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FIRST DAY, FIRST SHOW BLUES (SHORT STORY) (GENRE:FICTION)
By Neel Anil Panicker
First Day, First Class, First Hour: Twentyone-year-old Kishore Prasad Mahto wished the Earth below his feet would give way and he be sucked deep into its recesses.
He looked what he was: A person from the heartlands.
Clad in a pale blue workman’s half sleeved shirt, cheap cotton trousers worn out at the edges, thin lips pursed around a scraggy pockmarked face that looked dyed a permanent dirty yellow, and cracked feet half covered in shocking red slippers, the kind that you get in village fairs popularised by the cattle classes.
Cattle class, that’s what he was and that’s what he epitomised.
He was seated all alone in the farthest corner. The desk beside him was empty, so were the ones in front and back. His segregation from the mainland populace was complete, the lines clearly drawn.
He was an island.
The message, loud and clear: the elite and the hoi poloi were poles apart and there was no meeting ground.
There he sat, his head bent, heart palpitating, hands firmly secured inside his trousers pockets, inwardly crying, cursing the day he decided to forego the cocooned comfort of his small town existence and headed for the big city.
Barely 24 hours into life in Delhi and he felt like a trapped animal, one brutally uplifted from his natural habitat and thrown into an utterly alien jungle, a world where everything was so unlike what he had ever seen, heard, or experienced in his two score years on terra firma.
The city was different, the people looked different, they dressed differently, they spoke differently. Damn’t it, even the water, the air, the sounds, the smells, the tastes…every single thing about Delhi was different.
‘Hey you, who’s your partner’?
The words were a wasp’s sting.
Thirty pairs of eyes turned around and looked in the direction of the pointed finger.
Despite the air conditioner buzzing at 20 degrees centigrade, Kishore found himself sweating like a pig.
‘Say something man, don’t you have a buddy’?
Kishore opened his mouth to answer but words failed him. The words simply refused to make contact with his vocal cords.
‘Ok, you come in last once the others have finished. Now we begin with the first row. So who’s coming”?
Officially termed THE INTRO CLASS, the class was meant to be an icebreaker, some sort of ‘Greet ‘n’ Meet’ event for the newly joinees, mostly fresh graduates, all eager faced and gung ho after enrolling themselves in the premier coaching institute, THE COACH, in a bid to crack one of the most arduous entrance tests in the entire country, an examination that would open for them the doors of the best management schools of the country, the hallowed IIMs.
The Verbal Faculty, usually a very senior person, had the honour of conducting the Intro Class.
In the two hours that he took, he was expected to hand hold the students and run them through the rigours of the CAT, the class structure, the daily academic regime, the various protocols to be followed for students as far as faculty interactions were concerned, doubt clearing sessions, library usages, book requisitions, workshops et al.
But first things first.
The class was ordered to make pairs. They would then grill each another and then once ready with all the information needed, each person would walk up to the front and introduce his new ‘buddy’.
‘The idea is for you to first know your ‘buddy’ well enough and then ‘sell’ him or her to us, meaning the audience,’ Amit Poddar who was at the helm affairs explained to his pupils.
As each pair walked up and introduced themselves, Kishore watched in amazement that was quickly followed by acute embarrassment. He noticed the sheer confidence with which all of them spoke, the words, all solely in English, trotting out of their lips in a rat tat tat fashion, the vocabulary all Greek to him as they smiled and locked eyes with their fellow students.
Besides their obvious fluency in English, he also noticed their body language, confidently casual, their spick and span mannerisms, their chic and ultra uber overall dressing style, and even the minor details__the shine in their hairs, the gloss in their shoes, the sawg in their walks and talks.
“Now do you need a special invitation”?
The faculty’s voice bore through his ears rudely awakening him from his wayward ruminations.
Despite himself, despite his week knees that refused to budge from his seat, and despite his will, he found himself getting up and inching his way past the rows of chairs, his eyes downcast, careful not to lock horns with his fellow students.
