The Thief in the Night 2 : The Keymaker
Chapter 1: A Band Apart
I love my college hostel life. It gave me so much to learn from. It helped me find new friends but even better, newer enemies. I would always get up in the morning, all lazy and fumble along to college. But once I left college for hostel, life seemed to open up new horizons, new plans and schemes. Fresh ideas on the fresh mind always seemed to dawn upon us so as to spend time in the most fruitful manner rather than utterly useless things such as PAP’s afternoon Maths classes on Fourier series and transformations.
That day was no different. We were waiting for Bishal to complete showing off his ‘brilliant’ PASCAL programs to our computer teacher, Mrs Shantibhaskar, and were planning to head back to hostel. Naresh busied himself during the wait by running off to meet some of the college day scholars. After Bishal came out of the lab, we were again waiting for Naresh to come back and had to listen unwillingly to Bishal’s story about us how shocked our teacher was to see his prime number program.
“You know, Madan,” said Bishal, “whether a number is a prime number can be checked by dividing it with a lot of numbers. But do you know till what numbers should you do the check? For instance, if I say 100, what numbers would you divide 100 with till you find that the number is prime?”
“That’s easy, boy.” said Satya. “Divide 100 by the number range from 2 to n-1, in this case, all numbers from 2 to 99.”
“I don’t think so,” I said “for it is sufficient if we divide the number from 2 to n/2, in this case the range from 2 to 50.”
With an aura of superiority, Bishal laughed and said, “No. Both of you are wrong. It is the number range from 2 to the square root of n, in this case 2 to 10. See, if we divide 100 by a number greater than 10, we get the quotient less than 10, which counts as a double effort. Such a program is less efficient. The efficiency of the program can be increased again if we skip the even numbers after 2 …”
Blah Blah Blah …
The idiot was spot on, as usual. Fed up with this kind of discussions, I looked around as we left the back door of the Electronics and Communication Department and turned my head towards the Electrical Department. Something caught my eyes. It was a jackfruit.
“Hey, Satya! Have you seen that fruit before?” I asked.
“Which fruit? Oh, that? Yeah I saw. I was not sure at first. But that is a jackfruit tree and the fruit on it are one hell of a size!”
We all stopped at our tracks and looked closely. There were two more fruit from the same branch. It reminded me of my school days when once I ate some of the jackfruit seeds too fast that the sticky matter got stuck to my lips. I smiled to myself.
Bishal the know-it-all Hermione Granger of our gang said, “I don’t know whether you know this, guys, but these fruits of the jungles of our college is auctioned yearly. So if any of those people sees us stealing fruits, we are sure to pay a huge fine.”
“I know,” I said (like I already knew!). “I was just wondering if we could do it for the fun of it.”
“I think it is a bad idea.” said Naresh, who had just come back after talking to Premish/Postmish, Wilbert, John, Gopi, Jyotsna, Ramya and Nancy.
“Me too.” said Satya. “We could be in big trouble.”
I shrugged and we all left for hostel. Bishal then joked about Naresh trying to put kadalai on one of the girls (Jo, Nancy or Ramya), which in our college jargon meant chatting with girls in ‘more than a friendly manner’ and was quizzing Naresh over who the lucky girl was. Meanwhile, I was wondering whether anyone had a plan to steal the jackfruit, for if they did, they were in big trouble. I was right, for behind me were three friends watching the fruit with enthusiasm, and working up plans in their minds as to how to get hold of them.
Gavaskar, Santhosh and Babu.
Chapter 2: The Keymaker
Gavaskar was the ideal “macha“. Macha means small in Manipuri, but in Tamil, it means the equivalent of Saala (Hindi) or brother-in-law (English). However, unlike the Hindi Saala which is used in a negative sense as looking down upon the addressed, it was a gesture of closeness in Tamil.
