The move to dismember me was met with firm approval from most ends of the class. Some characters - the kind who perform buckwing dances at Taliban executions - actively cheered Ramesh on. It was then that my guardian angel, in the form of a stripling from the sixth standard, walked into the class.
The stripling walked towards my assassin. In a meek voice did he speak –
‘Anna, excuse me, I’m really sorry for interrupting you. Could you please strangle him after a little while, please? Kranthi Madam wants to see Siddhu Anna there.’
The utterance of the feared Gandu’s name struck both of us hard. Though Ramesh would have preferred to continue to strangle me, he realized that Gandu would prefer a live Siddhu to a dead one placed on a block of ice.
As I struggled back up, I realized the portent of the stripling’s announcement. A visit to Gandu in these circumstances was likely to be a lot worse than a night spent inside Abu Gharib.
It was thus with a fair amount of trepidation that I knocked on the door to the Physics lab.
‘Hello, Ma’am… Did you call me?’, said I, trying hard to adopt a breezy manner and failing miserably.
‘Come in, you impertinent creature. What are you doing in school?’
That was a simple one, I thought. Smiling inwardly, I answered sincerely,
‘I’m studying, Ma’am.’
A look at the dreadful expression on her face convinced me that there couldn’t have been a more wrong answer to that question. She began to scream, as was her wont.
‘You useless creature!! You hippopotamus! You rhinoceros! (Gandu had an inexplicable habit of calling to the wild for help when in need of expletives) I can see how you’re studying! Studying, my elephant…er…foot!’
She waved the heart-infested notepaper at my nose, which I noticed Sweety had liberally drenched in perfume. I crinkled my nose in distaste as Gandu continued, her voice probably carrying to the furthest corners of India.
‘You are supposed to be studying!’, she repeated for the third time, ‘And what you’re doing is trying to help a girl and boy love each other! Are you a pimp? If so, go to a kodambakkam street corner! Who is the addle-brained girl who’s written this?’
Like most criminals when faced with a cop, I stayed stoically silent as she tried to worm the girl’s name out of me.
After a while, she gave up and instructed me to summon Ramesh to her torture chamber.
It was a sobbing, still homicidal Ramesh that followed my despondent self into the dungeon.
As I walked in, I could feel evil, pain and sorrow in the lab. The Vernier calipers and screw gauges seemed to be laughing at me. The potentiometer seemed to be rubbing its hands in sadistic glee.
It was no surprise therefore that Ramesh erupted, crying violently, even before Gandu could get her instruments of torture out.
‘Ma’am, I am a good boy, Ma’am. I am not doing this loving and all, Ma’am. I want to get into an engineering college, and then go to the USA to do my MS. It’s all that stupid Sweety’s fault.’
Gandu fixed upon me a glittering eye that would have put the ancient mariner to shame.
‘Go call that Sweetie, you useless komodo dragon!’
But Sweety had got wind of happenings in the physics lab, quite probably thanks to Gandu’s carrying voice, and had executed a swift exit from school – rather like that bloke in one of Shakespeare’s plays who ‘exits quickly, pursued by bear’.
Cut to: The Next Day
I was still nursing a twisted neck and a throbbing head when I was called to the Physics lab again.
Ramesh stood next to the potentiometer, dripping tears onto the spectrometer. Gandu looked a lot more somber, and was almost kindly to me.
‘I have bad news for you, you… creature!! Your Sweety’s father has complained to the KVS commissioner that you boys composed love letters ostensibly from her, in order to humiliate her!’
Another screeching halt to creation. Ten seconds when the world swum around me.
As I slowly returned to the land of the living, my head spun at the thought of Sweety’s treacherousness. My head spun even more at the thought of meeting the KVS commissioner. At the conclusion of it, I knew my career options would be limited to delivering pressed clothes in my neighbourhood and carrying sacks of rice in the neighbourhood rice mandi.
