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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Queen and I (Nominated for BlogAdda Blog Awards)

I was a cry booby in school for many years. Being the youngest in class, bursting in to tears was my main weapon of defence against boisterous classmates. I also did not have many friends, in school or outside, but surprisingly did not mind it at all. I was happy in my own world. This continued until I reached standard 8 B of my school.

In the beginning of that term, two momentous events took place in our school. The first one was that Standard 4 C got a new class teacher. She was a real stunner. Her beauty was of the Audrey Hepburn kind - both of face and figure. Additionally, she had a dimpled smile that was enhanced by a small little beauty spot on the right side of her upper lip.

She also could not have been more than 4 or 5 years older than the students in the senior classes. It would not be wrong to say that the whole all boys’ school fell in love with her. But she knew how to keep her distance and did not encourage familiarity of any kind from the seniors. She was almost unapproachable. Her name was Vera D’cruz (wonder if actress Ileana D'Cruz is related to her) and so regal was her attitude that she was always referred to, by all the students, as the Queen.

Image of Audrey Hepburn. Courtesy Internet

It was almost unimaginable to think that in a few months time the Queen would give me a sizzling peck on my cheek in full view of the school.

The other event was the admission of a boy named Ahmed from another school to Standard 8 A of our school. He was little old for the class and one of the few in the school who actually shaved. He, therefore, always had a clean and neat look about him. He also walked with a swagger and seemed to have been born with a superiority complex. The other factor that distinguished Ahmed from the other students was that everyday he wore a fresh pair of well ironed uniform. The rest of us used to wear uniforms that were pressed under mattresses! Moreover, it was talked in whispers that Ahmed’s father also owned a car. The whole school was, therefore, in awe of Ahmed and that added further to his aura. In a most unexpected way, our avenues were going to cross each other in a short while.

Ahmed was well built and, although, he was new to the school, the Principal created an innovative designation that put him even above the Head Boy of the school. Ahmed was officially appointed an ambassador by the Principal - somewhat like his accredited representative. He was given two bright red epaulettes embroidered with the word “Ambassador” to be fastened on his shoulders. It gave a sense of a status and authority to him. 

Ahmed was specially assigned to reduce the noise levels of the students during the 10 minutes recess in the mid morning and in the 45 minutes of the lunch break. He carried out his mandate with such success that the decibels in the corridors of our school during that period must have dropped to no higher than the traffic sound on a Sunday morning. His success even commanded the respect of the staff - so much so, that if any disciplining was required anywhere in the school, Ahmed would be called.

Ahmed, in his capacity as a super monitor, also used to make, without fail, a daily call on the Queen in her classroom at 4 C. She, somehow, never seemed to care much for him. His showing off in the school did not impress her. Still, he would persist and talk to her for a few minutes every day much to the envy of all the other students. However, as far as the young Miss D’cruz was concerned, she just viewed him as a pesky nuisance but, unfortunately, could not do much as he was a blue-eyed boy of the Principal.  

 Just before the Christmas holidays of that year, for the first time in the history of our school, a debate was arranged between standard 8 A and 8 B. I still do not know who thought of the idea of the debate or decided on the subject of the proposition – “Science has done more good than harm.” All that I remember is that 8 B would be supporting the proposition and 8 A would be opposing it. I was one of the four students selected to participate in the debate from our class – 8 B. Why I was selected, I still do not understand for I was a timid and introverted child who reveled in being left alone.

The day of the debate dawned. It was to be held at 2 pm., immediately after the lunch break, in the school hall. At 11.30 in the morning, just as the recess bell rang, I was given a message that I had to immediately see Miss Doyle, the class teacher of Standard 8 A, which was one floor below our classroom.

Miss Doyle was the senior most teacher in our school and had the most benign and grandmotherly look about her. But cross her path and she could make the most unruly of the students cry out in agony as she would tightly twist his ear and continue to wrench it till the poor guy would ask for her mercy with folded hands. Her reputation for maintaining discipline in the class was such that a glare from her would be enough to quell any thought of taking her on and rarely would she have to use her deadly weapon.

Therefore, it was with great trepidation that I went down to meet her but surprisingly she met me with a broad smile. She said it had been decided that I was to be the leader of the proposition team and Ahmed would lead the opposition team. Just for a moment I thought she was favouring her own class by putting up a weak and nervy candidate like me against him. 

She then said that as a leader of the proposition, I would have the right to reply after all the members of both the sides have spoken. She, thereafter, opened her purse and took out a neatly folded sheet of paper written in her own hand. Then, in a rather stern manner, she addressed me, “This is your rejoinder to all the points raised by the opposition. Put this paper in your pocket and, I am warning, you are not to open and read it until you reach home in the lunch break. After that memorise the main points and,” then, lowering her voice to a whisper, conspiratorially added, “tear up the paper before you come back to school. I do not want anybody to know that I have written it for you. Go run back to your class.”

All of a sudden I felt quite elated at being selected to be the leader of the proposition and also thrilled in being involved in a little conspiratorial plot with Miss Doyle. As I reached my class, I informed the other members of my team what I had been told by Miss Doyle – that I was to lead the proposition. I was almost feeling as puffed up as Ahmed! I then told them, in confidence, that Miss Doyle had given me a note for my final reply to the debate. At that, all the other members wanted to see the note. I resisted initially telling them that Miss Doyle had strictly told me not to open it until I reached home. However, curiosity got the better of us. We opened the note.

The gist of the memo was that since Ahmed, who wore spectacles, had personally benefited from this invention of science, he had no business to speak against it. We were all very overjoyed at the killer reply that the teacher had drafted and swore each other to secrecy about the covert bludgeon in our possession. On this happy note, I left for home at the lunch break to rehearse my speech, my reply and, most importantly, to change into a freshly ironed uniform - especially done for the occasion. 

