Admission Time

My early remembrances of the gloomy little stop was of a dilapidated building just opposite to where the bus-stand was. The fog was so thick that one could see just 5 metres in either directions. Pappa was his nervous self and i could see that Mamma had dutifully imbibed it. He went about getting the huge black trunks down. Two coolies in their typically rugged pahari outfit and cap came running from nowhere. There was just another parent-student set that got down from the bus. Her parents were having a loud argument Bengali about whether they should have come here one day in advance. Shubha chechi was with pappa, her efficient self, helping him unload the trunks and the bedding. The tuck boxes which were filled with dry fruits, chocolates, pickles, Ghee and other kick knacks were the latest, but pleasing additions to baggage clamour that i saw stacked neatly before me. The dim gas light across the far end of the street was Guptaji’s shop. At the other end was lalaji’s, or as we would later call it Lalaji’s laddoo ki dukaan. Opposite the Lalaji’s shop with the trademark red post box outside it, was the Post office. This was Jharipani. Mummy and Pappa talked about in whispers as if the fog would carry along their conversation to the hard nosed wannabes in the school and their children would be denied admission. Yes, they could be denied admission, still. Every little clause in the school prospectus threatened the parents with extraordinary action if not adhered to in letter and spirit. Pappa turns and walks off into the fog towards the lalaji’s shop. Shubha chechi gets busy again, this time with Mummy, running down the list of all the things that will be asked by the dorm mistress. Mummy shivers as she goes through the list, with nervousness. I gingerly sit down on the cold concrete bench in the bus-stop. A coolie comes scurrying back from the edge of my visible world through the fog this time un-wrapping the towel around his waist and then tying it around his head. Pappa appears behind me, gives me a scornful look that makes me stand up and grab onto my tuck box and walk behind the coolie, all in reflex action. We were going to stay at Lalaji’s for the night. It was to be a bi-annual affair. This was the second time for my parents though. They came the previous year to admit Shubha chechi to the school. This year i had made it to the hallowed portals of this institution called Oak Grove School. The name was announced with a ring to it, back in the Railway offices as the proud parents recounted their experience to their less fortunate colleagues about the trials and travails of having their wards at Oak Grove. This time however, Mummy and Pappa did not allow me bid definitive good byes to my young buddies back home. They were not too sure. Their second born had everything going wrong with him. He got through the examinations on the special consideration that her sister was in the school already. They anticipated something to go wrong at the last moment this time too, which as it turned out was closer to a premonition. The count of the underwear ran a number short than what was prescribed in the prospectus, and pappa had to pinch my behind real hard to have my attention diverted from the finger in my nose, as i was being introduced to the headmistress. So here they were, after having taken the bumpy bus ride to Jharipani. Other parents with their children had decided to stay back at the base camp in Dehradun as per convention and practice. They will start early in the morning and get their wards admitted to school and walk away into the fog, with relieved but tearful countenances. Mummy and Pappa decided to come a day ahead and get over with my admission first early in the morning, such that they can then go about tackling the easier part, Shubha chechi’s admission. – Manoj Panikkar (1991)
This piece was written by Manoj Panikkar on  June 16, 2007 on his blog.
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