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Pricey pleasures of pocket money

Ask any school student. Pocket money is never what they would like it to be: money that fills one’s pocket. For it’s far from princely and invariably in short supply, making it difficult for them to “make ends meet”! I speak from personal experience.

In our all-boys boarding school in Tiruchi way back in the 1950s, the Jesuit prefect would weekly dole out 4 annas (25 paise) and 2 annas (12 paise) each to the seniors and juniors, respectively. Intended for the purchase of a slab or two of jaw-breaking groundnut toffee from the school’s tuck-shop, this paltry allowance was usually blown up slyly on other more appetising and seemingly “manly” options.

Over the compound wall, one could stealthily buy two tangy slices of raw mango generously sprinkled with powdered chilli from Archie, the wizened crone whose snacks attracted boys and flies in more or less equal numbers. Those who regularly patronised her (despite the risk of being punished) enjoyed the added benefit of credit facilities when short of cash. That an indignant Archie once shuffled, unannounced, into a classroom in search of a defaulting debtor (and the drama that ensued) is another story!

In Tiruchi’s sweltering summer, many of us preferred to suck on a coloured ice-stick, savouring its cooling sweetness, despite being warned by the prefect that the water used in it could be of doubtful quality. Yet, given our perversity, the ice-seller did brisk business, sometimes furiously cycling back to the ice factory to replenish his “refrigerated” box.

Lured by garish posters of the flamboyant John Wayne’s westerns, some of the older (and bolder) boarders reserved their pocket-money for a matinee at the nearby Plaza theatre. Bunking class, we would crouch on a backless bench right in front of the screen to avoid detection, braving suffocating bidi smoke and predatory bugs that delighted in nipping our behinds. “Backbenchers in class,” a wag once remarked pointedly, making us squirm, “are frontbenchers in the cinema!”

The prefect once caught two classmates sneaking back after a movie. Whipping out a cane concealed in his cassock’s sleeve, he flogged them on the spot. “My gosh!” lamented one of them, ruefully eyeing the red welts on his thighs, “Father Merrifield was much faster ‘on the draw’ than John Wayne!”

During the kite-flying season, our pocket-money bought us colourful readymade paper kites and the required accessories like a ball of twine and gum. Our kites soared high, thrilling us no end, before crafty rivals (having sneakily coated their strings with maanja, a paste of finely powdered glass) brazenly snipped our lines, sending our kites (and all hopes of retrieving them) drifting hopelessly away!

Yet, niggardly though it was, we did look forward to our weekly “allowance”. For what could be more reassuring to fun-loving and ever-hungry schoolboys than the jingle of coins in their pockets?

gnettomunnar@rediffmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 1:52:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/pricey-pleasures-of-pocket-money/article34004584.ece

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