“Navagatharkku SFI-yude Viplavabhivadyangal” (red salute to the new comers-SFI), oops, the first sign indicated the very future of my new epoch. But it’s no different than my high school. Same old blue and white uniform, teachers are new to me but the basic style is universal. The campus couldn’t impress me as expected. Stepped in to the class to see whole new faces. No one cared to be paying attention. I was busy looking for a familiar face, could find a few but that’s not what I was searching for. It took me two days to realize that, she opted for Nirmalagiri College. Never mind, that’s good for a new beginning. When everything is new, why couldn’t it be?
Found a place myself at one end of the last raw bench. There are two guys, busy chatting, laughing and never knew me sitting nearby. I started with a “hi” and got a very cold response. That was enough for me to break into their world. The class looked behind in just a few minutes to see three thick friends, joking and laughing aloud. Sreesan and Vipin became very friendly in a few minutes. They were together till 10th in this same school. Introduction section was boring with Madhavan Sir, Principal. Assembly, queue, attention, stand at ease, prayer, pledge, advice, warnings, and national anthem before proceeding for the classes. Oh My… I am back to my lower KG. I was wondering how I am going to spend another two years here, until day two.
I should not skip a paragraph about Manathana. It was a quite beautiful village hiding historical moments. Ancient temples surrounded by unknown trees and plants. Vintage Bungalows, Paddy fields and old ponds were all telling us the stories of the land lords ruled there. There was a banyan tree on the way to school, which threw its roots down tempting us to swing on it. The river was just a few kilometers away from our school. Majority of population was Hindus and the tradition was leaning towards the ideology of RSS. Our School was one of the major landmarks for the village. Ok, now to my class….
The second day started as usual. Many teachers are not back after vacation, the time table is not regularized and we were of our own most of the times. This is the time to collect data. My friends were here for last a few years and they knew a lot about the locality. It all started with Sreesan mentioning a girl (“Y”) he tried to flirt with. He pointed her sitting at the second last raw at girl’s side. Not bad, worth a try. Our talk was diverting to the direction of a bet, and I readily agreed to take the challenge for just 10/-RS. (I spend almost 15 minutes while typing this to make sure that I am being true to myself. 10rs looks and it obviously is damn cheap betting.) I knew that, it’s not the monitory part that made up my mind. There was three months in front of me to get a “Love Letter” from her.
Days passed by, without much progress. Classes were regular, practical sessions started, and after all, the big text books were ready to take rest at my study table. I made myself familiar to the surroundings, met the local people, and made friends. “Y” was a local girl. There was a very bad practice in that area that, only the local boys were allowed to try local girls. Difficult situation, but I cannot look back now, it’s my prestige issue. Made a plan and joined the RSS camp on an attempt to make myself a local. That worked out well for me. They extended their support and got the green flag to proceed.
There was a narrow stair to reach our class room. We friends were gossiping after the lunch while “Y” passed by. I was almost frustrated after a few days’ trials and she was ignoring me. I crossed my legs to block her. She was stuck in the middle of the passage scolding. I just smiled at her and said “hi”. That was the day when she really noticed me. Oh, this skeleton is studying in the same class, she exclaimed. We started exchanging smiles from thereafter. I could sense that the stage 1 is accomplished.
Mean time, we were all set up for the National Service Scheme unit about to be started. Our Physics teacher, Gangadharan sir discussed the idea with some of us. I was happy to take up the leadership. 12 girls and 13 boys were selected to start the unit headed by me. Sir guided us in making the activity charts, planning the events in advance and the statutory requirements to get our certificates at the end of the 2nd year. We planned the required hour for public service and with the help of local PTA members; we could easily locate the spots for service. We planned to make a road to a tribal colony, cleaning up of the main pond in the village etc. A ten days camp also was required to fulfill the eligibility. Our plans were making sure that, we are going to get engaged for the year ahead. I forced her to join us, but she was aware of my interests and skipped. Inauguration was also planned to be conducted well. The opening day has come and some minister was invited to inaugurate a new computer lab and NSS Unit. Things went well and I kept the news paper cutting for two years in which half of my face was visible at the inauguration.
One and a half months and we formed a team flourished with the wits of Johny (achayan), mannerism from Ranjith (Manners), Cooked up stories by Vipin (Thakkali), classical literature from Shanoj and the all rounder Jubin (Lengthen). With the help of our neighbors (back bench girls), we were well known as MMBA (Manathana Manda Bhudhi Association) and BBSA (Back Bench Students Association). We planned our small entertainment sessions like eating crackly chocolates and nuts at the time of teachers writing on the boards, throwing stones at the studyholics in front raws etc. The teacher often turns back on the sound of nuts to see everyone active at her lecture. We were good friends. And we were together most of the time.
Shano started his creative writing through my first letter to “Y”. A letter drafted from his imaginations and in his own hand writing. I was not afraid to hand it over to her. Surprisingly, she accepted without hesitation. The next day morning, I found myself, skipping the tuition class, waiting for her in the narrow stairs. And in no time, the winner of the contest had his gift. Simple and straight words referring to her taking the relationship as a time pass. I didn’t have to think twice before I write my second letter with all details of the bet and asked her to hand me over another letter in front of Sreesan. I am sure, she struggled a lot to read it and my friends always remember that my hand writing gave her a second thought. Anyway, it was the time of winning the bet when I received the next letter from her in front of my opponent. But, that understanding made me and “Y” good friends in future.
