Monday, August 15, 2005

Ronnie & The Battle Royale [Part 3]

The bell rang and we had to rush for the next lecture, leaving Raju stranded with his half-finished story about his encounter with Ronnie's maid, and his half-smoked cigarette. He would come sidling in apologeticlly later on. The lecture was on English literature and we were being taught Bertolt Becht's excellent play on Galileo. We were all enthralled by the professor Raman, obviously a South Indian, but unusually fairskinned with a clipped British accent. His teaching style was laidback and engrossing. Very rarely someone from our class chose to distract him. Ronnie had no bones to pick with him either. Even he would listen carefully to the watered down explanations and rarely if ever, interrupt the professor with intelligent questions. Emboldened, I would also do that now and then. . Some sort of rapport was beginning to build up between me and the good professor, with Ronnie sort of putting a tentative foot in the waters of friendship. A kind of a relatioship does spring up often between engineering students interested in English language or literature, and the teacher. Eventually some such students get into amateur theatre, when simple 'liking' gradually thickens into an outright passion.

On the other hand, Raju the Bwana, Sanjay the kleptomaniac, Bhavsar the lazybones, Rashmi the Hollywood wannabe, and Juggo Kaapli -our deadly fast bowler in the ragtag cricket team we had just set up, were usually absent in these classes. They would go and play cricket, in an adjoining field, never short of players at all. Many others hanging around with nothing to do, would glaldy join them.

" No one ever failed in English," Juggo would argue, " and what relevance does it have to our engineering education?" Thus, this group habitually bunked the English literature classes. During winter, half the class would be missing, since English classes were scheduled very early in the morning. The professor would shrug his shoulders and carry on. He was on loan from another campus where Science, Commerce and Arts co-existed. The Engineering campus was called the Bajrang campus since girls were very few, and dating was non-existant. Bajrang is the name of the monkey deity in Indian mythology, who never married and stayed away from females.

Ronnie had made so many enemies, in a month, that he couldn't even begin to suspect who was puncturing his bike daily. Any other person in his place would have stopped using the bike, hiding it somewhere on arrival at the college, or hiding himself behind the bushes to catch the culprit. Not Ronnie, who said :
" I don't want to fight an invisible enemy with the usual weapons, there could be a score or more."

One day, he came riding his tall bike, jumping up and down like a circus clown. He was smiling, though obviously in huge discomfort.
" Goodness, Ronnie. What did you do? Your bike doesn't have square wheels, why should it jump so?" we asked. He quietly got down, parked it against the wall of our department, produced a sharp divider from his compass.
" Now puncture it, pal."
I went and shoved the divider with all my might into the rear tyre. No air leaked out with a loud hiss, as it should have.
" Hey, what did you do-? "
He smiled beatifically like a priest about to bless a naughty member of his parish, and said:
" Solid tyres, no tube!" Of course, he had stuffed rags into the tyre, after taking out the tube. Thus in one stroke he had defeated hundreds of secret enemies who loved taking out their ire on his bike.

In a month or so, during a hazy day in winter, the worried professor of applied physics, now aware of a malicious genius after his life, heard an incredibly loud roaring sound when he was conducting a class in the Textile Engineering department. It sounded rather like a Formula-1 racing car revving up. Some students ran out and saw Ronnie streaking past their department in an ancient car, stripped of its bodywork, seats, and even the silencer with exhaust tubes. Ronnie sat on a make-shift wooden seat with huge goggles, a helmet, and was driving the car as if it were a real racing car. Of course, he had no business driving a car near this department.

An emissary was dispatched t o halt the madman driving the noisy car recklessly, taking turns at breakneck speed, with lusty yells punctuating the curves and the turns. An audience had collected in no time, loudly cheering him. The professor was informed Ronnie would not stop. He had made obscene hand gestures at the emissary.. The fast-thinking professor now sent one of the most delicate girls in the class to stand by this race-track and ask him to stop. May be the devil would stop. He did.

She told him the professor wanted this noise to stop.
" Tell him this is India's first ever Formula-1 car, and the next world champion Ronnie Daruwala is practising on the race tracks. Who is he to play spoilsport, this Prof. Lodavala? "
She went back and repeated the words coyly, and later on, she told us in the canteen, the harassed professor had been muttering dark obscenities under his breath. He was so upset that day, he abandoned the class altogether.

