For the safety and security of all except me, I have changed the names wherever necessary. Any resemblance to known people could be intentional.
I used to hate the word ‘chappal’ but this has changed with reminiscences of the day where we boys became men through this ubiquitous piece of footwear. The all boys Jesuit run school we were in had a super strict dress code. Besides the obligatory navy blue shorts and white button down shirt there was a further strict rider – no chappals, only shoes and socks. And being a high school student meant our class was expected to set an example to all those we hazed when the teachers looked away. Considering all this we still managed to look like a mauled bunch in some African safari by the time the day ended.
Now our teachers had some quirks. There was one who coudnt stand boys who sweat in class. You were immediately puled up and made to sit down on the ground before the blackboard if this ever happened. And god-forbid you had an afternoon class in the Mangalorean heat. You had to make sure not a drop of sweat came down your brow.
Now as we were completing our 10th standard (we had just finished our mock final exams for which I definitely did not study) we had a few classes left before hitting the SSLC final exams. We were made to know that this was a do-or-die exam that would define our future. Who knew from then on we would be told that every exam was a life defining point. Now as our classes concluded, we decided to do something that would make us stand out and remember our days in high school. Oh boy! How memorable we made it that we even talk about it today on the WhatsApp class group.
Was it a good old school hall send-off with speeches and all – No. Was it a felicitation of performers followed by distribution of sweets and Thums Up – Nope. Was it prayer followed by song and dance for our teachers and juniors – No No No. A good classical send-off it was not. We ended up with Chappal Day.
I still have no clue as to who started this thing, though my suspicions surround our last benches as the originators. Every trip to the principals office was facilitated by the last bench (I was an integral part of this througout, though I managed to escape trips to the office at the expense of others).
Our class teacher was Achal Sir, a genial Kannada teacher who went on the rampage if anyone disturbed his class. “Hey pattinga” and the duster flew towards you if you ever whispered sweet nothings to the Debonair magazine centerfold on your lap as Pampa and Ranna were explained from the dog eared textbook on your desk. This combined with the fact that Achal Sir was a career NCC man made the subsequent whackings something to remember. But he was an extremely sporty guy who knew that high school boys need to let off steam from time to time. Now, I dont know why chappals were selected as a send off motif. Maybe it was the antithesis to the strict dress regimen we had, or the need to needle some of our teachers who let a holier than thou approach pin us all year long. Well, whatever it was we just decided that we would come one Monday (which also happened to be the last day of class before the revision holidays) dressed in our best whites and well pressed navy blue shorts, but with chappals. Further, we also got a buy in from Achal Sir to go ahead with this. In not so many words he said OK. Basically as he was finishing class on Friday, we slipped in the fact that Monday would be Chappal day. He ‘Hmm’ed and that was good enough for us.
Monday came up and we trooped in to the morning Assembly in our finest chappals. Bata, Paragon, Action, Premier, and every Market Road brand were on show as we went through the Assembly without a hitch. Some teachers were looking at us weirdly, knowing something was amiss. The first class of the day was Mathematics. Now, we had Michael Sir or Mickey as we all called him – a nervous, twitchy sort who came in with a martyred look like St. Stephen about to be stoned. His wailing explanation of Acute, Obtuse and all sorts of angles that you might as well learn from the Kamasutra, made it the most boring lecture of the day.
As soon as Michael Sir entered he saw the words “Happy Chappal Day” chalked on the blackboard with some cheap flowery motifs around it in purple and green – the only other chalk colours that were available. This was the work of Edmund (last but one bench, even then the usual suspect). Mickey looked up and we saw his face going red as hell. Oh Oh, someone’s gonna get hurt real bad. He stood quietly on the platform for sometime, possibly trying to get his BP down. For once we were thankful that his goody-two-shoes boys in the second bench were in his face to soften his anger. These choir boys were tall guys who couldnt make it to the first bench but were good enough for a second row.
And so the class began, with an obviously still simmering Mickey explaining for one last time the intricacies of algebraic equations and summarizing chapter after chapter. During the class a bit of chappal football took place. With the boys removing their chappals and trying various positions with their shoe-free feet for the first time, others took advantage and began playing footsy with the slippers. And that’s how Praful’s chappals ended up under the lecture platform, having started its journey from the last bench. All this while Michael Sir knew something was afoot. He droned on while suspiciously looking around – like a meer cat checking out the landscape.
And so the class ended as the old electric bell rang. Michael Sir collected his books and register and began his walk down the platform. He hadn’t even wished us the best of luck for our exams. It was at exactly this point that Edmund decided he needed to add to his artwork on the board. He sat on the last but one bench, right in front of us, and gave a rapid clap under the desk. Now a clap spreads like a Mexican wave and in this case the whole class took this as a cue to give one thunderous clapping farewell to Mickey. I am sure the whole school heard us and thought it was an appreciative send-off to a teacher from one of the 10th standard classes. If only they knew. Mickey turned around immediately snarling, “who was that idiot who clapped. I want that fellow to come to the staff room within the next 10 minutes.” As if we would give up one of our own! But then we have our holier than thou souls.
And so it happened, after Mickey walked out, we had Achal Sir come in for the Kannada class. And surprise, surpise, our class teacher had on a pair of black slippers. He had given up his shiny shoes to ensure that he joined us for our last class givng in to our quirky request. The class began with all of us forgetting about Mickey and his scowling brow, to an excited chatter. “Shssssh” was the first thing that Achal Sir said and the class fell silent. One thing Sir would not tolerate was insubordination. Just because he acquiesced to our request didn’t mean he was going to let us off the hook. The class respectfully fell silent and the final Kannada lesson began.
Fifteen minutes into the lesson our class had a visitor. No, it was not a crow roaming the verandah searching for scraps of cookies that someone threw out of the classroom when the teacher spotted them. It was our principal Fr. Savio. He walked in with a genial look on his face like he had come to wish and bless us all for the final exams. Boy, were we wrong! The first thing that caught Fr. Savio’s eye were the slippers worn by Achal Sir. This was an obvious anomaly considering that fact that no one had ever seen Sir without shoes. The principal then moved his eyes to us scanning every John Johnny Janardhan and it was obvious he got the drift of what was happening. “All those who have worn shoes please come out”. A couple of guys who missed the boat when the message had gone out about Chappal day and a few other Judas’s made their way to the podium. We counted four. And then we heard a shuffling from one of the last benches. Peter (or Pedro as we all called him) was half standing and slipping on some shoes. He had worn shoes to class and had changed into slippers later. He was now trying out the goody two shoes act and make it up front.
Post this hungama we escaped the wrath of the principal. Call it providence or the SSLC exams round the corner, it died an immediate death. Maybe our class teacher had something to do with that, I don’t know. However this event is still talked about in our WhatsApp groups and was brought up during one of the conversations. I need to chronicle this event cause it really signified what our class was all about. A rowdy bunch with the coal and steam to make it in life. We continue in that vein, though operating under the radar.