Mixed Bag


They pounded on the door once. They pounded again. But I did not lift my head off the borrowed newspaper I was reading on my bed. They passed to the next door. I remained uncoloured.
It was my original design to lock myself up in my chamber till matters outside returned to normal, but my cousin cellphoned me to say that he was in the campus, and we decided to meet at the gigamess. I had to but venture out.
And what a sight it was! The quadrangle was thick with extra-terrestrials, three-fourths naked, raising a huge hue and cry, dancing to the loudspeaker, spraying coloured powder and howling on voicetops. Here was irrefutable evidence to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The general air of the place beat that of a bunch of chimpanzees released after a month-long sentence in unlit cages. {Afterwards in the evening as one surveyed the tract one couldn't help feeling that King Ashoka would have easily mistaken the quadrangle for a battlefield of bloodshed and take to Buddhism then and there.} I timed my walk through the dividing path cunningly and came out of the hostel unscathed. The return to my room, though, was not as successful. At the reception zone milled out a syndicate of shirtless gentlemen covered in colour from heel to hair. Not a square inch of their skins was spared. I noticed that one of the shapes was moving myward. With some careful observation I divined, through the powder mask, that it was Shakila (or Pradeep, as his kin might prefer to call him).
put up the hand.
'You are not gonna do--'
'Just one, just one...'
And he rubbed a maroon thumb up my forehead. My Holi was complete.
The platoon marched on to paint the town red.
Later in the morning I posted my father an sms: 'Parents of IIT-ians send their children to this institute in the hope that they come out with flying colours. Today their sons and daughters lived upto their expectations.' He texted back: 'I holi agree with you my son!'
As is my wont on days of thrill and adrenaline, I visited the restroom in the middle of the day. Done with the routine, I came to the handwash and unscrewed the tap. It was dry as a bell, emitting a reluctant sound like the groan of a teenaged lad in bed when woken up on a Sunday morning. The inmates of the zoo, for zoo was what the hostel was transformed to that beastly day, had sucked out the finalmost droplet from the water tank via a hose for revelry services.
It was then that I contrived to make history. Bag fastened to back, towel folded and pressed against bosom (beneath tee shirt), a cake of Johnson's Baby Soap in one trouser pocket, favourite underwear in another, I set out to become the first person to take bath in the Central Library. But my lofty aspirations ran aground as quickly as they were conceived. Even as I was injecting the key into the slot of the lock with the precision of a trained marksman and turning it tight, I fancied I heard a familiar hiss from the direction of the bathroom, not unlike the streaming of water out of a faucet. My former room partner was in my midst.
'Have they let in water again?', I inquired, not knowing whether I should feel glad or sad if he answered in the positive.
Mission aborted.

Srinand's answer to my question 'Why do they celebrate Holi? What is the funda behind it? Holi ke peeche kya hai?': 'Every year to celebrate their low IQ, North Indians get together, have baangh, booze and act as if they have no IQ. That day is called Holi.'
My entries in his sms slam bookName: Ostrich Egg.
DoB: Yet to hatch.
Luv doing what: Cutting nails, swallowing lightbulbs, collecting pencil shavings, drinking mercury, etc.
Can't liv without: Magaa, this is an indecent question.
I am to u: Friend, philosopher and bride. I mean, friend, philosopher and best man at your wedding.
Best frn(s): Of course you. Er, have 100 bucks?
Latest crush: Stepped on a blood-gorged leech in the morning.
Words 4 me: Go boil your head and burn your pants.

Myself, in spite of knowing that the jest would be lost on my father, when Srinand and I entered my house: 'Hi. I'm back with a Bang.'


January Anecdotes

The times are comic. I am forgetting quite a few in this (re)collection.

Srinand and I decided to stage a walk-out after roll call one class. We stationed ourselves on a bench at silly point's distance from the door.
'When he faces the blackboard once, I'll go out and wait for you. When he turns his back again, you come out and we'll go together', said S.
'All right.'
All wasn't right. I hadn't anticipated the attack of nerves at the last moment. Excuses erupted in my skull at a good clip.
'Srinand, when we pass by the side of the next classroom they'll all watch us da. Their prof will see us and we'll be in trouble'
He gave me an icy eye.
'Gibber da you are.'
I changed my tactic.
'Magaa, if we walk out we'll be setting these freshies a bad example.'
He laughed through his nostrils.
'I shouldn't have planned this with you. Just walk out da.'
It was time to say the killer line.
'Macchaan, God is watching da.'
He put head to table in despair and dropped asleep.

