Thursday, July 08, 2010

The thin line between courage and foolhardiness

We all know that. However, one day, I did put this 'saying' to test. The very thought of that incident 26 years ago, sends 'goose pimples' all over....!

The year was 1984. the movie 'Coolie' had just been released. I was living in the St. Stephen's College hostel that year. A group of us were having dinner in the mess at about 8 pm. Suddenly an idea struck one of us - why not hit the night show of Coolie which was running at 'Batra' a cinema hall not very far from College. Normally most programs especially the 'after dinner' ones were made in the same manner - 'on the spot' - without much advance planning.

So it was decided that those that had finished dinner would move as an 'advance party' and arrange for tickets, and the rest who were still having dinner would follow. Availability of tickets was going to be an issue, since the movie had been released less than a week ago, and was running full houses. I was to be a part of the second lot to reach the cinema hall.

When we reached Batra, we met the first group with long faces that told us all about the tickets. There was no chance they said. One of us suggested we meet the manager of the hall. But why would be manager go out of his way to help us? (The seven of us were amongst the hundreds hanging around outside the hall without tickets...)

At that moment, something that shouldn't have happened, happened. An idea struck me. Without explaining anything, I just announced that I am going to meet the manager. Some of the friends' hopes rose. It was a blind shot in the dark, but what was the harm in trying? Others bore the same dejected expression, perhaps wise in the knowledge that nothing was to come out of my attempt.

When I reached the Manager's cabin, a guard tried to stop me. That was his job, and also his brief, at a time when many people like me would try to meet the manager with the same request for tickets.

From this moment on, whatever I did, was in complete contrast to my own personality. I was a known simple docile guy in College, who probably would have stood along with the group of friends who were feeling dejected on not getting tickets and were preparing to return to the Hostel anyway. What made me behave in the manner I did, even I cannot explain.

On encountering the guard, I simple pushed him aside, and with a couple of confident steps, swung open the manager's door and walked in. The manager was surprised too, because his 'security' arrangements weren't working after all !

He looked up and asked "Yes?"

Then, in the most confident manner, and putting on my most decent and dignified appearance, I replied (in English) " I am the President of the St. Stephen's College Students' Union. I have a request to make. I need seven tickets for this show".

The manager's facial expressions changed, as he tried to assimilate whatever he had heard. And there were many 'meaningful' words which an intelligent man could ill afford to ignore. For instance - St. Stephen's College. A name that invoked immediate respect within the University circles and around. Then - 'Students' Union'. That was a term that anyone who was remotely connected to the University, would be scared of. And to top it all , I was looking like the President of the Students' Union of St. Stephen's College, with that look of confidence and dignity. Also the College blazer I was wearing with the College crest completed the make up and costume.

The manager asked " Oh ! So you are the President of the Union??"
For the first time, I thought that he had caught on. Because he sounded very very sarcastic. My personality suddenly changed from that confident but 'fraud' Union President, to the same timid, docile me. But I held on.

"Yes" I answered, trying to act like a College Union President in every possible way.

"Of St. Stephen's College??" he reconfirmed.

"Yes" I answered again. But my mono syllable responses must have sounded weaker and less and less convincing...

The manager took about 5 seconds, nodded his head as if he had concluded something that was to have horrible consequences for me, and rang a bell from his table.

I am sure that my heart had stopped beating then. My own take was that he was convinced I was 'frauding' and now he was calling more security staff to arrange for me to have a 'bashing' of my life. I also imagined being locked up in the 'Shakti Nagar' police station for the night....

The same guard came running in, and was already offering an explanation in his defence for his conduct in having allowed an 'extraneous' element in. The manager cut his off half way, and said " Inko Arora ke paas le jao aur saat (7) ticket dilwa do"

Five minutes later, I had seven tickets, and we were on our way to see 'Coolie'

The manager wasn't that smart after all. And he obviously did not know much about Stephen's - else he would have known that the Stephen's Union is actually the 'Students' Union Society' which is nothing to be scared of. It's only agenda for the year was to organise a cultural festival called "Winterfest" And the Union members? Well I was one (and that's a fact - not a fraud) - and all members were like me - very decent and timid! The manager didn't know that the St. Stephen's College Union members weren't scary at all !

But the manager was scared of Unions and trouble. So he relented - without resistance, arguments etc. And I became a hero amongst my 7 friends.

I still shudder to think what would have happened, if the 'Batra' manager had caught on...

1 comment:

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