High and Wet. Chapter 12 of Memory, a Novella
Written for Nanowrimo
Copyright (c) Soumya Mukherjee
I feel that the idyllic memories of schooldays, the nostalgia for the carefree happy days of school, without worries stress and tension, are largely exaggerated, and fuelled by alcohol induced amnesia.
The horrors of homework, the trauma of tests, the torture of trigonometry, tremors of titration, frustrations of first love- who says school was tension free!
Real freedom happened in college. Free from the restrictive shackles of home, routine, uniforms, compulsory attendance and unwanted subjects; we are finally free to get an education, without the irksome interference of studies thrown in.
Sadistic school teachers are replaced by laissez faire lecturers, dull uniforms by cool casuals, lunches packed in Tiffin boxes by coffee and cutlets in the café, and the opposite sex is in the next seat, not the next school, to be glanced at through barred gates like zoo animals. This, finally, is bliss.
Of course there is a price to pay. After the comforts of home, hostel life is a glimpse into the rigors of real life. The less than hygienic common loos and mass produced bland mess fare for food is the price of freedom.
Then there is ragging. A rites of passage initiation ceremony harking back to our tribal past, meant to break the ice, forge bonds and make men out of boys. Well, it shattered the ice and all vestiges of diffidence and shyness, and turned you into scarred veterans if you escaped becoming nervous wrecks in the process. The process involved ‘interactions’ with seniors, entertaining them and doing chores for them.
During one such interaction, Boy was set the task of procuring invigorating libation for the seniors extracted from Malt or Molasses. His was not to reason why, so, finances and directions being provided, a very nervous fresher – the tag that newbie initiates went under, Boy left on his quest.
In those days, such outlets for liquid refreshment in the capital city were strictly government controlled and few in number besides having early closing hours. The nearest outlet to the University required changing of buses and standing in a long queue with the unwashed multitudes while a policeman kept rioting at bay.
Boy was a sheltered shy youth of 16, thin, bespectacled, with no knowledge of Hindi, the local language. Moreover, he was well below the drinking age, a teetotaller, law abiding goody goody fellow, just out of school, whose experience of adventure was limited to the pages of the books he was addicted to. Having reached the dispenser of spirits near closing hours after seeking directions in atrocious Hindi from tough looking citizens, causing much mirth, Boy quailed at the prospect of the queue under the stern gaze of the law keepers. But the prospect of meeting his seniors empty handed spurred him on.
He tried to wait with eyes downcast, hiding his face, avoiding the gaze of the policemen and onlookers, of whom he was certain that someone would know his parents and report back his extracurricular activities in college leading to prompt withdrawal from this brave new world.
Ultimately Boy’s turn came, and no age related question was raised either by the vendor of spirits or the guardians of the law. The transaction consisted of thrusting a bundle of currency through a grill and shouting” ‘Do Puri” – Two whole- and two bottles of amber liquid was thrust out of the window. No package, carry bags or anything to disguise the merchandise.
Initial relief at completing his task without jail, exposure, bodily harm or mugging was replaced by the horror of having to carry two exposed bottles back in public transport under the gaze of potential informers or policemen or college authorities or anyone who could ruin his career character and reputation made Boy almost faint with fear. But having spent the money he had no option but run the gauntlet. Ulysses had it easy he thought, Homer made unnecessary fuss over his journey.
Wilting under the stares of the conductor and myriad co passengers, Boy embarked on the return voyage, much like the afore mentioned Ulysses. Imagine the picture, a stripling youth, facial hair yet to appear, grasping two bottles of liquor for dear life, trying hard to look invisible, being jostled in a crowded bus, then creeping along the empty roads of the university, wishing he could melt into the ground.
The final stretch, through the college lawns to the hostel was pure purgatory, as Boy imagined every professor’s eyes boring into him, with disgrace expulsion and subsequent interview with his parents flashing before his eyes.
Boy reached the sanctuary of the seniors’ room without any such mishap and all but collapsed from the stress. The omnipotent seniors then started the rituals of libation after complaining of his tardiness, and as decorum demanded, he was asked,- “ A drink fresher?” Boy’s instinct, indoctrination and intuition demanded he politely refuse, but the memory of what he had undergone to obtain this offering combined with the desperate need for a pick me up made him respond- “Yes Sir, thank you”
and proceeded to enjoy the fruit of his expedition leaving him high and wet.
That was the beginning of Boy’s liquid path, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Other taboos too, fell by the wayside, during his quest for a degree, which shortly left him High and Dry, but some memories can remain just that, and not even shared with the reader, at least yet.