‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’
– Lewis Carroll in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
Chapter 1: The War of the Mohicans
“SAMADULLAH KHAN! BE CAREFUL!”
That was Mr Srikanth, our class teacher. Mr Srikanth was a bulky man of the early 30s, wearing sun-tanned spectacles and a nice suit with a matching tie, every single day. His tie was tucked neatly onto his shirt with the help of the metallic clamp of a pen cover to the inside using the openings between the buttons of his shirt, and his oily hair and his well polished shoes were done so nicely that you could always see the shine, even inside the classroom. He brought along with him various charts to discuss various topics in the class. Among other activities he used to do were some weird ones such as singing inside the classroom, specially the songs sung by Chiranjeevi. And even though we laughed a lot at his songs, he didn’t stop, for he liked his songs much to be bothered by students laughing at him. One of his normal regular activities was taking attendance for the whole class, for he was our class teacher, and this is where our story begins.
Mr Srikanth was our Zoology teacher. Even so, every morning at the beginning of our classes, he calls the attendance and kicked off the day. All science students take two subjects out of Biology, Mathematics and Computer, and most non-bio students were thus always restless during his attendance call. I now looked at the brotherhood of evil geniuses, the self proclaimed “Mohicans”, Kivi and Joyjit.
If there was trouble in the school, there was always Kivi in sight. Kivi, ‘the Nagaland boy’, as Mr Srikanth usually called, was the naughtiest boy in the class. If you asked the Principal or the Headmaster who was one boy who started all sorts of trouble, it would be always him. Always him! His name was always associated with trouble but the funniest part was that he thought mostly of them as adventures and not as trouble. He would often bet with everyone and would inadvertently do really funny stuffs. He would run off to the nearest dhaba at night for food and stuffs for himself and for everyone back at school. He would often get caught and why not? The risks involved were far too meagre than the possible rewards.
If there was trouble and if Kivi was not involved, then Joyjit was surely involved. 347/V (V for Vindhyachal, Red House) joined school immediately after me, 346/V. I still remember the day he joined school for he was looking awkwardly at the dal and rice and he was thinking, this is food? The next day he was running off to eat at dhaba at night with Kivi for ‘real’ food.
Joyjit was eagerly waiting for Roll number 7. Roll number 7 was Indibar, a new guy. Everyday, Joyjit would wait till Roll number 5 and ask for a pen or borrow a book from Roll number 7. Today it was a ‘dropped’ book and Joyjit called Indibar and asked him to pick up the book he had earlier conveniently placed behind him. Mr Srikanth got mad as usual. Here was one guy who wouldn’t remember his roll number every day! How stupid these kids are nowadays, to not even remember their own roll numbers!
The whole class laughed at this stunt. We all knew that this was bound to happen every single day!
I turned around and looked at the two best friends, Samadullah Khan and Iftekhar. Words cannot describe what these two idiots had drawn. They were drawing Srikanth in an auditorium, singing an old Chiranjeevi hit, ‘Nee Snehum, Ikkaradu Anni…’ I took some inspiration from them and started drawing another one. After I finished, I showed it to Samad and Ifty, both of whom made a small noise. Mr Srikanth hopped with madness and screamed!
“SAMADULLAH KHAN, IFTEKHAR ALI AND MADAN GOPAL LAISHRAM! BE CAREFUL!”
I didn’t expect this and stopped my drawing and started looking around inconspicuously.
Romendro and Probin were discussing something that Probin probin overheard and apparently didn’t like. Piplani, the pipe, and Deepak, the stunt-master, were also thinking of playing Jim’s ‘Dave’ or Ahmedullah’s ‘Prince of Persia’ in our computer lab. Nancy, Chanchal, Hanou and Sandhyarani all looked like they were writing last minute letters to their parents. Asha and Bembem having finished their roll call looked more serious than usual. Shanta, Sandhya and Thadoi were talking to Kivi about something. Deepa and Reshma were spinning their pens above the joint between the index and thumb in a really annoying manner I never seemed to master. Romendro was almost asleep next to Lunkhomba.
In a short while, the attendance was over and we were back to our senses.
“SAMADULLAH KHAN! GET OUT OF MY CLASS!”
After they left, an extremely boring lecture about the three parts of the human small intestine, Duodenum, Jejunum and Ileum started, and we were half awake. The only person who seemed to be concentrating was Lunkhomba aka Telemachus (Pre-Class X name).
After 40 minutes that felt like 40 hours, the bell rang, and Mr Srikanth left us for good. The next class was Physics, so all the Science students came back inside. Probin, Kivi and Joyjit came inside together, Probin sandwiched between the two jokers. Just behind them was Samad.
“So what does a kullu joke mean?” asked Kivi.
Samad said, “‘Kullu’ joke means a dry joke. A Kullu joke is a joke on which one does not feel funny after hearing, but he must laugh for the joke of it being a joke! An example would be the great Ant and Elelphant joke. Have you ever heard of it?”
“No.” I said.
“Ant and elephant decide to play hide and seek. Ant goes out to hide and elephant comes to seek. Ant runs into the temple to hide, and elephant comes to know…how? Ants slippers are left outside.”
We all laughed, for this was the dumbest joke ever!
Thadoi said sarcastically, “Joke? I should laugh? Ha, ha. We call that a dry joke or an akangba phagi!”
Kangba means dry. Kanga means a swan, and that was what was exactly on Joyjit’s mind for the next thing he said was,
“You know what? I saw a flock of swan yesterday evening. It was near our school toilet complex. It was huge and strong.”
Kivi, who was used to arguing with Joyjit for anything and everything, said, “I once caught a swan alive. I had to let it go because I thought I saw Mr Abraham coming towards me near our dormitory.”
Mr Abraham was our school head master. He lived in a building near our dormitory building and the covalent pair of him and Mrs Abraham, our chemistry teacher, was the most respected pair of teachers in our school.
“Haha, Kivi. You thought you saw, huh? You thought you saw. But you didn’t, did you?” jumped in Romendro, who was jumping into the hot discussion.
“You all are idiots! I did catch the bird. You didn’t catch one yourself, so you are saying like that!” Kivi was getting angry. “I don’t have to prove anything to say that I once caught a bird.”
Joyjit said, “He is right, he did catch a bird. He once caught hold of his own ass and thought he caught a kiwi. Who cares?” Romendro and Joyjit laughed at him.
Kivi then said, “I caught a bird barehanded, you dumb babbling blistering buffoons, and if any of you two idiots can get to do the same with that shitty swan, I will give you anything you want!” He was getting so mad that we could see veins popping out of his forehead.
“I would never do it for free.” said Joyjit. “Give me a reasonable bet and I will catch a bird with my bare hands.”
“If you catch a bird barehanded, I will give you my bowl of chicken, this Wednesday evening. If I don’t catch the bird by Wednesday, you will get me your bowl of chicken that evening.”
“Anything you can do, I can do better! Throw in two cigarettes and 5 packs of gutkha and I will call it a deal!”
“That is reasonable enough for me! Deal!” said Kivi, silently, and the two friends shook hands like real gentlemen. What was so gentlemanly about that deal, I still don’t understand.
“Ssssssh! Mrs Madhavan is here.” Mrs Madhi was our Physics teacher.
And so the deal was made on that fateful Monday afternoon. No one had any idea of the series of events that were to come.
