August 1981. Indifferent preparations for competitive examinations and sub optimal intelligence deposited Vivek Singh to the doorstep of Sadar Hope Institute of Technology, known more by its acronym- SHIT. Picking up his dim wits and his battered luggage, Vivek reached his allotted hostel room and surrendered himself to his fate. This predominantly comprised bouts of ragging, making friends with fellow sufferers and terrible mess food that awarded him a Delhi belly in the heart of Silchar almost immediately.
Yet seniors promised that the collective woes of the freshers would pale in comparison to who they would face in their mandatory first semester mathematics class. Professor Barun Bhadra –in short BB.
Proverbial reputation preceded BB. He was the most feared professor who strode like a Colossus all over SHIT. Students scattered into the dense grass which lined the pock marked bitumen road joining the hostels to the main college building whenever BB cycled past them. No one overtook him when he strolled within the campus. They walked with measured steps, heads bowed in deference twenty feet behind him. The customary chirping of otherwise enthusiastic squirrels and crickets in abundance in the campus fell silent when he passed. Ronald Emmerich, the blockbuster director of the disaster movie 2012 would have made the epic a couple of decades earlier if he had met BB. Proximity to BB was as close as you could get to the end of the world.
There were heated debates on whether BB had teeth. No one had seen him smile. The mystery of his dentistry was compounded by the fact that he used betel leaf liberally and the contents of his cavernous mouth could be only gauged with the help of a strong torchlight, which of course no one dared to hold. He had a pretty and demure wife Munia, who had won the hearts and admiration of three-fourths of the student fraternity more for her purported sufferings in the hands of BB than for her good looks. The remaining quarter of the students were women who despised her for the feelings generated in the three-fourths.
Vivek along with a gaggle of battle weary freshers, took their apprehensive steps towards their first mathematics class, shaking like autumn leaves, terrified of entering the class.
Yet the Rubicon had to be crossed; and so they did, entering the classroom and came face to face with the man himself.
If they were expecting a large man with handlebar moustaches and tattoos on huge muscular arms they were disappointed. He was diminutive, non-descript. Yet one look at his tight set face, and razor sharp looks, quailed the group.
They filled in the seats of the gallery, not unlike visitors at a cemetery. On the blackboard written in chalk was the topic of the day- ‘Laplace’s Equations.’
BB’s piercing stare travelled across the class for a while in silence. Vivek felt as if a pair of lazer rays was drilling holes through him. Not a person moved in the class, no shuffle, no scraping sound of desks, nothing. Only their collective breathing had become more and more laboured with the ongoing inspection….similar to the ticking of the clock before a bomb is to explode.
Finally his stare came to rest on Vivek’s roommate Suraj. Suraj tried to look earnest through his gold rimmed specs.
“You!” barked BB, his rich baritone cutting a swathe through the class. Suraj got up doing the autumn leaf act once again. He was leaning heavily on the desk, his legs felt like India rubber.
“Yes Sir,” he responded, his Adam’s apple vigorously playing the piano across his throat as he spoke in C minor.
“Where are you from?” thundered BB.
“Sh-Shillong Sir,” managed Suraj, the piano notes falling flat.
Students seating to the left and right of Suraj tried to hide behind their colleagues in front by sliding down on their seats. It was the first time that they discovered their latent talent as contortionists.
“Hmmm…”said BB looking around the class, “Can you tell me what Cherrapunji is famous for?”
“Err, rainfall sir?” said Suraj diving into the depths of his class 8 Geography lesson, thankful for this ‘unimportant subject’ turning saviour.
“Hmmmm!,” said BB a trifle disappointed perhaps of Suraj’s getting the right answer, his eyes roaming furiously now trying to assess if any student was speaking or sniggering.
“And what is the average annual rainfall in Cherrapunji?” countered BB, his eyes coming to rest on Suraj, as if daring him to be able to muster a response.
Suraj dived deeper into the recesses of his memory. And deeper. Finally he muttered weakly, “1200 inches Sir.” To his credit, he had got the figure right but the measure wrong.
“What!!” bellowed BB.
There was deathly silence in the room, as the world stood with bated breath for Suraj’s response. Possibly it had stopped raining in Cherrapunji as well.
Suraj was so flustered that he corrected like a gyroscope and swung all the way to the other side.
“N-No Sir, sorry Sir, I mean 470 centimetres,” he said, making the mistake of changing both the figure and the measure.
“Wh-What!!” BB’s complexion was beginning to turn a deep beetroot red moving towards a darker shade of purple.
“Feet Sir? Millimeter Sir?” Kilometer Sir?”- Suraj was now like a ‘A Minute to Win It’ contestant trying all permutations and combinations before the clock closed in on him.
“Sit,” said BB summarily dismissing him disdainfully even as his eyes started roving for the next victim. All students were trying desperately to slink lower trying to find the gap between the desk and the benches so that they could disappear into their shoes.
One of the taller guys, Anuj lost out and BB caught him before he could do the ‘Slip Sliding Away’ piece.
“You!” he shouted, his adrenalin pumping overtime and his testosterone levels dangerously high. “Where are you from?”
“Chittaranjan Sir”…said Anuj, sliding up to find his seat once again.
