No matter how hard I try I just can’t eradicate the memory of those few minutes of gratuitous, and casual brutality of that November Saturday in 1991. Like a demented Whack a Mole, the memory pops up in my mind’s eye, when least expected, shattering my self esteem.
That fateful Saturday started no different from any other day for the seven of us Senior students, who had been left behind in our boarding School to appear for the Senior Cambridge Exams. The rest of Junior students and teachers had already gone for their winter vacation. Only the Principal and a solitary Master on Duty remained, along with a skeleton kitchen staff to make sure we didn’t starve or, worse, get into trouble. Following the monotonous breakfast of porridge and fried eggs, lethargy had set in so deep that we couldn’t even be bothered to complain about the awful food, as we waited for something, anything to happen all on its own.
Each one of us seven members of this motley group, none older than seventeen, had been re-christened with nick names reflecting, sometimes cruelly so, our dominant characteristic, and used exclusively in addressing each other. Although the seven of us got along reasonably well, there was none of the fabled warm, fuzzy, fraternal bond amongst us. You could say we barely tolerated each other. Paranoia ran rampant within the group. The studious among us would slyly keep track of how much, and what the competition was studying, and used it as motivation to focus and pace their own efforts. The remainder were constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to create a disruption among the scholarly.
Located in a tiny hamlet, miles from anywhere, and in spite of covering almost 2,000 acres over three hills, the School felt like a prison. The gloomy November weather was making our already depressing loneliness worse. As we were moping around desultorily in the dark and silent School building when, apropos nothing Tuffy, our Boxing Champ and the stereotypical strong silent type, broke the silence “Shit man, I am losing my fucking mind. I can’t stand being cooped up here any longer.” His sentiment was echoed by Cappy, the School Captain and resident diplomat, “I’d like to smash the arsehole who said these are the best days of our lives, which will be missed forever”.
Ducky, a totally devious and insufferably arrogant individual, always on the lookout for trouble, shouted “Miss this? Bullshit. Can’t wait to get away from you fuckers forever.” He then turned to me and asked “What do you say Mousy, you going to miss this shit?” My name not only reflected my size, it also alluded to my being a perennial “also ran” in sports and scholastics. Obviously, not being the most popular, I had to resort to various stratagems to ensure continued acceptance by the group, including never questioning the majority opinion. Therefore, as expected, I simply shook my head.
Ducky continued “You know what you pussies; it wouldn’t be so bad if I had a girl for company.” Cappy didn’t hold back “You wouldn’t know what to do even if a girl fell right in your bed.” Bang came the response “You want me to show you? Just take your pants off you fag.” Of course, Cappy immediately lunged at Ducky and landed a punch to the gut, and the rest of us separated them as they tumbled to the ground in a bear hug.
Just as the two finished dusting themselves off the Master on Duty made an appearance, and announced that Princi, the Principal, had gone away for a couple of days. “Yipeee”, we let out a combined cheer as soon as the Master left. It was truly a cause for celebration since there would be no meaningful supervision of us for a few days. Carried away by the general good cheer, I managed to venture a suggestion “Before you fuckers end up killing each other stuck here, why don’t we go for a Pomelo raid to Rajpur”, giving rise to another collective cheer. The unanimity of the decision was never in doubt. Rajpur, situated about six miles below our school grounds, was the nearest civilization in the plains, at the point where the mountains ended for real.
No sooner was the idea mooted, the seven of us broke into a jog down the corridor, through the covered shed, past the lower pitch, we were soon beyond the Junior School and the Front Pitch, without having caught our breath once. Soon we bravely raced past the Princi’s empty home, curved into the rough path to the Valley, and passed through the archway to arrive at the path to Rajpur. As if at a signal we stopped in unison, not only to catch our breath, but also to marvel at our guts in having come out of bounds, savouring our prison break while looking at each with stupid grins on our faces. Tuffy voiced everyone’s thoughts “We did it.”
“Rajpur, here we come” we all yelled out as one, and started loping down the rutted, rocky path which wasn’t much used even during the peak summer season, with winter approaching we now had it all to ourselves. The sky was overcast and the mist blocked our view of the plains. The cool wind through our hair, and in our faces was nothing short of intoxicating. I was giddy with joy at the freedom and, best of all, the ecstasy of experiencing camaraderie. It was all a bit too much. I didn’t want it to end, and drank it all in greedily while I could.
Having settled into a steady jog, past the first flush of excitement, the guys started ribbing each other again. The repartee went:
“Come on you sissies, see if anyone of you can catch me.” Challenged Ducky.
“Who do you think wants to catch you. Pity the girl who is forced to marry you.” Cappy responded.
“I’ll be marrying your sister, you mother fucker”
“Take that back you bitch born bastard, or I will bugger you, and your whole family you arsehole”.
