My life as a student of Jagatpur High School was enriched with numerous anecdotes and stories. I could not forget a particular character of those stories, Bhaba. He was transferred to our school where he became the centre of all chaos. And here is how it all began.
We got promoted to 7th standard and as usual, the first day of school saw a pandemonium. The class teacher, Sunil Thakur sir, entered the classroom and everybody became silent. He was the scariest person we had ever known in our 14-year-old lives. He used his cane, rather than his mouth, to teach us. We used to call him DDT, as in Dandadata Thakur.
After scrutinising every face, he started taking attendance with the register. He stopped at roll number 16 and said, “It seems we have a new import in this class. Bhabani Prasad Purokayastha!
Who is he? Stand up!”
A boy stood up from a middle-row bench. “Sir, my name is Bhabani Prasad Purokayastha!”
“Ok! Tell me something, Mr Bhabani Prasad Purokaysatha. How did you manage to crawl in your childhood, hauling such a big name? Anyway, where did you study previously?”
“Er… Narayanchandra Memorial Institution for Boys!”
Sunil sir slapped his forehead in mock surprise, “Oh my god! That’s enough, son. You don’t have to tax your tongue anymore uttering mile-long names, please sit down!”
Bhabani sat down; the whole class was laughing at sir’s comment.
A few days later, we saw the real avatar of Bhabani aka Bhaba. He was a big zero when it came to studies. It’s a wonder how he managed to get promoted to 7th standard. If he was asked the name of Humayun’s son, he would answer “Rabindranath Tagore”! Whenever he drew a triangle, you could never find its arms because it was totally round.
I don’t think he knew what a triangle is and naturally he used to flunk mathematics. But no one could beat him when it came to mischief. Putting pepper in Sanskrit sir’s snuffbox or spraying ink on Game teacher’s white shirt were his daily routine. Only because of him, Sanskrit sir quit his addiction to snuffing powder and the Game teacher stopped wearing white.
It was common knowledge that Bhaba didn’t have any idea what the textbooks held inside them. During exams, everybody used to wait eagerly to see what Bhaba did in his papers. Once he sat beside me in a Sanskrit paper. When the time came for sir to hand out our answer sheets, he called Bhaba first.
“Tell me son who sat beside you in the test?”
Seeing Bhaba remain silent, I said that he was sitting beside me.
“Yes, I’ve suspected that much myself!”
Then he burst out at Bhaba, “You rascal! Are you twin brothers or something? How come both of your names are Pratip Biswas? You think this is a circus?”
We were clueless as to what he was talking about. Then we came to know that the great Bhaba had copied my entire answer sheet. He even copied down my name. Sir suspected that he tried to copy my handwriting too. We never laughed so hard in our lives.
The strangest thing was DDT, who was infamous for his thrashings, had never raised a finger on Bhaba. He was our Bengali teacher, but sometimes when he was bored, he would ask us questions from English grammar. One day, he asked Bhaba, “How many genders are there?”
Bhaba, scratching his head, answered, “Three. Masculine gender, feminine gender, and…and…”
“Yes? Go on…,” sir encouraged him. Scratching his head, Bhaba said, “… and Alexander, sir!”
I still can’t forget sir’s expression hearing his answer. Somehow he got himself together and went back to teaching Bengali.
I was intrigued by Sunil sir’s attitude towards him. One day, I pursued Bhaba, bribed him with a few snacks and asked him the reason behind that. After much pestering, he finally agreed to let me in on the secret. He said, “When I first came here, and before anyone knew me, I witnessed something very embarrassing. I had to go out one day to buy sweets. I hid myself in the garden near my house to taste some of those sweets. Sunil sir was passing by the road. As it was a wintry night, I had a white shawl wrapped around me. The night was freakishly silent and I was giving away the impression of something very eerie, spectral. Seeing me there, sir started muttering incoherently and then he fainted. It was quite a job to get him awake. After that day, he never scolded me. There you go, that’s your story!”
“That doesn’t really measure up. What is the real story?”
“Oh well, Sir needed a change of clothes because he couldn’t control his bladder and I am not talking about ‘little toilet break’!”
Bhaba winked and left me wondering if that was what really happened or was it something he had made up to get me off his case. What and why Bhaba did things will always remain a mystery to me.