After he had boycotted us, a section of our class suffered a momentary lapse of reason as panic rose high. Some of us went to Ronnie to make him see the point. If the professor does not teach -many of us could fail outright. Or score a poor average. Ronnie later on dispatched one of the docile girls from our class to plead with him for resumption of classes. The semester examination loomed large in the offing, and nearly half the class was worried that we would fail for sure. Ronnie clarified some points to the despairing students, but he rarely had the time to help all the dullards. An examination every Saturday, used to keep us on our toes indeed. The worry quotient remained unchanged.

Thirty days before the final test, Ronnie decided the duffers amongst us surely needed more time for preparation.
" Why not postpone the exam?" asked Bhavsar -famous for his short-cuts..
Taking a cue from this query, we all started planting the seeds of rebellion against the faculty office in Ronnie's head. Not that he needed any such goading, for at heart he was a diehard anti-establishmentarian to begin with. He seemed very amused with this challenge, and asked us not to worry, the exam would be postponed for sure. We stopped preparing for the exam altogether.

It so happened that after a few days, we went to the other campus, to the Department of Science, for some lectures on Geology, and a couple of students got into a scrap with the local cops. The matter was rather inconsequential -one of the boys had pedalled on, unheeding when the cop had tried to stop the traffic, at a junction without traffic lights. Seeing this, his companion also tried to plunge headlong into the ensuing traffic. The cop had whistled and run after them. He predictably said harsh words. Anger breeds anger, so they verbally abused the cop, and ran back into the campus, as if into an embassy where cops cannot follow them. The cops, enraged, came in a huddled coterie, and chased the boys all over the faculties of Commerce, Arts, Science and, finally nailing them in the chemistry laboratory at the farthest end. The boys were given a good hiding and since the anger did not subside, the cops even dragged some voicferous female students outside to perhaps thrash them too in full view of others. This seemed very obnoxious to all the students. They resorted to stone-throwing, which became so violent, the cops had to run for cover and ask for reinforcement. Bhavsar resorted to his obnoxious whistling, aided very ably by Juggo Kaapli and a few other habitual idlers. Soon the students from all over gathered in the manner of crows, when a dead crow is noticed. The atmosphere became electric.

Before the additional contingent could arrive, we had piled up heaps upon heaps of stones, broken steel bolts, clamps, slices of broken tiles, window fittings and a whole lot of scrap. We went thus armed, to the campus fenceand fight a real battle with them. Though we were hiding behind pillars, since this too was a Maharaja's Palace converted into a library and huge classrooms, we managed to hit quite a few cops. I thought I noticed the cops whooping in glee whenever they caught someone and batoned him furiously. The animosity on both sides took a dramatic upturn in no time at all.

From where Ronnie had been pelting stones at the cops with a furious expression on his face, I could see abnormal things were starting to happen. One cop was seen trying to climb over the fence, and soon he was seen dancing uncontrollably, falling over and dangling upside down. His spasmodic movements continued. On close observation I saw, Ronnie's sidekicks had borrowed a long piece of twisted wire from the canteen and connected to the barbed wire fence. The cop was apprently getting electrocuted, helplessly dancing a macabre dance whilst the students surrounded him, poked him with sticks, and clapped . They did an improptu Garba around him.

"Saala Thola, " Ronnie was saying loudly, " bolaav taari maay-ne, arré maay toh sooN taari naani bi
yaad aavi jasé!" [ Bastard, call your mum, today you might as well call for your grandma -we're gonna harass the life out of you.] 'Thola' is untranslatable, and is an insult invented for cops alone. Obviously the current was strong enough to torture the guy, but not powerful enough to kill him. As it happens in B-grade Bollywood movies, another cop with his brains switched off, tried to pull the victim out, foolishly. He too started dancing like a galvanized frog.

This spectable attracted huge attention from both sides. The traffic had stopped, people were streaming out of buses and cars, and were laughing at the cops in uniform dancing helplessly, whilst the students from the other side poked them with sticks, threw buckets of cold water on them and some even found pulpy lumps of buffalo dung to be chucked like pancakes on to the faces of nearest cops. The impact and the stink paralyzed each isolated cop !

I was astonished to see Ronnie had quickly devised a missile launching system! He had bought off two damaged rubber tubes of bicycles from a repair shop on the pavement. These, he strung up solidly between a Y-forked branch broken from a huge tree. He could now launch stones weighing up to 2 Kgs that went cruising over half a kilometre distance with deadly accuracy. To demonstrate that preicison, he aimed one at the windshield of the riot control vehicle, fatuously parked without a protective metal screen nearby. The glass shattered with a godawful blast.