As I reached back to the school, I could feel that there was some kind of a buzz going around. Soon, I got the bad news. Ahmed and his team had come to know of the reply and it had been decided by them that he would not be wearing his spectacles during the debate. My small world of plotting and planning came crashing down.

However, there was no time to think as I rushed up to the hall. As the participants were trooping on to the stage, I could see that Ahmed had taken off his glasses. I saw a full house in the hall and felt that the boys were giving me knowing smiles - enjoying the fact that I had been trumped. In the audience, I also spotted Miss Doyle and the glare that she gave me made me lower my eyes at once.

Soon I was called upon to speak. The arguments presented by me were mundane and at the end, I received a perfunctory applause. Then Ahmed began in his usual confident style with an air of almost having won the debate. My mind was really not on what was being said by him or the others but on what my reply would be now that Ahmed was not wearing his spectacles.

Many ideas came but were discarded because they were not capable of winning the debate which already seemed to be drifting away from us.Time was passing by and I still did not have a suitable reply. Finally, I thought of a reply that could succeed provided I delivered it right. It was an extremely high-risk strategy that had a good chance of succeeding but also had an equally good chance of failing. I discarded it. Defeat, shame, humiliation were staring me in the face and so were the repeated glares of Miss Doyle. In desperation, I again brought back the high-risk plan into consideration and decided to chance it. I was trembling with fear because if it failed, I would have no place to hide my face until I passed out from school after a couple of years.

I heard the moderator asking the leader of the proposition to reply. As I stood up, the audience was well aware that my strike weapon had been blunted. I began, “Mr. President Sir and friends.” I could feel the tremor in my voice but I continued, “All of you will agree with me that the leader of the opposition in today’s debate is one of the most popular students of our school.”

The sarcasm worked, there were sniggers all around, just as I had hoped. Actually, this was the most critical line. If it had fallen flat, it would have been curtains for our team. Therefore, the few titters around the hall were most welcome. I started feeling a little better as I now added, “But I do not know why he is looking so different to me today.”

There was a loud burst of laughter as many of the audience understood what I was driving at. Some from the audience even shouted, “Specs, specs.” On hearing that, the whole audience started cheering and clapping for me. However, I pretended that it was the first time I had realized that he was without his specs as I said with wonderment in my voice, “That’s right, he is not wearing his specs.” With more faux surprise, I posed a question, “I wonder why he is not wearing his specs? He does not look that good without it.” After a pause, I asked, “Does he?”

This led to an uproar in the audience with almost the entire crowd seeing this as an invitation to mock him for his duplicitous behavior.  Somebody started a chant, which was taken up in unison by all the boys, “Wear your specs, wear your specs.” My purpose was served – I had virtually put the spectacles back on Ahmed.

I now motioned to the crowd to be quiet, as I was not done with. “Friends, we all know that the leader of the opposition is an honourable person,” which was met with shouts of, “No, no.” That was music to my ears. I now moved in for the kill to deliver the lines written by Miss Doyle with a little addition of my own at the beginning and at the end, “I, therefore, feel that he should not have removed his spectacles because without this invention of science he would have been handicapped. If the honourable leader of the opposition had been a person of (in a slightly more emphatic note) principles, he would have been standing in my place, of course with his spectacles on (the remark again drew a huge collective guffaw from the audience), to support the proposition. Without the invention of science, he would not have been able to read or write and, most terribly, would never have been able to identify the students who are making noise in the school.” I paused here to get the full attention of the crowd that was waiting in anticipation for my next wicked blow.

“And still worse, he would not have been able to peer into classes 4 A, 4 B and (in a little louder tone) especially, Class 4 C.” There was near pandemonium at this in the crowd – clapping, laughing and booing at the same time. I was prepared to continue but the moderator of the debate, Mr. Barretto, stopped me.

He said, “I will ask the leader of the proposition to resume his seat as I would like to put the motion to vote.” After the crowd became silent, he asked, “Those in favour of the motion?” Unbelievably, the whole audience raised its hands. Some even raised both their hands! But my eyes were only seeking Miss Doyle to see her reaction. She had a big grin on her face and had also put up both her hands!

For the sake of formality, the moderator then asked, “Those against?” He was not expecting anyone to vote against it but - and that is a moment I will never forget – one solitary hand of my class and bench mate, Jehangir Irani, went up. The crowd asked him to put down his hand but he just would not do it. Mr. Barretto then declared that the motion was carried by a majority. Had Jehangir not spoilt the party, the voting would have been unanimous in favour of the proposition but, in retrospect, a lesson in democracy was learnt by all of us.

As the debate was closed, I was mobbed and lifted by my school friends. It was a heady moment. From the corner of my eye I could see the forlorn figure of Ahmed standing all by himself talking to the Principal. Even his team pals were not there with him – they were busy congratulating us. In the midst of all this, a class fellow came up to me to say that the Queen wanted to see me.

I could not believe my ears. I disengaged myself and, as I started walking towards her, I found, almost a whole crowd following me. As I reached her, she did not say a word; she just lifted my chin, turned my face and gave me a tight kiss on my cheek. She then told her colleague, “He is my David. Saw how he slew that Goliath. Serves that bully right, peeping into my class all the time.” She smiled and said, “Now you can go, but wipe off that lipstick on your cheek before you go home.” At that moment, I came of age. 

Image of Audrey Hepburn  Courtesy Internet

This story was posted on on October 31, 2008. The most amusing part of this blog was that the first four comments, independently of each other, gave a Wow. And, never thereafter, have I received such opening comments.

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