Friday, October 03, 2008

If I had a million dollars.............. (an Eminem song)

I was in my mid-teens when this happened, though I don't know if I would have behaved differently at any other age. Well, its just a commonplace thing, you know. Nothing like one of those 'Kiterunner' kind of incidents certainly! Know what I mean? You would know, if you read that book. Mine was just a small thing really, but it is one of those little things about yourself that you want to change, if you could go back in time. Know what I mean? No? Let me tell you about this one..

I was in 12th class when this happened. Where I come from, they called it Senior Year Intermediate. And the school was called a 'junior college'. It was a residential college, with the hostel and the college in the same big campus. Those were the real fun days of my life, and by far, the best two year stretch I ever lived. Most of my classmates carry the same memories too even after thirteen years of real life after that. Some of them are married now, so you would think they might change their opinions.

Anyway, our campus was on the banks of a huge reservoir on River Krishna. It was converted out of the living quarters of engineers who built the dam in the fifties. It was unlike anything I had seen until then. Granite walls, tin-sheet roofs, fifty year old trees and poisonous snakes all around! A typical rural setting, that I, the town boy, never experienced. Why, we didn't even have proper toilets there, so all the boys had to fill a mug with water in the morning and go behind a tree. Each one picked out a favourite tree and marked his 'territory' for daily use! It's really funny when you think of it, because the worst thing you could do to a guy was to 'soil' his territory before he comes with his mug! It was a boys college by the way, so no one had much of a problem with the open air toilets. Well, I had a problem initially, but after three days of defaulting on my daily duties, I had to bare my shame to the elements of nature. Must say, it is an experience worth having, believe me! And I can say that without sounding too proud of it! (wink, wink)

Being a residential college, we had our healthy share of camaraderie and rivalry. There was this guy in my class, who I too had a rivalry with. Well, don't go imagining one of those leather -clad biker gang rivalries, with bandanas and hot chicks et al! I know you won't, but what I'm saying is our junior college was totally different. The students just wore the standard issue white-and-blue uniforms to college, with shirts hanging out, because tucking-in was considered too showy. And if one of us did the rash act of not rubbing coconut oil into his scalp for two consecutive days, the boys looked up to him with admiration and took style tips from him. We were that kind of guys!

Anyway this guy, Pavan, was my nemesis and we snubbed each other with clever one-liners whenever we could. I must admit, he was a bit more cool and flashy than me, but I always got higher marks than him and had lesser debt obligations! Hah, gotcha! Yes, it was a bit like that, unfortunately.

Since we were in the senior year, we had to conduct the annual rituals of cultural programs and quiz shows. I was never an avid quizzer that I always wanted to be, possibly because one of my teachers in 6th class falsely accused me of secretly taking my elder sister's help after a particularly dazzing performance at a school competition. Anyway, we'll leave that to my psychiatrist to discover! Putting my narrative back on the track, it was that time of the year and folks were conducting their quizzes all around.

For some reason, they made me the quiz master for an English quiz. I sucked at all competitive events all my life, so playing the umpire was my escape route. Again, the psychiatrist's domain, so let's not digress! Funnily enough, Pavan was my co-quiz master and so was another guy, Patel from the biology stream. We started preparing for the quiz and I had a sudden flash of brilliance and came up with a winner idea for the quiz.

I said, ‘Let’s have one round in the quiz where we'll ask people to recite childhood rhymes. The 'Ba ba black sheep..' and 'Mary had a little lamb...' types. It’s a long time since anyone went back to rhymes, but most of us remember the tunes. So people will go ‘1-2-3-4-5! Once I caught a ding-ding-ding...’. What do you say?”

The fellows liked the idea and so did the english teacher who was helping us. We decided to keep it a secret round so that people would be caught unprepared. A day before the quiz, Pavan and I went to a teacher's house, to pick up his kid’s nursery rhymes book. On the way back, we were walking behind a lady who was about thirty or so. Pavan remarked that he liked the way she wore her saree. She had it draping around her waist so that not an inch of skin was visible. He gave his opinion that it was the only proper and decent way of wearing a saree. That's exactly the kind of a thing I disliked about him, though I couldn't care any less about the mid-nineties saree wearing trends in rural India. My point is, he was a total right wing conservative! Anyway, this doesn't have anything to do with the story. I just happened to remember that particular incident!