Tuffy finally intervened “Enough you guys, take it easy or I will have to kick both of your arses.”
“He started it” They both said simultaneously. Faces saved, and peace restored, everybody settled down to a gentle walk.
Someone started singing “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes, ……” joined in by all croaking voices. Good humour was restored all around. The seven broke up into groups of three, with me tagging along at the rear. First behind one group then the other, looking around sheepishly hoping not to be noticed in my attempts to pile on. In being with both, I was perhaps trying to delude myself of being a part of the two coteries. As we rounded a curve in the bridlepath, singing the second stanza, we came upon a young man coming uphill with a steel trunk on his head, cushioned by his rolled up gamchha. I recall the guy had large, bright eyes. He looked at us with an expectant, obsequious smile as he lay down his olive-green trunk of wares. Heaving a sigh of relief, he unrolled the gamchha to wipe the sweat off his face imagining, perhaps, that his day’s sales were made. Poor sod, little did know what was about to hit him.
We, of course, had already intuited the contents of the trunk, which was a clone of Maulla Bux, our regular Tuck Man’s trunk of weekly goodies. No sooner had the fellow put down the trunk that Ducky leapt forward and threw the top open, displaying the Peach Cakes, Jap Cakes, Sweet Rusks, Stick Jaws, and other treats. As the other five followed Ducky in swarming the trunk grabbing whatever they could, an incredulous look of panicked shock came over the defenseless Tuck Man’s face, his eyes flooded as he and I helplessly watched six feral teens attack the trunk in a free for all. The whole thing was over in mere seconds. The trunk lay empty on its side, and the guys were laughing maniacally as they stuffed their faces, horsing around trying to snatch confection from each other’s hands. Nobody cared that the loot was being destroyed as it got crushed and fell to the ground. Goodies finished, it was high fives and back thumping all around.
Throughout the melee the Tuck Man stood transfixed, his hands folded in supplication, his eyes piteously pleading to us, or to a cruel uncaring God. The remarkable thing I remember is that he didn’t utter a word, just stood there frozen, silently crying through his large, childlike eyes, not even bothering to wipe away his tears. It’s those damn eyes that haunt me. Although I didn’t take part in the loot nor ate a morsel, however, neither did I lift a finger, or utter a word to try and stop the cruel, bullying, loot taking place in front of me. Even now, when I think of my spinelessness in not having reported the incident after the triumphal return, I can again sense that cool wind passing through my hair, which quickly turns into the prickly rustle of stinging nettles. I could not even offer the poor fellow any money to try and assuage my conscience since, in accordance with School Policy, none of us had even a paisa on us.
Over the years I have often wondered about the poor Tuck Man. Had he borrowed the money to buy the goodies to resell, or was he an employee of the Bakery, and whose story of being set upon was not believed by his employer? If the money was borrowed, what collateral did he or his family lose, and what was their consequent suffering? If an employee, was he beaten up, and forced to work without pay, to cover the losses? What about Karma? Shouldn’t the weak and righteous have been protected. What about the perpetrators? Instead of having been smitten from the heavens above, they were all gifted with prosperity in later life, and did very well for themselves. No sign of any divine consequence that day, or since.
Almost thirty years later our group met for a Reunion in the School grounds. Now there were only six of us left, Tuffy had passed away. We already knew the outlines of each other’s biographies, thanks to the internet, and reconnecting was easy. After a heavy dinner, preceded by heavier drinking, we gathered around the bonfire for a Cognac and a cigar. As we warmed ourselves, the conversation turned to reminiscences about ribald memories, and tall tales. Since everyone was so comfortable with the company and feeling expansive, I became emboldened to ask “Guys, ever wonder whatever became of the Rajpur Tuck Man?” The conversation came to an abrupt halt. Everyone became still as if ‘sniffed by a snake’, like they say in the vernacular. The deafening silence was finally broken by Ducky spitting out “What the fuck are you talking about Mousy?” The others too made similar noises.
The atmosphere plummeted from convivial to oppressive. I avoided looking at any one of the five, preferring to stare intently into the bonfire. The crackling of wood from the bonfire was the only sound. The silence having become unbearable, I excused myself for a bio break, got up awkwardly and shuffled off. As I stood at the pissoir relieving myself, I heard someone else come in. It was Ducky. He came and stood beside me. After looking around to make sure there was no one else present he started speaking softly, but menacingly in my ear “Mousy you know I am in politics. Such shit coming out wouldn’t be good for me. If that happens, I will make sure you too suffer the consequences”. With that he jerked the last drops of piss from his cock, turned around and walked away, without washing his hands.
– Vipin Sehgal (1963 Batch)
This story was shared by Vipin Sehgal on email on March 20, 2021.Tags: 1960s Maulabux Rajpur Vipin Sehgal