To Enjoy And To Learn – 3rd Standard (Part 2)

Well, ‘eye infection’ will forever be remembered as the shortcut to bunking classes. It was the evergreen disease. Measles, scabies and chicken pox came and went, but eye infection would be the one that would outlast them all, not because of complexity or because of being an endemic disease(as popularised by the ‘madras eye’), but ironically because of the simplicity.

The simplicity of transfer, that made it spread through 40 to 50 students in a single day. For the more enterprising ones like me, because of the simplicity in obtaining it(or should I say faking it). We were a batch of guys who would hover over the horizon, like vultures, looking for he first signs of eye-infection in anyone. The moment it came to our knowledge that so-and-so person had it, we would rush to that guy and try prying open his eyes and looking in them. We were told that it spread by contagion, that is, through contact by air. The best part of eye-infection, is that there was never a slack in supply of people with it. It was always in fashion, 365 days a year or more.

Upon such prying open and staring, a few of us would get it. For the rest of us, there was always the ‘detergent infection’. All we would do is wait for these guys of our gang to get admitted and when the number reached about 10, and a separate dormitory was being opened, the rest of us would rub a speck of detergent into our eyes and lo-and-behold, we were into the world of eye-infection. We were a kind that thrived on mass-production, long before we even knew the term. Because of the sheer number of us waiting to be admitted, there wouldn’t be a formal thorough checkup, if your eyes were red, you were in, and when they cleared, you were out.

So, on alternate days, when there used to be checking, we would help ourselves to liberal supply of detergent(from the dhobi box, ah, the very mention of the word, brings memories of the dhobi box adventures). Not only when someone else contracted it, we would even use it to bunk classes on some days, and also to bunk unit tests. Unfortunately the curtains soon fell on eye-infection, when I left Primary School.

The other most significant activity apart from bunking classes by faking diseases, was to read books. Upto our 5th Standard ending, the library was a cramped room next to HM’s office, which initially was also used as the staff room. The library then, had about 8 to 10 racks of books that were mostly childrens’ classics in a condensed and usually hardbound illustrated form. We used to have one period called ‘library period’ in the whole week. This was the time many used to gather in a corner and chat(there never was, and will never be, any dearth of topics to chat about). However, I used to use this time to read about 30 pages of a book(the periods then were for only 40 or 45 min. if I am not wrong), or to conclude a book I had started the previous week. After about 2 months I found it really frustrating that there were almost 1000 books and I was not even being given an hour a week to read them. At this rate even if I continuously failed for about 40 years I would still be nowhere near completing them. Besides, what made it so frustrating was the fact that the books were not allowed to be borrowed(even today I have not been able to comprehend the reason why, although childish negligence and carelessness, leading to loss books seems a probable answer). You could only read whatever you could within the library period.

That was when I decided to take matters(or should I say books) into my own hands. I decided, that if you were not allowed to borrow officially, then you were entitled to borrow unofficially(flick?). So every library period, when no one was watching, I would take 4 or 5 books, depending on their thickness and tuck them between my shirt and short(we never used to wear pants then). Then after classes, while everybody went for games, I would go up to the dormitory and hide them in my shelf. And everyday night, after everyone slept, I would go into the bathroom and sit on the top wall, and read one book a day(as much as I could finish before I felt sleepy). Then the next week on library period day, I would take all the books down to class, and from there to the library, to be ‘exchanged’. There was only one minor incident, during my whole stay, regarding the library books. It happened during my 3rd Standard.

We used to stay with 4th Standard guys, and one fine day, there was a raid in the dormitory for 5 stones(the eponymous games, that led to a great number of fights, breakups, and needless to say enjoyment), and all the shelves were being checked. They were approaching my shelf, when I suddenly remembered that I had a library book in my shelf. Immediately, I took it out and hid it in the nearest place I could find, out of the window(if students recall, every window had a ledge above and below it, where a lot of trash used to be thrown, it was a place where even a prized set of 5 stones, much akin to a pair of Shakuni’s dice, used to be hidden).

I forgot about the whole issue. Towards the end of the year when everybody was packing for holidays, I put my hand out of the window and groped around for my set of ‘lucky 5 stones’ that I had hidden there. To my astonishment I felt something long and hard. I pulled it in and found it was a hardback edition of “Treasure Island” by R.L. Stevenson. I was shocked, because I had forgotten to remove it on the raid day, and had forgotten it totally in the days thereafter. Besides, we didn’t have any more library periods in the year since our exams had also got over. The only option, I decided, was to take it home and bring back the next year and return it. And so, in it went, as I packed my clothes all over it. To cut an already long story short, the book inevitably never came back. That proved to be my good fortune(my criminal mind was not so razor-sharp, back in those days). Because if I had brought back the book with me, I would have been caught while I brought it in, during the luggage checking while joining.


I still have the book in my collection.

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