“My name…my name…”
The words once again failed him. He stood there, his legs shaking, his lips trembling, his body shrivelling and shrinking with each passing moment.
As the students watched and Mr Poddar waited, his hands on his waist, Kishore felt like a small caged animal brought to a village circus, the kind he had been to a million times a as child; and the students like his village folk, unruly and out to have fun, all gathered around him, laughing, deriding, cracking jokes, making fun, throwing barbs, a few even hurling invectives, throwing small pebbles, maybe a few peanuts as well.
An agonising three minutes passed in pin drop silence. It was longest three minutes of his life. Soon followed the sounds, albeit first muted, then slightly loud, and finally rambunctious, as if the flood gates of patience had broken free.
The students were laughing, barely concealing their voyeuristic delight at discovering among a buffoon, an unkept shaggy, shabby, scraggy young person, one so out of tune with the modern world, one of a kind they thought had long gone extinct, as dead as a dodo.
In fact a voice from the back said exactly that, a bit loud and clear__’You dodo’.
The word bounced all over the four walls of the classroom, furiously ricocheting off them to finally escape through the open door to spread its message through the long corridors that led to other rooms and to be heard by others in the three storied building located in the heart of Delhi that housed the premier coaching institute of the country whose tagline, splashed prominently across billboards and newspaper pages read, ‘We make your dreams come true’.
Kishore felt like he had come under a ten tonne truck, his head crushed into tiny little pieces, his heart smashed to pulp, his body hammered to pulp, his ego, self respect a lifeless mass of rotten flesh waiting to be trampled upon mercilessly by a million stomping feet.
He fell on the floor landing crashing head long on to the hard wooden bench in front of him.
His humiliation was complete.
When he woke up he found himself in his rented room, lying on the floor, a bedsheet wrapped around his frail body.
His head still felt slightly heavy and it took a while for his eyes to adjust to the dark. He dragged himself to the window and drew aide the dirty lungi that someone had loosely fastened onto the grills, an improvised curtain to keep the sun and the sand, the dirt and the wind at bay.
His mind now clear, the events of the previous day came alive again, the laughter, the mockery, the derision, the sarcasm, the barbs…and then the fall.
All played out in ultra slow motion, unspooling in graphic details his loathsome humiliation.
He didn’t waste a second more to make his decision: He would leave the class, leave the coaching, leave the city; he would drop his plans to clear CAT, abandon his dreams to become an MBA; he would head home to his village, to the warmth and comfort of his people, his village, back to living the life he loved and had led all his wondrous life.
So determined Kishore got up and put on his shirt. He would go to the railway station to buy himself a ticket to Bihar.
It was then that he heard a faint sound. His phone was ringing.
Nonplussed, he dipped his fingers inside his shirt pocket and extricated the instrument.
The caller ID read Mahto Sir.
It was his school headmaster, his guru, the man who taught him for the first sixteen years of his life, the person who had discovered the spark in him when he was a mere four year old and since then held his hand, guiding, teaching, inspiring, exhorting him to do better and better, to elevate his lot and aim for the skies.
Standing there, all alone in his room and staring into the phone, Kishore recalled the very last words that Mahto Sir had said before he boarded the train.
‘Remember Kishore, my boy, the world is your oyster. Go forth and clasp it with both hands. Nothing is impossible in this world. Failures are but the stepping stones of success. Whatever you earnestly wish for, is your goal in life. Step ahead and stop not until you fulfil it.”
Overwhelmed, Kishore picked up the phone. Instantly, the voice of his guru came alive over several thousand miles, “My blood is alive with many voices that tell me I am made of longing.”
That instant Kishore resolved that he would conquer the beast that was English, and more importantly rest not until he avenged his humiliation.
Clearing the CAT and entering the top B-school of the country would be a befitting reply.
©neelanilpanicker2017 #shortstory #fiction #theCATfiles #1576words