Chapter 2: The Bird’s Hive
It is not easy to describe the pair of Joyjit and Kivi. Sometimes they were the best of friends while at other times they were the worst of enemies. Very rarely did the two act against each other and these were one of those rare moments.
Word was out that an unusual deal had been struck. Amongst us, Chingkhei was the most interested.
Our friend Chingkhei had a funny habit. Usually, Chingkhei always gave an effort to clean the bed, folded the blanket arrange the books in proper order, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, everything arranged in the most orderly manner. Finally when it’s all said and done, he would open a book, study for a while but soon put his forehead on top of the books and sleep off in the most orderly fashion!
Chingkhei often had real determination. Endless hours were spent debating against Kivi, both of whom tried their best to claim the ownership of the Dzuko valley, a disputed area between Nagaland and Manipur, and often these arguments got so heated that on more than one occasion, I felt a fight was about to start. During the school sports competitions, his school house was without good runners and he would often come last during the race, but what the hell who cared even if the rest of the people had finished running? He would complete the race in an empty track amidst a laughing crowd. Another real gentleman!
He was the one who usually fought against the pair of Joyjit and Kivi over trivial matters. If Chingkhei drew Joyjit as a monkey and passed it to the whole class, the next day, the first thing the girls would see would be a caricature of a pig titled Chingkhei on the blackboard.
So when he found out there was a bet going on, he got excited and the next thing he suggested was putting down the whole bet on a bond paper and signing with ink or thumbprints.
“Joyjit, you are going to catch a bird with bare hands, huh? Ha-ha!”
“Yeah, that’s true! And I will also be getting an extra bowl of chicken, gutkha and cigarettes too!”
But deep inside, Joyjit was worried. It was Wednesday afternoon and there was no sign of any bird near the toilet complex.
On Wednesday evening, Kivi was so happy. It was time for some happy meal. Joyjit said, “Lets look one more time and we’ll see if I catch a bird.”
“Go on, early man!”
So Joyjit led the way to the toilet after prep. Chingkhei, Kivi and Romendro followed the way. After double checking to see if either the teachers or the girls were coming, Joyjit started climbing the complex.
It was not that easy. It was dark and the moonlight was the only source of light that showed him the way up was the lights from the inside of the complex. After half a minute he was up the complex.
“Give me a torch light.” Kivi handed him one.
No sooner did Joyjit turned the torch towards the dark areas above than he saw the most terrifying thing he had experienced in his life. For there stood just 5 inches above his head, a big round and dark sphere, with perfect hexagonal grids, designed to hold up the food of the deadly creatures that dwelt inside. It was a bee hive.
Quietly, Joyjit crept and came down. He was excited and spoke quietly to Kivi. “There is a bee hive!”
All the deals of the past three days vanished into thin air, for the two Mohicans were now friends once again. Immediately they took up a sense of purpose of destroying the bee hive to protect their classmates from danger and they started attacking it with some large stones.
As it was dark, the bees had no clue that they were being attacked. Within a minute, the bee hive was down and the three amigos ran off towards the mess hall.
“But what about the bet?” asked Chingkhei. He wanted to see the two kick the shit out of each other.
“Both of us win! You give us the treat!”
“Why? I was not even a part of the bet!”
“Well you didn’t write down on paper, did u? If I remember correctly, you now owe us 2 chicken bowls, 4 cigarettes and 10 gutkhas!”
“You son of a mangy dog!”
A long argument ensued and the three went to eat dinner and forgot all about the deal.
But back at the complex, the queen bee was furious. The worker bees now worked even harder to find a much better site to build a new hive. And raise fighter bees to protect their home even better.
Chapter 3: The Warden Demented
That was in spring. Summer came very fast in our school and we all went home. However, the Mohicans seemed to know how to spend time well enough. During the vacation, Joyjit anticipated a heavy monsoon and started searching for three things, the largest umbrella in the world, the best cassette player in the world and the best emergency lamp in the world. Where do you go for that? Of course, the Moreh Market!
The Chinese products in the Moreh Market dominate the Manipuri market in most areas. Each year, you could find the newest and most amazing products at the cheapest prices. Joyjit went to the market to buy those three stuffs. Instead he got two stuffs, an umbrella of about six feet diameter and an emergency lamp cum cassette player! Pretty soon, both objects became the talk of boys’ dormitory, the pride of Joyjit and the envy of one and all.
Kivi on the other hand brought pickles of all sorts from his grandmother. He told her about the bee hive in school. He in turn heard stuffs about how to save oneself in case of a bee attack. Knowledge is power (according to our legendary icon and rocket man APJ Abdul Kalam) and Kivi was rejuvenated with new visions to save himself from all sorts of bee troubles.
When we came back to school, the Class 10 and Class 12 students were the first to start their classes two weeks prior to day one of the students of the remaining classes. With a view towards getting good marks in the board exams, extra classes were conducted in the mornings and the afternoons were left free due to the heat.
We also saw that our warden had changed. I don’t remember his name, but everyone at first started calling him ‘Taklu’, Hindi for bald headed guy, much like Telegu ‘Gundu’ (as in Gundu pagali poddi) and Manipuri ‘Koktang’. Since he knew the first two words well, we evolved to calling him Koktang.
After a few days, the warden came to our dorm and asked Joyjit for the two objects.
“I’m confiscating that cassette player. You cannot use it inside the dorm. Causes distraction to all the students,” said the warden.
“But sir, it is my only table lamp. I use it to read my books,” said Joyjit. “How will I study?”
“I don’t know! Go buy a fluorescent lamp like your friends. Not this distracting machine.”
“The school does not allow me to go out and buy stuffs. And anyway, I didn’t bring money from home.” Money was not allowed inside the dorms. “Do you think you will get it for me?” said Joyjit.
“I will see about that,” said the warden and he went off.
However the day never came when we saw the confiscation of Joyjit’s tape player, I mean the ‘table lamp’. It was always a funny argument about having no permission to go out to get new lamp and no money to buy the lamp. Frustrated, the warden turned to Kivi.
“Kivi cupboard always smells like pickles. I think Kivi has pickles inside. Open your cupboard.”
Obligingly, Kivi opened the door but the pickle was never found. The warden left shaking his bald head and grudgingly. “One day, I will catch these two jokers. I will catch them and teach them a lesson, for sure.”
After he left, we asked Kivi where he kept his pickle. He showed it to us. It was behind his shoes.
Chapter 4: A Bigger Bet
The next day, a new rule was announced. Not more than 4 shirts, pants, bed sheets and limited number of all stuffs were to be allowed in the dorms. Everything else was to be confiscated.
“What a dumb rule!” Samad complained on the way to the school toilet. “That Taklu wants to torture us!”
Ifty said, “Don’t worry. We will make his life a living hell!”
“How? I don’t think we can outdo him at that! Maybe we should act like ghosts at night!”
“Or, better still, scream like railway vendors ‘Puri, Puri! Chai! Garma Garam Chai!’ in the middle of the night, near his doorway!” and they both laughed and went inside the toilet.
Through the window, they could see Kivi walking towards the toilet. Suddenly he stopped and froze, as if he saw a ghost. After a moment of staring at the toilet, he ran back to the classes.
“What was that?” asked Ifty. “Kullu stunt, perhaps!”
“Let’s go find out!”
Our class was filled with a lot of people when Kivi broke the news.
“Bees in school! Bees in school! Let’s go kill them!”
