Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Burn it down, mates!

"Let's burn the post office then?" suggested Abhay bhaiyya.
And we all screamed in unison. Yes, that will be our contribution towards the fight against the Mandal Commission. I didn't have the vaguest idea what this Mandal Commission was all about, but from what was happening all around me, I knew it was going to ruin our future because most of the government jobs will be reserved for candidates from the backward or lower castes. It seemed only appropriate to burn the post office being the juniors in college because the postgraduate students had already volunteered to burn the railway station that night.

We were all very excited. If the railway station of Varanasi gets burned down, VP Singh will definitely listen to us and scrap the Mandal Commission and make all the government jobs open to all. We all hated VP Singh, and even though I could never understand the implications of the Mandal Commission or was even touched by it, I enjoyed the news of his prolonged suffering and ultimate death. Mar gaya saala kameena.

Having absolutely no clue about how to burn a building, we formed a committee and chose students with a dubious past to give us some advice. From what it turned out, even they didn't have any clue. I was frustrated. We always grew up listening to stories of how the Biharis were always burning this and that and here I was, with a bunch of sophisticated Biharis from the best missionary schools, who had no idea about burning buildings whatsoever. They were all looking at me for inspiration...

"Abbe Bangali, why don't you tell us something? You guys are forever burning buses and trams in Calcutta? What did you learn there?"

"But, but buses run on diesel, don't they? The post-office is a brick and mortar building after all! And from what I heard, bricks are already burnt in kilns to make them strong..." I tried to defend a Bengali's choice of burning a bus over a post-office. But by then we had found a solution: we had to somehow procure diesel, petrol, or kerosene. This sent us off on a tizzy because petrol and diesel were too expensive and the sale of kerosene was rationed by the government. You had to have a ration card to procure kerosene. How much kerosene would one need to burn down a post-office with three rooms? It was a beautiful little building at the back of the Acharya Narendra Dev (AND) hostel and all my letters used to come from there, I thought, already attributing it to a thing of the past. Maybe now the letters will come from the main post office? Was there another inside our university? Or will they come from somewhere outside the campus?

The letters that I received from Madhumita were the toast of my batchmates. Even the senior guys from our wing of the hostel would borrow them and have a gala time. Madhumita's letters were nice and juicy and she always talked about what she would like to do to me once I visited Calcutta for the summer hols. Madhumita let her guard down while writing those letters, secure in envelopes addressed only to me and opened always by Abhay Singh Bhura, a guy with red hair and green eyes. Although I knew I was letting her down, I scored in front of my friends who envied me like crazy. Sometimes the letters came back to me crumpled or wet, arousing dark suspicions, but the attention they got me was enough for me to ignore their physical state.

What will happen to these letters now that the post office is no more? But I was not one to allow my personal preferences come before patriotism. And today we were about to do something for our country, which is above all else that Madhumita promises to do to me.

Some money was collected and it was a fairly handsome amount because people donated generously towards the cause. A bunch of us went outside the campus to buy kerosene. The money was in my pocket because according to Amit Vidyarthy I didn't have a moustache and hence looked the most innocent of the lot.

Right behind our campus were three shops, one where we had jalebis every morning, one was our ration shop, and the third one that of a guy who ran a video cassette library.

Very boldly we went to the ration shop and asked for ten liters of kerosene.

"What for?"

"Oh, to run our mess, you know. We have run out of LPG and want to cook food for the entire hostel." It was spoken with a lot of conviction, but the ration shop owner was not having any of it.

"Bhaiyya, you first need a ration card to purchase anything here, and even if you get ten ration cards, I can't give you ten liters of kerosene, find someone else."

Amit and I looked at each other. We hadn't lost heart, but the smell of hot jalebis was very tempting. And that night when we all sat to watch porn borrowed from the VCR fellow, our seniors came back from the railway station bruised and beaten (the handful of GRP were enough to send them packing), having made no headway. The movie was famously called Emmanuel in Denmark, and it soon managed to soothe their bruises and hurt egos. Nobody talked about the post office or the railway station after that, but the mention of Emmanuel always elicited a satisfied smile from every one of us.

Madhumita's letters kept coming for a few more months, after which the frequency came down, till she stopped writing to me altogether. The Mandal Commission fever gradually left us as almost everybody starting preparing for written tests and group discussions. Apparently there was a degree called the MBA, which made you immune to the problems of the caste.


Nita said...

This is excellent!!!!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. mate.. it came out so well.. but I thought the end (hiring and watching the porn piece) deserved a little bit more space..


Oreen said...

Hi anon, thanks a lot. I always knew porn had to do the trick.

lemme know if you like the bit I added now...

Anonymous said...

looks good now.. and as far as I remember, that one had sequels too!!


Anonymous said...

You have created the innocence of college life, doing things for a cause without too much weighted reasoning etc - the heady college days! Nice writing style.

But what I really can't figure out is why you still have to bring some element like the porn stuff - to me it kind of lowers the class of writing.
Honest opinion :)


Anonymous said...

Dear Writer,
THe story is absolutely brilliant.
Very well written, sans all cynicism and very well balanced. I really envy you. Wish I had written this piece.
Keep it up and focus your energies onto writing because this is what you are made for.

Lazyani said...

Beautifully expressed, the fear of the unknown future of the college days and the tremendous frenzy of the Mandal Commission days.

We had our bit of excitement in old DGP too. But it all added upto nothing- except for a few days of lost classes and the term 'quota' getting a new sinister meaning.

Lucid Illusions said...

:o) BFA and MFA were also immune to the caste system but then the degree names sounded so bad ... :oP

Quasi-govt bodies found ways to meddle with that too ... how does one become an 80% painter, sculptor or designer? Apparently there is a way ... Bangalore University and many others have figured this out