As if on cue, some boys produced sinister-looking six inches long firecrackers stored from the last Deepavali, meant for celebrating the faculty elections. These came in very handy. Burning th e fuse and launching the missile was so easy and spectacular, the stoning crowd stopped, and came over to cheer us. They yelled lustily when the first missle was launched. It landed right in the middle of a diffident group of cops who put fingers in their ears and ran away like scared roosters, leaving their batons behind. Sure enough, some boys ran outside to grab the batons and bring them over.
" Yaad raakh-se maara beta, chhokrio-ne maarva-vala hijda!" Ronnie was yelling. The bastards will remember us, the eunuchs beating up girls !

The battle could have gone on for the whole day, but we realized were jamming up the main arterial road leading from the railway station to the main bazaar area. Therefore, cops had to resort to use teargas to bring an abrupt end to the battle royale. Six male students were rounded up and confined to the chowkey. The females had formed their own army with blazing eyes and flaming hair as it were... luckily no copy jumped over the fence to come and try to catch anyone. The enraged ladies would have lynched him, so intense was their anger. In the end, we had to request our friends, the class representatives and faculty representatives from faculty of commerce, the closest to the scene of the battle to go and mediate a ceasefire. A team of seniors pus two sympathizing lecturers, went to the police station and got the six culprits freed without bail or any other complications.

This incidence was forgotten in due course of time, since pubic memory tends to be rather short. Well, finally the examination day loomed up like a dark cloud from nowhere. Most of us had been suffering from the heebie jeebies all along. With whatever limp preparations that we had managed, and a whole lot of prayers, we went in to the exam hall.

I remember the fateful day. Ronnie had kept away, after all his average marks were very high and he did not care about a final test, a mere weekly test. We cared because the fact that the professor had stayed away for a full semester, was a catastrophe of sorts. Well, the bell rang finally, and we trooped in. Forty odd students with, a gaggle of totally freaked girls who were nearly shivering with fright. Most of us had been faring very poorly in this subject.

My partner in the laboratory practicals, Bhavsar -the laziest boy in the class, whose whistling skills were always useful during any concert or a long speech - because he could be heard two kilometres away, seemed nonchalant.
" Why, Bhavsar, you seem to have prepared the subject well."
" In fact, I haven't done anything at all."
" Goodness. You'll fail."
He smiled knowingly and said:
" Ronnie will make his promise good for sure."
By now Ronnie was a mini-God, I realized. Strange powers were being attributed to him.

The professor may have chosen the most difficult questions for us. This was the constant refrain of the scared amongst us. This fear spread like a bad rumour and soon enough we were all feeling jittery. We took our seats, nothing happened. The two supervisors came bounding in as if ready to slay dragons, with a peon and a bundle of papers. Nothing happened. The examination was due at 11.00 A.M., and we had seated ourselves five minutes earlier as the convention was. The supervisors quickly and efficiently distributed the papers, even then, nothing happened.

The moment we started reading the paper, realizing how difficult it was, we despaired. Even those with private tuitions were clapping their palms against the forehead, when two girls started weeping. The boys gave them a cursory glance, and went back to checking the question paper, to gauge their own shaky knowledge of the subject. However, I was surprised to see six boys on the northern side, where there were huge French windows were located, loudly wailing and weeping. These unbarred windows were so large, one could jump out through them, for this was an ex-Palace indeed. Within a few seconds, a cluster of boys around me started weeping helplessly. Some were laughing and weeping at the same time. Naturally at this point, all hell broke loose.

" There is something wrong here", I said to the bewildered supervisors, also copiously weeping, and dabbing their eyes with dirty hankerchiefs. Totally dazed, they nodded in the affirmative as I got up, threw down my question paper, with the untouched answer books on their desk and ran out. My eyes were burning as if someone had thrown a handful of chilly powder in it. All I could think clearly was, to run the nearest water fountain meant for drinking, and wash up my terribly suffering eyes.

When I returned after ten minutes, I saw the examination had been abandoned, and the students had left, leaving behind only a few diehards, waiting for me. Animated discussion was going on. Their agenda was, this had to be Ronnie's mischief and we had to find exactly how it was executed. I was so affected with the suddenness of this event, that I did not realize that it could be a pre-planned disaster. It apparently was. Some venturesome boys went right outside the windows too, on to the thin ledge, to check for hidden devices. There was no evidence that the mischief monger had planted a tear-gas bomb somewhere. Even if he did, how did it go off exactly at the appointed exam hour ?