Gavaskar’s room was near the entrance of our hostel. His room was next to the hostel telephone. Usually, he was the telephone operator. In those days, the telephone was the only means of communication for the whole hostel. And since it was on the ground floor, and all the first years stayed on the ground floor, it was natural that a first year would pick up the phone and scream at the top of his lungs. Sometimes two people have the same name and it was better to scream “Vijaybalan, Room no. 18, First year” or “Vijaybalan, Room no. 53, Final year” to avoid confusion, or even better, “Vinod, VS Vinod, First year” or “Vinod, Bhandaru Vinod, First year” to avoid more confusion. Since Gavaskar was always nearby, he could tell your name, room number and department by heart, whether you are from Mahe or Manipur, or first year or final year.
Unlike the original ‘little master’, Gavaskar was a big fan of bikes. He liked the seniors’ bikes a lot. He planned to buy one in second year, for it was a customary practice for freshers not to own bikes. So it was not unusual for us to find our friend sitting atop a senior’s bike with the alibi of studying outside his noisy room and concentrating in books in the parking lot area. Another activity he indulged in was talking shit in groups about other freshers, making fun of other idiots in the gang like Murugan the loudmouth (cousin brother of Wireless, Final Year; trust me, it is a real name, Wireless was Final Year Amarendro’s roommate), Tharang Peco-priest (the man who prays for all his sins once a week), etc.
One day, I was walking along the corridor. While passing Gavaskar’s room, I had a glimpse of him with Babu, Santhosh and Abdul Rashid. They were looking together at a suitcase. I saw them trying out a lot of keys to open it.
“Macha,” I asked, “What are you doing?”
Like a tired mechanic, Rashid looked at me and said, “Madan, we have lost the key to this suitcase. Make is VIP. Do you have a VIP suitcase?”
“’Course, I do.”
“Can we have its keys, please?”
“Sure.” I said and I gave them my keys. It too didn’t help.
“You know, once I saw a senior use a screwdriver as a wedge at the joint of the suitcase and used it to open the suitcase…”
Suddenly the suitcase made way and it opened just like that.
“Congrats, man!” I applauded. They all felt like an Einstein each of whom had just discovered E=mc2! In my mind, I called them the keymakers. Maybe they could run a business of opening locks for the hostellers who had lost their keys!
After I left, they went on to more serious things.
“Macha,” said Gavaskar eying the parking lot with malicious intent. “Let’s see what else we can open…”
Chapter 3: Thondai’s Honda
Some days and nights later, the jackfruits became bigger and bigger. Anyone passing by on foot would either look at it or think about buying a jackfruit from the nearby town market of Kalapet. It was therefore, no surprise that Gavaskar and his merry men started the most unusual plan. The plan to steal the jackfruit!
One night, they all gathered in Gavaskar’s room. Santhosh, who was the best player in any damn sports I have ever seen, spoke with casual nonchalantness in half muted Tamil.
“My dear friends, I want to tell you something, I want to tell you about a jackfruit. Actually, so to speak, about the plan to steal the jackfruit in question.”
“So what is the plan?”
“The plan is quiet simple. Go, pluck it and bring it back.”
Babu was not happy with the plan. “Huh? Do you think it is THAT easy? How will we carry it?”
“Don’t worry, Harinath and Praveen have already done it. If they can do it, why can’t we? As for carrying it, Gavaskar has a fat ass. We could use his towel to carry another item, big and round!”
“I don’t want to eat from anything that touches his ass!” laughed Santhosh. “Let us use mine.”
We all laughed, but Babu, who always had this worried look on his face, looked paler than usual. “What if anyone sees us carrying the jackfruit?”
“We’ll do it at night.” said Rashid “No one can see us.”
At that moment, the terror of final year, Surjit Yadav arrived. He drove in his Yamaha after having a good evening at the local wine shop ECR wines. It was 12.30 am in the night, the usual time for him to rag first years. Luckily for us that day, he went straight inside.
“What if that guy sees us on the road?”
No one spoke for a second. Gavaskar then spoke with leonine pride. “I just have the key to that!” and took out a suitcase key! “I found out that this key can open Thondai’s bike.
“Thondai’s bike? What the f…?”
