It feels like yesterday as I recall my first ‘encounter’ with Mr Shekhar. I had just got admitted to class 4 at MIS and every morning we would gather in the huge old assembly hall in the ashram premises. It was my third day at school. After the assembly, as we queued out of the hall, we saw Mr Shekhar standing at the exit in a sombre mood. I came to know of his presence and his formidable nature when a loud sound cracked through the otherwise peaceful hall. I jerked my head up to first see Mr Shekhar’s palm land on a boy’s cheek and then hear another crack! That was the moment when I practically realized that light travels faster than sound!
‘What’s happening?’ I asked the boy next to me.
‘It is PT day and all should be in white canvas shoes.’
I saw a girl ahead in black shoes. As she reached Mr Shekhar, he just glared at her and let her go.
The same boy enlightened me, ‘He does not hit girls!’
For a moment, I wished I was one.
I gloomily looked down at my own feet and found my shining black leather shoes twinkling menacingly back at me. I shuddered as I heard another loud crack. I looked carefully at Mr Shekhar. His palm was huge. As huge as my father’s that had graced my cheeks many a time. But a lot heavier. Instinctively, I raised my hand to my cheek and looked at the frail looking boy who was about to receive the ‘Paanch Kilo Ka Haath’. After him, it was the turn of another boy I had befriended a day earlier. Prince Kohli. He too was in black shoes. But as Mr Shekhar’s hand flashed through the air, he ducked. Mr Shekhar’s hand just brushed his hair but it brought a smile to his face…It was my turn.
Suddenly something flashed through my mind.
‘Sir!’ I quickly blurted out. ‘I am new in the school and I did not know the rule.’
He said, ‘Hmmm’ and let me pass!
Years later, the resounding echo of his slap rang in my ears again. This time I was in class 11 and the class Prefect too. I had left MIS after 6 and rejoined in class 11. Interestingly, I was first interviewed by Mr Pillay for the admission and later by Mrs Pillay. She seemed just as young and beautiful as the last time I had seen her in class 6. My interaction with the sweet lady remained limited to seeing her deliver speeches at the morning assembly.
Back to class 11. I was busy with the biology practical file which had to be submitted to Shivani Goswami madam, our biology teacher in the very next class. It was a free period and I was writing furiously with my head bent down. My classmates, the boys actually, were busy playing catch with the heavy wooden duster. A few times it whizzed dangerously close past my head and I shouted at them to stop the ruckus. But we were at an age where Prefects have little control over others. I gave up and got back to my file work. After about five minutes, suddenly everything became eerily still and peaceful. I was wondering and was about to shout, ‘Abey Kyaa Ho Gaya Ab? Saanp Soongh Gaya Sabko?’ when the loud sound of a slap rang through the air. I looked up to see Mr Shekhar moving from desk to desk, quite nimbly for a person with such a huge frame and delivering paw blows left and right.
‘Today, Arvind, you shall have your first slap from Mr Shekhar,’ I thought.
Right from class 4 to 6, I had never been blessed with the famous slap of Mr Shekhar. I had once been slapped by Mrs Yadav our Math teacher in class 6, and even by the so docile Mr Bhola, our headmaster in primary school. Fate seemed to have aligned my stars favourably with respect to Mr Shekhar.
But that day in class 11, I was sure my score of zero Mr-Shekhar-slaps was going to be ruined. But he quietly passed by me and went for the boy next to me. I let out a sigh of relief and wondered why I had been spared. As I looked at our classroom door, I realized that Mr Shekhar must have watched the catch-the-duster game from outside through the little glass panel in the door and surely he had seen me busy with my work. An avid reader and fan of Sherlock Holmes, I started to eye Mr Shekhar with a new found respect from then on!
In class 12, once again I came very close to ruin my zero score. We had no physical education class as we were supposed to study and only study for the impending class 12 boards. However, once when he was in an amiable mood Mr Shekhar had declared that if we had a free period we could seek his permission and play outside. Just a few months before the boards, we had a free period and the class demanded that I as the Prefect should approach Mr Shekhar for the permission. Only a few days back the class had been ticked off by Mr Shekhar for playing for three periods at a stretch. So I said, ‘No!’
The class was instantly at my throat. ‘We elected you! You have to go!’
I silently cursed the election system and irresolutely made my way to Mr Shekhar’s office and put the demand of the class before him. He looked at me with fury writ large on his countenance and said, ‘Have you no shame! Your boards are in three months!’ Then he menacingly growled, ‘Come closer!’
I knew what was in store.
‘Sir,’ I said, ‘Before you do or say anything please listen to me. I have been elected as the Prefect by the class and as their representative I have no choice but to bring their demand to you whether or not I like it.’
He seemed amused by my retort and said thoughtfully, ‘Okay! But only for one period!’
Thus my zero score remained intact.