Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Abominable Moocha

Last week, I was on my way to college one morning, just like every other morning. The one hour train journey is perfect time to catch up on the eighth hour of sleep and I go so far as to take an early train so I can go seated comfortably and peacefully doze away. So there I am, nodding away like it’s no one’s business, when a slightly plump personage seats herself down beside me and I am awakened. She has a very, very familiar side-profile… in a jiff I recognize her. She used to teach me English in my school in Madras (!!) in standard seven. After all these years, imagine stumbling onto Mrs. Chitra Pandey, CP as we called her (we would privately refer to all teachers by their initials in our school). Wow.

Now the typical turn that the story is expected to take at this point is that CP was our favorite teacher and all us kids loved her. It’s quite the contrary actually. CP had joined the school that year and had replaced a well-beloved English teacher. Not a great place to start. And to add to that she had a North-Indian scorn for us. So, naturally, we found all possible faults with her. We didn’t like the way she taught, or her diction (seventh standard kids can be quite opinionated and unforgiving at that) or even the way she dressed! And, yes, we were a naughty class who showed our dislike in our own little ways.

She had to teach us a book by Ruskin Bond called ‘The Hidden Pool’. This is an endearing story of three young boys and their friendly capers, and how they grow to become great friends. One of the chapters describes a game that the boys play where they hold a race among cockroaches they have adopted and trained for that very purpose (did I forget to mention that the protagonists were a little strange?). Now, one of the cockroaches was named ‘Moocha’ (meaning moustache in Hindi) because of his long whiskers. In Tamil, however, the word ‘Moocha’ has an altogether different meaning. It means urine. So imagine a class of Tamil kids who are out to harass their poor Uttar Pradeshi English teacher who knows zero Tamil. She is bewildered as to why her class breaks out into an uncontrolled epidemic of guffaws each time she utters the name of the confounded cockroach. The first few times she thought it was because the word Moocha was funny-sounding and joined in the laughter. But the laughter wouldn’t stop (the cockroach happened to be the winner in the race and therefore repeatedly appeared in the text). Soon she started getting suspicious if we were playing some Enid Blytonesque prank on her and were just laughing to spite her. When she mentioned this to us, it sent us into another spree of choking laughter… we were being wrongly credited for what sounded like an ingenious plan. Unfortunately, we were innocent. It was just Moocha’s fault! The class ended with just a couple of pages having been read, a very suspicious teacher and a much amused class of rascals who had had their fill of toilet humor. We laughed so much that day, we almost peed in our pants (that just HAD to come).

Another time she was taking our class and we were still thrashing about in ‘the hidden pool’ (it’s quite obvious why the going was so slow in a class such as ours). This time the chapter dealt with the Abominable Snowman, the Yeti. Now Mrs. CP had a slight problem pronouncing the word ‘abominable’, which we precocious things thought was unacceptable in an English teacher. So as she gave us several variations like ‘abonimable’ and ‘abonomimable’, we snickered among ourselves. Quite a bunch of monkeys we were.

But all that was years ago. That day in the train I introduced myself to her and we exchanged phone numbers and stories about how we landed in Bombay. Bandra came and she alighted, leaving me in the sepia toned world of the past. Memories just kept crashing into me, wave upon wave of incidents from the best year of my school-life, standard seven.

We did everything that year. Took part in the school play, went for umpteen elocutions, and won the first prize in a fashion show! We also had extra-curricular coaching in English where we were made to adapt famous Shakespearian passages to modern day personalities. I remember I was Dawood Ibrahim and I had to say Lady Macbeth’s lines…'all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten these hands’. In the midst of all this we managed to study and do well in class. It was also the beginning of a mixed friends circle with boys and girls. (Yes, Madras was a slightly conservative society and slow to catch up with such things). What fun it was organizing that first pot-party at a friends place. Such silly games we used to played, such silly names for each other we had. We laughed, gossiped, helped each other, had ‘best friends for life’ and first crushes. Those were days when we were completely ourselves, saying what we felt and doing what we pleased. We didn’t weigh our words so that what we said would be ‘correct’. We went right ahead and gossiped and bitched without analyzing the propriety of our actions. I’m glad I’ve changed and grown from that phase today, but something of that precious carefree spirit is lost forever. As are all my friends. I have lost contact with each one of them and they have all just dropped into a crevice in time. If it weren’t for my very powerful memories, I’d easily say I dreamt all these people up. I have no addresses, no phone numbers, not even a photograph. At one time these people completely ruled my waking thoughts. It is almost bizarre and, as I’m realizing for a few years now, a very profound loss.

Well, anyway, later that day I went to meet Dr. Keyur, a professor who taught me in standard 12. I was meeting him after four and a half years and everything seemed the same in that leafy Kalra-Shukla road in Parle east. Three things that Dr.Keyur told me back in twelfth standard have stuck with me and are very useful pieces of advice. Number 1; don’t write too fast, give time for hand and brain to move in concordance so that you make fewer mistakes. Number 2; compete only with yourself, there are too many people in the world you'll need to beat if you look outside. And number 3; use the tic-tic pen-pencil not the sada Natraj ones for neater diagrams. All these are very important words which have helped me immensely in these four and a half years. Anyway, it felt nice to meet the man who had a large contribution to my liking Biology and eventually ending up in Medicine.

So, although the day started like any other I ended up being a long, long trip down memory lane.


vIcKy said...

Wooow...Brilliant blog...just hopped here...Brought back my school memories...Pranks, gossips...What else and what not...Those carefree days, with no intensions of studying...

Miss 'em a lot rite now...sigh...

anyways...Keep up your good work

Sumedh said...

Coincidentally, I met up with some long-lost friends recently. Was a long trip down memory lane for me too, considering it's been 9-10 years since I've seen them.

Meeting the chaps you spent your growing years with is a unique feeling. Maybe I'll write about that soon.

As for this post, it was an excellent blend of humour and nostalgia. Good job.

Sanesh said...

Hey ur blogs r amazin... if i had a choice, each 1 would hve made it in2 gosumag... awesome...

Veena said...

thank you very much vicky, sanesh and sumedh. the praise feels great. thanks a lot.

Kag said...

Nice blog.
A comment:
Why don't you change the background or the font color? This is rather difficult....


Akshay G N I said...

'sepia toned world'
never thought of such adjectives.
took me back to my school days where we too would laugh over tiny little things that had any kind of a 'dirty' connection to it.
although i must confess, our humour was far more malignantly anaplastic than yours.
But knowing me , I am sure you are not surprised!
good writing..

Uttara said...

I dont believe you actually met CP!!!gosh!!!gosh !! gosh!!!
i remember the hidden pool...but i dont remember who she replaced...i remember we did make a lot of fun about her though...

Sreenath Janakiraman said...

Wow., I just stumbled onto this blog when searching for "Moocha Ruskin Bond". I know exactly what book and what chapter you are talking about! :) Love it! Thanks for writing about this Veena. Beautiful story.