Rajesh, the boy with the biggest nose in the class jumped up from his seat and said, “Where is it? Where is it? Let’s kill ‘em all!”
“Calm down, Nakku!” said Joyjit. “It is a ridiculously risky task. People could get hurt!”
Nelson, the boy wonder with a pouting Schwarzeneggeristic lower jaw, said, “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go!”
Kivi cautioned, “That’s true. Anyone who wants to join the bee attack will have to swear on oath that he must not report it to the teachers.”
At that moment, some of the girls who had heard what we were talking about got nervous and left. Others came towards us with worried looks on their faces.
“Kivi paktaba,” said Marina with a worried yet angry voice. “What the hell do you think you are doing? Enough of fooling around in school!”
“And you two!” said Deepa, pointing her finger at the two other leaders. “Romendro and Joyjit, you two know better than us what would happen if the trio of you makes another bad decision. This is the dumbest plan you people have ever conceived.”
“Leave us alone!” said Nelson. “All we want to do is have some fun. We will throw some stones at the bee hive and run like mad. That’s all! Nothing else!”
“Somebody’s gonna get hurt real bad!” said Reshma. And the three girls left the class for their dorms.
After they left, I said, “We should have a prize for this competition. Whosoever gets to destroy the beehive completely should be given a fitting prize!”
Chingkhei said, “Anyone who destroys the bee hive will receive a pickle from Kivi and a whole day’s use of Joyjit’s cassette player!”
“I will kill anyone who touches my pickles like I kill bees!” said Kivi, but no one listened. Joyjit, who had a boil on his right arm that day, was too weak to even complain. This generated a lot of excitement among us and we walked out of the class with eagerness. After a while every boy from our class was assembled in front of the toilet, ready to attack!
Samad and Ifty who were watching us from a distance said, “These people are really kullu!” and they too headed for the boys’ dorms.
Chapter 5: The Hitmen
The school toilet is a two part building. One part is for the girls and the other part for the boys. The roof is about 8 feet from the toilet floor. Sometimes in the evening, on the way, we would find snakes slithering around in the dark.
The bee hive in question was situated about 20 feet above the ground. But due to the risky nature of the job, we stood about 40 feet away from its vertical drop.
“All right people! It looks like we have to attack in style. We all have to throw the stones at the same time. The bees won’t know what hit them.” Kivi was acting like an authority on bee attack strategist.
We all picked up stones from the ground and got ready.
“Ready? One, Two, FIRE!”
Stones whizzed passed the bee hive. Most stones flew below the bee hive. None hit the hive!
“Come on, we can do it! One, Two, FIRE!”
I looked to see who was shouting. It was Rajesh, the big nosed boy.
“Once again! One, Two, FIRE!”
WHIZZ, WHIZZ, WHIZZ, PHAT!
There was a hit. Although I suspected it was Romendro who hit it, Chingkhei claimed the prize by making a funny sound which felt like an owl hooting loudly. But the person who was making even more noise was Rajesh, who screamed, “LAGA, LAGA, LAGA!”, Hindi for “We hit it! We hit it! We hit it!”
Most of us continued to throw. I was so bad at throwing that I decided I would have more fun watching the others throw than me throwing. Everyone screamed and laughed every time there was a hit, not because of the fun we got out of hitting, but because of Rajesh’ loud voice.
“LAGA, LAGA, LAGA!”
The sight was memorable. Homer, who had a sinus problem, was giggling, sniffing and running around for fear of getting bee bites. He would stand nearby when others were throwing, but would immediately run towards the school buildings once there was a hit. Nelson with his long Leonardo hair was trying to do his hair and his throws at the same time. Chingkhei ran like a crazy man towards the school area every time there was a hit. Chand and Somy were the shortest among us, and even though the beehive was high up in the air, they had to stand in front of us just to get a good glimpse. Kivi who was the leader of the pack didn’t move at all, showing leonine fearlessness. Joyjit, who in the beginning had considered staying out due to his boiled arm, could not stand missing the action and joined the attack.
Suddenly Probin came running out from the toilet, screaming at us to stop attacking till he got out of the way. He ran off towards the boys’ dorm.
We all paused for a while and laughed. Then we continued.
Suddenly, the bee hive made way and a part of it fell down. We scrammed for our lives and ran to the dorms. We all came back safe.
“That was fun! Let’s play this game everyday!”
“You people all act like kids!” said Probin, who had come back earlier and was now applying yet another Home-Shopping brand pimple curing cream on his face. “One of you could get really hurt!”
The next day, on the blackboard was drawn a Suppandi, and a speech balloon said, “LAGA LAGA! THE HIT-AND-RUN GAME!” Below it was written, “Rajesh”.
Chapter 6: Samad’s Misadventure
The next day was no different. Having learnt that many people were playing a dangerous game in the afternoon, the girls and some of the boys avoided the area in the afternoon. It soon became a sort of an entertainment programme for the Class 10 and Class 12 students.
On the second day, long after the game had finished with no casualty so far, Joyjit paid a visit to the school doctor in the afternoon. With a boil in his right arm, the latest adventure had caused the boil to inflame a lot more. Using a pink bandage borrowed from Romendro to hold in the mess together, he went to meet the doctor.
The school doctor was a man with a Charlie Chaplin mustache. Titled by other teachers affectionately as The Gentle Giant, he was the tallest staff members in the school. With a stethoscope around his neck, he closely examined the boil on his arm and shook his head, visibly displeased.
“I told you to avoid any sort of exercise on your right arm. What have you been doing?” asked the doctor.
Joyjit bit his lips. “I have been practicing for the district level hockey tournament. I am in the school team you know. The coach does not want me to miss a single match.”
“Tournament or no tournament, you need to rest your arm. Show me your tongue.” And the doctor shined down a torch light down his throat.
What has my tongue got to do with the boil, thought Joyjit, but he kept quiet.
“Take this tablet twice a day. And come tomorrow again.”
Joyjit left the hospital and took a closer look at the tablet. It was a tablet called Nice, the same tablet he gave to the rest of the school for all sorts of diseases, be it dysentery, headache, and other minor diseases.
Oh well, what have I got to lose, he thought and left for the water tank area to take a drink along with the tablet.
As he neared the tank area, he saw that a strange scene was taking place. Piplani was running after Samad and Ifty, and Piplani was hitting them both with his chappals.
“Hey Pipe! What happened?” asked Joyjit.
“Joyjit, help me,” panted Piplani. “Bees are chasing them both!”
Joyjit immediately took up his chappals and started hitting Ifty with them.
“Hey, the bees are not chasing me anymore,” said Ifty, and the three started hitting Samad.
“Ow, ow, ow!” Samad was no longer sure whether the pain was coming from the bees’ bites or the chappal shots. At the end, Samad was badly roughed up by the three boys. They took him to the school’s sick bay. The doctor looked down his throat, as usual, quipped a comment about the bad weather condition and gave him a pair of Nice tablets, the same one that Joyjit had received earlier in the day.
Later that night, Joyjit and Kivi came to our room. After briefly taunting Jammy’s stiff drying clothes which they referred to as Naan, the conversation turned to new strategies to destroy the bee hive.
“Today we have learnt that two of our friends were attacked by the bees. Now you see why it is so dangerous to have bees in our school campus. Bees could kill!”
We all nodded in agreement.
“So now, we have decided that it is our duty to get rid of the beehive. Without further action, the bees could hurt much more people than we can ever imagine.”