Ronnie would not explain, no matter what trick we tried on him. Finally, an 'ad hoc' committee of the students, after weeks of discussion decided, he must have used his knowledge of advanced electronics, chemistry and of course, chemicals from some of those un-exploded tear-gas shells he had picked up at the other campus on that fateful day of the riots, when cops had come inside to beat up girls. Of course, we all concurred. this reasoning was the most probable. The tale was discussed for months, and passed on to our juniors as one of the urban legends, that snowballs into huge dimensions progressively. Ronnie was almost a God by now. We started expecting much more by way of miracles from him.

(c) Max Babi, August 2005.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Ronnie & The Maid Servant [part 2]

Ronnie & The Maid Servant [part 2]

Ronnie stayed within walking distance of our college, so one day during a free period when a professor stayed away from the class for some unexplained reason, I decided to accompany him. It seemed, he had forgotten to bring a book on machine design, which could have come handy to argue with yet another professor, who had been pretty obtuse about some point or the other.


I went with him, and found matching his strides was a difficult business. He was almost six feet tall, in love with his marching boots, and took a soldier's strides, whilst my gait was pretty relaxed. I was predictably out of breath, when we reached the old mansion, about a century old. He was staying there with one younger brother Pesi, and a pair of ageing parents whom he ignored completely. The brothers regarded each other as enemies,
for unfathomable some reasons.
"Ronnie, dikra pacchho aviyo-chh ke?" Ronnie sonny-boy are you back already? Pesi had enquired.

Ronnie made a wry face, since he was about two years older to the boy and resented being called a sonny boy. He kept mum and glowered simmeringly.
" Soo karechh, dikra?" Pesi's whining tone persisted deliberately.
" Cha banaau chooN, maaji." I am making tea dear old lady, said Ronnie sarcastically.
" Ek cup mané bi paavis, dikra?" Will you feed a cup, sonny? Pesi asked hopefully.
" Tane toh ek cup maaru moota bi nahiN malé..." you won't even get a cup of piss from me...said Ronnie smartly. I got the general drift, this simmering animosity between the siblings. It happens in the best of families, I told Ronnie, who looked a little apprehensively at me, when he found me eavesdropping on their juicy dialogue. His mother yelled quite a bit, and his father usually glowered like a wild beast.

There was in addition a day servant, a petite girl named Sundari. She had the very engaging habit of staring unblinkingly at every male visitor till either he started breaking out in cold sweat, or winked right back at her. If the guest curled his lips with as much as a Mona Lisa hint of a smile, she would bite her underlip, and roll
her eyes towards the bedroom. I got my arm pinched by her, when I ignored her totally on the first visit. She shushed me silent and blew me a kiss. Ronnie returned to the room before I could do anything in return.

The whole house was neat and well-kept like all Parsi households, but Ronnie's room was like a junkie's pad. There was litter all around, mostly mechanical spares or electronic parts. He was studying mechanical engineering, but his practical knowledge of electronics was astonishing. He had fitted no less than twenty one devices in his father's car, he explained. He said some were designed to startle the occupants of the car by sudden sounds like a blast of steam leaking from nowhere. Some others were designed to tell him, if there were a flat tyre, or a door closed half-heartedly. Some were designed for startling the people on the road witless with fearsome sounds. The horn sounded like some animal in acute pain, rather like a mule hit with an iron rod. However, I was totally stumped by a glass bowl full of shining glass shards.

" What on earth is this, Bawa? " I enquired.
" Uh huh -glass pieces, can't you see, friend?"
" Of course we both can see, but why do you keep them here?"
" Oh, I like the tinkle them make.
" Tinkle, chal chhod yaar [come on leave it] how can shards make a tinkle?"
" Like this, you country yokel!"

He demonstrated the tinkle by taking a fresh strip of glass about the size of a test-tube, but flat and thin in appearance. It made a very musical sound indeed. The note was very soothing in nature.
" But...." I protested weakly about the difference between a strip and those crazy shards.
" I know, I know. Well, when I study at night, I keep hitting the strip on the edge of the bowl, to hear this sound. And then after a few minutes, the damned strip breaks."
" Aha. So finally you throw the shards away?"
" No, I am not rich enough, going by the pittance my parents give as my monthly allowance, to keep buying glass strips endlessly."
" So? "
" So, on weekends, I sit and glue these shards together back into a strip, and go tinkling all over again!"
I was dumbstruck.

