“Psst…..in here, freshers!” Rajini whispered, smothering giggles. The five Junior College hostellites hesitantly entered the hostel reception. Outside, the pale flickerings of daylight streaked across the still dark sky, rendering it a rainbow of colors of pink, purple and orange. An incessant ceaseless chirping and flapping of wings informed the creeping hostellites that the birds had already woken up to welcome another day.
It was half past four early in the morning. The hostel was dark and soundless. Everyone was still sleeping- Saturday was the day basically reserved for extra curricular activities. The working day started with the Morning Prayers in the main building chapel, which every hostellite had to attend. After an hour of holy prayer and service, it was time to do some morning physical exercises. This was usually jogging around the sports lawn at least two times. Then it was time to be being refreshed by a cup of coffee and pieces of fresh papaya. By that time the day students had begun to arrive and it was time to bury heads in text books and write furiously till lunch time at eleven o’ clock. The college then dispersed only to meet again at joint roll call in the auditorium and then, head off to attend their two hour activity session. By four in the evening, the college had emptied itself of students and the hostellites were shooed into their rooms to pursue some serious studying. Saturday suppers were simple of rice, curry and soup.
Following supper, the girls had a little free time on their own where one did whatever amused them. Some took a preliminary nap before the nightly hours of sleep -- others read fiction -- some blasted their tape recorders with the latest film songs -- others hurried to shower and change -- some took walks in the crowded corridors -- others simply hung about chattering constantly creating a bedlam before retiring to the common room to watch television. This was a chore -- an event not looked upon by the hostel leader with pleasure. As the television, though a machine was extremely temperamental. It usually came to life in cranky moods. Kiran Jain often spent the first half hour of her television time on the roof with her friend for support, moral and vocal clinging to the antenna and changing the direction of the stiff toothed rods trying to coax the black steel rods to agree and display some visuals. Then she would wait for her friend -- the messenger to give her the thumb up sign that all was well. The television had lost some of its crankiness at last and was finally revealing some picture. Then they would thankfully rush back only to find their seats occupied.
The bell rang precisely after two hours and it was time for bed. Saturday was truly over only to be replaced by lazy Sunday. Breakfast was later than usual by one hour. Sunday was sewing – cleaning -- phone day. Some received phone calls from parents -- some finally realized that they were not pigs and could not live in total mess and took to dusting, arranging and cleaning their desks and cupboards. Some decided to stun everyone during the coming week and thus spent the entire day picking out garments to wear for the week and carefully ironing them whilst listening to the radio. The more conscientious ones saw the dreadful state their clothes were in and finally picked up the needle and thread to slip into the role of the tailor. Sunday was a very busy day. Studious hostellites climbed to the rooftop for some piece and quiet and busied themselves with their text books. Usually, weekends at Mayfair College hostel meant outings. Friends, family or guardians and, sometimes a group of enterprising hostellites decided to spread their wings and step outside the college for a little while.
This weekend was no exception. Though it was the first weekend of the new semester and, a weekend to be effectively utilized by the senior hostellites in activities of ragging.
The girls came into the room, one by one. Malti giggling softly switched on the fluorescent light and the intercom switch.
“OK, freshies!” this was plump Abhilasha clad in her blue night dress. “Remenber now -- you know what you have to do, right? But I will freshen your memory -- each one of you has to sing- mind you properly sing- a nursery rhyme into the intercom! Here, we have even written the rhymes for all of you, and Jyotsana Patel has kindly offered to be the patriotic soul and sing the national anthem for us -- complete with military beats, which of course will be provided by the rest of you! Don’t forget, there have to be 21 booms in all- if there are not, you sing again and again till you get it right! OK, lets get this show on the road.”
The seniors including the Junior college final year student, Hiran grinned. They chorused, “Are you ready?”
Jyotsana, was still feeling awfully sleepy having woken up at four to spy on the Old Church light. She had dreamt about it the whole night and had automatically got up sharp at four without any alarm, all excited and trembling. To her surprise both Lata and Shiksha had been asleep. It had taken a lot of patient effort and tugs to finally get them out of bed. And then all three of them had stood guard at the corner window staring unblinking wide eyed at the Old Church waiting for some small light to shine. But nothing had happened. No light had shone. The old church had remained in inky blackness.
Lata had yawned as Shiksha had slowly rubbed her eyes and mumbled, “Oh, maybe it doesn’t shine on weekends.”
“Its weekend shy….” this had been Lata. “I vote we all go back to sleep. We have been waiting for half hour now. I think Shiksha it was your imagination!”
“Maybe it was -- well I don’t see it now,” Shiksha had said rubbing her eyes. “Oh, why do I see these things?”
“You are better -- my brother says I have this uncanny habit of seeing awful creatures like…”
“Spare me the details please,” this had been Shiksha. “By the way which brother was that?”
“I don’t remember…” Lata had paused yawning. “ Lets go to sleep -- maybe you will see the light in your dreams!”
“Yeah,” Shiksha had. “A dream of an old decrepit building where this guy is digging something and the only source of light is his torch.”