“I once saw on TV a documentary about bees. They don’t bite if you don’t move,” said Kivi. “So if you are in bee trouble, do not move at all, just stand ground.”
“What kind of crazy advice is this? Are you sure?” asked Romendro.
“Yes I am sure! I even heard about it from my grandmother.” Kivi did not mention that the sole source of that wisdom was his grandmother. It would be too funny for the boys to hear that he was referring to her wisdom and not to some scientific fact, and hence, the lie!
“Do what you want, but I will be running like mad again if the bees attack tomorrow.”
Samad and Ifty came in the room.
Ifty said, “Hey Joyjit! Do you have that umbrella with you?”
Joyjit said, “It’s in my room, behind my cupboard. Why do you need it?”
“I am making myself a bee-protection device! I am coming to kill those beastly bees tomorrow!”
Samad was wearing his blue house t-shirt but on his shoulder was a red house t-shirt.
“Hey Samad!” said Romendro. “What do you need that losers’ shirt for?” Our house, the red house, had a habit of always finishing fourth in the house ranking system. Or, in other words, last!
“Ifty and I think that the bees won’t attack if I wear a bright color, similar to flowers.” And they left.
That is a sight I won’t want to miss, I thought.
Chapter 7: The Bees and the Frogs
For Ifty and Samad, the next morning classes seemed to take like eons. Samad was wearing his new red shirt below the school uniform of checkered blue shirt and Ifty was stroking Joyjit’s umbrella impatiently. After the new Mathematics teacher relieved us of differential calculus, we were at freedom in the afternoon.
The afternoon was not like any other afternoon. It was probably the best afternoon ever in the summer. It was neither too hot nor too humid. Due to this fact, apart from the regulars, many people gathered around the tree and hoped for an entertainment.
The girls were being either too paranoid or too smart.
“Kivi, be careful,” said Deepa.
Bembem too was worried. “I know you won’t listen to us, but still I beg you for your own good, leave this silly idea.”
“Ok, ok, now wait a minute!” said Romendro. “Don’t be a spoil sport. Leave us alone.”
“We WILL leave you alone!” glared Marina. “I hope one of you get a really bad sting! Just to get a lesson!”
“And I hope all of you do get a sting each!” said Deepa angrily, and they left for their dormitory with their warnings.
With the girls now out of our way, it was time to play the hit and run game. “Let’s play LAGA LAGA!” shouted Rajesh, jumping up and down, in the same tone Amitabh Bachchan would say, “Let’s play KAUN BANEGA CROREPATI!”
The first flurry of stones went. None hit.
“COME ON! YOU CAN DO IT!”
“Rajesh, stop shouting and let us concentrate!”
The next round went. None hit.
“COME ON YAAR! YOU CAN DO IT!”
“Scream one more time and I will cut off your big fat nose,” screamed Kivi.
The next round of stones flew. One of them hit the bee hive.
The sight of a bee hive being hit is a marvelous sight. I cannot tell you exactly how it looks, but once a stone hits the hive, the bees become a group, like an iron hand. And once it chooses a path, the group follows the leader of the soldier bees and zooms towards its direction.
Luckily the bees only hovered around and stayed there for a while.
The next hit proved to be fatal. A large chunk of the beehive, about 3/4ths of the whole beehive, fell off. The bees noticed us and headed in our direction. “RUN!!!”
As we all scrambled towards safety, I looked around for a place to take refuge. I was quiet shocked at the methods my friends used to escape the bees.
Nelson and Homer who were the fastest runners among our lot had run off with a head start. I couldn’t see their faces but I could see Nelson’s hair jumping up and down, and Homer was again giggling awkwardly at those people running behind them, sniffing his sinus infected nostril vigorously. Rajesh who had been jumping up and down was now running at full speed. Chingkhei was running awkwardly behind him at break neck speed and overtook him, but not without hitting him with his outstretched arm. His outstretched arms were like those of Maurice Greene at the ribbons of the 100m Olympic final of Sydney 2000, where he won gold.
Ifty had opened up Joyjit’s umbrella and was using it as a shield against the flock of bees. Although it worked at first, it was unable to shield him from the bees coming from behind. So he closed himself inside the five foot diameter umbrella, thus covering two and a half feet of himself in it. He got some bites in the arms. Unable to stand the bee bites any longer, he ran inside the staff members’ toilet which was situated nearby. He saw Joyjit and Romendro locked inside and so ran off to the other safest place, the girls’ toilet and locked himself inside it.
Samad and Kivi were the unfortunate victims. Samad had worn his red shirt and along with Kivi was following Kivi’s dumb advice of standing still when the bees attacked. One by one, the bees came and hit them. Unable to bear any longer, both of them ran towards the water fountain and it was here that the bees subsided and left them. They sat down and looked at each other. Kivi had got a few stings on his back and the forehead and Samad had some on his arms. Later when the doctor came, Joyjit too went. Joyjit went to treat his big inflamed boil which had burst again and was now again a big mess.
“You really need to stop playing hockey! I will talk to the principal regarding your hockey matches.”
“What hockey? Oh yes, I talked to him. Coach is giving me off for a week.” Joyjit lied.
“He should. Kivi, show me your tongue.” And the doctor shined his torch down his throat.
Later, when the three friends came out of the sick bay, they each had a couple of ‘Nice’ tablets each in their pockets.
Kivi’s forehead became a mess. The area around his temple where the bite occurred became reddish and he was whimpering in pain the whole afternoon. In the evening, he did not attend prep class.
“What happened to Kivi?” asked Marina anxiously, looking at Samad’s arms and imagining Kivi’s condition. “I hope he is all right.” said Deepa.
“He is all right,” said Romendro. “He just needs some rest, that’s all.”
The next morning, Kivi came back to the class. The girls who had been waiting with worried looks were now trying to control their giggles. Suddenly, Marina came into our classroom and took a look at Kivi.
“Kivi, you look like a frog!” and she started laughing.
The whole class burst into laughter. Kivi indeed resembled an overgrown frog!
Chingkhei said, “Two frogs in the class! Don’t forget Samad!”
Kivi sulked and looked angrily at everyone laughing at him. He got up, hummed his favorite song, a Sugar Ray single called ‘Every morning there’s a halo hangin …’ and left for the library.
The idea of bee hunting was suddenly a foolish one. We no longer wanted to risk looking like a frog. The craze to kill bees had suddenly gone. Something had died.
Later in the afternoon, I took one last look at the bee hive. Some boys had hit the remaining part and there was a brown bit of hive still stuck, but too small to be of any interest to anyone. I took a stone and hurled at it.
I missed again. My aim sucks.
Chapter 8: Blackout
The seasons became pleasant and the days became better. Our dormitory became an entertainment room of all sorts. Every night, people came up with new ideas just for the fun of it. Some people brought comics into night preps, and our dorm teacher-in-charge, Sir Mukesh a.k.a. Muku dada, never found out that what we were reading attentively during the night prep was a Tinkle comic. After he left, there would be regular card games and the bet was that the winner gets to whip the loser’s arms once with his two fingers with such great speed and force that it would cause temporary pain and inflammation. When the warden saw this, he got rid of our dormitory room doors to make it easier for him to catch us playing cards.
Another activity was to get papayas from the jungle, make chutney with a lot of chilies and mix them and enjoy it among the whole dorm. Since the food was less, the taste was really good. The warden would come running in after the noise and would smell something ‘fishy’ but he would not say anything, for the food was over, and without evidence or proof, how could he catch us?