The other day, I was discussing Ronnie's crazy habits with a school-mate of his, and I erroneously stated that his father looked absolutely normal whilst the son seemed dangerous with that pair of piercing, mole-like shrewd eyes.
" Ummm." Said Mayank, who was studying medicine at a different campus, but happened to be our common friend. " His father is a famous lawyer who sets out every morning in that ancient Fiat car of his exactly at 9.00am. People set time in their clocks when they see the black car coming. "

" Uh huh. " I said waiting for more.
" Well he too has an interesting habit."
" Oh yeah?"
" He cannot resist a bicycle parked on the pavement, leaning against it with a pedal. If he sees one, he has to go and lightly touch the car's side so that the bike falls over."

I smiled and said this was peculiar.
Mayank said, " Not so peculiar, as is his habit of reversing the car, if he has missed, and taking another swipe so that the bike does fall and when it falls, he laughs out loud. So loud that people turn their heads to see the madman."

On return to the college, I lost Ronnie who had some work in the library and having bunked a particularly
boring lecture I went to the canteen. It was deserted except for a gaggle of boys, all from my own class, trying hard to blow smoke rings. The unquestioned king amongst the smokeheads was Raju, an ex-patrite from East Africa.

" I come from Mombasa, East Africa, boys. " He used to brag endlessly.
" Everything out there is big. BIG, I mean, you get me sonny?" was his constant refrain.

Some days back Ronnie had got fed up with this big talk once, and to make a buffon out of Raju he had egged him on.
" The elephants there are bigger than ours," Ronnie had started tentatively.
" Yeah man, ten foot taller." Raju said puffing on an extra-long imported cigarette dangling carelessly
from his thick lips. This was miraculous, I used to remark. His parents were perfectly desi [ indigenous]
but our man had thick negroid lips. None of us could understand why.
" And lions? " Ronnie asked.
" Definitely five feet taller." Raju had bragged again.
" Cars must be bigger...." said Ronnie, who managed to drag in a car in whatever was being discussed,
" They use Ford pick-ups, ten feet longer than your piddly little Fiats here." Said Raju arrogantly.
" Hey women have bigger boobs there?" That was Rashmi, another handsome creature who fancied himself
to be similar to a popular Hollywood hero of those times. His was a single track mind.
" Ah, like watermelons, my friend. And no bras, no nothing, you should see them jiggle -Wow!" Raju the stylish guy with his imported sports bike, went into raptures.

Before the discussion could slip downwards to the crotch, inevitably, the bell rang and we had to trudge back for the next lecture.

I had tried smoking with this gang of backbenchers and it had choked me to death, nearly. However on two or three attempts I mastered the art and found a packet of Simla, pretty cheap amongst those other being sold by the canteen. One packet would last me a week. I would hide it amongst my books in the canvas bag that I carried to travel with in the bus After the lecture, Raju cornered me and asked for a cigarette. I loaned him one.

Taking a deep puff in his near-perfect Hollywood style Raju asked me :
" So how did you trip to Ronnie's place go.
" Uh huh." We got talking and I happened to mention Sundari the kaamwali who had pinched my arm and winked at me, nodding towards the bedroom. I narrated this with a cool panache as if it were happening to me everyday. Raju gaped at me as the cigarette fell from his lips.
" Show me the house man! " I made lame excuses, but he seemed consumed by an invisible fire. Suddenly he was restless and uncontrollable. With nothing better to do I set out with him to show him the house. The condition I placed was that I would leave him at the gate, and then it was up to providence to protect him.

" Protect me from what? " Rajy seemed a bit taken aback.
" Oh Ronnie has pets."
" You mean fat cats that sleep endlessly on the sofa?" Raju seemed hopeful.
" No. I mean a bulldog that is as big as a donkey." His face fell.
" Don't tell me- "
" And that beast has to chained inside a cage taller than you...."
" Whoa!"
" He is let off free during the day. He does not bite."
" Oh. " He looked as if a rock had been moved off his chest.
" But he mauls. One who gets mauled, goes to the crematorium, not the hospital..."
" Oh no."
" Wait. If you can outwit the dog, there's this twenty one feet long python."
" Oh my goodness!"
" If you are really smart you could slip by that horrid creature but-"
" But -but it's nearly impossible to escape the chimp."
" Wh -whut-whut-what does the monkey do?"
" Why monkeys come from East Africa... you should talk to him in Swahili, Bwana!"
" Saala... ullu banata hai kyaa ? " he raced after me as we went circling the
department. Finally we made up and went bicyling down to Ronnie's place. I left him at the gate and pedalled
off in the other direction on to the tiny road leading to Meena's house. With the wild hope that she would hanging around in her balcony, provocatively licking an icecream. With nothing better to do, our classmates had passed around voting papers with six names of the sexiest females in the entire first year. Meena's name won twice as many votes as the next one. She had class. She had style. She had elan.

