Al-Avalathi's Life (Al-Avalathi is the last Mallu to go to the Gelf)
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In school

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General Sundarji’s weekly column in Hindu was not the only reason why I was fascinated by the Army. I read every single of those columns that appeared in The Hindu. I liked the name, Generally Speaking. I liked the wordplay in it. The Week magazine had the Colonel’s column. This gentleman was anonymous. He still writes, I guess. Or he does not. The style and content were different, but at the end of the day both were columns by men in uniform.

A dog-eared Oxford dictionary at home had the defense defence hierarchy listed in the Appendix. I memorized them much before I started going through the words. In it, Army was the Royal Army. But a Manorama year book was always there to cross check. Ranks were almost the same. Apparently, they were similar across the world.
Through half of my schooling, my classes were held in Army barracks converted into classrooms. The new campus’ construction went on for ever. The entrance had a Howitzer captured from the Pakistanis. There was a Hanuman temple inside the campus and a peepal tree in front of it. Probably the first Peepal I saw in my life. We had unit-tests every month. On such days,  we prayed at the temple before the morning assembly. More than anything religious, praying in groups was a lot of merry making . Either we did not understand religion or we did not care much. Syed prayed. So did Sanish Jacob.
The Howitzer induced pride. And lots of it. We would go near that and read the plaque, touch the gun and feel proud more and even more. By then, the smartly dressed Military Police manning the gates opposite to the school would ask us to get off. We did. That guy could shoot us down. He had a gun, that too with bullets.
There were trees all over the campus. The kind of trees painted till their ‘knees’. You know the typical maroon(-ish) paint along with a white band? Or something like that. Amidst the groaning and moaning fans, classes were held. Sometimes, teachers took classes in the shades of trees. A drizzle. We would all run back into our classes. Having classes outside continued even when we moved to our newer premises. Must have been class 7. Prasanna teacher was teaching Science and her chair just toppled. She was alright. I mentioned this to her recently. She was embarrassed. If she reads this, she’ll still be.
I used to take a short cut to school. Walking through a stretch of paddy fields brought my school closer to me, literally. It was like getting into the Cantonment area through the backyard. The fence was always broken. Either they wanted to get out or someone wanted to go in. Good for me.
When the school moved, the buildings were classy. Classrooms were large and wide. 8 fans, 12 tubelights including 2 for the black boards. Yes, that’s luxury, but we had a long wait for this. Next to the new school was the MH(Military Hospital) and the Gurudwara opposite to it.
Prestige should have been some brand of whiskey. XXX Rum can only be a rum brand. Old faujis would buy their quota of bottles from the canteen close by and sell it clandestinely, not really. The bottles’ cartons would be lying all over the road from MH to the school. Some of them flew into our play ground.
Another nearby ground had an old abandoned tank in the middle. It was more like a landmark. It never moved. It was rusting away. So it could not have been a Pakistani tank. I still don’t know. There was a Tamarind tree in this ground. Raw tamarinds were yum, I tell you.
There was an SBT branch close by. It was here that Manjula teacher made us open our first bank accounts. My five rupees should still be there. I never went there.
There were jails. The high-walled buildings with only ventilators and no windows could not have been anything else. That was our conclusion. We did not dare to ask the guards there. While walking past the jails, we would only whisper if not stay mum. What if these people arrest us! Actually there were some teachers who should have ideally been in these prisons. Not just that squinted Chandrika teacher, but even that John sir who took SUPW for us. Padma teacher also. Or we should have locked these people inside a that abandoned tank. Would have been real fun. Hope someone does if they’re still like how they were back then.

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June 21, 2010   15 Comments