bunking at school
The day I received the Eleventh standard English prize the Warden sent for me. I entered his office with some trepidation, certain that I was going to be a witness to some fancy wristwork as he delivered six of his best. I wondered which of my many misdemeanors had finally caught up with me.

As it turned out, I need not have worried. He came straight to the point:"Your English is good: Why don't you become a journalist?". Eleven years would pass before I took his advice, but the day I joined up as a cub reporter in a national daily, I knew I had found my place in life. It's an exciting profession, perhaps no other can give so many thrills, so much danger. I have travelled in a submarine, flown in a helicopter buffeted by winds at 100 knots, been chased by wild elephants, trekked across the Western Ghats, been stoned by angry mobs and have witnessed people being killed in police firings. All in the line of duty.

And I have numerous scoops to my credit -- I wrote about corruption in the Bangalore Development Authority under the newly elected Hegde Government; the first story to suggest that things were not going too well with what was then supposed to be the most honest state government in the country. When a big business house, collaborating with an American light aviation company, tried to gain a backdoor entry into the Indian executive aircraft market it was my story that created a furore and saw the project scuttled. In 1988 when the US space agency - NASA launched a new technology mission which will put man on Mars, I Interviewed NASA's associate administrator and wrote about it even before many US publications, including National Geographic, could.

Sadly, in readers' minds, all this counts for nothing. As you may have already realized when reading the previous paragraph, I am not a particularly modest person, and meeting a reader of our newspaper is mostly, at least initially, an invigorating experience. There is almost always an instant spark of recognition when he hears my name "Aren't you the person who..." I wait with bated breath: which of my great scoops will he recall?"... Who writes all those film reviews?" I feel slightly deflated by some of the greatest scoops of the decade, in my opinion, but all this fellow can remember are my film reviews. "Yes, I also do film reviews. But that's just a hobby. Actually, I'm a reporter and I work on special stories and scoops"

He looks at me suspiciously, certain that I'm pulling his leg. "I see", and he brushes aside my scoops with a wave of his hand, "But I always wanted to meet you as I read all your reviews." My ego is partially saved. A genuine fan! He continues, "You have your funny opinions. Whenever you say a movie is good, I know it's bad and stay away and whenever you say a movie is bad, I know it's good and never miss it." He shakes my hand, turns and walks away.

I'm shattered of course, not so much by his perverted interpretation of my opinions, but because I've always loved the movies and sincerely believe that I am giving an honest appraisal when I write reviews. Even in school, movies (or the flicks as we used to call them then) were the centre of activities of my group of friends, a hotchpotch group of boarders who called ourselves the Lucifer's Legion. Saturday was Exeat day, and also movie day and you would invariably find us at Rex or Imperial, Plaza or Liberty, sometimes even venturing out as far as BRV or Lido. BRV was something of an unknown quantity, as it was run by the military and the rules were followed very strictly as far as adults’ movies were concerned and more often than not, we'd be shown the door. But going out for movies only on Saturday meant we could see only one a week, and there would be two to three new releases every Friday and who wanted to miss them? Expectedly, we soon took the law into our own hands.

At that time, we were in the Tenth Standard, housed in the North wing of the Tower Block. Our dormitory's door had a hole through which we had tied a string, so we could open it from outside. We'd slip out after light's out, at 9 p.m., tiptoe down the stairs (this was especially dangerous as the landing at the top of the stairs was flanked by the rooms of Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Edwards), creep down the Northern side of the Second Eleven field, jump over the wall in front of Ali Baba's, and run down to the theatre of our choice. Sometimes we would cover our heads with towels in case somebody we knew recognized us. It was a dangerous life. We'd steal out for two or three picture shows every week and soon became the toast of the dormitory. How we loved it!

But nemesis was to catch up although, by a quirky stroke of luck. I was spared. The day dawned like any other. That morning we discussed which movie we were going to that night it was to be "Mackenna's Gold", at Lido. But, after lunch, I was stricken with the most painful of stomach spasms and had to report to the sickroom, clutching my stomach in agony. Matron Wilde (Oh! the stories we made up about how she lived up to her name, although she was the gentlest of persons) took one look at me and gave me a glass of bitter white liquid to drink. I didn't know what it was then, but five minutes later, as I was running to the toilet, I knew she had given me Epsom salts.

I spent the rest of the day, and most of the night, between the toilet and the sick bed. When I was discharged from the sick room the next morning the whole School was buzzing with excitement -- my friends had been caught on the bunk! What had happened was that our Physics master, Mr. Stanley Lobo had also chosen that day to see Mackenna's Gold'. My friends had spotted him during the interval, slunk out of the theatre soon after the lights dimmed and had come running back to School, hoping against hope that they had not been spotted. But, when the summons came the next morning from the Warden's office, they knew they were in for it.

We were between Wardens then, the Rev. I.L. Thomas had just left and Mr. A. T. Balraj was yet to come. Mr. Chain Singh was the acting Warden. When the boys trooped into his office he didn't even bother to berate them. He spoke only one sentence, "Pack your bags, boys. You're going home."

Expelled! The ultimate nightmare for any school boy, and it had happened to them.

Mr. Chain Singh however, was too kind-hearted a soul and expelling them was certainly not his aim. He let them sweat it out the whole day. In the evening they were called to his office again. This time they got the big lecture, but at the end of it, they knew they were staying.

The final chapter of our sordid underworld activities was written the next day, at assembly, when two of the bunkers -- who were prefects -- had their tie clips and green ties ceremoniously taken away,

Naturally, this had a dampening effect on our love for movies, and it took us many months before we could screw up the courage to enter a theatre again. Today the past seems like a distant dream, but every time I have a stomach ache, my mind goes back to the one that saved my skin. The memory helps deaden the pain, although I can never help a shudder at the same time.
By M. A. Deviah

Excerpts from The Blaze of Glory
IInd Edition 1991