I was in luck. She was standing in the balcony, leaning over it in her own idiosyncratic style, biting a corn cob rather saucily. As was her habit, on recognizing a familiar face she waved out to me like a politician -with all her heart into the gesture, whilst her mind was clearly somewhere else. She had one the elections recently, without any real campaigning and without spending a small fortune either. Her magnetic persoanlity, her sexy swagger and the unvocalised promises radiating from her eyes had got her a landslide victory.

The next day I found Raju beaming from ear to ear.
" Shikar? " How was the hunt, I enquired.
" Wow. What a girl. She's red hot man!"
" You mean you got through all right?"
" I did man. I am from Mombasa, East Africa. Wild beasts cannot stop me if I seek a -"
" OK Ok -tell me what happened."

Bhavsar whistling under his breath entered the veranda where we were standing and talking. In his presence all of us tended to be wary. Say something exciting, like a professor has bunked or Meena would be visiting our division… and he would start whistling his 140 decibel screaming sound that shattered our ears. We would send him away with small change to get us cigarettes when exciting matters were being discussed.
Raju gave him five rupees, perhaps five times more than necessary to buy cigarettes, an icecream, whatever and keep away for ten minutes.

" Unhh… so tell us what happened. You met Sundari?”
“ Met her? Man I pawed her! “
Everyone grunted cynically, this was going to be a tall tale. Like his pulling a lion’s tail
in East Africa. Or his spending a night of terror on top of a palm tree with a panther for company, and the panther not being able to climb thirty feet high as he was too old. We would take his stories with a pinch of salt.

“ Hey tell me, tell me, said Sanjay the kleptomaniac who stole small things every day.” “
“ Well, umm.. Like you said, it was difficult passing that man-eater, the beastly dog.”
“ How did you stop him ? “ asked Rashmi, moving a loving hand over his own hair.
“ I had taken a chicken sandwich with me! When I found him him inside, I almost peed in my pants. He started barking till the neighbours shouted him down. Then he snarled so hard about a tonne of foam came gushing from his muzzle. I threw him the sandwich and ran in…”
“ Ronnie’s mother, the witch didn’t come flying on her broomstick?”
“Oh she did. I again almost peed when she suddenly materialized from behind me and gave a blood-curdling yell. Bats flew off the ceiling and one even hit me on the head whilst flying away…”

“ Good. And the girl? “ Rashmi bulldozed Raju back on to the interesting track.
“ Ah Sundari. Wow, what a hot piece of cake that girl is. She saw me, smiled and winked. The witch was screaming at me at that moment, and I went deaf. I was all eyes for this girl only. What a perfectly oval mango-shaped face, what heavenly black eyes, and what astonishing lips made for sinning… wow wow wow.”

(c) Max Babi, 14 August 2005

Monday, August 08, 2005

Ronnie Strides In.... [ Part 1]

As I sat doodling on the last bench, scratching voluptuous nudes on the wooden desk, I never knew when Prof. Lokhandwala sneaked in to the room and started droning on and on, like an annoying hornet trapped in a car. I paid no attention to the applied physics he kept teaching us in his tear-inducing monotone, that was always soul-crushingly dreary. He looked through the class, and most of us kept playing noughts and crosses, drawing nude female forms or whispering dirty jokes to the next fellow. Some dozed with eyes open too.

This dynamic equilibrium was shattered, as we heard the clomp clomp of NCC boots -the regulation army boots, coming from the rear-most window. Ronnie had just entered the classroom. He was walking King Kong like, over the desks, the open books, the freshly drawn nudes, even someone's palms or fingers, till he reached his spot next to me, and I felt petrified. One hundred twenty eyes, plus two of the kindly Professor were trained on me. My eyes spoke lyrically, I had no hand in this... I cringed and prayed wordlessly.

" And where did you materialize from, my dear young friend?" The professor sadly resorted to sarcasm, starting huge trouble without realising. Ronnie smiled naughtily and got up, focused his popping big eyes on to the sombre-faced Professor's and said equally sarcastically " I got thrown out of a spaceship!"

The whole class rolled on the floor with guffaws, and the professor turned a deeper shade of pink. His lips trembled, sweat broke out on his round podgy face in mid winter.
" Then what the hell are you doing here? Go and wait for your next bus to M-32 galaxy..."
" That I will sir, but the chief said go and see how they teach applied physics to the underlings, these crazy earthlings. So kindly allow me to see how you do it ... thank you sir."

