Ronnie & The Battle Royale [Part 3]
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.