Every once in a while, a man has to stare into the business end of a double barrel and say “errr.. there’s rust there” and wink at the proprietor of the gun. I wasn’t really a ‘man’ when it was my chance to stare. Mistake me not dear fellas – a ‘man’ I may not have been, but pretty much had bought a one-way ticket to adulthood and in the meanwhile was going around with another three-lettered title - ‘boy’. The year was 1996 and I was in my 10th standard. And whatever be the three-lettered title I went with, my proficiency with four-lettered words was just as phenomenal then, as it is now. So with much haste let me narrate this anecdote.
Those were the days when students facing the board exams were never put under so much pressure as the current crop is. The primary aim for a lot of us was to focus on the main subjects of Science and Math and become an engineer. A few wanted to become doctors. Tuitions were only then picking up as a trend and the staunchest of self-taught (excluding the backing, biting and training I got from teachers) blokes like me, worked out other means. Electives!
I swore I wouldn’t let others influence me and would think this through a good deal. The electives were (rolling of drums, lolling of tongues) – Computer Science, Accountancy and Commerce and last and certainly the least - Physical Education. Having had a tryst with my fair share of grey cells over the years, the first seemed to be the obvious choice. But the eldest of the Chivukula brothers had another opinion. Advice flew thick and fast like chicken in Hotel Empire (Shivajinagar branch). The process of brain-washing was quickly followed by a spin of that same organ in the washing machine’s drying compartment and another 2 hours of drying in the shade on the terrace. ”Computer Science would be interesting but would need dedication – Physical education is a sitter and you should take that!” Just an elective I thought and went with popular opinion. The neighbourhood cheered. Their first trained-in-theory physical instructor! I believed I had comfortably scored an extra 5% in Math and Science with that choice of electives, what with all the extra time I’d have on hands while my other-elective friends would have to slog it out. Hands clenched, there was a kneading of air between them and a devilish grin on the face for the first few days of school. Everything seemed to be working out smug. I celebrated with a crunchy samosa in the canteen. We Physical Education lot believed in having a good diet.
But then, every cloud worth its nimbus and cumulus had to have its dark lining. There was a small catch in the scheme plotted. You see, though now I am above-average in height and just-below-average in weight (fingers crossed behind back), it wasn’t the same back in ’96. In those days, I was the favourite victim of the class’ most creative bully – Vincent Nelson. We were both in physical education to top it off. Many believed that I got my strength and stamina from the ration shops of those days – in very limited quantities a month and in the black market only. There wasn’t much competition I had to put up with in the Shortest-kid-in-school category during the Annual Sports Day.
What I lacked in height, however, I managed to lack in weight too. On more occasions than one I participated in an 8-a-side football match which already had 16 players and a referee. Vincent Nelson suggested to the boys that I, being his best friend and all, couldn’t be kept out of sports, especially not a football match. He insisted that I get a chance too and in spite of resistance picked me to be the football for those 45 minutes. Nice tradition we had there going. My 15 minutes of fame on the field came, when on one particularly rough day, I was in totem thrown twice each into opposing goal posts by opposing teams and also sprained my right ankle while trying to establish contact with a slow-moving ball. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that Computer Science as an elective was what I was born for, made for and craved for. School rules prevented a change. Bless them I cursed and a tear sought its freedom from the eye.
The year went on pretty satisfactorily otherwise. There wasn’t much of studying to do for this elective – Know the length and breadth of a football field, hockey field, nearby meadows, the closest bus-stop and such statistics and one could pass with flying colors. Only a month to go for the final exams, the announcement came! It chilled my spine to the last vertebrae and further. We were to undergo an ‘exam’ in a residential school on the outskirts of the city. Pen and paper were to be replaced by a ground and tracks. The sports teacher, Mr. Dereck Browne said there would be all kinds of sprints to do apart from standard fitness exercises. 30 crunches in 60 seconds, 30 push-ups in another 60 seconds and so on and so forth. The highest number of push-ups I had done in life was 6. And that too, because Vincent one day started pushing me to the ground and I tried rising. 6 times I rose mimicking the spider in the Robert Bruce story and 6 times I had been punched down to the ground. I gave up after that. I fancied I could have done 10 during that incident. The marks were to be for the board exams. It wasn’t to be my elective after all I thought. The honeymoon was over. I sought a divorce; and was refused.
I was had to face fate… I had to stare into the business end of the double barrel and say “errr… there’s rust there” and wink. The day had come. We entered the gurukul-style school on the outskirts of
Part 2 in a day or 4