And then I wasn’t half-naked at all

If you are reading this, then I am going to risk the assumption that you have been to school at some point in your life. Wasn’t that a gorgeous time? A thousand kids, all in uniform, standing in the morning sun and listening to old people’s accusations (all of whom had bad childhoods and collectively aspired to grow up someday and psych the crap out of other kids). We are conditioned from a very young age to be prepared for the real, cruel world outside when we grow up. Golden days indeed!

Did you have a strict dress code at your school? I bet you did. And there must have been occasional checks too to make sure your clothes were pressed, your hair was tidy and your shoes were polished to shine. Ah… the shoes! The average kid comes in without his/her shoes atleast once in the school years. (If you are not average, then may God help you). You should hear the stories these poor idiots used to come up with.

My mother was sick, so she couldn’t wash my uniform, ma’am

My parents said I shouldn’t go for a haircut as it was not an auspicious day

The dog ate my shoe, Sir

For a while I was under the impression that the world was perfect and nobody lied except to save someone’s life, which was what all those mega-melodramatic southie movies taught me all my life. (Also the reason I always wondered why my parents didn’t have a photo of their courtship days with my mom in a yellow field and my dad wearing aviator goggles and red pants).

Anyway coming back to the subject of our discussion here, I used to think all these ‘defaulter’ students had much more exciting lives than I did. “Your home was robbed and the thieves took your school shoes too? That’s so awesome, Suresh! I wish someone would break into MY home and steal my books. Good riddance, eh?” I couldn’t understand why my teachers wouldn’t believe Suresh. Burglaries were pretty commonplace after all; one out of three movies has a theft scene. And why did they let Anita go with just a warning and no punishment? She happened to FORGET her shoes in a hurry? Give me a break! My teachers were clearly a bunch of bozos. And always biased towards the girls too!

The twisted ways of fate and barbed wire led to an injury on my foot one day. Yeah, yeah… you’re getting smart now. You can already predict that I’m going to say I didn’t wear my shoes to school the next day. What a genius you are! Well Genius, it’s up to you whether or not to believe my excuse. The important thing is… on one bright, lovely morning I found myself standing among those weeded out from the rest of the assembled crowd on the school grounds. The Legen…(wait for it) -dary Defaulters.

It’s frightening to be facing the entire school, waiting to be judged and condemned, with a thousand faces staring at you, sneering and smirking silently. At the same time, it was one of the most thrilling moments ever! I was so excited I could barely stop grinning (to this day I don’t know why). And then I discovered the secret joys. (no, no, NO you dirty dog… Focus! Focus!) I was in a new world, standing in front of the entire school… AND BEHIND THE TEACHERS, YAY! We could smile, grin, wink, dance and no one could nail us. Those poor twats who wore shoes that day had to endure the tortute of having to stay still.

So one never-ending morning assembly and one equally boring admonishing-session later, I found myself shuffling my slippered feet back to my classroom. Things just did not feel right that day. I was completely off my groove; everything was suddenly different and weird. For example, I was too close to the floor. And true to their name, those stupid slippers kept sliding off my feet on the sports ground. Did I mention the word ‘conditioning’ earlier? Yeah, so I was Pavlov’s dog when it came to the school uniform. Not wearing my shoes made me suddenly feel a few pounds lighter (and not in a good way). And my usually well-protected feet were now completely exposed to the elements.

Then came that strange feeling. That worst nightmare any of us ever had (I know you all agree with me on this). And it returned every few minutes for the rest of that unforgettable day. Every single time, I stopped dead in my tracks and looked around at the rest of my class. No, they weren’t pointing and laughing at me. “Good. No one noticed yet”, I thought. Trying not to draw any attention to myself, I slowly – very slowly – started to look down. Sweet relief! I thanked all the 3 crore Gods in the Hindu mythology. “It’s the SHOES that are missing. So I didn’t forget my pants after all!”

That was one very long day.



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