MADRAS: CHAPTER SEVEN
Chandru felt the burden and ill ease at his new surrounding dissipate slowly, he regained the hope and cheer of old a little after this interview and a warm regard for the Major. Chandru was immersed in so many thoughts as he walked back absent mindedly through the corridors and on his way strode into Ashok who almost leapt forward in his eagerness to ask about the interview.
Chandru was taken aback but something in him whispered him to be cautious in his new surroundings so he replied very vaguely.
“He asked about father” he said.
“Ohh...” said Ashok suspisciously. “Anything else” he deliberately slurred.
“He welcomed me and bade me give my utmost loyalty and devotion to our camp and this nation”
Ashok was silent, his eyebrows shot up slighty, then he gave a nod and left Chandru again to his own thoughts.
It was quite frosty still and Chandru went back to his room to find Ram still drowsy and groggy. They were supposed to gather in the grounds at 8:00. Chandru saw he had a little time left so he sat down on the bed and tried to strike up a conversation with Ram but he was not much for conversation and was still revelling in the pain and loss of leaving his family and comfort back home. He made repeated trips to the letter box and came back sorely disappointed though it had but been 2 days since they’d left. Chandru couldn’t help but feel amused. But he felt warmly about Ram for he knew he was a good fellow. Finally, Chandru won over some good cheer from Ram and they happily recounted their carefree childhood days of their village, losing count of time, then suddenly realizing they had to go, casually, made their way to the practise grounds.
A shock awaited them as they strode over to find all the other new cadets already neatly clad in their uniforms in attention before the inspecting Major. With arms folded behind his hands, he was walking to and fro with a cold, sinister glare in his deep set eyes. Chandru gulped and stole noiselessly.
“Mr. Kumar” a sharp voice sounded and Chandru stopped dead in his tracks.
Ram was nowhere to be found and he could hear footsteps approaching him from behind till they grew loud and close and he felt a penetrating, steely glare at his person by someone standing close by.
“And where have you been dawdling all this while. You are early” said the Major quietly.
Chandru breathlessly lifted his eyes to meet those of the sneering Englishman.
The major had a whimsical half smile on his lips as he looked over the other men, “utter buffoons to comply with instructions, aren’t they, milord?” he said.
Chandru found his voice had completely deserted him as he tried to stammer out an apology explaining his belatedness.
“Face forth” barked the major.
Chandru’s blood froze as the others turned around.
“Now this fine young gentleman is going to reap the rewards of his arrogance and disobedience”.
“150 push ups with just one arm and when you’re done, draw me a pot of water from the well over there using only it’s bucket under the supervision of Vignesh. Flogging if you fail to comply” said the Major and with the same kind of a half smile, walked away to examine the other men.
Some of the men chuckled and Chandru anxiously began to search for Vignesh. Officer Vignesh was a dark, lean and sad looking man who eyed Chandru indifferently.
The practises began. After the march past, the men left for the rifle practises.
Chandru knelt and started the push ups, after a point, his arm threatened to fall off unable to bear his weight, his joints seemed to swell and recede painfully with every push up and his fingers grew numb. As the day advanced, it became boiling hot, Chandru was furious again at the Major. “How I despise him” he thought to himself. He did the push ups cursing under his breath with Vignesh by his side.
Vignesh did not utter a word but kept his eye fixed upon Chandru, there was absolutely no reaction in his drawn and lifeless face.
Once he’d finished, Chandru hauled his ill used back off the grainy, scorching sand and groaned.
“Tut” said Vignesh and clicked his fingers together, pointing at the well.
“Ugly fellow” thought Chandru to himself as he painfully hobbed his way to the well, holding his aching back with one hand. He took the aluminium bucket and tied it onto the pulley and threw the bucket in.
When he began to reel in the pulley, he was shocked to see all the water escape through a gaping hole in the bucket.
Turning around, he saw that’s he had caused quite an uproar and some spectators, Officers, of course, had gathered around whispering to themselves as he stood befuddled and dazed. A chuckling came from the group.
“Tut tut” said Vignesh again. Chandru had a surging urge to knock the irritating man’s nose out of shape but he resisted and began to try to fill the pot with the little that remained each time the bucket was reeled in.
The harsh ropes bit the sole of his hand, his heart nearly broke and he couldn't stand the fact that was being the entertainment for the day.
“Worse than the British” Chandru muttered.
After doing the same thing about a hundred times and receiving no reaction whatsoever from Vignesh, Chandru stopped to stand straight and hold his back once again. Suddenly the atmoshphere grew tense and still.
Someone cleared his throat from behind and Chandru grew stiff at the voice and with an exasperated and terrified sigh, turned to face his arch nemesis as he was greet by a loud ruckus of laughter from the crowd again.
It was the major who seemed to be making desperate attempts from bursting out into laughter.
He slowly regained his granite composure. “You’ve got till four” he said quietly and left the enraged Chandru more bitter at him than ever.