“You got a better idea? Don’t worry, macha” he added quickly. “He usually calls it a day quiet early.” and sat back and ogled in the distance thinking about the jackfruits.
Chapter 4: A Flaw in the Plan
The Coromandel Coast was named after the Cholas, the ancient rulers of South India. Originally known as Cholamandalam, it was anglicized as Coromandel by the French and the British. At night, the sea along the Coromandel Coast can be across the college gate and it looks really beautiful. But that night, it was hardly visible from the college, for it was a dark night. One had to get close to the sea to actually see the bubbles froth around; dance like mad bubbles, and disappear as amazingly as they had appeared. Still, one could hear the tides rumble across, breaking the silence of the night.
The security man at the gate had neither time, nor patience to see the beauty. This was a regular scene he was used to. The only thing that mattered right now was to go to the hostel to get a quick wink of sleep.
Just then, he heard another rumble from the other side of the gate. He turned and saw another security man arrive. It was time to go. Quipping a word or two about the weather and it being an uneventful night, he started his motorcycle and left for the hostel. Once he got there, he burned a mosquito coil, took out a mat from a hiding place in the parking lot area and went to sleep.
Suddenly a motorbike blared in the middle of the night and the security guard woke up. He saw a flash of light near the hostel entrance. It looked like a bike with two people on it. He got up and went past them, close enough to realize that they were students. He also realized that they were holding a large towel that covered something round and huge.
As he turned around and got up to have a closer look, the bike zoomed towards the hostel. Although he did not call them out, he saw them running towards the hostel while dropping the towel into the drain. Carefully he got down and pulled it up and turned the light beam of his electric torchlight onto it. It revealed a large jackfruit.
He then heard an angry scream. He turned back and saw one of the local fruit guards. After Harinath and Praveen’s venture earlier in the week, they had been installed by the fruit owners to put a stop to the stealing.
“Look, those idiots ran off after plucking your jackfruits.”
Another guard who was previously in the shadow came running. “I noted the vandi(vehicle) number. Let’s call our brothers and search for the thieves!”
“Good idea! The rascals need a thorough bashing!”
The security guard ran towards the hostel. Meanwhile, as the fruit guards ran off for more man power, all one could hear was the sea across the Coromandel Coast roaring with laughter and suddenly vanishing back into oblivion as quickly as it had appeared.
Chapter 5: The Tell-Tale Heat
Gavaskar and Babu left the hostel at 11.30pm and came back at 11.42pm. I know this because the clock in my room fell off and lost a battery cell as soon as I had rushed out of my room. I heard the crimemasters come back and eagerly anticipated the taste of jackfruits.
“MACHA! WE ARE SCREWED! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! RUN!!!”
Quickly, we rushed inside our rooms to hear the tale. Gavaskar was out of breath and was looking for a place to hide while Babu updated us.
“Macha, romba koodhi aappaa irukka! We arrived at the place as planned and plucked the jackfruits. And what did we find? It was still raw! And then I got up the tree and tried to pluck it but it wouldn’t let go! I even tried hanging down from the fruit itself, but after some tugging, both I and the fruit fell. The gardeners who were sleeping under one tree woke up and saw us and noted down our vehicle registration number. We did not know what to do, so we quickly rolled the fruit into Santhosh’s towel and hurried back to hostel when again a security guy saw us. As we were trying to avoid him, we dropped the fruit in a drain. I think he saw that! And that’s not all. All of them are at this very moment on the way to the hostel!”
A lot of terrorizing information to digest in thirty seconds! Not only were we going to lose the raw and unripe jackfruit, but were we going to think of avoid a tragedy.
“What shall we do?” None of us had any idea. So much for good ideas! Suddenly, “Macha, security guard is here!”
We all looked back and saw the security guard coming towards us. However, he went instead for the vehicles and started touching the silencer pipes one by one. No sooner had he touched Thondai’s bike than he took out a pen and noted down the Pondicherry registration number on a piece of paper. He then turned to ask us whose bike it was. Somebody said, “Arun Sir, final year!”
