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Here is something that happened during my college days. The year was 1979 and the place, St. Teresa’s College, Ernakulam. One fine day as the classes in the college were in full swing, some boys from some nearby colleges barged in, pushing aside the lone security guard at the gate. This was a rare and unusual occurrence in itself since during most ‘strikes’ our all-girls college was always sidelined. Though we were out of the loop as far as college unions and ‘strikes’ were concerned back then, I am not sure how things are in the present.

The demand of the slogan shouting rabble was that classes should be terminated for the day and the girls forced to go home. We were not immediately worried about the reasons behind the ‘strike’ as this gate-crashing into the premises itself was novel and exciting enough to hold our interest for the moment. Besides ‘strikes’ were dime a dozen even back then.

As for the present, ‘strikes’ have become such a farce that one merely rolls ones eyes and tries to stifle the urge to bash up the whole lot of them for the callous way they treat the common man and the way they hold a city/state to ransom. Traffic is held up for hours and hours to accommodate them walk past leisurely even though the court order says that common people cannot be inconvenienced. The less said of their tendency to vandalize, the better. Burning a bus or two, throwing stones at and breaking window panes of buildings en-route are but routine acts they indulge in as a matter of course.

The slogan shouting students forced the college authorities to ring the ‘long’ bell to indicate classes were over. Some over-enthusiastic ones among them rang the bell a few more times for good measure. We, the students of the college, poured in large numbers out of our classrooms and stood around uncertainly. We were told curtly by the budding politicians to leave for home.

What took us by surprise was the presence among the lot of the wet- behind-the-ears striplings still in their half trousers having not yet graduated to be wearing full ones. Obviously they were school kids. What were they doing in our college as part of this rowdy crowd??

We found out soon enough or rather Sister Emeline, one of the lecturers, did. She like the rest was puzzled by the sizeable number of school children who were part of the crowd running amok inside the premises, What was their grievance, had something of gravity happened (not that it meant that you go and disrupt classes elsewhere by any means) in some nearby school of which all of us were hitherto unaware?? Unable to figure out the reason behind the commotion and intending to enlighten herself, she tapped one of the frisky and still-wet-behind-the-ears stripling and asked,

Enthina samaram cheyyune??” (Why are you on strike??)

The stripling seemed to be well in possession of the facts and was quick to reply.

Jnangalude bench ellaam Trivandrutheykku kondu pokunnu!!” (They are taking all our benches to Trivandrum)

The consequences of this and its seriousness only had to be imagined seemed to say the expression of said stripling and a few friends who had stopped to listen to the exchange. A confused Sister Emeline paused to reflect, process this information and make sense of it. As if sensing the confusion or maybe seeing the wrinkled brows of Sister Emeline, a pipsqueak piped in helpfully,

Jnangalude divisionile bench!!” (Benches from our division)

Jnangal evide irikkum??” (Where will we sit) asked a third with righteous indignation written all over his young face.

Now, a word about Sister Emeline. Tall (she seemed to be more than her 6 feet to us) and statuesque in appearance, she was a figure of authority not to be messed with. Apart from teaching she also did the duty of warden of the hostel attached to the college. She had a nose better than the best of sniffer dogs to smell out trouble, And as someone in charge of hundreds of girls ever ready to get into mischief, she put this nose to perfectly good use to stop said girls from doing any such thing. The story of how Sister Emeline was waiting at the movie hall for the absconders, who had left the hostel without permission, to catch them as they sauntered in blissfully unaware of what awaited them and how she brought them back with her to the hostel in total ignominy is stuff legends are made of. She did this not once, but time and again. She was as intelligent as they came by and was always one step ahead of the naughtiest of students in her charge.

Hence it did not take her long to crack open what at first glance seemed a difficult one that the stripling had presented her with. And when she did, she threw her head back and allowed her full-throated laughter to flow freely. I am sure the striplings were taken aback at that. The fact that their benches were being deported to Trivandrum may not have seemed a laughing matter to them. They might very well have felt disapproval at the levity the nun had introduced into the proceedings on hearing about this most disheartening of news as far as they were concerned.

Of course every single one of us who heard it subsequently laughed out loudly as well. The joke spread like wildfire. I still laugh remembering it. But I also feel infinite sadness at the way innocent children were (for that matter, still are) led astray by those with a political agenda.

Back in those days there was a call for moving a Division bench of the High Court from Ernakulam to Trivandrum (which is still unresolved) against which there was much agitation going on. The ignorant kids recruited to ‘swell the ranks’ were under the impression that they were fighting to retain the benches in their classrooms for themselves. Need I say more??

I was reminded of the above incident when I read a news item. Activists (or plain goons??) of some political party stormed a school and damaged premises and many of them were seemingly ignorant of the reasons of why they were doing it. These were not school children, mind you, but grown adults. What would you call people who vandalize without even knowing why they are doing it?? Anyway, you know and I know too, what they should be called. My post is written in a lighthearted manner. But can this be taken lightheartedly?? Do read what a mother says: Does my child deserve this?