Before we launch into the main story, we must deal with the problems of nomenclature. I had mentioned in the previous post the provisional nature of the name of the protagonist dlw: “he may be called dlw (we change this name on his first objection)”. Well, the objection did come – in an oblique and mild manner. The bhadralok informed me about his “no objection” on his being named anew, and dropped the news that he felt that he was much more than just that. Ah, the advantages of writing on a protagonist alive, who can actually be kicking as soon as you slip, or your pen does. So, let’s call him plain and simple: Diesel King. That obstacle cleared, actually it threatened to become a full scale Mt. Everest, we may enter the story zone.
Long time ago there used to be two prototypical postcolonial subject entities who used to practice their skills in the language most respected in India on the cement steps under a hot tin shed on an empty playground in the scorching heat of the North Indian Summer. “Loo” (not to be confused with the more universal one), that used to torment all the other normal human beings, had no kind of deterring effect on these two. One was your humble servant, the narrator, and the other: the Diesel King. Their methods were older than those employed even in the Dark Ages. They would take randomly something viz. Mac Flecknoe or Paradise Lost lying in the study area of the Diesel King and then would read the thing aloud, tormenting the cows and crows who dared to stay under the shed after having seen the two of them coming. Their Smilesian objective was – to improve. The assumption behind their employing such a method was some sort of equation with improvement on one side and better English language skills on the other. How much did they improve? I find it very difficult to judge myself and my friend (old ones who remain still), as I fear being either over protective and full of praise or over critical.
The easier questions to deal with would be: Why did they want to improve? Or, how did they find something like Mac Flecknoe or Paradise Lost “lying” in their study area? Let’s take the fact based second question for answering. All these books were from the M. A. English syllabus of Kasi Vidyapeeth where the Diesel King was a student. And how did he reach there? I have forgotten the seed reason of his leaving his alma mater after his Bachelor degree. It had something to do with pride and prejudice (not by Austen, but his).
On an average silent and empty-shed day, while we were practicing our combined English language skills, I don’t remember how, our conversation turned towards his doing an M A from MGKV. Now, it would seem very improbable to those who know our protagonist, but we began at the spur of moment, took our bicycles and went there. It would seem strange because he is self-avowedly lazy and prefers to stay at one place. In those days he used to hold his court at two or three places in DLW: at his uncle’s quarters, at the empty stadium that used to be crowded in the evenings and while roaming in the campus. The useless and work-plan-less people like the narrator and Rishi used to go to DLW to meet the Diesel King. Why do I keep throwing in Rishi? Well how do I tell the story of the Diesel King without reporting the presence of his nemesis? After all, their love-hate relationship is to get attention in time to come.
The clerk at the form and fee counter told us that we had reached there on the very last date for submitting the form. As it was nearly the end of the month, the King did not have cash in hand. He arranged the money from a friend and filled up the form on that day. And that’s how started the chain of events that culminated in his study room flashing books from his first year syllabus before our eyes while we searched for something to read for practice under the shed. Rishi and I used to envy the King because between us we strongly suspected that his English was becoming far superior than (wrong, “to” should be used here) ours. We’d go to his place, look at the pile of his core English books and exchange glances that meant: “Look, he eats and digests this mush of healthy food while we squander our time eating sand”.
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