Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rafi at Buharis

MOHAMMED RAFI'S golden voice had been amplified beyond the limits of human tolerance. However, the turbanned, white-uniformed, middle aged waiter managed to make himself heard over the din of the jukebox, croaking "Yeh mera prem patra padhkar", while serving our table our 14th cup of tea for the afternoon.

To that bunch of truant undergraduates, to hang out at Marina Buharis was posh and to attend classes passe. Singularly lacking in a sense of history, we hadn't for a moment regretted passing up the chance to drink in the classroom atmosphere of Presidency College once made famous by the likes of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Sir C. V. Raman. We had slipped away ignoring the stern eye of the Powell statue that stood staring disapprovingly in the corridor. In our callow youth, we had failed to recognise the pre-eminent stature of our principal, the botanist, Dr. B. G. L. Swamy, who wandered around in oversized khaki shorts, cloth bag slung over his shoulder, communing with the varied plant life of our college. We did not know enough to know that the head of our English department, Professor Ramaswami, was someone special, or that Dr. Pai of the Chemistry department was a worthy successor to Dr. Govindachari of international fame.

There was one class that polyglot collection of young men rarely missed. It was not love of our national language that bound us to our Victorian benches but the happy circumstance that brought the best looking girls in the college to our Hindi class. A most entertaining time was had by all except the poor lecturer, with the tubby Gourang Kodical making funny noises without moving a single facial muscle and the giant Naushad engaging the teacher in a deeply philosophical dialogue only remotely connected to the curriculum.

The Hindi class also drew our seniors like a magnet. Eager to be introduced to the statuesque JJ - full name withheld - they would bribe us with Charminar and imitation coffee in our prehistoric canteen. Alas, the object of their affections left soon to join medical college.
Our idyll was shattered by the anti-Hindi agitation. Before it spread like wildfire to force the prolonged closure of schools and colleges all over the State, it first targeted the Hindi class.

The extended vacation that followed brought together a strange assortment of unemployed youth that met everyday at the Kutcheri Road residence of G. S. Krishnan, then a student of Vivekananda College. The gang that met to play a variety of indoor games from carrom and rummy to Literature and Scrabble, included Venkataraghavan, on the verge of playing for India, and fellow cricketers Ramji, Venu, Jaggu, Suri, Sivaraman and occasional guest Ram Ramesh who had just joined Indian Overseas Bank. The evenings were spent playing badminton or discussing Indian cricket threadbare at Vivekananda College.

College cricket was soon to follow. We had a few university cricketers and a number of enthusiastic unknowns, who thankfully were no respecters of big names and therefore managed to spring a few surprises against fancied opponents. "Alley" Sridhar who was living proof that not all left handers are necessarily graceful, hit the ball mighty hard and fielded and threw like a man possessed. N. Ram would go to sleep at the crease and suddenly burst into a flurry of sledgehammer blows. V. V. Rajamani, handsome and athletic, was a past master at mind games, somehow fooling the opponent into believing that his gentle medium pace held hidden dangers. An all rounder, he taught me more about off spin than any coach. P. S. Ramesh, our resident "poi bowler" bowled tiny offbreaks and legbreaks with the same action and grip, a la Ajantha Mendis, when he was not sending in "well-flighted" throws from the deep. S. V. Suryanarayanan breezed in to make the ball wobble, a song on his lips and his unruly hair pointing like a radar device, and played dinky little shots just out of reach of exasperated fielders. Bhaskar and Vidyasagar, Ravi and Prem, Shashi and Bala, all made valuable contributions from time to time and before we knew it, we were in the final of the A.M. Jain College Gold Cup, only to lose to the formidable Engineering College team. The champions had Venkat, Satvinder Singh, Rajendran, Manohar and identical twins Lakshmanan and Ramachandran.

Academically, the high point of my first year in college was getting caught offguard by the English professor Mr. Seshadri, when he spotted me in his class towards the end of third term, my onerous cricket duties for the season behind me. Apparently curious to find out if the first time visitor to his classroom knew anything of the subject, he asked a fairly straightforward question on The Grammarian's Funeral. When I concocted a rather involved but vague reply, he was more amused than angry. "That, dear stranger, is an original insight, but entirely inappropriate," he shot back at me.

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