Back to school.
I was visiting a college after a long time. The aroma of Paav Bhaaji wafted in from the canteen. In my days canteens didn't serve paav bhaaji, not even vaada paav. That came much later. We lived on the staple of Idlee sambar in canteen and paani puri & bhel outside the college. Gastro not yet invented, eating out rarely hurt us.
I stopped one formally dressed young man, sporting an impressive looking red badge on his shirt, and asked him to direct me to Competition halls.
He took me to a large meeting hall, chilled to the max, respectfully pulled out a chair with super efficient wheels. It tried to escape and roll away like a trapped animal. I had to firmly grab it with both my hands before lowering myself in it. My guide in the mean time had returned with a severe looking girl, who also wore a big red badge, which I had figured by now, belonged to the Reception committee. Both stood on my two sides. Their hands clasped anxiously in front, they talked to me in hushed tones. There was something very theatrical about the whole scene. We were all playing roles we were not accustomed to.
" Coffee please, “ I replied graciously, rather liking being waited upon.
" How about some snacks ma'am ?"
" No, Thanks. Just coffee will be fine".
" Have some samosas Ma'am."
I realized that by saying no to snacks I was veering away from the script. So I played along.
" Sandwiches will be great. I will have coffee and sandwiches"
The girl nodded and the boy vanished. I was left in the chilled hall, contemplating my glass of water, with the girl keeping an eye on me.
Half an hour later the boy arrived carrying Tea and samosas, and I didn’t have a heart to point out that this was not what I had asked for. May be the script had specified Samosas and tea
It was a Face Painting competition. I took one look at the colourful faces before and realized how much efforts the young ones had put into this. My flippant mood evaporated and I got down to business as seriously as they expected me to.
Each of the faces had a theme. And they had used their friend’s faces as a canvas to present their ideas. Difficult as the task was, I soon finished judging, and handed the awards to the winners.
“Yes Ma’am, this way please.” I was taken to a big auditorium and was asked to take a seat. I said,” I am in a rush, can you just show me the ladies room?”
The girl looked flustered, and mumbled something about, please be seated, our GS is coming.
I sat shivering in that super chilled auditorium. Every time some one entered, I looked up expectantly. But no, GS was still missing. One after other five young volunteers offered me cold drinks.
Meanwhile the volunteers had started looking worried. They could clearly see annoyance on my face. I kept looking pointedly at my wrist watch and was now ready to get up and find a loo on my own. But the girl was almost in tears when she said, “Just a few more minutes ma’am, the GS is coming.” I realized that the girl was more worried about displeasing that godlike creature- The GS. I had forgotten how majestic and all powerful a College GS, General Secretary seems to freshers.
In due course the GS strode in, surrounded by his minions. As soon as he stepped in he sent a few juniors to get him a samosa and cold drink, then remembering his manners, He gravely offered to get me a cold drink. I was by now ready to burst. I picked up my bag, stood there looking like a Christian martyr ready to face lions, and announced my resolve to be gone. “ Why am I being detain this way , if I may ask?”
GS looked confused and unsure” I will find out Ma’am, please chill, are you sure you don’t want a cold drink?”
I took a deep breath and lowered myself in the chair again. The GS whispered to some one to go find Sonal, a girl rushed out. Rest of them huddled at the opposite end of the hall, whispering among themselves, and keeping an anxious eye on me. I must have looked pretty irate and fierce. At long last, a girl rushed in making apologies.
“Sorry to have kept you waiting ma’am.”
She thrust a rose along with a small parcel in my hands.
“ A token of appreciation from all of us”. Every one clapped, a few cameras clicked. Sonal had arrived ready with the photographer. GS looked relieved.
I gave Sonal a quick hand shake and asked in a loud whisper,” Now can you please lead me to your bathrooms?”