“ARUN, FINAL YEAR! ARUN, FINAL YEAR! ARUN, FINAL YEAR!”
“Arun Sir, Arun Sir, Arun Sir!”
“Thondai, THONDAI!” Sombody upstairs on the final year floor yelled.
A loud thumping was heard. The guard had reached his room and was now waking him up!
Thondai (Tamil for throat), also known as Arun, Final Year, belonged to the Electronics and Instrumentation Department. He usually boozed himself to sleep and was visibly annoyed when he heard someone thumping. However, on seeing the security, he came back to senses.
“Who was driving your vandi? Who came back just now with your bike?”
“Huh…. what bike? My bike?”
“Yes, your bike. Who took it? I saw the two fellows from a distance. One was a little stout while the other was thin. No, it can’t be you.”
Just then, the local fruit guards arrived. There were eight of them. As we watched in horror, two of them took out a large coconut sickle and a long knife and brandished it in front of us and boomed in the voice of the devil, “WHERE IS THE THIEF?”
Chapter 6: A Bad Bargain
“NO! WAIT!” One of the fruit guards screamed. “There were two boys. One fat and the other was thin.” A layman’s description of Gavaskar and Babu, to be exact. “Not this boy.”
“Who was the person who was driving this bike tonight?”
After a long pause, a sound came from the back. “It was us, sir.”
We all looked back. Till then we had avoided looking at Gavaskar and Babu in the eyes just to make them less suspicious. Another voice joined in, “Me too, sir.” It was Santhosh.
As they surrendered, we looked at the fruit guards. The fruit guards were hired by the people who won the bid for the college’s fruits’ auction every year. This year’s winner had bid with a huge sum of Rs 75 thousand. So much money was at stake, and so it was no wonder, day and night, the fruit guards were hired to protect the fruits at all costs.
“You people need to be taught a lesson!” said one fruit guard.
Thondai then spoke, “my friends, I feel that these kids are too young to understand the gravity of the situation, of the crime they have committed. They have no idea what they have done. Please pardon them. They are like your younger brothers.”
“We cannot simply let them go like that.” said fruit guard.”We want justice.”
The security guard then made a bargain. “All right, let them pay a fine. Perhaps the price of a large jackfruit? How much do they cost in the market?”
A fruit guard said, “Thambi, do we look like we came to sell fruits here? We ask for a fine of Rs. 2000!”
“Please sir, they are students, make it less! They didn’t even touch the cashew nuts!”
After a fair amount of pleading, the bargaining completed after a Rs. 500 fine was ordered. With the money, the fruit guards left the hostel, one of them carrying the raw jackfruit.
The security guard then said, “I hope this serves as a lesson. Next time you people think about roaming in the college at night, remember this incident.” He then said, “I will not speak to the warden about this.” And he left.
We now looked at Thondai who had not spoken in a while and his serious face became a smile.
“I think I just found the persons who will write all my assignments this semester! You! And you! See both of you tomorrow!” He went upstairs to his room.
We all discussed the incident near the hostel gate. At the end of the day, we were poorer by five hundred rupees but our stomach was still empty! But then our stomach turned as we heard the sound of another bike coming back to hostel.
Ravikanth, the Computer Science bookworm, screamed, “SURJIT YADAV SIR JUST ARRIVED! Run for the love of mankind and Sai-baba, you first year asses!” And we ran off to our respective rooms.
As I reached my room, I noticed that my alarm clock which had fallen on the floor had stopped and was now showing the time when Gavaskar and Babu had come back. It needed a plastic cover, I thought, and I replaced the battery back into the cell compartment of the clock. As soon as I place it back on my table, Bishal, the know-it-all, entered my room and asked for our senior Girish’ old PASCAL Lab Record and reference books. Bishal was planning to show his PASCAL outputs in colour with graphics. As Satya and I searched for the books, I remember Bishal saying this.
“You know what? They shouldn’t have been so greedy. They could have bought ten ripe jackfruits with that kind of money. Easily!”
I nodded unhappily, for what else could I say? Bishal was right, again, as usual.