Mock wars were another activity. Paper rockets were built with enthusiasm and mock rocket wars broke out between the Science faction and the Commerce faction. Old notebooks were torn down and carefully turned into rockets and when both side were ready, two opposite rooms were segregated into Science and Commerce, and the battles took place. Since the warden had taken down the doors after our card games, everyone was always an easy and open target. Soon, the tips of the paper rockets were upgraded from plain twisted tips to gummed tips which meant that on the tip, gum was applied and when it dried, it made the hits really painful. This was soon upgraded to superglue and superglue caused such damage to our skins that we ourselves stopped the wars.
Probin and Jammy were among the few who chose to opt out of this fun. It was only a matter of time before ideas were hatched to aim the jokes at those who didn’t take part in the fun. Thus, Jammy and Probin became regular targets. There would be a mock fight between Romendro and Lunkhomba and one of them would act like they got hit and would fall flat on Probin who was reading a Tinkle comic.
Jammy had a funny cupboard. It had a big hole at the centre where some seniors had once used as a port for connecting electric wires of the table lamp to the socket behind the cupboard.
Joyjit made this the centre of attention one day. He looked in through the hole and screamed, “Ticket please! Hey, Jammah, ticket please!”
“Joyjit, get lost!”
Kivi joined in. “Me too. Two tickets for me and my dog, Chingkhei!” And he pulled Chingkhei’s pinkish nose and ran off towards the door-less door.
Chingkhei who had been laughing till now saw that we all were laughing at him. He turned red and got up and took up his chappal and threw at Kivi and Joyjit. “You bloody …”
No sooner had he thrown the chappal than the warden came into our room. It flew and missed the warden by inches.
“What is this? Who threw that? Kivigho and Joyjit, why are you not at your rooms? And look at the time. It’s 1 am! No shame at all! Chahh!”
The next day he went and told our principal, Mr Madhavan, that the boys were making a lot of noise at night. There was another discussion in the school that day. The school electric bill had come to a little over Rs. 35,000. The school managing director was such a Scrooge that he decided to install power control switches in the dormitories.
“That’s a great idea. Let’s do it!” said the warden happily.
The next week, while we were at school, electricians came and attached a switchboard in the warden’s room, from where he could control the electric supply. Except for the fans in all the rooms, electricity in every room could now be controlled by the flick of a switch. “This was really such a great idea!” he thought, “Now I can sleep peacefully at night!”
Chapter 9: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
The next evening, the warden could not wait to turn off the lights. At 11pm sharp, which was his ideal time to get into bed, he turned off all the lights in our rooms and closed his doors and windows and went to sleep.
We all got together and chatted for some time below the fans, listening to some old Guns n’ Roses songs on Joyjit’s emergency lamp cum tape player. These two, the fan and the tape player, were now the only working electric device in our dorm. Unsurprisingly, the topic of discussion was the warden who, at the moment, seemed to have scored a point over us. Unable to bear the darkness any longer, we all agreed that the best way to kill time in the dark would be to wage war against the darkness.
In the middle of the night, the warden was woken up by the sounds of knockings on the door.
“Who is there?” He asked and got up.
“Wooooo, Bhoot!” wailed Homer.
“Chai, Chai! Garma garam chai!” screamed Lunkhomba.
“Puri, puri! Dus ka bis! Dus ka bis! Puri, puri!” piped Nelson.
Romendro jumped in behind them. He was wearing a blue house shirt and black jogging pants and had tied a dark quilt around his neck so that he resembled Batman in the dark. Joyjit was walking around in a blanket with his hands raised, and in the dark, he looked like a really tall scary man. Homer who led the pack took the bell which was used to wake us up for exercise in the morning and opened the window and threw it inside his room. With a weird laughter, he and everyone except Joyjit and Kivi came running towards our room. As it was dark, Homer made no effort to hide himself. He made sure that the warden saw him running inside our room in the dark. All that the warden could see in the dark was that someone wearing a red house T-shirt had thrown a bell inside his room and had now ran inside our room.
The first person the warden met was Alvite, who was drinking outside. The warden had no clue that even he was involved, so he asked, “Alvite, who was the boy in the red shirt who ran that way?”
“No idea, sir! It was too dark to see!” he said with ruthless sarcasm.
The warden came running inside our room. I hastily jumped into my bed, turned to my left and closed my eyes. All of us were acting as if we were asleep.
“Who was that?” He shone a torch at each of our ‘sleeping’ faces.
After he had taken the beam off my face, I slowly opened my left eye, and looked across the room. The warden was now looking at Nelson’s face. Nelson looked as if he was trying to stop himself from laughing in his dreams.
“I know it was not Joyjit or Kivi! They do not belong to this room!” He screamed angrily. “I know it was one of you eight boys. And he was wearing a red T-shirt.”
We all acted as if we didn’t hear him. I opened my eyes a little further and saw to my amusement that Homer was now wearing a green shirt, which had reduced the odds of him being a probable perpetrator of the crime to the minimum.
Romendro opened up his eyes and said sleepily, “Sir, could you please turn off that light and let us sleep in peace?”
“I will not go until I find out who did this …” and he never completed his sentence for another sound of the bell crashing could be heard from his room. It was definitely Joyjit and Kivi this time.
The warden ran off towards his room. He arrived a moment late. So he took his chair out and sat in the dark, waiting for us to return. We called it a day and went to sleep, for real this time.
Chapter 10: La Noche Triste
The warden had now found out that keeping his doors closed at night was such a bad idea, for he could not catch us with the doors closed. If the rascals had to be caught, he had to keep his door open and catch them during the escape.
The warden’s room had 3 partitions. His bed was kept in the innermost partition, while the switchboard to control the dormitories was kept at the outermost partition.
That evening, we again got together and discussed the possible measures we could take.
“Maybe we should all take a leak inside his room.” suggested someone, and we all laughed at the idea.
“We could also take out the hostel fuse.” another suggested.
“That would be a double edged sword. How will we use our electric fans if that ever happens?” asked Lunkhomba.
“I have a better plan.” said Nelson. “Now that the warden has kept his room open, all we needed to do is wait for him to go to sleep! We enter the room quietly, turn on all the switches on the control board and come out as quietly as possible! That is it!” We all agreed on this.
The next night, Kivi went to his room and waited for him to snore at least 20 times. Once he felt safe, he entered the room.
The room was dark and it took some time to adjust. He saw the warden’s shape on the bed first and turned his back on him and looked at the control board. Slowly he saw the shapes of the switches. He took a deep breath and turned on the first one. To his horror, it lit the warden’s room immediately.
Fortunately, the warden did not wake up. Kivi quickly turned it off and turned on the remaining switches. All the rooms in our dormitory were now lit and Kivi sneaked out quietly. Once again we were enjoying electricity at night.
The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, the warden found out that the lights were on the whole night. He was so angry that he brought an extra cot and kept it near the switchboard. That room now became his bedroom.
This was bad news for us. We couldn’t now go to his room to make noise or turn on the lights.
Kivi said, “Desperate situations call for desperate measures. We must not give up immediately.”
The next evening they called me and a couple of other guys and opened up the switchboard to their room. We all discussed what connections could be made to make the lights come back to our rooms.