‘Not that you people are much better, but I think you ought to be saved from the righteous wrath of the KVS commissioner, who in case you didn’t know is a member of the Shiv Sena and takes a dim view of such immorality. And, yeah! He admires Talibanesque solutions to such issues between the sexes.’, Gandu concluded, a wicked smile playing on her lips.
‘The only solution’, she continued, ‘is to present the letter to the principal, and hope he can calm the commissioner down. Give me the rest of the pages of this letter. At least, that way we can try to prove that Sweety wrote it!’
I bet a part of her wanted to read it. Gandu was probably a fan of Mills and Boon.
Ramesh was startled out of his reverie. He began to bawl loudly.
Amidst the bawling, he spoke.
‘Ma’am, I tore the pieces up and scattered them in the corner of the park!’
Gandu got into action swiftly. She summoned a few minions from my class and directed us to the park to try reassemble the letter. The minions were only too happy to miss a few classes, and searched the bushes with a song on their lips.
Thankfully, Ramesh was unskilled at destroying evidence. We managed to recover most of the pieces, and piece together a reasonably coherent page or two, including a little piece where Sweety had painstakingly inscribed her name. Gandu ushered us in to the principal’s room.
The principal was a diminutive, bored-looking man, whose chief claim to fame was getting beaten up inside an elevator by a chap he’d expelled from school.
He scanned the letter with a bored air – almost as if it were a request to requisition 115 chairs for the annual day.
Then, he looked around the room, yawned loudly, stared fixatedly at the portrait of the principal who mismanaged things from 1876-1890, and finally rang the bell for his peon.
‘Go get that whats-her-name from the XII standard’, he said to the peon, and resumed his inspection of the smut on Dr. Vasu’s nose (Principal, 1945-1948).
Gandu rushed to clarify things further with the peon, and the peon rushed away.
Presently, a chagrined Sweety rushed in. She gave me a look of malevolence that filled me with a nameless dread.
‘Listen… you wrote the letter, no? It’s okay; infatuations are common among girls your age – you’ll probably realize later that this fellow here is ugly enough to scare the living hell out of most sane people.’, said our principal expansively, rather like an old uncle, pointing at me.
He was always mixing things up.
Sweety opened her mouth to speak. Whether she did so to strongly refute her having written the letter, or to explain to the principal that he had got the identity of the loved one all wrong – I shall never know. For the principal cut her off with a friendly smile and a few inanities.
He then said he considered the matter closed, and would tell the commissioner so.
It was a relieved self that walked home. The physics teacher had solemnly promised to take care of me during the lab exams, and I doubted whether she meant that she’d help me out by passing me a few readings on the sly.
At around seven, when I’d restarted my perusal of the Harold Robbins in full earnest, the phone rang again.
‘Hello’, I said, rather abrasively.
‘Hello yourself, you sniveling little bastard! You weasel! How could you even think I’d fall for you if you sabotaged my only true love? Anyway, I can’t imagine ever falling for you!’, screamed the voice at the other end rather uncharitably.
The voice continued at some length on how desperate I was, and how I’d suffer for this all my life. I realized the voice was Sweety’s, and found the proceedings quite entertaining. But then, she went on to say something that chilled my bone to the marrow.
‘I’ll poison your food someday. Just you wait!’, and she banged the phone down.
A girl who draws little hearts on notepaper is exactly the kind of girl who’s likely to walk around with a little bottle of arsenic in hand.
I spent the rest of the year without taking my eyes of my lunch box.
Cut to: 2005. A 21 year old nice young man walks along the street when he is accosted by a PYT.
PYT: Hey, aren’t you Siddhu?
Young Man: (Mutters a few modest inanities)
(A few minutes pass, and with the passage of the minutes, the young man’s expression changes almost imperceptibly)
PYT: Can I buy you lunch? My treat…
(Whoosh! And the PYT watches despondently as all that is left is a cloud of dust.)
And the fear doth thus live on…