So going back to the campus, we burnt the midnight oil and prepared an awesome quiz. I was getting such a kick out of it that I stayed up late and raved about it to my room mates. Patel was working on just a small part of the quiz, so he was detached from the process. I was glad that I finally teamed up with Pavan and thought we really did a good job! I didn't expect we would go through this thing without our super egos clashing again. And if I remember right, I sort of liked the feeling of peace with him.

The big day dawned next morning, and I was mentally reciting my opening lines and the Siddharth Kak style mannerisms. I knew I had this winning idea in hand, and I was just hoping it went well. The quiz was in the noon, after an hour's break after the day's classes.

The morning passed without any event and about half an hour before showtime, Pavan came to my room. He said, 'You know, these MPC* and BiPC* guys always treat us like shit. They think we humanities* guys are useless!' Fair enough, but I didn't know what he was driving at.

He continued, 'We need to show them you know, we need to show them that we can also win quizzes!'

I said, 'Well, I think our humanities guys will win, because some of our guys are very good at English quizzes. They read a lot of books too!' I knew something was up, and the premonition only kept growing.

"It is about our pride! We should really make sure that our guys win this quiz! We can’t leave it to chance"

I knew then, what was coming next, but I was hoping I got it wrong.

He continued, "So I leaked our quiz questions to the humanities team last night, in my room."

"The rhymes round too?"

"Yes. I gave them the rhyme book so that they can learn everything."

He added, "Well, I didn't tell them the specific rhymes we will call for! So they had to memorise the entire book," and looked at me, as if he meant it to console me.

I was aghast! I just couldn't believe he did it! I mean, I'm no saint that 'leaking' papers was against my principles. For a whole year we leaked our civics exam papers from the teacher's cabin and I was a forerunner in distributing the answers in exam hall. But this was different! I mean, how could he do that to me! And that too with my pet idea, the biggest idea of my life until then!

I don't remember saying anything to express my disappointment, and just went into the quiz room. The contestants were waiting and the room was packed with audience. Showtime, folks!

Well, the quiz was a terrific hit, particularly the nursery rhymes round. Everyone was racking their brains to find words for the rhyme tunes playing in their mind. Everyone except the humanities team. They did a bad job of trying to look like they were born with such intelligence. I cringed every time they stood up to give the correct answer for every question. The quiz went well otherwise. People genuinely had fun and when Patel tried to add his own twist by asking me to recite a rhyme that I never read in my life before that morning, I came up with the correct answer! People clapped and believe me, it was a real big moment for me! Lot of people came out and said it was a great quiz and someone said they liked my anchoring style. All in all, it was a great day!

Except....

I mean, I don't know why I let it happen. I just saw that this guy manipulated me into accepting what he did. He didn't have to try too hard anyway. In my hurry to get away with the glory, I just played along. I could have blown the whistle! Or walked out of hosting the quiz. But I guess I was too much of a coward to say anything. There came several moments in my life later, when I had to tell myself, 'don't be such a coward!' and egg myself on to do or say things that weren't my first instincts. I make a conscious attempt not to be a coward, even now, as bravery doesn't come to me naturally. But righteous indignation always comes to me in hindsight!

I don't know if I'd behave differently now in a similar situation. I know you would say, 'It was such a small thing! A 'nursery rhymes' round and your ego is hurt 'coz someone leaked it! Not worth fretting over and connecting it to your cowardice, to make your story more 'reflective'!

Hmm. May be.Or may be not!I don't know........ All I can say is, for now, let's just leave it for my psychiatrist....


* MPC - math stream. M-Maths, P-Physics, C-ChemistryBiPC - Biology, Physics ChemistryHumanities - The commerce streams, that's us

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