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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

“Gratitude Is the Memory of the Heart”

After the chills and thrills of walking from the railway station towards the new college and an altogether new life, my father and I arrived at a creaking wrought-iron gate leading into a long driveway with hedged sidewalks on either side … its sides trailing a dazzling display of different creepers/shrubs in full bloom … white and rose-pink, yellow and pale orange, magenta and purple… Oh! As we took a right turn, a long corridor with high-raised gothic arches on nicely chiseled pillars—a magnificent old building of massive granite stones came into view. As we climbed the wooden stairway on the eastern end of the building and took a right turn leading to the administrative office and the Principal’s chambers … there were already a few new faces like me—with anxiety writ large on their faces—leaning on the ornate wrought-iron parapet  … perhaps, waiting for the call from the Principal’s office…

After a while of my joining the lot, a middle-aged man in dhoti and a short-sleeve shirt came to me and holding my hand in his palm gently said: “inta ajagratta itey elaa? Chudu nanna garu yanta kasta padalisi ochhindo dabbu malla kudurchkovataniki? Ippudina jagrattaga undandi… (How could you be that careless? See! What a trauma your father had to face to secure the cash once again!  At least be careful from now onwards….”). I was taken aback by the man’s—Veeraiah, a peon in the college, which, of course, I could know only after a while—sudden appearance on the scene with that advice, though he was right. Driven by guilt, I had to drop my head down. A little later, another man in khaki knickers and shirt (Rehaman, another peon of the college) came to me and with all the pity in the world gave me similar advice.  That left me in terrible shame. I looked towards my father and silently pleaded for his pardon.   Yah! Of course, I deserved all that! You know what happened?

The previous day, quite early in the morning, to be precise at 4 AM, I started for Bapatla for paying
the college fee. My father gave me a small wrapper-thin packet saying, “Keep it safe… it has two hundred rupee notes and five ten rupee notes. Take it out only while paying the fee at the college. Secure it with a safetypin in the pocket.” I took the packet and dropped it into my pants’ side pocket and came to the railway station …. Purchased a ticket with the five rupee note kept in the front pocket of my shirt and came to Platform No. 1.  After a while, the Janata Express from Delhi to Madras arrived at the platform. It was still dark. Locating the ordinary compartment, I boarded the train. While sitting on the bench, casually, I put my palm into the   trouser pocket to ensure that the packet with money was safely tucked within. To my utter shock, there was no packet. I pushed my palm further down in panic till it touched my knee. As I pulled out my trouser pocket, I found, to my shock, that it had a gaping hole as the tailor hadn’t stitched its bottom.  Hurriedly, I got down from the train hoping that the packet containing money must have fallen somewhere at or near our home and rushed there. The rest, of course, you could guess!

Coming back to the present, now when the same Veeraiah called out my name loudly, realizing that my turn had come for the interview with the Principal, I walked in staring at the name plate—‘Dr B A Naidu, MA, MSc, PhD (Kansas, USA) FBS,  Principal’—and as I pushed open the wicket gate in front of the giant wooden door painted in red varnish,  my first day back home in Taluk High School came to my mind, which momentarily splashed a smile on my tense face… with it greeting the assemblage in that high-ceilinged chambers  boasting a big ceiling fan hanging to a long iron rod circled by white walls with photos of scientists  here and there,  I presented my documents to the man wearing a tie, with his coat hanging behind him on the chair, presumably, the Principal and answered him with confidence, and finally thanking him elegantly, walked out with a sweet smile...

Straightaway came to my father standing leaning on the stonewall and took money from him, and passing on the documents paid the fee to the clerk sitting with a sturdy steel box with slots for different notes and happily came out… and thus became the student of 1st year of Agricultural College, Bapatla. Later that afternoon, leaving me in Seetaramaiah-garu’s room, my father left for home. That was way back in July 1962 but still fresh in memory.

I was placed in the ‘C’ batch and the theory classes for ABC batches were held in the gallery in the main building. Walking to the classes early in the morning through the college garden amid the fragrance of dew-fresh flower beds, rows of shrubs, and aromatic-creepers hanging over the wired arches on the walkways … that were wrapped in an eerily romantic haze… was all a dream come true for the seventeen- year-old who just came out of the watchful eyes of parents and started living all by himself…. There was a round green house to the right side of the drive-in—a quiet hiding place from the gaze of the faculty walking in, to sit and silently commune with the chirping birds, till at least the electric bell rang from the distant corridor… mornings were sheer enchantment….