“Hmmmm…”said BB. “And what is Chittaranjan famous for?”
“Locomotive Engines Sir,” said Anuj confidently.
The class was like the audience in a Wimbeldon final, heads swivelling between BB’s and Anuj’s verbal exchanges.
“And can you explain, why is one wheel of the locomotive engine is smaller than the other?” asked BB in a dangerously quiet voice studying his finely manicured nails.
Anuj’s eyebrows furrowed for a moment and he mustered a look of intense concentration on his face. You could have cut the silence with a knife.
Then Anuj volunteered with a confused smile “Constructional defect Sir?”
“WHAAAAAT!!!!” BB’s voice exploded and reverberated across the college quadrangle.
Ganesh a short guy, was for once thankful that God had not endowed him with much of the inch or millimetre that was being discussed and was comfortably crawling on the floor between the desks. He had decided to sit out the class under the desks. He was using his learning on ‘How to stay safe in an earthquake’ to good use. Regrettably, he strayed too close to the girls’ section of the class. As he tried to wipe his brow, he accidentally brushed against the leg of Sriparna, a heavily built girl. Sriparna, who was already close to the verge of a mental breakdown could not take the twin impact of BB’s roving eyes above her desk and suspected roving rats or cockroaches beneath.
“EEEkkkkkk!!”she screamed at the top of her voice. Suraj who was recovering from the trauma, three desks ahead, jumped out of his desk, flipped in the air like a roomali roti and landed on the desk, out for the count.
BB bounded up the gallery steps even as Ganesh was desperately tugging at Sriparna’s leggings to assure her that he was not a rodent. Sriparna started screaming even louder. BB caught Ganesh by his collar and hauled him up. In an effort to free himself, Ganesh stumbled back and sat on Sriparna’s ample lap.
“Get up!” thundered BB
“No Sir, please Sir,” cowered Ganesh.
BB crossed his tipping point. With a “How dare you!” he reached out in an effort to yank out Ganesh from Sriparna’s lap.
They say that the survival instincts bring out the best in man.
Ganesh turned away from BB and with a “No Please!” tried to hug Sriparna, with his face inadvertently getting buried in Sriparna’s generous bosom.
Sriparna who was feeling unceremoniously coopted into the scene from a horror movie tried to dislodge Ganesh. Her colleagues Rupa and Kamu had long slip-slid-away from the scene of action.
In this battle between the Yin and Yang, Ganesh’s hand accidentally got entangled in the lace of Sriparna’s dress and ripped a generous portion off.
At this delicate moment, the Dean, who was on his rounds entered the class. He saw a slight boy sitting on the lap of a well-built girl apparently battling her with a portion of her dress lace in his hand whilst the professor tried in vain to separate them. He looked at the blackboard and was taken aback by this new demonstration of the ‘Lap-lace’s equation.’
“Stop!” barked the dean and beckoned the three to accompany him to his office. No one got to know what transpired therein.
The incidence spread like wildfire through the campus and was soon etched in the folklore of SHIT, with Ganesh gaining a cult status on campus. The only subject he studied and managed to scrape through was Mathematics as he refused to suffer another semester of BB.
A few months later Vivek was returning from a late night movie and decided to cut across the fields past the professors’ quarters. His friends had decided on dinner outside the campus which Vivek’s meagre allowance from home did not permit. It was a Hobson’s choice to either get some mess dinner at the risk of getting caught by a professor or take the main road and most certainly go hungry to bed. Suddenly he heard a woman’s shouting as he passed by an open window of one of the quarters. Curiosity got the better of him and stepping on a small brick pile, he peeped in. He could not believe the sight before him.
Munia with her hands on her hips, nostrils flared and a wild look in her eyes was berating BB. The latter stood in a corner of the room head down and appeared chastised.
‘What you do unto others, the wife must do unto you,’ was the thought on Vivek’s mind as he enjoyed the vaudeville. Suddenly the bricks gave way and he stumbled and fell. Before he could recover and make his escape, he was blinded by a torch which shone upon him and BB’s voice at the other end declared, “Vivek Singh C minus!” To BB, grades identified the DNA of a student more than his blood group.
“What are you doing here at this time of the night?”
Vivek haltingly explained, feeling like a Nazi prisoner with the torch still full on his face.
Expecting the worst, Vivek was surprised when BB asked, “Are you hurt? At this hour you will not get mess food. Come in.”
Vivek washed his wounds in BB’s home and was given first aid for his lacerations by Munia. He also enjoyed one of the best meals in a long time.
As he prepared to leave BB escorted him to the verandah.
“Young man,” BB said “There are some learnings which no college education can give you. Do you know the recipe for a harmonious marriage?”
As Vivek stood with his mouth agape in amazement, BB continued, “A man is a ram outside his house and a lamb within. As long as he remembers this, the marriage works fine. The problems happen when he sometimes forgets and becomes a ram at home.”
Vivek was the first fortunate soul in SHIT to see BB smile. He bend down and touched BB’s feet in deference. With a “Thank you sir for everything,” he left.
Vivek never mentioned this incidence to anyone. It was the least he felt, he owed to BB.
Years later Vivek received the news of BB’s demise and felt a rush of emotion and experienced a strange epiphany-was BB giving the Gods a hard time now?