The grasshopper's aunt
I don't take kindly to people who try to speak with a foreign accent. They do so probably to prove that they have been to foreign shores and wish to impress.
Now when you hear people from different parts of India speak in English with that special regional tinge, it is music to the ears. But when you hear our own indigenous countryman trying to speak like an American, well even the listener feels embarrassed and wishes to remove himself far away from the speaker.
I never ever attempt to speak with an accent. Never (at least, not knowingly).
People have, therefore, never laughed at my face on account of my accent (they may have laughed behind my back often). Actually, people had laughed at my face once. But that was the only occasion (that is the truth).
Let me begin at the beginning. This had happened with me not in college but while I was in school.
It was a peculiar method of teaching that our English teacher practised. He would come to the class, ask the students to open their books at a new chapter, and then he would pick up a student at random to read from the book.
On that particular day we were reading "The Ant and the Grasshopper" - not the Aesop one but the one by W Somerset Maugham. Remember that story about Tom and George Ramsay? It is a really funny story and can make even the most stern person smile.
The teacher pointed at me and told me to start reading. I was bursting with self-importance at being chosen to read. I rather prided myself on my reading skills.
I started reading. Someone laughed (Didn't I tell you the story was funny!). But, of course it was very premature to laugh at that stage because I had just begun and the real story was yet to unfold. The teacher smiled. Someone else laughed, and then the whole class roared.
I was surprised. But, then, I supposed that the whole class had read the story and, so, knew what was coming. It happens often - you start telling a joke, and those who have already heard it start laughing. I was pleased that I had effectively drawn the essence of the story through my reading skills.
I continued, and the class laughed harder. The teacher too had joined in the general mirth. It then dawned upon me that the class was laughing at me, and not at Tom's exploits (I had not even reached the paragraph where Tom enters the scene).
My self-importance was squashed in a moment and, now, I felt at sea. I didn't know why the class was laughing. I picked up enough courage to ask the teacher as to what was wrong. "It is not aunt. It is ant," he said almost choking with laughter.
I had all along been pronouncing "ant" as "aunt", and that is what had made the class laugh. I tell you it was a genuine mistake; I had not been putting on an accent.
That was the biggest scare that I received during my college days, and I am glad it happened with me because it taught me a valuable lesson - never be careless.
Well, it happened this way. I was in the XII standard then. The year was coming to a close. The practice in college in those days was to hold preliminary examinations before the final exams so as to prepare the students.
The preliminary examinations were to be held after a month and the time-table had been put on the notice board.
I jotted down the time-table and was so confident that I had written it down correctly that I did not feel the need to check the notice board again.
The days flew by and before we knew, the exams were on us. I had prepared well for the first paper and it was smooth going. The second paper too went quite well.
The third paper, according to the time-table that I had jotted down, was botany. Now, botany has always been my doom because I could never remember those tongue-twisting terms. I sat through the whole night mugging up all about "androgynous", "anemophilous", "cleistogamous", "entomophilous", and what not!
With swollen eyes, caused by lack of sleep, I went to appear for the botany paper.
"What questions do you think will come?" I casually asked my friend as we made our way to the examination hall.
"Binomial theorem," my friend replied without batting an eye-lid.
"What! Today is the botany paper isn't it?" I was almost hysterical.
My friend looked at me in disbelief. "It is the mathematics paper today," he informed me.
Now what could be done? There was no alternative. I had to sit through the mathematics paper. Fortunately, mathematics is a subject which does not require mugging. It is practice that can get you through in mathematics. And, besides, it were only the preliminary examinations fortunately and not the final exams.
There was one good outcome though! The next day's paper was botany and since I had already prepared in advance, I did quite well in that paper for a change.
Anyway, that was the bigest scare in my college life which taught me not to be careless ever again. I made it a point to always look up the notice board frequently and double-check what I had written down.
A short political career
My school was a stickler for discipline and, so, when I passed out of school and joined college, it was like limitless freedom. And I enjoyed every bit of it.
When in school, I could not dream of absenting myself for a day. If I did so, I had to bring a letter from my parents and state the reason for remaining absent. But, here in college, I was bunking lectures with glee.
One day, the friends decided to bunk lectures and go for a movie. I was all for the idea. But I had an important submission to make and, so, I told my friends to proceed ahead and I would join them at the cinema hall later.
When I reached the cinema hall, I could not find my frinds anywhere around. The cinema hall appeared to be closed for some reason unknown to me. I presumed that my friends, upon finding the hall closed, had left.
There was no point in sticking around and so I also started back for the college. Now, I had this stupid habit of loitering and nosing around.
I shortly saw a crowd of political activists forcing the shop owners to close their shops. My curiosity got the better of me and I approached closer to see what the matter was. Some political party had given a "bandh" call over inflation or something of that sort that I don't rightly recall now. That is why the cinema hall too had chosen to remain closed. Things became clearer to me.
Things became all the more clearer when a police van came along and rounded up all the protesters. My inquisitive nature had carried me uncomfortably nearer to the protesters so much so that I too found myself being pushed into the van!
I protested loudly that I was not part of the crowd. But the police would not listen. Even the political workers did not come to my aid by declaring that I was not one of them. Why should they? In such situations, the more company you have, the better it is. So, they remained silent about my involvement.
We were taken to a ground and kept there for a few hours and later released. But you can be sure that I never bunked lectures after that. And even if I did, I made sure that I did not step out of the campus.