short conversation with the principle and the barking which followed had totally flustered us. In the melee Ravi had in a brief but fatal moment of absentmindedness placed the candle below the sheet. Cotton by an unfortunate coincidence happened to be inflammable. And in second I discovered myself surrounded by flames. I do no know what scared me more that night. The sight of Mr. Darkins or seeing myself become the first male sati. I did the only thing I could do. I jumped. Ravi thought I had slipped and tried to catch me and as result went down as well. Gravity played its role to perfection and we hurtled through space towards terra firma. Just to make the scene ideal we landed on one half of the support team, Sri, who thankfully had stopped barking.

There we lay, in a heap, among the bushes, like a small human pyramid. The last thing I remembered before passing out was sri asking,”did she get scared……….”.


Two weeks in the hospital and an unpleasant afternoon in the principal’s office giving explanations was what followed the aforesaid events. Fellow students had a great time
debating what actually we were attempting to do. Colourful theories were propounded. Unfortunately our bones did not allow us to be a part of the discussion and it was some time before everyone knew the truth. And boy, was it embarrassing!