Another day in AM110
'Can anybody quickly calculate the answer and tell me?', said the aged lecturer.
Answers flew in from all quarters.
'Seven fifty!'
'Eight twenty five!'
'Eight seventy five!'
Srinand: 'This is an auction or what? Nine seventy five!'

Some titles that attracted a second glance at the City Book Fair:
Mark Vaangalaam Vaanga!
God, Country and Coca-Cola.
Childless Couples.
Tell Me Everything.
Sex Exercise.
Swaarasyamaana Kindalgalum Naiyaandigalum.
Please, Mom, It's My Life!
Kala En Classmate.

HS 221
The first thing Swarnalatha ma'm did in the course was write on the blackboard 'So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens' and have us interpret it. This should give you an idea of how weird her following classes came out to be. One day...
'Can someone volunteer for me? Yes... Nirmal... Tell me six sentences at random. Anything that comes to your mind. Come on, don't think.'
I, had I been a soccer player, would've been more prepared for a landmine in the pitch. In all of the 2007 that's passed by, I've never felt a dumber chump than that minute as I clucked out sentences like 'The electric fan is rotating', 'I am rubbing my hands' and that lot.

Math Class Committee Meeting
The Department Head delivered a flat preamble in the dimly lit discussion room and asked, 'How are your courses going till date?'
'Fine', we mumbled.

'MA 203?'
'Fine', said MA 203's rep.
'MA 204?'
'MA 205?'
He turned towards me.
'Smooth', I half-whispered.
After that the conference, dozen persons strong, progressed on predictable tracks save for the fact that the other MA 205 chap betrayed his batch's instructor. Towards the end the H.O.D. said, 'Any more questions?'
'Yes. Why is it that Nikhil and I alone got tea while all others got coffee?' was in my Adam's apple, but I silently swallowed it down with the tea.
Nothing came out from the talks held.

Nirmal: Are you attending G slot?
Moli Kamki: No.
Nirmal: I too don't feel like attending. Anyway the prof doesn't take attendance plus he's getting to be too boring these days...
Moli: I haven't seen the prof yet.


My Experiments With Tooth

'Hold it with the same pressure for five minutes. Good. Please be seated outside while I attend to the next patient... No, don't go outside; sit here.'
'Don't bring your jaws together.'
And thus, pressing my new tooth against my gums with one thumb, texting a friend re Uranus and its satellites with the other, passed I the next promised 'five minutes' that my wristwatch in some mysterious way spanned fifteen. While the cement was hardening up at the gums and rooting the ceramic tooth in place, the history of it flashed before me vaguely...

