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Humour | Degree of gratitude

Not many folks know I actually went to college. I don’t blame them. I haven’t given anyone the impression of having been to one.

This piece is about that difficult time in my life, and is actually a belated thank you to that one person who was the sole reason I have a degree certificate, my proudest possession, in my cupboard today (sitting right next to my third-place certificate in the lemon-and-spoon race in Class 3, the cease-and-desist order from one of my editors, and my grandfather’s Padma Bhushan.)

At the end of my third year, on the very last working day, when I went to the staff room to submit my final assignment — all that stood between me and a degree — the professor looked at me, and the beautifully bound 100-page assignment (which he didn’t as yet know contained select sections of the Madras Telephone Directory, 1986 edition, interspersed with the screenplay of Enter the Dragon) I had delicately placed on his table, and asked me a question teachers don’t normally ask third-year students: who are you?

I told him.

‘In these three years, I’ve never once seen you in my class,’ he said.

That wasn’t entirely true. I had gone to one. It was the first period on the first day of the first year. And had left midway using a technique US marines use in tropical jungles.

Not having a proper verbal response handy, I did what any self-respecting young man proud of his East Godavari heritage would do under such circumstances. I gracefully swan dived for the professor’s tiny Quo Vadis-clad feet.

I was escorted away by the peon and two assistant professors with my assignment still tucked under my arm and my legs backpedalling the air in vain.

College closed. For an entire week, my father, not a man easily fooled, kept giving me one particular look that appeared disturbingly familiar. When I realised it was the exact same look Sivaji Ganesan gives Srikanth in Thangappathakkam when he finds out he’s a smuggler, I figured something needed to be done. I didn’t fancy having a premature end at the hands of my own father as he recited a nursery rhyme.

Using my underworld connections, by which I mean the college peon, I found out where the professor lived.

The next day, sporting copious amounts of penitent vibuthi on my forehead (actually, Johnson’s Prickly Heat Powder), I landed up at the professor’s doorstep at about 7 am.

Taking a deep breath, I rang the doorbell. There was no response. I waited a decent interval and rang again. The door opened. It was a girl. She was about my age, dressed in a cotton nightie.

‘Is Saar ... er ... Daddy at home?’ I said.

Whose Daddy?’ the girl said.

‘Yours?’ I said tentatively.

Ennango,’ the girl called out, turning back. ‘Someone for you.’

The professor appeared. He was wearing a towel and a sleeveless Bison banian. There was still a bit of toothpaste foam around his mouth. He looked at me and made a sound like a bird of prey being garrotted.

Ullae po, di,’ he yelled. She had already done that.

Channelling my inner Ekalavya, I just short of knelt, and held out my assignment. The professor took it without a word.

‘Thank you, sir,’ I said.

‘Er... does anyone else know where I live?’ he said.

‘Not a soul, sir,’ I said.

I got 76% in my assignment.

So, guardian angel in a nightie, wherever you are today, consider this my official, if much delayed, thank you.

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a satirist. He has written four books and edited an anthology.


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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 2:24:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/college-humour-degree-of-gratitude-certificate/article34613737.ece

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