Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Apprenticeship

Compared to Port Blair Pune was no fun. There were cousins who bettered at studies. I struggled. 
Dry life, no adventure.Heavy traffic. 
Once I was almost run over by a truck. A month of bed rest and my studies slipped again.
Cycling in the Andamans was lot easier than Pune.

I didn’t make real friends outside school. The change was major from a cosmopolitan atmosphere to a conservative one. I was unable to join groups. Cynicism was high in air. I was slow to grasp the typical Puneri style. I had not known my caste till 8th grade. It seemed pretty important to some people.

Drawing was an important subject at 8th grade. I was unable to convince my parents that Drawing homework was equally important. The drawings were never completed in time, if at all they were , a hurried mess. The rest of the drawing book went into making paper planes.
For most of the drawing lessons, I was punished for incomplete work.
I hated the topics that we were asked to paint. I rebelled at the thought of someone dictating me on a subject to draw.
During the last semester, I produced a new drawing book with the last assignment on the first page of the book., with an excuse that the earlier book was lost.
The drawing teacher had asked for an ad. of tinned fish food.
I knew that I would be asked to leave the class. Instead, the teacher said,
“ This is good work. Why do you not pay attention to your sketches?”
This was the first good remark I heard at school after ages. Yet, I was aware of other students who were really good at art.
I liked Geometry.

I was moved from central School to a local school. I relaxed; as study was lot easier.
I had been accustomed to make and lose friends, all my life.
The new school had many groups and I was an outsider. In a week I managed to find a group of open minded guys like my older school.

In 10th grade I tried my best. I got a higher score; exceeded the expectations at home.
I was still unable to get an admission in local colleges. Luckily a school that relied on IQ test over the regular marks absorbed me as a student.
I could see students with lower marks get admissions to colleges through “contacts”. I had none and I hated the thought of using a influence.

En parallel, I gave an interview at a Automobile company for technical apprenticeship.

 My parents strongly supported my decision. My prime reason was to earn money, secure a job and with the time left over to develop hobbies.
Few friends felt that it was a really bad decision.

On 11th sept ‘81, I walked out of the house with bare essentials to earn my living at the age of 16.
I was not alone. We were a pack of 117 of, scrutinized and selected from a humongous crowd.
I had absolutely no idea, what went on in this engineering industry. The campus was enormous and had a bus service between the blocks.

As I put on the green workshop attire, it dangled on my frail body. There was a lot of “room for improvement”. I would get leaves as per industry standard. My weekend shifted to Thursday.

I had no college life. I had chosen to be a Technical worker and it was a tough call.

Three months flew fast. Very casual ragging by seniors and I lost my airs about myself. I was just a part of the hostel team. I was getting fluent in Harmonica. Sometimes, the seniors used to ask me to play few tunes and I escaped the more intense ragging.

The Hostel was indeed a fine place, well maintained by the apprentices. There were more unpleasant tasks like cleaning the toilets, verandas. If one lives he ought to clean the mess.

I joined the National Cadet corps, which was a good way to get Military training. The parades were twice a week and I was exempt from workshop duties. I was surprised; many Instructors hated NCC guys. My Drawing teacher ragged and humiliated me for some unknown reason and NCC lay at the bottom of it.

I liked the kind of knowledge the Parade gave me. I was a good shot at 25 meters range with a .303 rifle. The best was dismantling and cleaning the rifle post shooting. I later learned to dismantle the sten gun and a Light machine gun.

One of the training instructors at the Technical school started an adventure club. He eliminated all NCC cadets who applied. This was a turning point for me and many others.
The adventure activities included Cycling, trekking and long runs. This triggered other activities from the NCC boys.

The hostel wall was made of reconstructed stone. Prasad and I took turns at ‘Chimney climbing’ to the 1st floor. Chimney climbs were less risky as we could jam ourselves against the opposite wall. As we gained more strength and courage, we graduated to the flat vertical wall.
Prasad set a taller record by climbing to the second floor. He was determined to beat his record.

