Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The school captain

It was the highest honour anyone could get in school. The anonymous ballot that was teaching all the young boys and girls to be responsible citizens and vote, had been counted, and the results were out. The School Captain, and his team of prefects would have an investiture ceremony, complete with chief guests, and the school band, and the most important thing, the satin sashes. So the boys and girls were asked to wait back after school, to practice. I was the guy on the side drum, I just had to maintain a beat and follow the base drum. The guy on the base drum, was this tall, hefty, hairy fellow who did not wear spectacles. One of the few in class to escape the four eyed condition. He would take his big drum stick, and bang it against the flimsy plastic so hard, that a slight tear on the other end got larger and larger as the days went by. And so the practice happened by the beat of two drums, and the one with the highest honour anyone could get in school was behaving all high and mighty.
I knew him, he was, and is to this day, a good friend. He had an unfortunate tendency of talking about things he didn't understand a thing about as if he knew everything about it. The physical education teacher had just got married. He was coming back to school after a honeymoon and a flurry of free periods across all the classes for the kids at school. Now the kids all gathered around the Sir to congratulate him on his wedding. God alone knows what was going on in the School Captain's head. He shouted out one thing, from the back of the crowd, "When you get a kid, bring him here and show it to us."
Now, that coming from something like a seven year old would have made anybody find a scale and arrange for a ten on the knuckles. The Physical Education teacher did not hear him, fortunately, the head maid of the school did. She slapped the kid hard across his face - he had no clue about what could possible have been wrong in what he had said, of course he had meant it with the best of intentions, and he never fully understood it till much later.
This was right at the beginning of the year. The investiture ceremony was held on a wet day. The parents of all the house captains, the prefects, and the school captains were assembled in the main hall. They watched proudly as their children received their satin sashes from the principal. They clapped their hands as the captains and the prefects took their oaths. It involved solemnly swearing about something or the other. The fate of the school captain, was sealed.
The ceremony went by, School re-openings in India are closely linked to monsoons, and monsoons are closely linked to frogs. The physics professor was a short, dark man, with large glasses and a beer belly. None of the kids could recognize it, but it wobbled before him wherever he went. The rains, especially, the grey depressing rains of the Indian monsoons, comes down in thick curtains that obliterated anything more than twenty feet away. It was probably the smell of the fresh earth worm dung, or the scents of wet flowers, or just the rains that made him nostalgic, the physics professor decided the time was ripe to spread a few nuggets of knowledge to the young students. He went into great detail about all the fun he had by troubling his professors with frogs captured from the garden. If only the school captain had not heard it.
The next day, about six or seven frogs were leaping about the classroom. The physics professor was yelling something about the security of his job, and was scolding the children about how that was not what he meant by recounting his childhood expiriences. But nobody could really hear him above the shrieks and yells of the girls as they climbed on desks, left the classroom, hopped, skipped and jumped to put as much distance as they could between themselves and the frogs. The peon had to come with a broom, the classroom was emptied, and then the frogs ushered out. No one knew it was the school captain that did it.
If you went to the medical store, and asked for 'chikni', you would get sneezing powder for five bucks. No one knows who exactly told this to the school captain, but one day, a few boys were sneezing away to glory, uncontrollably. There was a thorough investigation, the school captain, for all his ingenuity, was a bad liar, and stated that "somebody had put it on the fans." A girl got a rash on her arm because of it, and the boys who were involved got scolded about something far out, but just enough sense it it to damn them. "If the rash is permanent, the girl may not get married" they said. The School Captain understood a few things then. The vice-principal of the school was a kind hearted fellow, who did not like to trouble bright students. He gave the school captain a scolding, wondering "who would put sneezing powder on the fans so that it would shower down on your blessed heads?" and let the matter rest there.
These exploits are merely indicative. There was a time when crackers were planted under the dias of the teacher, ink splattered on the saris, rotten fruits thrown into the empty offices, and even making the peon of the laboratory unconscious by breaking a jar of chloroform. A year passed, the school captain passed out, and all the house captains with him. Even the two drummers passed out, and on the day of the sendoff they came back as big men in dark blazers, and thought of all the fun they had. The school captain thought it was time for one last prank.

A few weeks later, at the next investiture ceremony, an inexpirienced bunch of drummers drummed out the beats. The house captains and the prefects and the school captain came out to get their satin sashes. No one checked them. They were locked away in the PT room. No one used the originals during rehersals as well. In front of the trustees, and the teachers, and the parents of the kids, and much to the enjoyment of all the kids in the school, over the white letterings that said 'SCHOOL CAPTAIN' was a more legible black permanent marker lettering that said 'LOSER'