The professor shrugged his massive shoulders and turned his back to us, writing more maddening formulae on the blackboard. Ronnie, snickered and opened his favourite notebook in which he used to sketch Ferraris and Maseratis. His sketching was amazingly lifelike, and I used to sit next to him because in the whole college with 6000 plus students I was the only one who could talk to Ronnie about fancy luxury sports cars. Or understand what he spoke about. We naurally bonded.

Suddenly the professor stopped, having remembered Ronnie's obnoxious entry.
" Mr. Daruvala," he hissed, " Would you be kind enough to explain why do you always ignore the front door, and come barging in like an un-civilized ape through the window?" Ronnie stood up erect with mock reverence.
" That's the only way I can show my respect to a teacher who is busy teaching. If I walk in through front door, you and the whole class would be disturbed."
" What makes you think you are not disturbing the class by going clomp clomp over the desks?" asked the professor, now a lighter shade of purple. Ronnie, who always spoke with a straight face, succeeded in getting more guffaws from a classroom full of totally bored student, as he said :
" Sir, you are training us to be engineers, we will always take the path of least resistance... Ohm's Law."

The professor tut-tutted and turned in desperation to the blackboard. The persistent drone resumed, and most heads started nodding drowsily once again. When the lecture ended, I had a clear premonition that something terrible had been sowed by Ronnie, into the fuzzy brain of this professor. His eyes were aflame, his nostrils quivering in self-righteous indignation, as he left the classroom for his next lecture elsewhere. He threw the piece of chalk down and angrily stomped on it, twisting the ball of his heel over it, crushing it in to dust with a deadly expression on his unsmiling face.

Class over, I suggested to Ronnie we go to the canteen for a cup of tea. It was raining slightly, and he had come dressed in a huge black overcoat, that made him look like a CIA operative from the Cloaks and Daggers department. He agreed and I repented having asked him to come. This was probably my second day of acquaintance with him, and I was in for a few nasty surprises.

We ambled along to the canteen some ten minutes distance. Suddenly, he stopped i n front of a group of dandies. The boys from Mumbai and Delhi were anathema to him. I had heard of ragging, but never about this reverse-ragging. He was a localite, as the 'outsiders' called him, and he was in the first year. He was a junior, a prime target for ragging. He should have been ragged mercilessly by his seniors. But in the first week, sly Ronnie made sure his reputation as a ragger supreme went searing through the ranks and most of the average boys literally shivered when they heard him stride clompety clomp through the lonesome corridors of this Maharaja's Palace turned into an engineering college.

He picked up one whole brick, and striding purposefully to the clutch of the dandies, he dropped it from a height of seven feet right into a mud puddle next to them.
" Oh shit! "
" Oh fuck!"
" Who's the obnoxious Charlie..." they all fussed like old ladies on confronting an exhibitionist in the local park. Nobody dared look Ronnie in the eyes. He first snickered, then made deadly serious faces –fixing them with a piercing look that spoke of wild anger and contempt.

" Why did you spoil their nice clothes?" I asked him.
" Because they are so well-dressed, as if they've come to a fashion-show."
" Well I guess you are right..." I said wondering if this guy was off his rocker.

He knew no fear, one thing was sure, I told myself. We selected a quiet corner in the canteen, and sat down on the black-painted steel chairs around the stainless steel table. Ronnie didn't sit, instead he got a jug of water, filled up a glass, and taking a spare ceramic tile from a pile nearby, he upturned the glass on to the tile. Now he reversed the tile, so that the tile was at the bottom and the upside down glass full of water stuck to the tile . He brought the tile close to the table edge, and with a practised ease, slid it across on to the stainless steel table. He quietly went back and claimed his seat on the table. He sat there, waiting for other students to turn up, they were all sauntering down, chirpily chatting. We had ordered tea and were sipping it, whilst Ronnie sat waiting.

Soon enough a snappily dressed pair of "outsiders", turned up. One guy, in a tearing hurry, lifted the loaded glass and in an instant, whoooosh... his clothes were splattered with ice-cold water. He got such a shock, the glass fell from his hands, and he clutched at his crotch -which must have felt a nasty shock. Cold water thrown on the abdomen region causes a gasping reaction. Ronnie burst out laughing, and went on laughing till tears rolled from his eyes. We all laughed too, infected by his natural laughter. The two students, wet as hens in a squall, and looking sheepish, first took up a fighting stance, but when Ronnie got up towering above them, they beat a hasty retreat. He had fixed them with a deadly look, that’s all.

