Sunday, September 28, 2014

The peacock in the mess

The talk on one of my whatsapp groups turned to peacocks. This is rare. Most of my whatsapp groups feature a very high level of forwarded wisdom. One does not simply walk into them and start telling anecdotes but here was an actual chance. Discussion had veered to peacocks and I had a genuine peacock anecdote up my sleeve.  I told it. People promptly shushed me - rightly so, because it was a pretty blade anecdote - and I slapped my forehead in delayed enlightenment. I should have posted my blade anecdote in the rightful place for blade anecdotes, namely my blog. So here goes, dear reader, hope you enjoy it.

This happened back in Manipal's fine engineering college, where I was doing my stretch in the eighties. Manipal was a pretty rural place back then. Little farms dotted the countryside and large swathes of it was still forest. There were hyenas there, and leopards, but the prudent engineering student avoids adventure and we were mostly content with excursions to our local watering hole, the Red Sun Bar, and the occasional field trip to the nearby Kasturba Medical College in the hope that some winsome lass would fall in love with us at first sight. This had never happened - female medical students, for some reason, do not find poorly dressed, gawping, unshaven and mostly broke engineering students in dire need of some deo, sexy - but we'd keep trying our luck just in case.

Coming back to the story, peacocks, porcupines and the odd spectacled cobra were the more commonly spotted species among the fauna. Cobras were sacred. No one harmed them though several hundred-meter sprint records had been broken there by diverse people following an unexpected cobra sighting. Our hostel warden was reported to have surpassed Bob Beamon's long jump without a run-up and in a lungi. Porcupines were eaten by the locals, though how they caught them was a mystery to me. Our warden, the same guy who had outdone Bob Beamon, would warn us. "The porcupine's prick is deadly" he would say, to the delight of students who, for some strange reason, would drag the conversation around to porcupines just to hear him say that. Bunch of juveniles!

But the peacocks were mostly left alone. They wandered into campus and rummaged about in the grounds behind the mess kitchens looking for food. One peacock was sort of adopted by the kitchen staff of the North Indian Non Vegetarian (NINV) Mess and would be seen sauntering around in the mess in the morning. It would get spooked as people started coming in, and take off into the forest but every now and then, early breakfasters would find it pottering about in the dining hall.

One day, one of our class mates, a lad who had been recklessly experimenting with substances, quite unexpectedly staggered into the mess at 7 am, the hour at which it opened. He would usually lie stoned somewhere till the gentle rays of the noon sun woke him up but today, somehow, was different. Bleary eyed, he sat with three or four of us regulars waiting for the pronthes and dahi to appear. As they did, our friend the peacock walked in. None of the regulars paid it much heed, everyone's attention being fixed on the pronthes which the cook stuffed with aloo and served with a generous helping of curd. Everyone's that is, except our substance abusing friend, who for some reason found the presence of the bird unusual and who found the complete lack of reaction from the rest of us even more freaky.

He tried to bring the conversation nonchalantly around to the subject of large birds and their unexpected sighting but no one showed the slightest reaction. After a  while, unable to contain himself, he asked the lad sitting next to him, "Boss, is there a large peacock here in the mess or am I seeing things?" As anyone who has spent time in an engineering college hostel will tell you, that is the wrong way to ask that question. Without batting an eyelid, the lad the question was addressed to, replied "Peacock? Here? Boss, didn't find anyone else or what, pulling my leg morning morning?" Our substance abusing friend laughed nervously and pretended he was cracking jokes but his confidence was shaken. He surreptitiously cast anxious glances at the rest of us in the mess  and his sinking suspicion was confirmed. The peacock was visible to no one else!

He ate whatever he could of the pronthe and fled. The ending is happy, though. The experience was enough to put him off drugs and he turned over a new leaf. Studied hard, went abroad and is now the head of some large software company in the US.


Partho said...

Just curious, but surely you don't mean Satya Nadella?

Nalini said...

Hi, This reminds me of the story written by Jerome K Jerome "Three Men in a Bummel" where they treat their friend George who loves the watering holes by such a trick. Please see this link where the part of the story is seen.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Nalini!

@Partho - Haha! No, no, mostly made up that story. The real incident was one hung over dude who got highy freaked out when he saw the peocock :D:D

vandram said...

Enjoyed it - reminded me of the famous incident in PG's "Laughing Gas" - though it featured a famous boy in golden curls.

Vaga Bond said...

ha ha,this brought back old memories ! :)