“Boys,” we heard a voice far, far away! “It’s bad manners to...”
“Do you guys hear something?” I asked.
“Yeah, your dumb voice.”
That shut me up. I shouldn’t have opened up my big mouth anyway! As far as we were concerned, school was over and we were never sitting in a stuffy classroom for another 15 hours at least. Dumping our bags somewhere in the lawn much to the annoyance of the gardener, we got ready to shoot baskets till sundown. Richie came by dribbling one and Varsh ran over to steal the ball from him.
He was never destined to finish that sentence but the guy was soon to realize how wrong he was.
“Hold it!” rang a not-so-pleasant voice which looked like it wasn’t gonna stop for a long-long time. “You chaps can play later. Right now it’s time to clean the campus.”
We were like, “Hein…?”
“It’s umm… like a school tradition. Every class has to do it till 6 for a day. I forgot to tell it in class. Seeing that we’re the only ones around, we’ll do it! It’s gonna be SO much fun!”
Oh boy! Is this guy for real? If anyone wants to learn the art of being an annoying prick, he has to pick up a thing or two from Neet, our know-it-all Class Rep.
“We’d really like to help out,” I began giving my best smile that usually creeped the hell out of people, “But we’ve got a really important game coming up. We need to be in top shape!”
“Nonsense,” he said tossing me a basket. “The tourney’s weeks away. I should know! Besides, an off-court exercise will do you good!”
“But XII D is a very...” began Rishi but stopped himself knowing we’d never get out of this anyway. Never misses a thing, does he? Damn!
Now Neet’s slow but he’s resourceful, I’ll give him that. It was his mistake for not telling it in class anyway. So he tried to get our spirits up. “Hey, chill out guys. It’s a school tradition. Our seniors have done it. Our juniors will do it. Nothing new or anything…,” he said flashing the school calendar.
“Gimme that,” said Varsh as he jumped Neet and grabbed the booklet, “Our school has a lot of weirdass traditions that make absolutely no sense at all!”
We all watched him flipping through the pages and then his face morphed into an expression of mock satire, anger, grief, madness and a tandem of other expression before he finally screamed, “WHAT…!!”
We all looked at him like he’d flipped his lid. We had suspected it for long but now we had absolute proof.
“That’s it,” said Richie. “Anyone screaming like a maniac on reading anything other than a girl’s diary or a Chemistry textbook is definitely out of his mind. Somebody call up the mental hospital and get some medics here."
“No, seriously look at this! A 24 hour fast...” he said looking up from the booklet, “What the hell is that for?”
All eyes were on Neet. He looked back at us with an equally blank expression on his face. For once, the egghead had no answer.
“That’s just cruel…” said Rishi as the calendar was passed around. “Who the hell thought of THAT?”
“Maybe a punishment.”
“C’mon guys,” Rishi was quick to say eager to get out of garbage duty. “There’s no use guessing. Let’s ask Princi. He’ll probably know.”
“Hey wait… guys,” said Neet running behind us. “Princi’s been in our school only for a year and a half. Hell if he knows!”
It was a valid point but no one paid attention to him. We make it a point to ignore him whenever he’s being… well, too smart or too stupid. We can’t actually decide.
“Yes, what can I do for you boys?” asked Principal Das looking up from the heap of papers that lay before him. Seriously…that bunch was more than all of my Xerox notes. I couldn't help but wonder why the hell did I have to study so much in school only to do more studying when I get a job…”
“Uh sir…” stammered Rishi always the ‘man’ speaking for us ‘boys.’ “We were wondering about a school tradition. The one that needs the participants to spend 24 hour fasting in the…2nd week of September every year. Would you please help us by throwing light on what it’s for, sir?”
Damn! Gotto love his grammar! Straight out of a textbook.
“Hmm...” said Princi adjusting his glasses as he peered into the calendar. Clearly, even he was hearing about it for the first time! Neet was right after all. But knowing our Princi, he wasn’t going to accept defeat just yet. There was no way he would turn away a bunch of students who came all the way with doubts in their minds…
“Nineteen… Nineteen-eighty-two,” he said in a deep, grave voice. “Yes, it was in nineteen-eighty-two. Due to our school’s poor enrollment, the management had decided to shut it down. The principal at the time heard the cries of the students and faced the prefecture alone, resolutely pleading his case for 24 hours straight.”
We listened spellbound, rooted to our spot the only disturbance to the silence being Neet vigorously shuffling through the pages of the calendar.
“...And a miracle is said to have occurred.” continued Princi with his back turned to us facing the photographs of all the previous principals of the school.
“And so, the school was saved…?”
“I can’t believe something like that happened!”
“And we’re supposed to learn from his great example?”
All of us were on the brink of tears, trembling with excitement. We had mined newfound respect for the tradition we called ‘useless’ not too long ago. Nineteen-eighty-two! The four numbers kept tangoing in our brains.
“Hmm,” said Princi nodding. He was obviously pleased with himself for getting us all emotional. “You don’t actually have to fast. As long as you love this school which he protected… That’s enough!”
“From ’82 to today… Every year...”
"And we... never knew!"
“To think this school event had such a deep meaning behind it is…” said Varsh choking back on his tears when he was abruptly interrupted.
“Ummm...Excuse me…” said Neet speaking for the first time since we had entered the cabin, “But, this school... was founded in 1987.”
Pic Credits: Pranay Kini
Authors Note: This post, the first of a slightly fictionalized account of II Sc C's (mis)adventures in a wee little place we called home in the town of Udupi is dedicated to all my classmates and friends who made the 2 years at PPC worth it!