Palit aka Prospective President of India

Tennis, Tuck Shop, Down Shop and Chemistry

by Palit – a.k.a. prospective President of India

It was 1978. My supposedly aspiring astrologer buddy, in school, Lall Tezwani, took the liberty – without my knowledge or consent – to add to the printed list of “Important Events” in my pocket sized Collins “New Gem Dictionary” the following:

1980: Palit broke the world record in running.
1981: Palit had a boil on his b..m.
1982: Palit became President of India.

I “discovered” Lall Tezwani’s optimistic predictions later in the day when I had to refer to the dictionary for a class lesson. Lall, who was also my desk mate (we were seated two students to a desk), displayed a mischievous smile in response to my stern look at him. The stern look and the mischievous smile was simply play-acting, we were that close.

Many years later, I learnt Lall Tezwani had made the west coast of the United States his new home. I took the opportunity to scan Lall’s entry in my dictionary and emailed it to him – all in good humour.

My Collins Dictionary is now heavily taped, the pages have turned brown and the edges flake off easily. Lall’s pencil scribble of 1978 has faded and is now barely visible. But the memories remain.

Those were the days. We joked around, played, made friends and dreamed. Not a care in the world.

For some of us at school, our preferences were in the following order of priority: weekend tennis matches, raiding the tuck shop between class breaks, scooting down to Down Shop after school and dreading our Chemistry teacher. For the rest, their priorities were just the reverse. Irrespective of what might seem to some as convoluted priorities, we were all proud and happy Edmundians.

The tennis courts have long since been built over. We had the privilege of dragging the heavy nets from the storage room in the college building down the paved lane onto the courts. We played all day Saturdays, Sundays and on holidays. When it rained, we sulked – and it rained a lot in Shillong. Weather permitting, we felt like a Bjorn Borg, a Jimmy Connors, a Stefan Edberg, a John McEnroe, a Pete Sampras or a Boris Becker. We emulated our hero of the day. Oh! How we adored the tennis greats.

The tuck shop was tucked away by the swimming pool. A rectangular room that was filled with goodies: from chicklets to chocolates. It was THE comfort zone in school. We could look forward to spending our hard “earned” weekly gifts from mum, dad, uncle and grandpa to take a bit of “stress” out of our hard day of work at school.

The spicy curry served in Down Shop released a lot a heat from you. For samosas, lal mohan, jalebi and chai, we would raid either Kalpan or Jalpan in Laimo. If we felt like having Chinese food, it was Kalsang for momos or Abba for chow mein. And of course – who could forget Delhi Mistan in PB for some mitahi after an afternoon out at the movies in Dreamland or Kelvin.

In class 6, daylong walking trips from Laimo to Shillong Peak to catch tadpoles and butterflies with nets and traps was a lot of fun. Our yearly school picnics were fun too as long as you did not get caught smoking a cigarette. Smoking was a strict no-no.

Then came the highlight of each school year for all – the school sports week – a fun filled week for students, parents and teachers alike.

Lunchtime handball or a football match freshened us up for the afternoon classes while interschool cricket and after school basketball tournaments were a treat to watch. Then of course – we had the Wednesday movie nights – waiting for the Loreto students to “walk down the aisle” to be seated in the school hall for the movie to start.

Our Chemistry teacher was much loved – a humble and mild mannered man who treated his students well. However, we dreaded the days when he seemed a bit too “tipsy” – for those were the days he tended to mumble a lot and we had to concentrate real hard to “grasp” the essence of the lesson. Else, all was good.

But our star “guru” was Brother Shannon. He was a big man with a very big heart. He was witty and warm. His strides were long; his robe always seemed to drag behind him. He taught us physics. His animated lessons were action packed and kept me awake and attentive. His sense of humour made a heavy subject fun to learn. RIP Brother Shannon – we thank you for all your services to mankind.

The years have gone by very quickly. The school has evolved. The country has changed and people are busier than ever. However, the memories of St’ Edmunds School will always remain dear to me and will not be erased. Those were the days. So folks – learn, enjoy and relish your school years – for these are formative years for the rest of your life.