1972. I was in class 8 and the section was E or F. It was the only section of class 8 which had both boys and girls. Though St Sebastian’s was a co-ed school, the classes were usually single sex ones. In fact, the boys and girls studied in totally different wings. The only year in which I studied in a class with girls was when I was in class 8. At the beginning of the academic year a voting through secret ballot was conducted to elect the class leader. The students were asked by the class teacher to nominate their future leader. I happened to be one of the only two nominees.
Looking back now, I know there was no genuine reason for my nomination. I had never displayed any leadership quality at any time. I was a very diffident student who had not excelled in any field except academics. I was not a singer, actor, sportsperson, or anything that would merit the attention of other students. Though I tried my hand at all the writing competitions in the school (including handwriting) many times, I never won a prize. Only once did I dare to participate in a speech competition and I could not speak more than a few sentences. An audience of more than 2000 students along with their teachers made my knees buckle.
All the girls in the class voted for me. The boys found it out as the votes were being counted. I myself had voted for the other candidate. I was just a harmless fella, almost goody-goody, and the girls must have thought it ‘safe’ to vote for me. Since the class leader had really nothing much to perform, I accepted the mandate which did inflate my ego quite a bit.
A few days after the election, slogans reverberated in the corridors of St Sebastian’s. A girl, who used to recite mellifluously all the poems in our Malayalam text book at the order of the teacher, told me to shout slogans and lead the class in the strike that was going on. I felt like a donkey in lion’s skin. I wouldn’t even dare to stand in front of a group of discipline-breakers, let alone shout slogans. I looked around for Father Veranani with his abiding cane.
Father Veranani did not make his appearance anywhere as Baby Andrews led a large group of students who entered each classroom shouting slogans. The teachers seemed happy and eager to leave their classes. Baby Andrews led many strikes later in the college where he became a leader of a student’s union.
It took me a few days to understand why Father Veranani and his cane had performed the vanishing trick as Baby Andrews and his musical slogans laid siege to the school. The strike was conducted at the behest of the Catholic Church. The Church was opposed to certain reforms that the Kerala government was implementing in the education sector. The reforms would curtail certain powers of the Church over the colleges run by it.
The strike went on for over a month. Finally the Church won. The Church always wins in Kerala.
As a student of St Sebastian’s I learnt the story of the school’s manager, one Father Thomas, who was accused of pouring hot oil on the face of a nun who resisted the priest’s unholy intentions. The news made headlines in the newspapers for a while and then vanished into the dreary pages of evanescent history.
It was in the same period that I walked an extra couple of kilometres while returning home to witness a woman who sat in satyagraha (the word used by my companions) at the house of our social studies teacher. The woman had an infant in her lap. She claimed the child belonged to our teacher and that he had to pay compensations to her. The teacher’s wife too taught in the same school and they were a childless couple. I stood along with my companions watching the police force the woman with her child into a jeep. Then I walked home unable to comprehend many things. This social studies teacher was the strictest teacher we had. We lived in terror of his disciplinary measures. What I witnessed in front of his house left me as confused as the report about the school’s manager.
Slogans did not seem to match reality. I learnt to mistrust slogans. I was never elected a leader after that at any time.