They had both giggled and climbed into bed, leaving Jyotsana horribly disappointed and angry. She had badly felt like strangling Shiksha. When she had finally accepted that it was all her room mate’s imagination the alarm had gone off and Parul had woken up. She had dragged her down and joined some other girls to indulge in a bit of ragging. And then she had been told -- she was to sing the national anthem into the hostel intercom. Jyotsana had no qualms about singing the national anthem. In fact she had been a member of the school choir in Bangalore but at five in the morning was perhaps too early for people to spring to attention and feel nationalistic pride! When Rajini and Hiran had told her about it the previous night, she had ignored them.
“They couldn’t,” she had thought. “They wouldn’t risk being caught and punished for waking up everyone on a Saturday!”
But now she was finding out that the threat of punishment was fun for these seniors. Again she thought, “What kind of place is this?”
At least she had been told to sing the national anthem. Another new girl by the name of Nidhi Gupta had been told to sing, “I AM A LITTLE TEAPOT” – maybe giving a cue to Mrs. Gopal about tea pots! But, Jyotsana wasn’t sure if this humor and hint would be appreciated!
“‘OK, freshie, time to start,” said Parul waving her hands as if conducting an orchestra. “1- 2- 3…”
Jyotsana smiled encouragingly at Nidhi who in a rather tremulous and squeaky voice began, ‘I AM a little teapot, fat and stout…”
“Freshie, sing loud and cheerfully -- this is not a funeral,” this was short Rajini sitting in a corner chair.
Jyotsana felt sorry for the girl as she began again close to tears but more loudly this time, ‘I am a little teapot’
“Chorus, freshies,” said Parul trying not to laugh. “Come on…”
“Fat and stout…” the freshers shrieked like banshees into the intercom.
Upstairs on the third floor, in her corner room, Sue Danely awoke with a jerk. She was hearing things about fat teapots and then people screaming and wailing. “Oh Lord,” she thought, “I hope nothing is on fire.” She frantically grabbed her dressing gown and tied the belt. It was getting worse. Her mind by now had cleared to be able to make out that the intercom had sprung to life on a Saturday morning! She quickly threw a glance at her bedside small clock. It was quarter to five in the morning -- hardly a time for tea and tea pots. “Of course someone was singing silly idiotic nursery rhymes into the intercom,” she thought.
She grimaced as the intercom burst intro a torrent of untrained shrill voices. She involuntarily shuddered and grabbed a hairbrush thinking – “ragging – she should have known that the girls would do something!” She came out of her room just as the next door opened to reveal surprised looking girls. The nursery rhyme had now changed to something about a cat and a fiddle and she shook her head not knowing whether to laugh or be angry. But first she had to stop this performance. She marched down the corridor, hairbrush in hand. “Actually,” she wondered, “why on earth am I carrying a hairbrush? Am I going to spank those seniors?”
Several doors had opened and yawning bewildered girls had stepped out and were now looking at each other.
“I know this nursery rhyme,” a girl in a blue night suit was saying, “My nephew always sings it…”
“My dad usually puts on holy songs early in the morning, but this is the first time…” another girl was saying.
Matron took the stairs two at a time and nearly ran into Gayatri Raghav on the second floor landing. “Gayatri also,” noted Sue Danely, “had hurriedly put on her dressing gown and was racing to catch the culprits.”
“….the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon..” crackled the intercom.
“Awful - positively awful -- this girl evidently does not know how to sing…” commented Matron climbing down the stairs. The rhyme ended and there was a complete silence and Gayatri heaved a sigh of absolute relief. But it was not over. The intercom was revived again -- this time in the form of a deep bass voice.
“Yankee doodle went to town…”, it began.
“Oh, God! It is getting worse…” observed Matron doubling her speed. “Maybe I should join the national racing hurdles team. I am pretty good at climbing down things….”
Gayatri hid a smile and then smothered a laugh as the intercom continued, ‘riding on a pony, he stuck a feather in his cap and called it…”
“Macaroniiiii…” this was sung in unrestrained chorus. Sue Danely followed by Gayatri Raghav finally reached the ground floor landing and headed towards the reception.
Lata was dreaming -- she was a princess in red finery and bedecked with jewels, fleeing on a black stallion with her handsome beloved Prince, away from the city fortress- escaping into the wild- galloping across the grassy terrain along the shimmering blue waters… Umm…..
Lata smiled contentedly -- she was enjoying herself but suddenly her romantic adventurous dream took on a rather funny…silly turn -- the black proud stallion turned into a white furry pony and her charming Prince turned into a brown teapot and started to jig about! Lata frowned in her sleep- this dream was certainly strange -- then suddenly the teapot jumped down from the pony and ran towards the river! Lata, in her dream, climbed down and rather to her surprise saw the moon appear in the sky with a fat tubby cat curled around it for company! And before she could run back to her city, the teapot made an appearance this time playing hockey with a silver spoon -- to add to the confusion, the cat started meowing loudly, and spewing feathers from its mouth. Her pony decided not to be left out and started dancing- the grass turned to Macaroni! And then Mrs. Gopal appeared on the scene, clad in inky black with narrow top hat grinning wickedly, carrying the brown tea pot! And then BOOM!