The day my reputation became zero

Having read Ten Days that Shook the World and seen the film Reds, where John Reed is played brilliantly by Warren Beatty, I became a fan. Emulating my hero, I put up a sign on my hostel room ‘Property is Theft! Walk in’ and left the door unlocked. My friends pointed out that I had no property, and visitors would probably take pity and leave me something behind, but it was the principle that mattered.

I however attracted uninvited guests, the jetsam of the last of the flower children, who, in the eighties were still around, and drifted in and out of my room, staying for a while. But their story will be told another day.

I also learnt to consider all property as communally owned and borrowed items of clothing, furniture and transportation from hapless co residents, in the principle of ‘everyone according to his needs’. Old Marx had a capital idea!

My permanent guest was Ron, my friend and life coach, who, unknown to the University authorities, shared my room throughout my stay.

Among his many accomplishments was his skill in being an uninvited guest at every wedding or function in the vicinity. He generously imparted this knowhow to his many admirers. The trick was to borrow blazers or suits from our sartorially natty brethren, and confidently walking into the party. For weddings the best time was just after the ‘baraat’ or grooms party went in.

We would survey the area, zero in on the most promising party, and invite ourselves in. Ron even asked after the health of ‘Pappu’ a ubiquitous Punjabi name, and the host would often issue instructions for special care to be taken of us as Pappu’s friends. I understand that functions in that area budgeted for an extra five percent for us uninvited guests. Even when suspected, no one wanted to create a scene, and we survived on benefit of doubt, the innate decency of our unknowing hosts, and sheer chutzpa.

Ron’s height of cool was on display when we were politely escorted out of one party where we were unfortunately unmasked. He crashed another party as he had not yet had his dessert in the first one before being discovered and ejected.

Our crowning glory was gate crashing an international convention in a five star venue, which went off successfully once I dissuaded Ron from making a speech.

The biggest disaster we faced was when on entering a gala event, we noticed an alarming number of our professors amongst those present. We beat a hasty retreat, congratulating ourselves on our narrow escape.

But fate decided otherwise. A couple of years later, when I was a respectable government official, going steady with a very decorous lady, and my scandalous history a deeply veiled secret, it decided to strike!

Delhi had been savaged by communal strife, and I was working with a relief team, and noticed that our team leader was a senior professor from our University. I introduced myself as his one time student, who unfortunately had not met him owing to not having attended any classes, being a misguided youth, when he cut in.

‘Of course I know you! You were too busy to attend lectures. You were (in) famous. You are the guy who gate crashed our Dean’s daughter’s wedding! ‘

The super hit film Three Idiots not having glamourised this activity at that time, I shrank under the shocked gaze of my fellow relief workers.

A word of warning dear friends, our disreputable past has a nasty habit of catching up with us when least expected, no matter how deep you bury it. It is best to have a blameless history.


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