This was to be a daily routine. Ronnie would come five minutes early and select a table at random, put the loaded glass and move to the next table. He would wait for the first casualty and then laugh his guts out. Lately girls had been coming, since half the students in the architecture and pharmacy were girls. A good number were there in applied physics and chemistry departments too. One girl wearing short skirts got a blast of cold water, and she screamed as if someone had stabbed her. When Ronnie laughed out, she came and threatened him she will complain to the principal. He said he didn't care, and if she wanted he address of the vice chancellor, he could provide. She stomped out to bunk the next lecture and go home to change the soaked clothes.

Next day, Ronnie picked up a fight with the same Prof. Lokhandwala, whose real name was Lodhavala, because 'lokhand' is a Hindi word, whilst 'lodhu' is the Gujarati equivalent. A seller of iron goods is 'lodhavala'. Ronnie was a Parsi, and he could not say Lodhavala -that strong "dh" sound is missing from Farsi or Persian. So it came out as Lodavala. Most boys who didn't know Gujarati also knew it meant one with a penis. Rather a rude name. Ronnie got so mad at the Prof. who obviously had made a mistake in some formula that the former knew well, and having been caught he became aggressive, threatening Ronnie that his name would be struck off the rolls. Ronnie dared him to try that. Next day, the professor reared up like a horse that has seen a pool of water in its uncertain tracks. He read the grafitto " Prof. LODAWALA is a Boron Isotope" in bold letters on the black-board.

" Who is the culprit? " He nearly screamed, literally fuming. No one owned up. The writer must have been Ronnie, and he was absent.
" If no one tells me who wrote this insulting sentence here, I shall not teach you anything for the rest of the semester..." He strode out of the classroom, now a darker shade of purple, fumes billowing from his ears and flames blazing from his nostrils..."

When Ronnie the bully arrived for the next lecture, I told him what had happened.
" Good riddance of bad rubbish! " was all he had to say. A group of others who did not follow the subject easily, met me and asked repeatedly if we all could go to Ronnie with out doubts, please. Ronnie gladly agreed, and a sort of loose arrangement as mooted which seemed to work. The Prof. never came to our class even for distributing the weekly test papers after correction. We had to go and get them from him –and his office was nearly two kilometres away at the far end.

Once again harsh words were exchanged by the professor with Ronnie right outside our classroom as they argued over the finer points of the subject. This time, it was Ronnie who gave the Prof. a threat. We knew Ronnie was a brilliant student, always ahead of us, and he argued only when the teacher was wrong. But soon this became an ego hassle.

" I will see how you take your class tomorrow." Said Ronnie, " if you can teach the Division A you might as well teach us."

The Prof. laughed it off.

It was pouring heavily the next day when the professor turned up all drenched as he got off his two wheeler, and proceeded to Division A. The sky was overcast and lights had to be switched on everywhere. It seemed as if it were midnight though it was noon, and the rain made such a huge racket, everyone had to shout loudly to be heard.

As soon as the Prof. started his lecture, the lights went out.

" Go and get the electrician," he thundered.

A couple of students with very fragile umbrellas went to look for the electrician, and found him sipping tea in the canteen, after visiting eight other places where he may have been. By the time they came back it was nearly twenty minutes. The electrician worked for two hours and could not find the fault. The lecture was abandoned, and the frustrated professor stubbornly hung around to see if there had been mischief that led to this power failure.

He had to leave eventually, since the electrician failed to find a fault, but as soon as he would throw the main switch, the fuse would blow. He searched for a fault, with at least four students helping him. It was nearly 8.00 PM, before they could salvage some teaching time for the evening classes. They never told anyone what the fault was, but Ronnie could not keep a straight face for long. I coaxed it out of him over a cup of tea. It seems he had slyly gone outside, and removed a light bulb, placed a small metal coin between the socket and the bulb, and screwed it back in. This becomes a short circuit, so whenever power is switched on, the main fuse would blow. This ruse was so masterful no one could suspect the innocent bulb of playing mischief.

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(c) Max Babi, July 2005

Ronnie's World

"Ronnie Strides In..." was my first short story in this series.
Posed at Caferati board, it received 600+ hits in a few days.

I continued writing in the same vein till the fifth or the sixth
story. Then I started dragging in a lot of other characters, and
even a shy girl.

As the readership grew, and my ambitions likewise, I thought of
combining all stories at one blog so that the reader need not
hunt around with increasing annoyance, for other parts...

Here we are then. I shall compile the whole Novel, which is a
foregone conclusion by now, for the pleasure of uninterrupted
reading.

Please leave your kind comments.

Cheerz!

Max Babi
www.maxbabi.com