All my impressions on the new life have changed in these three months. Every day was fresh and warm with the fine little activities we planned. We made a new set up near the campus. There was a small shop with glass jars filled with colorful chocolates and candies, types of pickles I wasn’t familiar with and a small refrigerator to store cooled drinks. We were soon found to be spending our free time with Ajiyettan, owner cum sales man of our get together camp. He started storing beer bottles on demand. I was not new to the taste of beer, but the feel of sharing a bottle with friends made the experience more rewarding. We spend our Saturday afternoons at a nearby temple premise. It was all dark and cool with unknown trees and plants. No one pays attention to that place and we settled down to spend our leisure time there.
Our studyholic classmates started looking us with more envy than they used to have. They were new to such a fun team, wearing traditional school uniform and enjoying the warmth of college days. Some guys started to peep into our world, pretending to be no different than us. We ignored the imposters and maintained our team. Mean time, my friends were also in a hunt to trace their matches. Two of them located the right choice and we were working together to achieve their goal. The task was not easy as we thought it was. We have tried all the known techniques and even developed new ones to compete the demanding circumstances. After a long days work, one of them succeeded and the other guy was unable to approach his girl for tranquilize reasons. We left it to his choice and virtually added her into our team.
We were asked to buy a tool kit for practical classes. The announcement thrilled us for being new to a practical session. The practical classes were interesting. We were busy re-defining the theories imprinted. Simple pendulum became very complicated, when Gangadharan sir caught me with a paper arrow fixed on it. One tongue of the tuning fork flew out of the window. Oops, I need not have to hit it so hard. But, at least my parents will come to know that, their boy is very active in his studies, when the debit note reaches them by post. The caution deposit seems to be less to complete the first quarter. Biology lab started with bloodshed. I was the first to prick my finger tip for the blood cells analysis. I even donated my blood to “Y”, who was afraid of taking her own.
Every moment of our life was amazing and we felt like, the allotted hours for the class should be extended. Each day runs out faster than we really wanted to. Calendar leaps to august and we started worrying about the forthcoming Onam exams. On that disastrous day, our class teacher spoilt our mood and a beautiful morning by announcing the “Time Table” for the exams. The game is on. The entire class started concentrating in their studies except BBSA. Our routine was set and we were in no mood to change. But, we decided to study at home. The syllabus for the first quarter was easy and so the planned time was enough to cover the whole. There was an exciting fact about the exam period - The otherwise strict uniform code was relaxed and we could wear the dress of our choice. I was pretty serious about the exams and every paper was good to be commented. Well in advance of our last paper, we started planning for the vacations. Our plans were to visit the houses of our BBSA members. Dates, Time and the assembly locations all set. First chance to prepare for the "crash" was solely taken by Leema. Our excitement on visiting the illustrious“Paalukaachimala” hill forest grew day by day.
After the last exam, we gathered with Ajiyettan, for an Onam celebration. A couple of beer bottles and some snacks. That’s the day I tasted a cigarette well. I should not say, “For the first time” because, me and my sister Ann tried a Scissor Filter when I was in my 5th std. I stole a cigar from my uncle’s pocket and she brought a match box. We managed to hide behind home and lit the cigar. It was hardly one puff and we started coughing heavily. We were hell frightened and threw the cigar away. And that’s my first time on a cigar. Back to the day, I had around 4-5 puffs before handing over the Gold Filter. The odd taste couldn’t impress my taste buds and I was hesitant to try it again. It was almost 6.30 by the time we called it a day.
That day I woke up very early. Two out of Ten days passed by and today we are going to gather at Leema’s house, which was just 10km away from my home. We all planned to catch the same bus, from different locations. I got ready after a light breakfast. Packed a Bath Towel, some tapioca chips prepared by mom and of course, my camera. I knew well that, my parents are not mentally prepared to see me off for the “trip” that was planned without consulting them. I reached the bus stop in time and was greeted on board with the celebrated laugh of Shano. As planned, Lee was waiting for us in the stop near her home along with Manju and we made our mark in no time. Neighbors were all out of home for the feeling of an earth quake. Lee’s Pappa (Late, Mr.T S Mathew) met us on the varandha with his perpetual smile on face. (He was one of the most remembered personalities in my life. He was soft spoken and very friendly in nature.) Mom was a little reserved but was friendly too. We were treated royal with almost all available Non-Veg dishes and even some wine.