Electricity is not exactly rocket science. We looked at the circuit connections and found out that the fan connection wires were still partially black taped and could be easily removed. I suggested that if one of the wires could be cut and joint to this fan wire, our mission would be successful. The next instant, to my horror, Kivi was working fervently with bare hands on the black tape and unwounded it and joined the wires I had suggested. For a moment, I thought, what if my suggestion was wrong? Fortunately for us, after a spark or two, we saw the room light up! We applauded and congratulated ourselves on this achievement.
Later, Joyjit and Kivi came to our room too to fix the connections for us.
Electricity at night was now available at two rooms. All we had to do was wait for the warden to go to sleep and then turn on the lights. The juniors who had no clue what was going on came to our rooms at night to either study or chat with us, for in the dark, what useful thing could you do? These were the happiest rooms in the dorm.
After a couple of nights, Jim and Gems, our classmate who stayed in a room upstairs, came to me for getting the lights ‘fixed’ in their room too. This time, I went with Joyjit, and with full confidence we redid the connections. Their roommates, James Albert and Anil Abraham, our headmaster’s son, looked with open jaws at us working fervently. At that moment, I thought, what if Anil told his father about this. But all doubts in my mind were cleared once I saw the happy faces in their room once the electricity connection was ‘restored’. At that moment, I felt that Anil was not the headmaster’s son but our dorm friend who resented the blackouts as much as we did.
Later that night, after I came back to my room, the warden suddenly entered our room. He looked shell shocked to see the lights in our room, as if it was a magician’s trick. He went back to his room to see if the switches were actually still off and came back.
“How come this light is on?” he inquired.
“We don’t know sir.” we said with blank faces. “It was like this always.”
“Why didn’t you tell me I cannot control the lights in your room?”
“The lights were working, so there was nothing to complain.”
“Why is the switchboard in his room not able to control only your room?” he said to himself and left.
The next day, good news came. The managing director had decided to revoke the blackouts. After some parents complained about the blackouts in our dormitories, the MD had no choice but to restore the electricity.
The next night he reasoned that Kivi and Joyjit were the people behind all the troubles and swore to himself there and then that he would catch them red handed one day.
Chapter 11: Centrifugal Damage
Winter came and went along. The seasons changed and it was spring again. The flowers looked lovely and blossomed, and the weather became nice once again. Lovely times, I tell you, for we sang songs like,
“We had joy, we had fun,
We had seasons in the sun.”
However, our glory days at school were coming to an end. Board exams drew nearer and the usually lively atmosphere in the dormitory changed to that of a gloomy one. People now rarely talked to each other except during the night tea time where everyone updated each other about the topic they were studying and how much still remained. Even the Mohican pair was silent nowadays and very studious. Jammy and Probin had tilted their cupboards so that they would not be visible to others’ gaze, thus creating semi private rooms.
Lunkhomba, the Munnabhai-to-be, read with his eyes half closed all the time. He would often pick up a really thick Biology book, lie down on his bed open it sideways and read it sideways. This position was extremely tough to keep awake and he would inadvertently fall asleep sooner than later, but not before setting an alarm on his alarm clock 45 minutes later. 45 minutes was a time duration he often talked of as a ‘sleep cycle’, where a person’s brain takes rest, and should a person complete this 45 minute cycle, he would experience complete rest. However, the person who would be waking up to turn off his alarm clock would be Homer, who would set it to a time another 45 minutes later and wake up the sleeping Lunkhomba, who would wake up with a jerk and look at the alarm clock for 10 seconds and then fall asleep. This happened every day until Homer one day set his alarm clock to 5 am, and Lunkhomba woke up and regretted having a long night’s sleep.
The night tea time was always fun. There would be absolute silence till the mess workers came with the tea jar. Once they came, everyone would start screaming, “Chai, chai, garma garam chai!” And the rest of the dorm would begin a mad rush for a cup of tea.
It was at this time that the Mohicans would come back for a funny stunt. Once, they had drunk their tea and came to our room with empty bottles.
“Hey, Homer!” I said. “What is the difference between Centrifugal and Centripetal forces?”
“In rotation,” said Lunkhomba hurriedly, before Homer could speak, “the inward force that holds the object in is called Centripetal force. The outward force that the body experiences during rotation is called Centrifugal force.”
“Brilliant!” said Joyjit. “We will now show you a live demo of these two forces.”
He pointed his finger at the fan nearest to Probin and spoke. “You see that fan? That is a rotating body. Now, the fan is rotating. Yet the fan blades do not jump out. Why?”
Kivi said, “Centipetal force. I have been reading a lot!” And he smiled.
“Now you see that the centripetal force does not contract or swallow up the fan blades. Why?”
Kivi replied, “Centifugal force!”
This lecture was leading to something fishy. I could smell it but I didn’t know what it was till the next moment.
“So,” Kivi said. “If I now throw an object into this fan, what would happen?”
Joyjit took his water bottle and aimed for the fan. “It would get hit and fly off!’
Kivi went slowly for the door, “And why?” We all lowered our heads.
“Centifugal force!” And Joyjit threw the bottle at the fan.
The bottle flew and hit its blade. It banged back and took a tangential path and flew into Probin’s semi private room.
Probin rushed out of his room. He was rubbing his forehead and wilting in pain and looked around angrily. He saw the pair of fools run away and ran after them. We all laughed at this scene and momentarily forgot that our Biology pre-boards exam was to be held the next day.
Chapter 12: Showdown in the Pines
The next day was Biology pre-boards. We all studied a lot together. Trying to remember the ridiculous plants and animals names was fun, for we remembered the most difficult names by relating them with things in our day to day life. For instance, PMAT was an anagram for Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase and Telophase, the four stages in Mitosis and Meiosis. Hyaluronidase, an enzyme, was remembered as Hi-Alu-Ronnie-Days.
As we all walked back to our dormitory, I remember how we discussed the Biology paper Sir Srikanth and Sir Shivandand had set for us.
“It wasn’t so easy as I thought,” said Lunkhomba. “Even so, I hope we all get good marks.”
Homer said, “Hey Lunk! What is the botanical name for ‘rice’?”
Lunkhomba said, “It is Oryza sativa.”
Homer said, “Shit, man! I wrote something else.”
Behind, I heard a groaning sound. I looked back and saw Jammy swearing to himself. He had also got it wrong.
“I got that one right,” Nelson jumped in, “for I remember Cannabis sativa. You know what that means?”
We all shook our heads like fools. Proudly, he said, “Ganja!”
We all laughed and went inside our dorm.
Kivi and Joyjit didn’t take Biology. So they had had their whole day off and were waiting for us in our room.
“What?” asked Romendro.
“We found a bee hive today!”
Suddenly our dorm was filled with bee hive fever.
“We were waiting for you people. It is at the top of that tree,” and he pointed to the tree outside my window. It was near out hostel toilet complex.
“We took the liberty of calling Samad and everyone else. They are preparing for the final conflict! Here they come!”
Samad was dressed from top to bottom in a black dress and had a huge stick in his hand. Ifty had no stick in his hand but had 2 Baygon’s Spray bottles in both his hands. Rajesh came in next and started blabbering. “Even the warden has left for the city in the morning. What are we waiting for? Let’s go, yaar!”
I looked outside the window again and felt too scared. Something was not quite right. I wished everyone would stay back, but all went outside. I was alone in my room. I double checked to see if all the mesh frames installed across each window were down. I sat down near my window and looked outside.
