Waking up at 6 AM for ‘chotta’, which consisted of freshly brewed tea and a small bun in prep school has not made early rising any easier for me later in life. That was way back in 1967 and much water has flown down the Cauvery. Sure enough, the image of Mohanraj, who used to wake us up and usher us into the dining hall remains etched in my memory. I had just been enrolled into a residential school and was all of 11 years. There were a few kids who were at least two years younger than me. Some of them had difficulty in threading their laces into their shoes and learnt this vital skill from the attendant, the ever obliging Mohanraj.
Promoted to the junior school, our Man Friday was Shankaran. A lot of time has passed since then and the school has undergone a lot of change but Shankaran’s pleasant face remains indelible in the mind. Little wonder that Vir Sanghvi recalls his days in a residential school and remembers having affection and respect for the ‘menial’ staff there.
When I joined for medical studies, there was the same story line. The college was almost fully residential. This time around, it was the mess-boys and the watchmen who doubled as our comrades. They were remarkable men who knew of our food habits like the back of their palms. What with at least a dozen kinds of omelets and scrambled eggs, each named after the veteran who patented its recipes. Thus we had generations of medical students who dispatched with reckless abandon preparations such as ‘Jebaraj omelets’ and ‘Sukumar podimas’. The thambis, as they were called, hardly ever made a mistake in taking our orders and delivering them promptly. There were very few occasions when medical students yelled at mess-boys and these invariably turned hilarious.
I went back to the same medical college in 1985 for my postgraduate studies after a long gap. The 1984 Olympics had just got over and to my amusement, some of the thambis had been renamed after the heroes of the previous year’s Olympics. I heard one of them being called ‘Kaal Loose’. He looked far from a person with a problem with his hip joint. Then it dawned on me that this sprightly lad had been rechristened Carl Lewis, and within the year the name had been twisted beyond recognition!
All of us settled into adult life with our own battles to be fought out and life’s ups and downs to be weathered. I wonder as to what happened to these selfless men who always served us with a smile, and helped us out in their own way during our formative years. I often think of mooting in our class reunions the setting up of a rolling fund for them. It might sound like a Utopian scheme or like pious platitude, but it will be an attempt at paying back a debt of gratitude.