Nampalli and the Sardar

Nampalli  and  the  Sardar

“From this  year  every new  entrant  in  the  hostel  will  be  first  interviewed  my  me  personally” . Shouted Fr Nampalli from a  distance,   to  the  student President of  the Hostel  while  the freshers  listened  at  a  distance. We  were  about  15  of  us  trying  our  best  to  get hostel  accommodation  in  one  of  the elite  college of  Darjeeling.  We  all  knew  that  if  hostel  is  not  given  then  we  will  have  to  spend at  least  four  times  the  money  to  hire  a  PG room  in the  town and   that  too   at a  distance of four  kilometres  from college.

“Stand  in  one  line ,  you Freshers!  and  take  out  your  admission  cards” reverberated  the  voice of Nim Tsering  who  was  the  hostel Student President. We  were  in  for  trouble  as  we  looked  at each  other so  as  to  be  asking  what will  the  life  inside  this  deadly  hostel. We  seemed  to  be  quite  unwelcome guests.  But  the  mystery  was  going  to  be  unfolded  in  the  next  one  month  when we  would  join.

I was  fifth in the  row. When  my  turn came and I  was  called  in  . I  climbed the  five  stairs  to  the  hostel entrance  and was ushered  straight  into  the Warden’s room. Once inside , I found  a stern looking  Father dressed in  the  traditional cassock   sitting across the table   table and two senior  looking people sitting  beside him. All  the gnawing  eyes seemed  to be  searching me.. I  wished  them and  sat in the  chair  meant for me.. After confirming  my  name from  a  list he shot  a  direct  question.

“ Do  you drink  Alcohol?”

“No  Sir”I  said

“Are  you  Sure?” He  said lookig  into  my  eyes.

“Yes Sir”

“Do you  smoke?” pat  came  the  next  question  and  this  time  his  eyes  pierced  further  deep into  me. I  was  a  bit  shaken up.

“Sir,  Sikhs  don’t  smoke” I  said  in  a  shaking  voice. For  a  boy  who  had  just  come  out  of  a  higher secondary  school in  a  small  town in  Punjab this  was  a  terrible  happening. But  heart  of  hearts  I  knew  I had only  come  here  because my  father  was  posted  to a  nearby  town of  Bengdubi  and all  other  colleges  in  the  area  were  infamous for  their  Goonda gardhi. And  I  knew  well  that  I can’t afford a PG  accommodation in this  tourist  town of  Darjeeling in  1985.

“I am  asking  you , you. Do  YOU smoke?

“No  Sir”. I  answered meekly. I   thought  I will  tell  this  to Dad  whose  colleague  had  told  him  that  Hostel  accommodation was   confirmed for me .

I  thought  it  would  be  the  end of  it  but  is  was  not  supposed  to be.

“Do  you  womanize?” He  asked  curtly   as  if  he  had  rehearsed  these  questions.

“What  is  that , Sir”. I  asked innocently.  Having  studied  in Punjab  till  now  my  vocabulary  of  English  was not  so good and I  really  did  not  know  the  actual  meaning of  it.

“OK  I  will tell you  that  there  were  two  boys  in  the  hostel here   who  used  to  do  all  the  three  things   and  bulk  of  their  times  they  would  spend on them. And   mind  you  one  of  the  them  was  a  Sikh like you . Or  rather a  spoilt  Sikh. As  I  also  know  generally a  sikh  would  abstain  from  all this.

By  the  way  there  are  lot  of  women of  ill repute  herein the town. Visiting  them  is  called  womanizing. Got  it? I  don’t want you  to indulge in  it. I  have  been told  by  an  officer  that your  father  is  an  idealist. But  I  am  still not  sure about   you. Lot  of  army  officers  children  are spoilt  brats which  their  father’s  don’t  even  know.” saying  this  he  was silent .

I  silently  nodded.

“You give  me  a  chance  and  I  will  throw out   from the  hostel  in one day,snap. OK”. He  commanded.

“You  can  shift  to  the room next to  mine. Room No 202.”

Then  looking at the  door he shouted,“Next”

As  I  moved out I  realised  that  I  am  going  to  be under  observation all the  time.