Approximately a decade back in time, when one beamed with pride at each permanent tooth sprouting out, when the blood was young and the hormones were still asleep, when parents were taller than oneself, when one believed whole-heartedly in ghosts and God, when one was puzzled that the earth was round, when the word 'sex' meant nothing but a noun to indicate gender, I broke my tooth. I was giving an impersonation of Tarzan one breezy, dusky evening on a lorry-shaped jungle gym, slinging myself from ironbar to ironbar, a popular sport kids take to on that maze even today. In the course of one of these flights, my concentration escaped me for a few microseconds. It was a slip that left its mark all my life. For one of the bars, lying right in my trajectory, squarely caught my front left upper tooth. Funny though I felt in the teethline, it never occurred to me that any sort of damage could befall it. It wasn't one of those milk teeth after all, and I had caught rumours doing the air that permanent teeth are formidable as stone and drop off only at old age.
Only when I returned home was I made to comprehend that I was half a tooth short. My dad spotted the difference right away.
'What happened to your tooth?'
What a strange question!
'Nothing. Is something wrong?'
'Touch it'
I did. And egad! It was as though someone had the tooth diagonally cut. I fancied a sensation of my kidneys swapping places.
I walked over to the mirror in alarm. The reflection of the broken tooth only served to give me further fright.
'But it's a permanent tooth!', I wailed to the parent.
'It can't break!'
'Yet you've achieved it.'
By and large my father is a sensible man, but I have never made it a point to know why he ordered me to go in search of the other half of the tooth that day. I scoured the playpark with straining eyeballs (as it was past twilight), every little stone or oversized sand particle appearing like a piece of tooth. I came back to the apartment empty-handed.
I cannot recollect what led to its discovery, but my dad found it in my breastpocket!
I passed a couple of years or more sporting the curs'd half-tooth. Not everybody has experienced the privilege of having an incisor for a front tooth.
Once my other permanent teeth grew up, I obtained an appointment at a dental hospital (annexed to a dental college) through my dad's dentist friend. A female named Aparna was assigned to take charge of my teeth.
If you've watched or undergone a dental operation (no, not vicariously through Ogden Nash, but in flesh and gums) at some timepoint, well and good. You would connect with the revolting feelings associated with it better that way. Imagine twenty to thirty such dentist's couches lined in a hallway and hideous amateur dentists learning their ropes through the teethy ailments of naive citizens. That about sums up the hospital where I suffered my first exposure to sophisticated barbarism (read dentistry). All equipment were imported. As my dad put it, only the teeth were Indian products.
I should have sniffed trouble directly when this Aparna began to behave sweet. The root canal procedure she carried out proved, later, to be disastrous.
'You are the monitor of your class?', she asked, eyeing the badge pinned to my Monday uniform pocket (I purported to attend post-lunch school hours) that read 'CLASS LEADER VI - F'
'Smart boy. Why did you choose to come to us?'
'Vijay uncle only tell'
Something sounded wrong about that sentence. The moment I realized the error and was about to deliver the corrected statement, she pushed a thin tube into my mouth; she had a good look at my dental X-ray and went on to work with her drill and mirror spoon. The automatic suction of water, sprayed from the hydraulic drill, and of saliva, generated by the mouth, through the narrow tube, and the tingling sensation caused by the drilling rendered the ordeal enjoyable indeed. But my merriment wasn't to last long. Time and again she would ask me to spit in the sink attached to the patient's throne, and during one of these spittages (probably during the root canal task), to my horror, I spat blood. Thereafter I gave up, closed my eyes and resigned myself for the worst.

You may skip the next few lines. They are totally tangential to the issue.
By the time I reached school it was some minutes since the end-of-lunch bell had pealed. I was a pathetic conversationist those days, and my pronunciation was an accent of its own kind.
'Excuse me, Miss'
'You are coming to school only now?'
'Yes, Miss'
'Were you not well in the morning?'
'No, Miss'
'Dentist sitting, Miss'
'Dentist sitting, Miss'
'Dentist, Miss'
The teacher appeared as though I had thrown her a conundrum she was in no vein to solve.
It was here that Aruna, the Asst. Class Leader, stood up and added footnotes to my answer.
'He had an appointment with a dentist in the morning, Miss. That is why he is late.'
The teacher faced me. 'Why can't you say that clearly? Get in.'
This incident thrilled me to the bone marrows. In the recess break every boy roared in encouragement at the progress I was making in the Aruna department. It was one of the 'evidences' I collected in my memory for the possibility of reciprocation of 'love' by her. She wouldn't have stood up and bespoken any other guy, I was pretty positive. I recalled the scene over and over and enthralled myself anew.
Five years later she assured me it was merely an act of courtesy.