After a delicious lunch, we had a small relaxation session. (Relaxing when Leema is awake is more than a “Mission Impossible”). We were all equipped for the walk to Kottiyoor and to Paalukaachimala, with some snacks, water etc. We walked in the hot sun exploring the road. View of the “Bavali” river running down the hills thrilled us. It was cool and calm near the premises of Kottiyoor temple. We took rest in the huge bus waiting shelter, which will be crowded only at the time of the festival season. We clicked a few shots for the memory of our get together. And we moved towards the Paalukaachimala for our trekking session. But, within a kilometer or so, we were all down to our knees with the heavy lunch we had. Everyone except Lee was exhausted at the moment. Her motivations couldn’t usher us. And finally we decided to cut short the trip. It was around 3.30 eve and so we said bye for the day and left to home. Next plan was to visit Shano’s place. But, personal engagements and relatives presence made it difficult to fetch the team as planned and we postponed the same. But, me, Vipin, Ranjith and Shano used to meet in regular intervals.
On the re-opening day, we were all reached class earlier than other days. We had a lot of free hours to discuss and share vacation experiences with others. By this time, there was a parallel team formed by girls. The team led by Manjula, accompanied by Smitha, and Simi. They were active in irritating us in every plan of ours. The healthy fight between these two teams made our spectators laugh aloud in many occasions. They were friendly and so we too enjoyed being interrupted. Our chemistry teacher put a coma to our lively sessions. She had a bunch of papers in her hand while entering to the class. There was pin drop silence knowing the fact that, we are about to have our first answer paper evaluated in this academic year. She briefed a bit about our overall performance. It was enough to scare the hell out of the class. Finally, she distributed the papers, starting from the topper, Shini. All papers were given, just two failed and others are all at the safer side of the river, except me. I didn’t get a paper yet? She asked whether I wrote the exam or not? Yah, I was pretty sure about that. She searched everywhere and found it after a few nervous moments. It was an above average pass. Then in two days, all the papers were given and I was amazed to see me saving my parents face.
Soon after the onam vacations, the “Arts Day” dates were announced. Never gave a second thought before registering my name for Story Writing and Malayam Poem Writing. My over confidence of being the only son of a hindi teacher, made me register for the Hindi Poem Recitation too. Moreover, this was a chance to skip the classes on the pretext of practicing. We used to roam around the practice rooms to see the progress of our competitors. Nevertheless to say, our concentration was focused when the participants are beautiful white lilies. One day, at a drama rehearsal camp, I was passing by and the leader of the team, Prince called me. They lack an artist and he seems to be in no mood of winning a price when he selected me in. Till that day, I used to attend my language classes and this selection made my chair rest for the whole week. Rehearsals for “KURUKKAN” (FOX) were smooth and I could by-heart the entire conversations in two days. The writing competitions were over well in advance of the Arts Day.
Final rehearsals were done on the Arts Day morning and the drama was the last competition item. I was getting ready with my hindi poem: -
“Veer Tum Bade Chalo, Dheer Tum Bade Chalo,
Samne Pahad Ho, Simh Ki dahad Ho,
Tum Nidar Hado Nahi, Tum Nidar Tado Vahi……”
People started staring at me singing alone in the corner of a class room. I could hear my heartbeats clearly when the announcement for the poem recitation finally heard. I was the first code number. Dak.. Dak.. No... No... It’s not my foot steps that made the mark. Stage fear was just one of the silly things I heard from so called stupid boys. But that divine feeling made my body shiver even in that hot afternoon. I somehow managed to place myself on the stage, in front of all Stage feared stupids. The briefing session was easy. With the confidence from the briefing, I started the recitation. I could hear my own sound coming out of the loud speaker. That was the moment I started loving my friends for not throwing rotten eggs on me and surprisingly they continued my friendship too. All my worries were then about the poor farmers nearby the school, who will not be able to cultivate anything in their field for another a few years.
Back into my class room, I was greeted with cheers (Howls are heard as cheers when your skin is thicker than your dress. Not yet scientifically proved, but true). There is enough time before the next kill. I started gossiping and chatting with my classmates. That was when Sheenit felt thirsty and looked around for water. There was an off white PET bottle with a brown cap filled with water at one corner of the class. The owner of the bottle was not found and he was more than thirsty for an investigation and we emptied the bottle in minutes. I went out for a leek and came back to see these guys playing football with the bottle. It was all damaged and someone even stepped on that to make it flat. We left the class and in a few minutes, there was Leema in the corridor, with the flat bottle in one hand and the cap in the other.
She couldn’t find the culprit and being heard by someone that, it was all done by our seniors, she ran towards the staff room. We were very curious about the happenings. In a few minutes, our biology teacher came out of the staff room and asked our seniors whether they ruined that bottle (Kuppy). Oh god, she was so serious about that? No one responded and finally the investigation team dropped the hope. The very day, Madhu Thomas, one of our seniors along with a friend, approached us with a bucket to collect money for replacing the “Kuppy”. Then, that moment onwards, Leema was named after her lost “Kuppy”.
The drama costumes are ready. Make up is done. I had no clue until Prince asked me to wear the mask of that Crooked Fox. I was happy for the fact that, I don’t have to be a Mammootty or Amitabh to perform the best. No one’s gonna see my face. But, I was sure that, with my unique physique, my school mates are going to recognize me at once. Prince was good at his tactics and he selected the right sound for the Ugly animal he presented to grab his winner’s trophy. I was happy and proud to be the part of a winning team. I remember, even Mammootty started his career with a villain character.
End of Day 2