DUAL WITH RAJA
In our school the 'A' section of all the classes was meant for the 'creamy' layer, or for the so-called brighter students. I don’t know whether other schools also followed this. I was admitted in I Standard in A section. That would have been of course by virtue of my appa's influence. I think that streak continued till I finished my VI form in the high school. For those of this generation, in our days the schooling years were only 11 years - five in elementary and 6 in high school. In the former each level was called ‘Standard’ and the high school levels were called 'Forms'. So the school finishing class would be VI Form.
My V Standard teacher was Mr. Lucas, a very tall, lanky man with a smiling face. But his knuckles were very strong and every one of us dreaded his knuckles. He either used his knuckles or a thin striking – rod, a bamboo cane. His theory was thinner the cane pain it creates is greater. I got reprimanded only once with two strikes of that cane for a peculiar / funny situation. (I don’t think that incident can be narrated in a foreign language, since it is related to my mother tongue, Tamil. I have elaborated this incident in my Tamil blog. Now ...it is the 'dual' I had with one of my classmates. It was more like the two eternal cowboys with their guns drawn taking steps before they try to outshoot the other in their mortal combat!
Whenever Mr. Lucas wanted some lessons to be read to the whole class he always asked me to read the lessons. That was a sort of privilege I enjoyed for long. I don’t know whether I read it properly or was due to my appa's influence. None had any grudge for this, at least that was what we all thought till it was challenged one day. Raja was one of my classmates, considerably a bigger boy in our class. One day when our teacher asked me to read a lesson and when I was about to start Raja stood up and to all our shock and astonishment asked face to face our teacher why always it should be me. I think Mr.Lucas was taken aback and he was speechless for some time. Then he said that he did so since he thought I was good in that. But Raja did not lose his rebellious mood. He challenged that he could read better than me given a chance.
Mr. Lucas was speechless for some time. Then he said that he would set a 'dual' between me and him and gave the details of the modus operandi of how it should go. He suggested that both of us would stand on both the sides of his chair. Simultaneously he would pat our backs. For the first pat I would start reading from a lesson. Then after few sentences - another pat. Now I would stop and Raja would start from where I left. And it should go on like that. To make it more democratic my teacher said that there would be four 'judges'. They will be seated in the front bench with a score sheet. They would count mistakes, stammering etc. during our reading for each of us. Whoever had lesser score would be considered victorious.
Raja came out with another challenge. He wanted a bet for this dual. It was fixed that the bet money would be one anna . (That is 1/16 of a rupee then.) That was real "big" money in those days for a guy in elementary school. I who was so far listening as a silent observer more as an outsider came to the world of reality only then. I said I did not have the required money for the bet. There were immediate sponsors for me. I remember the names of them: Kathiresan and Vetrivel. They paid the money to our teacher. Raja paid his bet.
I remember how the whole class was in an expectant mood. I could clearly visualise even now what had happened more than a half century back. Our class alone had the luxury of being in a separate room, next to our Headmaster's Office while all other sections of V Class were in a common hall. Benches with back rest for all was a specialty for our class. The excuse given to other classes for this special treatment was that if and when school inspectors from the education department gave surprise visits, they could easily watch our V Class - A Section and so this special privilege for our class.
The dual started.
After certain time Mr. Lucas stopped the dual. The judges were asked to make a total of the minus points they had given us for our shortcomings during the 'dual'. I won the dual - that too, with a very 'handsome' margin. Raja immediately came to my side of our teacher's table and shook my hands. I did not know all those etiquettes. Our teacher gave one anna to me, the prize money and my sponsors got their money back.
In retrospect, what look great to me now are the rebellious spirit of Raja and the very fair mind of my teacher. I used to always wonder how could a boy aged just ten or eleven doing his fifth standard could be that much rebellious and dare to question the authority of the teacher. The second thing was the way our teacher settled the issue and also his conscience. How could he take a question on his authority with such magnanimity? He was so fair that he made some of our own class mates as judges. Both Raja and Mr. Lucas should have been great souls and I realized and experienced that at least with regard to Raja since he and I had maintained a life-long relationship. Till his death two years back, we occasionally met. If there were other friends during our meetings, Raja with all gusto would start narrating the whole episode. He never became tired of this since it looked as if he was waiting for a chance to narrate our old story to new friends. It was only he who remembered the names of my sponsors and told me after many years.