I believe that while your relationship with your family provides you with a sound culture base; it's your relationship with your friends outside of your family that develops your personality. My relationship with friends has been at so many different levels that I could write a book on it. I learned good, bad and so many other things from my friends. As you grow and make new friends your horizon widens and your personality undergoes changes. At an early stage in my life, one of my friends taught me the art of stealing money from my parents! I, however, grew out of that stage quickly only to find myself amidst a different set of friends and doing different kinds of mischief! Here is one such story with my friends.
This happened in Delhi when we were in school, in class Nine or Ten. We were in a school that had branches across Delhi. We studied in the RK Puram branch of the school. I can write a chapter or two about the school, but let us save it for another occasion. The school was a cluster of tents with tables and chairs. No building. But it was fun.
Our stint at the school, especially from class 9 to 11 was very eventful. We did a lot of things at school, including studying. Our school too did a lot for us within its meager resources. Being a very prominent chain of schools in the capital city, a lot of academic events kept happening. One such event, a science exhibition, was held in the Sarojini Nagar branch, and a few of us decided to go over to visit the exhibition.
The exhibition was boring but we did have a lot of fun. After spending the best part of the day roaming around from stall to stall, we decided to go out and treat ourselves to some lunch. Those of you familiar with Delhi would know the INA market. It might have transformed now, but way back in the seventies’ it was simple, yet popular. It was here that we decided to hang out. We identified a restaurant ( a Dhaba actually) and ordered for Masala Dosa. We were six of us.
Money was pooled and handed over to me so that I could pay the bill. Our orders came and we relished the humble meal. During the meal, we hatched a conspiracy. What if we could save money here? We could perhaps go to the cinema and watch a movie. But how can we possibly save money here? There was only one way, that is, not to pay our bill. How was that possible?
I did a quick recce and whispered to my friends:
“Look, there are only two waiters and the owner sitting at the cash desk. This place is crowded and the two waiters are having a tough time coping with orders. There is a way out from the back which leads to a lane. This is how we do it. Those who have finished eating will slip out, one by one, from the rear. Be careful and act normally. Remember, one by one and not all together.”
There were six of us and four voted in favor of the proposal. Two of the cowards were against it but we finally persuaded them to go with the majority. It was agreed that we would exit the Dhaba and meet at the end of the lane behind it.
When I recall the incident today I feel thrilled. There was no malice in any of, nor were we habitual offenders. It was the age, the time and the spirit of adventure that we were trapped in. I would never dream of doing something like this today. Nor would I like my children to do such a thing. But we did it, that’s the sordid truth.
Coming back to the conspiracy, Muthu left first. We waited for a while before Chari slipped out. Nothing happened and all was normal. Our confidence grew. I was the next to make an exit, followed by Diwakar and Sreedhar. The five of us met at the end of the lane and were celebrating our success. Only Hari was left, and we were sure he would pull it off smoothly, he was a smart guy. We were already planning our next move. Hathi Mere Saathi was running at Raj Talkies and we had time to catch the evening show. I counted the money we saved and it was enough for the tickets and some snacks. We waited for Hari’s arrival.
After half an hour of waiting, we got concerned and anxious about Hari. What happened to him? Why was he not here? Had he left the front entrance? Was he caught by the owner of the Dhaba? Should we wait for him or leave for Raj Talkies? Should we go back to check on him?
Finally, it was decided that one of us will go and check on Hari. Chari was sent. After ten minutes we saw him rushing towards us, alarm writ all over his face. Hari was caught when he tried to leave the Dhaba. He was soundly thrashed by the waiters and the owner and was now in their custody. The owner had given an ultimatum: Pay or Police.
That was the end of our conspiracy. I had all the money and poor Hari was helpless. We went back, shame-faced to the Dhaba and pleaded with the owner not to be strict. It was not Hari’s fault. He did not have the money and we forgot this when we left the Dhaba. I showed him the money and requested him to close the case by releasing Hari.
Poor Hari. Because of us and me in particular, he had got beaten. The waiters had suggested to the owner that instead of handing Hari over to the police, they should use him to clean up the utensils and grind the batter for Dosa and Idli on the manual grinder (Chakki Peasing). They were also of the view that Hari could be retained in the Dhaba as a menial worker till he repaid the money. Hari was terrified and crying for mercy. He was from a very decent family, he pleaded, and if his parents came to know about this incident, they will not spare him. He was a student in a reputed school and the school would expel him for this innocent mistake. He put the blame entirely on me, saying this was my idea and that he never wanted to do such things.
We got him released. Hathi Mere Saathi got canceled automatically. We all apologized to Hari. When he was pacified, we castigated him for spoiling our plans. Five of us, including two cowards, had successfully exited. Hari got caught. Next time, he must be more careful. Hari made excuses. We all laughed at him and he solemnly promised that next time this will not happen.
One full day with my friends. Priceless.