In my college days, I was always short of money. We never used to get any pocket money from home and, so, we had to rely on our own resourcefulness to earn money. In college, the needs were many and money was always short.
I tutored a school student and that satisfied a part of my monetary requirements, but not all. I was, therefore, always on the lookout for additional means.
Similar was the condition of my other friends too. A friend came up to me with the most wonderful proposal (I thought so at that time) to earn some extra money. I jumped at it. His sister was a teacher in a local school and the school needed invigilators for the Secondary School Certificate examinations that were to commence shortly.
Hardly any work, I thought. Just have to keeping pacing the class-room for three hours, distribute the question papers and collect the answer sheets at the end of the alloted time. No big deal!
I applied for it and got the job. The assignment was for a period of seven days. The examinations started and I reached the examination centre, collected the question papers from the supervisor and entered the class-room that I had been alloted.
I looked at my watch, there were still 15 minutes more before the examination was to commence according to my watch. After five minutes, a bell rang. I thought it was the warning bell and after ten minutes another would ring to signal the commencement of the examination. So I waited and did not distribute the question papers and the answer sheets. Ten minutes were over but no bell rang. The students in the class-room had become fidgety and they told me that my watch was wrong and the bell that had sounded the first time, was the signal to start the examination. Just then the supervisor peeked in and seeing that I had not distributed the question papers glared at me. The students were allowed ten minutes beyond the stipulated time on that day and I escaped without a bruise.
The next day when I entered the class-room, I remained alert for the bell and as soon as it sounded, I distributed the question papers. Perceiving my anxiety, the students giggled and some even sniggered. I was only a few years older than them. That was really uncomfortable! The next five days were torturous for me. I don't know whether you have experienced 50 pairs of eyes focused on you, 50 lips ready to part in laughter, and the hushed whispers and giggles to constantly remind you of your first day's faux pas.
At last the seven days were over and my ordeal ended. I heaved a sigh of relief and resolved that I will never ever take up assignment as an invigilator again. That is one resolution that I have been able to faithfully keep.
Neeru was the odd man out in the class. His behaviour was rather unpredictable and he would leave us in splits by his idiosyncracies.
We were still in school at that time and a particular incident is still fresh in my mind.
It was perhaps the geography class and the teacher had made up his mind to give us a lesson on national integration so as to make us aware of the vast geographical diversity in the country,
The teacher's plan was simple. He wanted to convey the fact that despite being a class of 40-odd students, we, however, presented a rich example of "unity in diversity" that India stood for.
He wanted to show that almost all the states in the country were represented in the small class-room.
With this in mind, he asked, "Will the students who speak Punjabi at home, please rise?" There were three students and they rose swiftly and stood in attention.
Now was the turn of Tamilians.
There were four such students and they too rose when asked to do so.
"Will the students who speak Malayalam at home rise please?" the teacher asked.
There was a shuffle of the feet as four other students stood up.
Came the turn of Bengalis. "Let us see how many Bengali students we have in the class-room," the teacher said.
Three students stood up straight. But there was some commotion as one student made a scramble to come out of the desk and, having done so, he knelt down on the passage between the rows of the benches. That student was Neeru.
Everyone was taken by surprise at this peculiar behaviour.
"What do you think you are doing? Why are you kneeling down," an irritated teacher asked him.
"What can I do?" asked Neeru innocently.
"My father is a Bengali and mother a Gujarati. I, therefore, can neither stand up straight nor continue to remain sitting. That is why I am kneeling."
The whole class, including the teacher, broke into laughter.
Simply not cricket!
After college hours, we would play a game of cricket before going home.
The college ground was spacious and we had a group playing football in one portion of the ground, another group playing volleyball at another portion and we had the cricket pitch to ourselves at another corner.
There, however, was one problem. Only a low compound wall demarcated the ground and just a stone's throw away from the compound wall were residential bungalows, a few of them occupied by the college professors as well.
The cricket pitch, unfortunately, was towards the side of these bungalows and most often a batsman would hit the ball which would rise high and land in the premises of one of these bungalows.
Call it a law of physics or some other such science, the ball usually found its way to a particular bungalow which belonged to the physics professor. To be fair on us, we played with rubber balls and, so, there was not much fear of causing heavy damage to the property. But our frequent trespassing on his property to retrieve the balls would annoy him.
"Next time, you hit the ball here, I will give you a nice zero like the shape of the ball in your paper," the professor would say.
But, despite exercising all caution, the ball had a mind of its own and it would faithfully carry itself to the Physics professor's garden.
Finding that his threat of giving us a zero was not working (besides, the threat could not actually be carried out), the professor adopted another strategy. He would keep the garden gate locked all the time and a watchman maintained constant vigil to ensure that no one entered the garden by jumping over the gate.
The result was that any ball that entered the professor's garden was given up as lost. So, we lost around 20 of them before the summer vacations arrived. This was a drain on our resources. As college students, we hardly got any pocket money and buying a new ball, even a rubber one at that, every time was beyond our means.
As the months passed, we had turned into good cricketers and had mastered the art of hitting the ball so as to avoid the professor's bungalow. In spite of all caution, however, on rare occasions, the ball would make for its favourite destination.
The summer vacations arrived. But we continued our cricket practice on the college ground.
One day, the ball flew to get its Physics lessons. That day, we had no money to buy a new ball. The ball had to be retrieved at any cost. We lingered near the bungalow and what did we see! There was a huge lock on the main door and there was no watchman around. The professor had left for his home town on vacation! This was wonderful!
Instead of one person going to fetch the ball, all of us in our joy leapt over the garden gate. We launched a hunt for the lost ball. It was found at last. We also found an empty drum and when we peeped inside it, we sighted the treasure of our lives. There were at least 20 balls, all ours of course, kept inside. That was the richest haul! We would now not have to concern ourselves about buying a new ball for a whole year at least!