Within  next  one  month we learned about  the  two  hooligans who  were  sons  of  some  tea  estate  owners from Assam who painted the  town  red  and shocked  the  hostel and  college authorities when the  police  had  finally  laid their  hands on them. Next  day  the  College  Hostel was  in  headlines. .We  were  also  told  that after that  Fr  Nampalli  was specially  moved  in to  stay  in  the premises and occupied Room No 201.. Apart  from  this the  hostel  had some good traditions. Every evening there  was  a  muster. A  bell would  ring  at  6.30 PM and  all  the  90 boys  would  come to  stand at  the central  staircase of  the  three-storied hostel.  News headlines would be  given out  and then  the   prayer – öur father  in  heaven  holy  be  your name…. your  kingdom  come….. would  be said. Thereafter we all would  proceed  for  our  dinner.  Every Friday  was the Bath-Day. On  that  day water  would  be  heated  in  central boilers with  wood. Once  the water was hot  a loud  tong-bell  would  ring  between  8-8.30 AM and  everyone  would  run  down the  stairs to  the  bathrooms  on  the  ground  floor.  And  of  course  the  seniors  would  get  priority . Juniors  would  get  just lukewarm  water. But  that  too  was  welcome after  a  week. So  while  the  seniors  would  have  the  lavish  ,  well scrubbing bath  the  freshers  would  just  manage  a  quickie. Overall it  used  to  be  fun. Throughout  the day Fr  Nampalli  would  keep  his  room door  half  open and  keep a  oblique eye  on every one’s  movement. And  I  thought  especially  mine. The only  telephone was  in  Fr  Nampalli’s  room on which  our  parents  could  call. So  he  would  pick up the phone and  speak  to  our  parents before  calling  us.

Three  months  passed within  no  time. First  term  exam  were near. We  were  busy  in our  studies. One  night  Fr  suddenly knocked  at my  door  at  1 AM. I  opened  the  door.

“what  are you  doing  at  this  hour?”he demanded.

“Sir, Studying”. I replied.

He  could  not  believe. He  walked in  and  tried  to  smell but  there was  no smell. What  he  could  see  was  all books  spread around  and  loose  pages  of  notes.

“What  exam  you  have  tomorrow ? “he  asked.

“Chemistry, Sir”I answered.

He picked  up  some notes  to  see  if they  were  Chemistry notes  . They  were. He left.

Exams  continued for  the next  ten  days  . Thereafter  we  had  a  five  day  break. On  my   return  I  met Father Nampalli  at  the   entrance. There  was a smile  at his  face and  asked, “how was  the  holiday?”

I  could  not  believe  my  eyes. Fr Nampalli smiling that  too  at  me?

“Fine father”I  replied.

“Fr Masquitta  tells  me  that  you  have  scored  highest  in  Chemistry , Well done.” This  was  followed  by  a  pat  on  my  shoulder. I  was  taken  aback at  flip side of  Father’s  attitude. In  the  evening muster  father  announced  marks  of  all  the  freshers  and  also  made  everyone  clap  at  my marks.

Next morning at 7  AM  there was  a  knock at my  door. When  I  opened, I found father Namplali standing there.

“ I  am  going  to  be  out  for  the whole day today. I  will  be back  only  in  the  night. Here  are  the  keys of  my  room. If there are  calls, open the door and attend to it. But  don’t  let  anyone else  get into  my  room”. saying  this  he  handed  over  the  keys  of  his  room  to  me. I could  not  believe what  I  was  being entrusted with.

“Yesss Father.”  Was  all  I  could  mutter.

But  I knew today I  had  finally  flipped   the  image  of Sardar in  this  hostel.

After  a  year , the  same  father recommended me to  shift to  a better  college  in Mumbai because  the  town of  Darjeeling  was  badly hit  by strikes and unrest   and  the  studied were  suffering. He also   wrote a  letter  of   recommendation  to Principal St  Xaviers  College  Mumbai to  give  me  admission.. His  parting   lines in my autograph book  reads- “journey  of   a thousand  miles  begins   with  the  first  step,  never  be  afraid  to  take  it.

I  will  never  forget  you Father Nampalli.

** Its  a real Story



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