Gangs to Ranks
Gangs to Ranks
GANGS TO RANKS
A true story
With due apologies to the divine innocence of the very young primary school students, whose escapades I am comparing today with the criminal gangs of the adults, I will tell you a story of the times when I was studying in classes 3rd to 5th in a primary school.
Since it was a school only from nursery till five we were the seniors of the school in those classes.
Teachers had started using coloured chalks in my school when I was in class third or so. We were actually tempted towards those coloured chalks so badly that we were ready to go to any extent to pick these up and store at home.
It is not that that we became a chalk-thief only when the coloured ones arrived, even for the plain white ones we had a fancy of accumulating more and more. It started with stealthily picking up one or two unused ones out of the teachers stock in the class. Slowly our greed increased and then rapidly it became an obsession.
So myself, Vishal, Manoj and perhaps a couple more formed a gang.
One of us will go running during the class and wait for a time when principal Madam was not in her office (the stock of chalks was stored in her custody). He will then shout out to the maid that 'so and so madam in the class is asking for chalks as hers are finished'. Another of us was instructed that if more than couple of minutes are wasted and it means the maid is not trusting the first one who has gone to the office asking for chalks, then the second one will go running 'why are you delaying madam is asking for the chalks ..come soon'. At this when another child is also raising the same issue the maid will get amply convinced that the demand for chalks was a genuine one and she sometimes would handover the entire box of brand-new chalks.
That way our gang was working fine right from class two onwards.
But the arrival of coloured chalks took our passion and intensity to newer and higher levels. Our visits to the principal office increased much in frequency and we started getting noticed. Sometimes the maid would herself pick up the box and say I will deliver myself in the class. The gang was worried, the stocks were getting depleted and our impatience was rising.
That's where the thieves got upgraded to robbers.
The gang adopted a new trick. We had identified in which almirahs the chalks were stored. These were not locked. Our modus operandi changed. In the same fashion as earlier when the maid is alone we will force or cajole a fresh face to go running to simply inform the maid that 'so and so madam in so and so class wants you to go there urgently'. She would leave the office and our gang alert on duty with some of us watching her movements while one of us rushed inside the office opened the almirahs, picked up some boxes and darted back. Maid came back from the dead call not realising why that young child gave her a false call. Nothing was noted amiss so everyone forgot that.
However the entire cache of stolen property was once spotted within my home by my family. I was asked about it at which I desperately explained that the teachers are giving chalks for home nowadays so that you can work at home too. My mother herself a teacher found something fishy, she went and enquired in the school and we were thrashed everywhere, royally.
The entire gang was now unemployed and used to sit in a closed classroom near the playground. This is when I would have been either in fourth or fifth. You know that only the little children run and play noisily in the playground but the grown up just chat responsibly.
Our gang members were once taking a round of the playground and we saw couple of juniors fighting among themselves. Eager to find a raison d'être the gang turned an arbiter, we punished the one who was making mischief. The victim was very happy with this instant justice and was incidentally son of a rich family. He immediately took us out to a treat near the main gate of the school where a candy man used to sell ice candies for five Pesa, 10 Pesa for the milk one and 25 Pesa for the creamy one.
The gang realised that day that the conflicts in society may turn out to be very rewarding😋
So in that large hall with the doors closed I used to sit in one of the corners in the dark and my gang members were out in the playground during recess hunting for conflicts. Every minor tiff or argument they observed, all the parties involved were promptly told don't fight go there in that corner Hall, the boss will decide. Almost every day we will get one or two contesting parties, the recess ending with our hard earned remuneration at the school gate.
But here too once again my family became the undoing...
Couple of times my elder brother while passing through the road in front of the school gate for some shopping et cetera watched me having candy and reported to my mom asking whether she was giving me too much of pocket money. It was rare for my parents to give us money for candies as mostly they would themselves take us out with them and make us buy whatever we needed but almost never gave idle cash in hand.
So this news of our candy parties was hard to digest. Once again an investigation ensued and the entire racket of the gang and extortion came out in the open primarily because Manoj was unhappy with his share of the booty and he turned an approver. It is admirable that none of our clients (whom our family termed the victims of extortion) reported anything against us. 😎
Gang was not only severely punished it also split. We were down but not out and we saw Manoj as the real culprit.
We now became very discreet in our operations.
We stopped the wider communication of us being the public grievance in-charge of the school. We took very limited high-stake, high-value and high-involvement assignments of a select few. The corner hall room was still my court but the general complexion of the cases and contesting parties changed. Now someone will give us the secret assignment of befriending a certain person or cutting down someone else to size, of course without disclosing the contracting parties' details.
As luck would have it soon we got a contract against Manoj as someone had complained against him. In the same darkroom where Manoj used to bring the younger parties today Manoj was brought in as an accused. I still remember his fair complexioned face tears rolling down had turned his cheeks almost pink with his crying and begging for mercy.
Not just for the holy desire for upholding justice, not just for the worldly lure of contract but sufficiently seasoned with the fire of vengeance arising out of his treachery, our behaviour turned very harsh with him that day.
Having suffered at our hands after turning an approver earlier Manoj could not muster the courage to go back to our family to complain this time but instead he opened his heart to Nirmal Arora madam whom he knew we respected and I loved as much as my parents. I almost took her as my blind inspiration even though she was not teaching us anymore being a teacher of the junior classes.
I still remember that day when Nirmal Arora madam called me and said Vishnu why don't you come my home today evening my daughter and son also want to talk to you. Both of them being much elder to me and want to talk to me ! Madam also being the favourite one. I was too excited at this invitation from my teacher which was a rare privilege in those times in a town school
I vividly recall her first floor modest residence the stairs of which I climbed with effusive exuberance that summer evening and I was offered a lavish treat of a Samosa with sweets and tea by Nirmal Arora madam with both of her offspring looking appreciatingly at me. Nirmal Arora madam extolled how I always come first, how I am much ahead of others in academics, how I was promoted jumping over class one directly in class two and what bright future awaits for me. Both her son and daughter nodding convincingly and appreciatingly which I later realised would have been out of the tutoring they would have got from the Madam before I arrived at her residence.
After having a gala time when I was about to leave and I was alone with Madam, with her son and daughter gone away, she just whispered in my ears 'Vishnu you have a wonderful future, you will become a very big man, a proud of the town, if you continue doing the right things and never indulge into doing anything bad which you cannot go home and tell your parents'. She deceivingly conveyed to me that Vishal, Manoj and all others are not as meritorious, not as bright, not as intelligent and not as focused as I was and therefore I should never do anything just because others are enjoying it. Somewhere she softly hinted to me that our dark courtroom and its trials are known to her but she said I don't believe that Vishnu will be involved in that.
My steps downstairs were very heavy, clouds of confusions and torrent of thoughts were hitting my brain like lightning every now and then.
I don't remember what more would have been my thought process then but from that very instant I was a changed person. Court room was closed down and my sole aim was now to become an ideal one which people can follow for the deeds which I don't have to hide from my family.
I left that school soon after for class 6 in another school, but from that day onwards whenever I felt proud of myself say when I got ranks in my state merit or when I was selected in the premier engineering college (now IIT Roorkee), every time I went and met her to show that I still respected and remembered every single word she spoke that evening.
Thank you Nirmal mam wherever you are. 🙏