Schools, good ones, were hard to come by in Calcutta. Boys had a choice of St. Xavier’s, La Martiniere for Boys, the recently rejuvenated and rising fast in the ranking St. James and my own school, Don Boso Park Circus, DBPC for short. Admissions were competitive and parents stressed over the best ways to ensure a good education for their children.
So, about a year or two after Baby Stepped In, Tarun, a fellow classmate from DBPC announced that he and his wife too were expecting a baby. A few days later another classmate from DBPC, Anand brought up the subject of schooling. His elder brother (also a DBPC alumni) had a son who was soon going to be needing a school. When we heard that the Principal, Father Paul, was going to host a dinner for ex-students, we all sat up and took notice. What a wonderful opportunity to schmooze with the Principal, remind him of our stellar performances as students of the school and lay the groundwork for a new generation to be admitted.
All arrangements were discussed, phone calls made and the three of us were ready to charm our ex-principal into smiling favourably upon our kids. It was on a Saturday night. Anand was (is?) an active athlete who excelled at cricket and football (soccer if American) but whose real sport was hockey (field, not ice). He had been a member of one of the last great Indian hockey teams, his international career ending just at the top of the long slide down. I digress – best to leave that rant to the Peeved Punjabi to write one of these days. Anand was a leading light in CCFC, the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club, one of the oldest sports clubs in the world. That Saturday he was playing a cricket match at the club. The arrangements were quite simple. Tarun and I would arrive at CCFC, wait for Anand to finish and then the three of us would head down to the school which wasn’t too far from the club. We could then proceed to lay on the charm in spades, to oil our way into the good books of the school authorities. At this point we had been out of school for about 10 years, but Anand’s fame and our much, much lesser school achievements we hoped would carry the day.
When Tarun and I arrived at CCFC, the match was not yet over. We saw the last 10 or minutes and Anand came running up to us to apologize. “Come into the bar and have a drink, while I finish, take a shower and get ready. Whisky and soda, ok?”, he picked up the receipt book signed us up for drinks, called the bar tender over, handed him the signed slip and ran away.
Tarun and I settled down at the far end of the bar with our backs to the counter and chatted as we had our drinks. At various intervals, members would come in, sign for drinks and take them away to the tables that lay scattered around the bar. We were engrossed in our own conversation and did not pay any attention to them. Thirty minutes later Anand joined us, but I was confused. I thought I’d been sipping my whisky and soda regularly and had got down to the bottom 5th of the glass But the glass in my hand was still full. I thought no more about, but started drinking a little faster.
It was Tarun who stopped talking suddenly and asked me “Do you feel like you’ve been drinking a lot?”
“Funny you should say that, man. I thought I was near the end of my drink but my glass is full”.
We stopped and looked turned to look at the counter. There were 4-5 full glasses of whisky and soda lined up for each of us.
“What the hell?”, I said.
Tarun called the bartender over. “Ye sab kya hai?” (What’s all this?), he indicated the glasses.
The bartender shrugged and told us the unwritten rule of the club. Any member buying a drink for himself, automatically checked if anyone was sitting at the bar and signed drinks for them too. And it was bad form to refuse the freely offered drinks. Anand nodded. He knew the rules. We were stuck. There was only one way out, Anand told us; drink faster than people could sign for us. Only then could we get going for the school re-union. I shall draw the curtains over the next 30 minutes of feverish drinking and burping whisky and sodas, but at last we were finally ready to charm the Principal.
The reunion dinner was being held in the Assembly Hall, a vast area open on 2 sides, raised from the field level by 3 steps. Here is a picture showing the multitudes of students at morning assembly. http://www.donboscoparkcircus.org/pages/gallery/2#
Of the actual evening, the dinner, the food I remember nothing. I remember only Father Paul personally taking my hand to guide me up those three steps.
My son went to St James.