Friday, September 17, 2010

Inquilab Zindabad!

Last week there was an all India strike at some parts of the country. Having grown up in a town which unfailingly saw a shutdown every fortnight, I have always missed the joy of unexpected holidays due to bandhs in the big cities. When these rare strikes do happen, I always get reminded of the only instance when I had participated in a full fledged industrial action.

This incident took place back when I was in DPS Rkpuram. The hostel food was terribly unexciting and monotonous. But it was the maddeningly drab breakfast which got everyone in a really rebellious mood. There was hardly anything to look forward to at the usual 9am breakfast apart from the fact that the girls dined on a mezzanine above where the guys had their meals. And if one looked up long enough, he would be rewarded with a glimpse of one of the prettier faces or more. Very Dachau-ish but without the killings and the labour. The dissatisfaction with the dull bread, butter and boiled egg menu usually got a voice through sudden pointless thumping of tables. But as protests involving sudden pointless thumping of tables go, it didn’t coerce the administration into corrective action.

One fine evening it was decided that each of us would boycott the next morning’s breakfast and hence by force the administration into making changes. The news of the fatwa spread among the rooms and a consensus was quickly achieved ratifying this decision. One individual however eked out a compromise from the Politburo, where he was permitted to go and have a glass of tea. The reason given was of a medical nature.

So the next morning we all went to the mess gate but refused to go any further. So while there was a crowd of students hovering resolutely around the mess entrance, the wardens and the kitchen staff stood inside with large mounds of boiled eggs and pakodas feeling very stupid with every passing minute. When the lone guy went in and just had a glass of tea, it seemed we inadvertently rubbed the message in pretty harshly. And so the strike was a complete success. Comrades from Bengal would have termed it spontaneous. We were ecstatic. Some of the more naive guys started drawing up prospective menus which we expected our united stand would force the administration to accept. Once the break was over we went back to our classes with a sense of pride and achievement. Some of us started contemplating a career in politics.

The wardens taken aback by this unexpected turn of events conferred among themselves and thought it best to report the matter to the vice-principal. This was our Stalingrad moment and the tide of the battle began moving irreversibly in the opposite direction from hence on. Our vice-principal was a straight talking Jat who had little patience for student uprisings due to culinary issues. What he lacked in way of communication skills, he failed to make up for it by having a sympathetic heart. He felt this act was completely unwarranted and as a penalty, issued clear orders to the wardens that no lunch and dinner should be served to us. This decision was summarily communicated to us by the wardens.

The Politburo discussed the limited options at hand and began to sense the sprouting of dissent among the masses. Whispers referring to the nutritional goodness of boiled eggs started doing the rounds. We also discovered that we were getting very hungry and the prospect of missing out on the otherwise dour rajma-chawal at lunch seemed heart wrenching. In view of the changed circumstances a tactical surrender was wisely recommended. Two hours later we submitted a written apology to the vice principal regretting our rashness and requesting a retraction of his order outlawing the other meals. The vice principal, magnanimous in his comprehensive and crushing victory, promised sweeping changes in the breakfast menu. He kept his promise in a way only he could. From the next day we started getting tomato ketchup with the boiled eggs and pakodas.

I haven’t been a part of a strike since.