August the twelfth dawned bright and clear. The Lark was on his wing, and snail on his thorn, and all that.
There was none of the ominous gloominess that marks the beginning of a tropical downpour in Madras.
All the better, since it was to be my first day at Stanley.
I got down from my bus and floated up towards college when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned and saw a gent with a polythene bag marked “Stay Fresh”. This character came up to where I stood, came to attention, and saluted smartly.
“Good morning, sir!” he barked.
I always had a vague idea that doctors were treated well even at college but, admittedly, this reception was overwhelming. I gave the military man my sunniest smile, and asked him “What’s your name, my dear fellow?”
“Satish, sir!” he yelled.
“Which year are you in?” He looked surprised, but hollered nevertheless, “Freshie, sir!”
“Oh good” I said, relieved. “We’ll be classmates then. Perhaps you could show me the way to the Anatomy theatre?”
Satish looked as if he had seen a senile banshee singing in a Church choir.
“You a fresher?” he croaked.
I put on my best patronizing smile, patted him on the shoulder and said, “Of course, my boy, of course, as fresh as a daisy”.
Satish gave me a particularly malevolent stare like a tiger eyeing a pregnant lamb. “Why is that f---coat on your
f---shoulder? And what the f--- do you think strolling up like a f--- senior?”
“Now, now,” I cooed. “Don’t get exited. I didn’t know how juniors were supposed to behave. After all, it’s my first day”.
“First day, eh?” he said, somewhat mollified, but with a menacing grin. “You’ll soon wish it were your last! Come,”
he said, taking my arm and leading me towards a sinister-looking building with paint peeling off it. “This is the Anatomy department”.
The department was a three-storied mausoleum which had a cracked window pane exactly over the portico. On windy days it swayed so alarmingly, that we wished the windows were larger on the ground floor to help us escape. We entered the department, and there was a flight of stairs going up away into gloom. I almost expected a black-caped figure appear at the top of the steps and announce in a vaguely Hungarian accent, ‘I am Count Dracula…’ The whole atmosphere was like some black coven’s initiation day for Satanic rites. There were a group of students on the first floor who stopped talking as soon as we came up and stiffened. They looked like they were about to repeat Satish’s remarkable performance at the gates when he introduced me to them.
“Guys”, he said “this fellow is Ramesh. He’s also a freshie.”
I saw waves of relief rush through their faces. Some of them actually smiled. Some shook my hand, some asked me about my school and so on.
One particularly large and sinister looking character came over, and examined me closely from head to toe. “What’s your name?” he asked me in an accent that sounded like a cross between American, Arabic, Swazi, and British.
“R-r-r-Ramesh” I was beginning to get tachycardia.
“R-Ramesh?” he rumbled. That’s my name too. What initial?.
“Heh, heh,” he laughed. “I’m your classmate dumbo,” he said, and squeezed my hand so hard, it refused to move for the next twenty minutes. “You don’t want to call me sir”.
I decided I liked him. “I say”, I said “Why are you so scared about meeting new faces?”.
Ramesh took a long look at me. “You’ll know soon enough. But first we have to tone you down”.
“Tone you down. Have you got a white polythene bag?”
I was reminded of old “Stay fresh.”
“Yes, at home.”
“Get your things next time. Don’t carry them loose. Got it?” I nodded, and he continued. “And don’t hang your coat on your shoulder. They don’t like it”.
“But it’s my coat, my shoulder, and I like it”.
There was a pause while, I surmised, he was trying to express his thoughts to me politely. “You might not have either if you do,” he said.
The medical course was full of obscure dangers, I thought. “Okay,” I said.
“And what is this you have on?” he said, staring at my nether regions.
I taught my outfit was pretty decent, but he was staring at my trousers as if they were a hideous purple with green and yellow dots on them.
“My trousers,” I said.
“Tomorrow you come in decent tailored trousers. None of this baggy stuff.”
“They like it like that?”
“They do,” he said firmly.
We were about to continue when a minor commotion occurred. A lady, built along the lines of a armored tank, entered the area where we had been chatting.
“How many times do I have to tell you to come up,” she screamed in a voice like a policeman’s whistle. “Have you no brains? Come up immediately!”
We all shuffled hurriedly upstairs. A lean, lanky, bespectacled boy fell in beside me, walking with a rolling gait.
“You ever seen dead bodies before?” he grinned.
“Oh yes,” I said. “Heaps of them.”
His face fell. “Where?” he asked.
He snorted. “They don’t show you the real stuff in movies. My name’s Karthik”, he said. “I’m from PSBB.”
“Ramesh. I went to Gill.”
“Gill Adarsh, eh?” he looked me up and down. “You’ll get the royal treatment.”
“Oh really? Thanks you’ve really boosted my confidence.”
Karthik clapped on my shoulder. “It isn’t so bad,” he said, pointing at some stick-like things covered with dark brown paper. “Know what those are?”
I gulped. These grotesque mummies were nothing like people. “Oh yes?” I said weakly. “I think I’m feeling a little faint. Is there any water to drink here?”
“Queue up for attendance,” he smiled his smile at me, and walked away. I was feeling as though the stick figures were all looking at me. Another guy came up to me.
“Name’s Pai,” he said.
He pursed his lips in disapproval. “Don’t loiter around. They don’t like it”.