The toilet complex is a semi circular building. The tree in question was just behind this building. The beehive was near to the roof of the building and although it was small, I could see it was buzzing with activity. My attention was diverted by the screamings of Rajesh.
“COME ON YAAR! WE CAN DO IT! COME ON, DIKHA DO!”
And the first few stones were thrown.
Chingkhei screamed, “I HIT IT! I HIT IT! DID YOU SEE THAT? DID YOU?”
Nobody replied. Everybody prepared the next shoot.
Rajesh screamed, “LAGA, LAGA, LAGA!”
The boys from other classes too joined the action. About 20 people were now in action. Due to the sheer number of boys in action, it took like just three minutes before the bee hive was broken down and the bees zoomed in all directions and everyone was running like mad.
Although many people got bit, for some unknown reason, it was again Samad who was in the maximum receiving end. I watched in horror from my window as he tripped and fell in the ensuing escape run. The bees surrounded him and I could see a large cloud of black storm converging into Samad’s black dresses. Although I could see that the jacket was protecting him for some time, I knew that it was only a matter of time before the bees broke down the barriers. I looked back in the dorm and saw some people coming back into the room. I screamed, “Everybody! Help Samad, he is down!”
Joyjit, Kivi and Ifty went running back to help their friend. They watched speechless for a moment and then Ifty took out the two Baygon sprays in his track pant pockets and said, “Let’s use this!”
Bees are, after all, insects. Ifty and Kivi took each bottle and started spraying on Samad. The boy was completely covered in the aerosol spray and was coughing vigorously. After spraying for about thirty seconds, he was good to go.
Kivi and Joyjit came back and asked for a matchbox. While Probin was taking out a matchbox, I saw that a group of Class X students had returned back to the place and had thrown a large stone at the bee hive and they had run off. The bees formed a large group and flew away from us. I wondered where to, but that evening, we would learn that an old man had been bitten by bees on the road.
Kivi and Joyjit returned to the site. Finding that the bee hive was now empty, they climbed the toilet building and got to the top.
The beehive’s internal structure is a densely packed matrix of hexagonal cells made of beeswax, called a honeycomb. The bees use the cells to store food (honey and pollen), and to house the “brood” (eggs, larvae, and pupae). The Mohicans made use of the fact that the beehive was made of bee wax. Joyjit sprayed the combustible spray into the beehive and Kivi took a lighted match stick and introduced it into the beehive.
As they were torching the beehive, there was a scream from the window of the warden’s room. The two froze for a second, unsure as to what to do next.
Chapter 13: Nick of Time
As I watched in horror, I realized that the warden had returned from the city. The warden had run back inside his room and I suspected that he was running out of his room at that very moment. Within a minute he would be standing outside the toilet complex. I looked back at the toilet complex and saw that both of them had climbed down using the main door of the complex as a ledge. This side was facing the hostel and there was very little time to act. Both of them unexpectedly ran inside the toilet complex, and just then, the warden was in my view.
I too quickly tried to hide, cringed to the left side of my window. Satisfied that I was out of the warden’s sight, I looked again.
The warden was outside the complex and was screaming, “Joyjit! Kivi! I know you are inside this toilet. Come outside.”
They didn’t come out. The warden went inside. I knew the game was over.
I was surprised when the warden came out alone and went to the back of the toilet complex, checking if anyone was behind it. Apparently, he had not found them inside. I then saw him turn back and run to the back of our hostel. In the next instant, I saw the two running out from the complex.
“What was that?” we all asked the moment they entered the room.
“We were hiding inside the toilet.” Said Joyjit.
“But we saw the warden enter the complex. Didn’t he check all the toilets?”
“Course, he did!”
“How did you hide then?”
“Do you remember a scene in a movie called ‘Nick of Time’ where the hero hides from the villain? He opens all the doors and stands behind one of them. We too did the same thing.”
‘Nick of Time’ was a movie which was shown in the previous year in our school in a projector. I was surprised and impressed at the manner in which the two friends put to use an idea from a movie.
“Wow! That was quick thinking!” I said.
“All thanks to Joyjit! We live to fight another day!” hailed Samad.
But the festive atmosphere was spoilt by a knock on the door. It was Jim, our school prefect.
“The principal wants to see you Kivi. Right now!”
The nightmare was not over yet.
Chapter 14: Déjà vu
The sun was setting across the horizon. The evening sun was hot and yellow and the sky was filled with such brown ambience that the forests looked golden and deserted. It was summer now, and the afternoon had been so hot. The evening weather was better, warm and humid.
In a room, Anil Abraham was sitting down by the window and was reading a question paper. There was a snoring sound behind him. Mr Abraham had slept off while sitting on a chair with a newspaper on his table.
Anil was looking at the question paper. He folded the question paper neatly and opened up his drawer and kept it inside. As he closed the drawer, it made a small squeaky sound and the noise woke up his father.
Mr Abraham removed the copy of The Hindu that had become crumbled below him and looked for the source of the sound that had waked him up. He saw that it was Anil and said, “So how did you do today?”
“I did pretty well. The questions were easy to solve, but unlike previous years, the Mathematics paper had a science and a commerce part. I attempted the commerce part and did fairly well in it.”
“You must have missed this during the exams.” said Mr Abraham, raising the crumpled paper and showing to his son.
“‘Income Tax authorities almost completed issuing notices to all the bookies involved in the match-fixing scandal including the south Delhi-based jeweller, Mukesh Gupta.’ They are catching a lot of cricket players in this match fixing scandal. Now this is what I can call a good catch!” And the father and son laughed together for the first time since Anil’s exams had started.
From the corner of his eyes, he could see a green shirt moving outside in the garden. He could swear he saw Kivi in the trees but when he had turned his eyes towards the direction of the movement, he could see nothing unusual. He was disturbed by another sound that came from the kitchen.
“That smart line is not going to help our son in his exams! I told you I want you to stop giving him silly ideas till the end of the exams,” said Mrs Abraham, who had come out with a tray of tea and biscuit.
Mrs Abraham kept the tray on the table next to Mr Abraham and the two acted like real gentlemen and took the tea and biscuit quietly. As Anil ate a biscuit and looked outside, he saw Samad and Ifty walking outside towards the dormitory.
Mrs Abraham went near Anil and looked at what he was reading. She then looked outside the window and frowned again.
“My garden is all spoilt this season! All the chilies have died out mysteriously! Look at that. Today morning, there were about twenty chilies. Right now, I can see that there are only about five left.”
“It must be the bees. The boys have been wrecking all the bee hives this year. No wonder, the chilies have stopped growing. In this part of the region, flowers depend more on bees than butterflies for pollination.”
“As far as I know, bees pollinate flowers and then fruits come. I have seen the chilies grow out but have seen few grow to their full size.”
Mr Abraham became quiet again and looked around for a change of topic. He looked up the dormitory and saw some boys at the top of the water tank on top of the building.
“I wonder what they are up to this time!” he said. “I better call the warden.” And he picked up the phone.
Down the Memory Lane
The sun was setting across the horizon. The evening sun was hot and yellow and the sky was filled with such brown ambience that the forests looked golden and deserted. It was summer now, and the afternoon had been so hot. The evening weather was better, warm and humid.
The two boys were returning from the school canteen. Due to the board exams, many boys and girls were nowadays too reluctant to even go for the afternoon snacks that consisted of a burger and a Pepsi.