These climbs were a night sport, to avoid the Rector.
One such night, I was halfway up flat wall. Few friends were watching the climb from 2nd floor and one guy was on watch, to raise an alarm.
I inched my way to the second floor and started the traverse to enter the chimney portion. ‘Rector’, The Alarm guy yelled. The fear of expulsion from training division. I jumped and landed like a cat in the soil below. No harm done. I was almost breathless as I climbed the stairs to mark my presence at the night roll call.

The Cricket star, Sunil Gavaskar was at the Hostel after a heroic tour at West Indies. The entire building was empty. Cricket did not interest me and I was engrossed in the 3rd escape of ‘Papillon’.

The daily routine was well set. At 5.30pm I got to the hostel after work and immediately rushed to the swimming tank. Few guys were training for Industrial competitions and I tried to watch and learn. I pursued swimming and it improved my stamina.

Bruce Lee was a favorite figure at the hostel. But soon after the ‘36th Chamber of Shaolin’ was screened, our dormitory turned into a martial arts center. Bruce Lee was regarded as the “real” action hero. One of the bookworms was trying to learn the Karate moves by reading a book. There was another serious guy who was into Boxing. He introduced skipping. A Wrestler from Kohlapur mimicked the Shaolin monk by carrying two Buckets of water, arms parallel to the ground.

The Dormitory was full of fun. At any juncture one of the ten was active in some crazy pursuits to liven up the room. The seniors did the rest of livening in the pre roll call Rag session. Ragging was strictly prohibited and the few cases found were quickly settled through mutual agreement.

Unfortunately most of the activities were based on Physical strength that I lacked.

The Stipend earnings were saved and I had sufficient to spend on the basic needs ie. food and transport.

The group of 4 NCC cadets started a thought. Bike: Pune-Mumbai. I started biking at weekends for workout. Bruce Lee ignited a spark so intense that I once pedaled carrying my friend on my bike for 18 km after watching the “Fist of Fury”.

With everything as per plan, the 4 set off for Mumbai during the Diwali vacations.

Pedal Pushers

After the shift the boys pulled out their bicycles. We sneaked out of the hostel keeping an eye on the Rector’s office and casually pedaling out of the hostel gate. Each bike had a small sack with food, water and clothes.

It was 4.30PM, thirty minutes delay from the planned departure.
Nigdi passed and they were climbed the slope to Dehu road.  We took a halt at Talegaon for a brief rest. We passed Vadgaon, cut through Kamshet and reached Lonavla. One of the bikes had a puncture that was set right. We dined at a cheap place and discussed further plan. It was 9PM and the food made me lethargic.
I wanted to give up and sleep the night but the group spirit was high. It flashed to me that I could not give up now. I would not be able to save face at the hostel.

None of the bikes had torches, as the team sped biking down the ghat slopes, brakes squeaking. At Rajmachi point the police stopped us.
We mentioned that we were going to a village at the bottom of the ghat and the police were satisfied.

The slope was steep and the breaks juddered in attempt to reduce the speed. I found that a better way to reduce speed was to jam my heel into the rear wheel. We soon reached the bottom of the ghat. The bikes were very basic, without gears. Moonlight helped to light the way; so did the huge laden trucks that shone the headlights. I was feeling very tired and we had to stop every 5 km for a rest. The drone of the trucks occupied my mind and he kept pushing on with the rest.

The lights of Panvel were a treat. We decided to rest our aching limbs. I had a saddle sore and was barely able to walk to the Bus station.
It was 4AM and there were announcements of buses ready to depart. We shared some biscuits and decided to sleep for an hour.
Sleep would not come easily as the cacophony of the passengers never ended. Bombay was not far from here and the destination could be reached by noon next day.

In the morning light the 4 mounted on their bikes. The sores brought me back to reality. We passed the Vashi toll bridge. No toll for cycles. Maruti cars zoomed past and I wondered if I would ever get rich enough to afford a car. I dreamed of driving one to Bombay.

My friends parted earlier and I pedaled on till Dadar. I had a story to narrate but wasn’t sure of the reaction.

My first large adventure ended. I had a bath and tried to sleep. The sores and body pain only reminded me of the huge effort.  The pain became a distant illusion.