As the classes started, on the first day, I sat by the side of the third window from the lowest step that faced the gas tanks surrounded by ornamental palm plants, offering a beautiful scenario to ruminate  on if the lecture was otherwise boring. It was the third day, and by then, my neighbors in the row—Roy, Viswanath and a few others—had become a little more familiar, resulting in a kind of exchanging pleasantries and views mostly about film songs... rock music …Elvis Presley… and such others. One of them fishing out a mouthorgan stared at me questioningly—if I would try?—and tempted by the offer, I took it and as all stood up to greet the English lecturer who was entering the classroom, taking it as a human wall to hide behind, for the sheer fun of it … blew it at full throttle … as though to offer a background score for his arrival … and obviously, surprised by it, the lecturer made a few enquiries and after the class was over, he somehow centering on me asked to see him in his chambers.

By then it was clear to me that I had made a mess of myself … but walked into his chambers with confidence. As he enquired about the incident, I simply admitted to blowing it but insisted that as the neighbor had shown it to me, out of sheer curiosity I played it, but not to mock at him. As I was thus arguing confidently with him, his neighbor, Mr. Ahobilarao, Lecturer in Physics, fired a question in his baritone voice: “What if it is reported to the Principal?” I was indeed floored by it, yet not allowing my nervousness visible, simply whispered: “If that is how my lecturer prefers it, I have nothing else to submit, except to blame my misfortune.” Laughing at it, as though to say, “Come on Bachhu, I know what really happened and don’t be smart”,   the English Lecturer, to my fortune, let me go, of course, warning me to be more careful for I was no longer in an arts college but a professional college where my fate in exams would be decided by the faculty who had a say over almost half of the total marks, not just for one or two years but all four years. Thanking my stars and heaving a sigh of relief, I came out of his chambers, but did I heed his sane advice or learn anything from the whole episode? I wonder!

Today, looking back at those years—of shuffling between labs, lecture halls, hostel room, basketball court, pavilion and mess in gay abandon through the corridors/under the long rows of avenue trees of the campus… often entangling in a row with instructors in the laboratories, challenging their wit, of course subtly and yet … attracting their ire…sitting in the gallery (lecture hall) at that seat abating the window all through, for it afforded scope to read good many books such as Radhakrishnan’s  Eastern Religions and western Thought, and of other authors like Alistair MacLean, Alberto Moravia, Daphne du Maurier,  Maugham, Guy De Maupassant,   Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, and so on, of course, intermittently meditating on the green leaves of Palmyra and banana trees around the tanks … at  times getting caught as it happened once in the dairy-chemistry class that forced me to sit in the first row in all its subsequent periods...  but in the process paying penalty in terms of scoring marks in practical exams—how stupid I feel about myself and all those years that have gone by less remuneratively. I must also say here how… sitting in the same seat I enjoyed the best of the lecturers like  Mr. I V Subbarao, Mr. I S Rao, Mr. P V Ranga Rao, Mr. I V Reddy, Mr. B S Murthy, Mr. Sankaran and the like. Indeed I used to look forward to their classes with utmost devotion.

But in all that stupidity one thing was true: acquired my own method in madness that perhaps led
me to cultivate the habit of thinking on the feet creatively and often used to come up with an altogether different perspective. Many a time, this, of course, proved to be costly in terms of managing relationships with the hierarchy on the campus, for I was often perceived as an ‘affront’. Why! this question of being perceived as an ‘affront’ by the hierarchy haunted me all through… even in the job-arena posing many a challenge.  Of course, it must also be admitted that it afforded me a status of my own—a blessing in disguise. And then, am I concerned about these out-comes? Perhaps, not… I think I was indeed, nonchalant about them.

Nonetheless, when I look back, it is the “gratitude” to all those professors/lecturers/instructors including that magnanimous English Lecturer and the whole of four years that I spent under that green canopy of Bapatla Agricultural College which indeed made me fit enough to face life and its travails that overawe me.  



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