The Guiding Star
Jet black hair well oiled and brushed onto sides, black leather Cambridge shoes with a shine that matched his turn out, spick and span – TPR Sir exuded flawlessness.
“The world is full of miseries“, he would start quoting Buddha,
It’s cause – the desire,
If you can suppress desire you can end all miseries.
And Eight-fold Path puts you on way to suppress desires.
So now, class, tell me what is the Eight-fold path?“
“Ninte okke cylinderu njan odikkum!”
His signature reprimand, which often reverberated within the four walls of the class room and sometimes even outside had often left me wondering about a cylinderless existence, you see. A frightening, deeply unsettling vision of a school, full of ‘cylinderless’ students moving about in angst, like the proverbial ‘squirrel who had lost its cylinders, in a manner of speaking, if Sir had his way.
TPR Sir was a man of man of beliefs. No, I am not talking about the profound philosophies that at times become the moral crutch and compass in people’s lives. This went much deeper. It was the essence of everything that he believed a teacher should be . He always believed in the best in us. He believed that he would not lie to him even while we did. If under any circumstances, we found ourselves wandering in the barrenness of doubt, for we took him to be a stickler, to our rue, he always left a way out for us for redemption.
Once when he called for the submission of homework on the golden years of Chandra Gupta Maurya (these gold-loving Emperors, I say), I found myself rising slowly to own up my ‘non-doing’ under his concerned stare. Gauging the situation unpleasant, he quickly called out my name and instructed me to rise up, collect every ones’ assignment books and deposit with him at his residence – effectively saving my face, reprimanding me in a way only I understood and not anyone else, and a silent pat on the back admonishing me not to do it again. It all passed within a moment.
So it was in that evening that I reached his residence with my curricular mission accomplished and a similar load of my buddies’ piled up on my biceps, to own up my dereliction of duties that I first noticed the bicycle parked beside the stairs. Those days it was bounden duty of course mates to to transform themselves into beasts of burden, carrying their ‘movement- challenged’ mates admitted in the MI room around on their daily outings (Black Ops involving coconuts, mangoes and livestock – specifically poultry), at night. Kazhaks with their limbs in cast rejoiced; for all late night movie shows in Vettu Road were theirs to see ! So the next time that I met up with a situation grim where I had to take good care of my hefty pal in cast in the MI room, I had it all figured out ! The bicycle was my way out of my buddy duty as the mail-mule. Hence forth I would ride. By God, I would !
So it went. Past midnight, as the tonsured bandicoots came out to play, “click”, went the top bolt up. Another click, lower bolt went up. In the starlit night, the door at the stairwell opened,beyond lay the night, an exhilarating ride. TPR Sir’s bicycle is claimed, of course, for a one night stand. With the Cinderella time set to 5. am in the morning , ie when the school awakes, we set out on our trip to Vetturoad and yonder. Freewheeling down the freedom-at midnight-alley, with the fear working up the excitement , past the surprised stares of the neighborhood dogs who knew the real owner, past the silent mighty sentinels of the night, past the Parade ground, past worries. I guess, metaphorically, it was my way of defiantly riding into adulthood with my GPS broken.
The nights thereafter were fun loaded with this play of Houdini tricks of claiming the cycle and the joy ride in between. To and fro between the school MI room and places where the patients would get treated with the latest ‘questionable ‘ liniments the cine world could offer, the cycle carried many, doing us proud. So as usual on a starlit night, we painfully opened the door locks from outside and reached the stairwell alley, ready for the ride. The bicycle (our bicycle) is locked! Sweet Lord in Heaven!
As we frantically gave cardiac-massages to our brains to work a way out, the sudden noise of the door upstairs flung open, unsettling us. Caught unaware by the turn of events so dramatic we flung ourselves beneath the staircase. From there, we could hear someone descending the stairs, step by step, as if he knew. The figure silhouetted in the the star light that seeped through the ventilator slats – it was of none other than the one who believed us to be gentlemen! On reaching, he unlocked the cycle, spend some thoughtful moments there, finally cleared his throat and ascended the stairs apparently avoiding to train his stare to the corner where we dumped ourselves hiding in shame. Four brains asked themselves in unison, “How did he know?” “Did somebody squeal? ”
We knew that he knew that we use the bicycle everyday.
Neither did we own up nor he cared.
He believed us to be gentlemen, hence we were forced to be one, eventually.
Among stars he now rests
The heavenly constellation he now completes.
We knew it for certain even before, me and my fellow night ambulance crew.
We being, solely the souls privileged to experience, the stars sharing secrets with him.