As they passed along the school garden for the gate towards the dormitories, the two boys looked at the school garden and then at the flowers. The plants would always be there, but the flowers would bud and blossom, and then they would go. The flowers looked lovelier than before, perhaps because they were leaving school in a few days forever. Deep down inside, they knew that they would remember all the happy memories associated with this place for the rest of their lives.
“It is a nice place, isn’t it?” said Samad, sadly.
“Yeah.” said Ifty. “You know, I will always miss this place. Let’s come back here whenever we get the chance.”
“We should. It was fun growing up here. Not the best place to grow up, but it was fun.” said Samad, and they both laughed.
While walking through the school garden en route to the dormitory, they turned their heads towards the east. They saw the school doctor who was coming out of the hospital. He was on his way back to the city.
“Remember the time,” said Ifty, “when you went to that doctor to get treatment for bee bites?”
“Ha-ha! Don’t forget, I wasn’t alone. I never walked alone,” said Samad.
The two friends came across the gate towards the second gate that led them to the dormitory.
“Remember the time we went to the dhaba?”
“We didn’t go to the dhaba,” said Ifty. “We ran to the dhaba!”
And the two laughed again.
They came to the gate that led to the dormitory. They were walking along the path that led them to the dorm building when all of a sudden they saw Kivi rushing out of the Abrahams’ garden. The two stopped at their tracks and looked at each other and laughed again.
“For sure, that guy is up to no good. I bet he is stealing those chilies again!”
“Remember the time when he stole into the warden’s room and turned on all the lights?” said Samad.
“Remember the day he sprayed Baygon spray all over your body to get rid of the bees?” And they both laughed again.
“Speaking of bees, I have a new kullu joke!
Once an elephant was eating leaves from a tree. But it met a bee hive on one of its branch. A group of bees chased the elephant, the elephant ran into a forest, on the way it met its Ant friend,
Ant: ‘Hey, why are you running?’
Elephant: ‘Bees are chasing me.’
Ant (Generously): ‘You come and hide behind me.’ ”
“Kullu!” screamed Ifty and the two laughed at the joke just like old times.
As they approached the dormitory they looked up and saw some boys at the top of the tank.
“Remember the day Deepak tried to jump down from up there?”
All along the Water Tank
The sun was setting across the horizon. The evening sun was hot and yellow and the sky was filled with such brown ambience that the forests looked golden and deserted. It was summer now, and the afternoon had been so hot. The evening weather was better, warm and humid.
The three friends were trying to pluck a raw papaya from a tall tree in the jungle. They were standing on a rocky platform, but it was a bit too far away. Kivi and Romendro held Joyjit by his left hand while Joyjit used his right hand to hold a hockey stick to hook a papaya towards them.
Joyjit looked down. There was rock and thorns everywhere. One small mistake and he would be all dust and bones.
He turned his attention towards the task in hand and locked the papaya branch onto his hockey stick’s grasp. He twisted it and gently pulled the branch backwards. Kivi used his other free hand to catch hold of the biggest papaya hanging on top of the tree trunk and plucked it. Joyjit released the plant and almost fell forward into the thicket of thorns.
“We got salt. All we now need is chilies. Kivi, you go get it. We will meet at the top of the water tank.”
Kivi climbed down the rocks and ran towards the Abrahams’ garden. He saw the chilies and smiled. He had been routinely scavenging them. He felt sorry for Mrs Abraham and reasoned to himself that this was probably the last time they were plucking chilies in school, for they would be gone by this time next month. And in the future, if any students were to steal chilies from her garden, it was not going to be his fault.
As he plucked the chilies, he thought he saw somebody inside the Abrahams’ house. With a huge rush of adrenaline, he ran for the nearest tree and looked from behind. It was only Anil.
Feeling like a fool, he pulled himself up and went to the top of the dorm building. On the way, he saw Ifty and Samad on his way and tried to hide the chilies which were already in his pocket by putting his hand in it to hide the bulge.
As he climbed to the top of the water tank, he saw us gathered around the papaya. He took out his chilies which were sliced into small pieces using an old knife. It was mixed properly with the already-sliced papaya and salt and we all started eating the papaya slices at once. It was delicious.
After a while, the food was gone and we sat down and discussed the Maths exam.
“You know,” I said “on my way up here, I saw those two idiots in the dorm. They are still crying their asses off and are sulking with their heads pushed into the pillows.”
“Who?” Kivi asked.
“Probin and Jammy! They are crying over some problems they solved incorrectly.”
“What the hell? Who didn’t solve a problem incorrectly today?”
And we all laughed.
“Who cares about the mistakes of our past? Nothing can change what they have done. They should accept that.”
As we chatted, we looked at the setting sun from the top of the dormitory and looked down below. I saw Ifty and Samad coming back from the canteen and immediately started remembering the bee hive massacre that had happened a month ago. I turned towards the almond tree next, and checked to see if the bee hive was still there.
“No bee hives! We scared them all away!”
“Yeah,” said Kivi, “but at a price!”
“What did Mr Madhavan say the other day?”
“He scolded me like anything, man! He asked me to apologize to the man who was bitten by a swarm of bees. He also spoke of my studies, my wicked life and my not so bright future!”
Again we laughed.
“But that is nothing, compared to what Joyjit got that evening from Mrs Madhavan.”
“What did she say to you, Joyjit?” we asked. We had heard the answer to this a lot of times and as if that wasn’t enough, we had asked again that day.
“Well, she said she heard from the warden that I was making a bomb on top of the toilet complex!”
We all laughed hard.
“She must have imagined that I was making a stink bomb!”
Chand who had been laughing at Joyjit now reminded us of the weather. “I feel so hot man! I think I need a swim.”
Kivi repeated Chand’s words in sotto voce again, “I feel so hot man! I think I need a tub to swim. Saala, are you trying to show off that you can swim?”
The crowd started cracking jokes on Chand.
“Hey, Da’Chand! You know how to swim?” said Romendro.
“Maybe he cannot swim, but he can float!” said Joyjit.
“You idiots! I will show you I can swim!” Chand said angrily.
“Show us, oh noble and great floating thing in the sky!”
Chand then gleamed his eyes wickedly at the Mohicans and spoke slowly, “Can you losers bet on this?”
“We all here will each give you a chicken bowl to you this Sunday evening,” Joyjit said, “if you can show us, right here and now, that you can swim across the two holes in that water tank.”
Without any hesitation, Chand took off his T-shirt and jumped into the water tank. The two holes were about twenty feet apart. We ran off towards the other hole and while we waited for Chand to emerge, I asked Joyjit, “Don’t you think we bet a little too much?”
He looked at me, first with a puzzled look, and then smiled, “What, and miss all this fun? I call this a reasonable bet. Whether we win or lose, we see Chand making a fool out of himself!”
The dark waters became turbulent. As a dark hairy shape rose from the murky waters beneath, I remember feeling a strong sense of déjà vu all over again. Something bad was going to happen.
Suddenly, somebody screamed from behind. It was the warden. His eyes moved suspiciously as he approached us climbing the solitary ladder that connected the terrace with the dormitory. He was tired with all the climbing, but his face changed to wicked pleasure as he saw Chand emerging from the tank.
We froze as the warden approached us. As we stood there not knowing what to do next, I remember Joyjit whispering to Kivi from the back.
“Kivi! I have a plan!”
In memory of Samad.