It took three sittings in all to procure my first synthetic tooth. It was what is called a 'composite structure', a hard film of some teeth-coloured solid solution covering over the broken tooth. It looked fairly enough like an original piece. But I was scared I might break it again and gave it only a gentle stroke during my daily flosses.
In due course of time, I broke it again. I managed to accidentally squeeze a teaspoon into the hair-wide gap between the two front teeth one fine lunch hour in Seventh Form. And when I chewed, my molars caught a little stone. Cursing the rice merchant, I fished it out of my mouth. One look was adequate to make out what it was. Half a tooth. As I was repeating to my classmates that day, Adhu kallu illa, pallu!
Shibu George was my next (budding) dentist at another branch of the same college. This one was in Adyar, quite nearby to the insti. Hence my first look at the insti portals was during my ride to the now-razed dental hospital.
Shibu was gratefully a final year student, an efficient one at that, as his name might suggest. He made me feel supremely comfortable, and in fact gave me a joy ride on the chair by maneouvering it up and down. There was a middle-aged lady at the head of the practice room who was a sort of supervising dean. It was comic to watch grown-up lads conducting themselves scared stiff and obedient in front of her. Shibu was no exception. She took a look at my case record, then peered into my mouth, and dished out instructions that Shibu put into effect at once. From a new X-ray taken, he quickly discovered that my previous fang-wrencher (a Wodehousesque term for dentist) had screwed up her root canalling.
'Where was it done last time? Here?'
'Who did it?'
'Oh, Aparna...' he echoed meditatively.
The expression on his map sufficed to tell me that Aparna was a back-bencher in lectures and drew slim girls in chudidhars as well as rangolis in the last pages of her notebook, not to mention daydreaming of the new Scooty Daddy had promised, while the professor was rambling away on root-canalling and drilling and filling.
In two sittings Shibu George gave me another composite structure tooth, my second. Before we parted, he told me that if I should meet him again, I had to break the tooth within six months as he would be then be leaving overseas. He added as a warning that it would survive only four to five years after which I should go for ceramic crowning.
Well, I had it last for seven years. It had discoloured a bit, but I didn't mind. It had even eluded me that it was a work of Man, until I broke it again in my third semester.
When the Gurunath vegetable puff was in my hand, the tooth was intact. When the puff was in my tummy, a fragment of the tooth was amiss. I hadn't felt the breaking at all. As though it had torn off like wet paper.
After the final exams I went to the insti hospital and acquired an appointment with Dr R. For the first time in all my life, I was treated by a professional teeth mechanic. She gave me two options: either a ceramic tooth or one with vitalium alloy backing. I went for the ceramic, remembering the erstwhile Shibu George. She allotted me two sittings. In the first, she plied her drill and amputated whatever was left of the composite structure. As a result, she left a near-blank on the upper jaw. The remnant of the original permanent tooth, the yellowest tooth of its age I've seen, was sticking out a little. (I should say it was a toothling, for either Aparna or Shibu had downsized it to a dwarf of itself before composite structuring.)
The following week I stepped about the world with a tooth shy of a full skeletal system. Quite like MAD's Alfred E Neuman: even he has broken the same tooth in the array. At length did come the second sitting. My heart sprinted along. My nerves were entangled in agitation. The spring in the step was unmistakable. Then came through a shattering news. It appears like it's custom to have an ice-cream after a session with the dentist. Nobody ever told me so in all my previous adventures with their species! I felt ingratiated that I should learn it at my final encounter with one of them.
Dr R is a stout young lady with a pistol tongue -- I saw her snapping at a senior professor -- and likes to have punctual and quick sessions with her patients. She is a compulsive essemmesser too. Unlike other doctors, she parts with medical information readily and in vivid detail. {At the end of the first sitting she had taken an impression of both the jaws of my teeth with a green moulding substance that tasted like well-chewed bubblegum. While making my departure, I asked her, 'Is it chewing gum?' just to tick her off. 'Alganine. You want to know its chemical composition, isn't it?' Before I could say a yes or no, she brought out a thick old bound book, flipped to a page and showed me a table of ingredients and a chemical reaction. No, ma'm, you can't lure me into dentistry! Not for all the emeralds in the world!}
She flourished a small squarish pebble-like object in her hand.
I clamped my jaws together and displayed the teeth.
And now she wedged the object in the upper row and filled the slot! Gracious! it was my new tooth! She still held it in place.
'Bite now'
I bit. I couldn't make contact between the teeth of either jaw, except for the new one and its lower match. We made a number of trials and errors to fix the tooth's position perfectly, and it was then that she volleyed the ball to my court by making me hold the ceramic crown by myself until the cementing substance had dried.
I sat on the consulter's chair and observed her next victim undergoing his quota of torment. His gums were the shade of dark grapes. Dr R scolded him rather impolitely for his lack of maintenance of the essential components of her trade. Each time he spat in the sink it was like his mouth was a gutterhole. The usually tolerant and easy-taking nurse who held the suction tube in all the patients' mouth was beginning to grow listless. All three (the doc, the nurse, the self) were more than glad when he left, me all the more so because my mouth was thick with saliva from keeping it open for fifteen minutes without break. It remains my longest stint of retaining my lips apart.
The river horse in the shape of the dentist took a silent long look at the outcome of our combined efforts. And then she gave her verdict.
I relaxed. She thinned it down from the backside using her drill and trimmed my lower tooth. Then she held a mirror in front of my cave. The fake was indistinguishable from the rest.
I took happy leave of the dental den with a wheeling heart. At last, I was as complete a man as the next! Had I then known the ensuing song, it should have played on my lips as I pedalled back to the main gates.
The snail's on the thorn, the lark's on the wing, God's in His Heaven, all's right with the world.