By Nihal Bambulkar Oct. 10, 2018
From confiscating phones, threatening to tattle on people smoking outside the campus, refusing entry to students, and making up rules on the fly, the college watchman is more powerful than the principal.
This morning while visiting the college office to collect a few pending documents, I found myself face-to-face with an old nemesis – Shukla, the college watchman. I caught his attention as I walked through the college gate. “ID card kidhar hai? ID card nahin toh no entry,” he barked, while waving his danda in my face and spraying a fresh coat of gutka on the wall next to him.
I don’t study in here anymore. How do I get an ID? “Office mein kaam tha,” I told him.
“No ID, no entry,” he reiterated with a smile on his face, which said he recognised me, but was just being difficult.
Naturally, this isn’t the first time Shukla was saying, “College ka king kaun?” Over the years, Shukla has confiscated phones, threatened to tattletale on people smoking outside the campus, refused entry to students because they weren’t dressed “appropriately”, and created rules of his own to irk freshers. Needless to say, Shukla’s greatest pleasure was playing the power game with former students like me who thought they had graduated beyond his grasp.
But Shukla isn’t a unique entity that can only be found at a South Bombay college. In fact, every college has their own version of Shukla – a grumpy watchman who loves to mess around with students; a Severus Snape, to all our Potters. Five years of trying to one-up him has taught me that the college watchman is the most powerful being on the campus – even more than the principal, the professors, the bullies, and the popular boys and girls. The rules don’t apply to him: He can chew tobacco while stopping students from smoking. He can play loud Bhojpuri music at 8 am. He can take an hour-long lunch break. Hell, he can even get you an appointment with the principal and get admissions done.
If it wasn’t our clothes, it was our behavior which came under scrutiny. Every college watchman can become the poster boy for the anti-Romeo squad.
The watchman is more than the gatekeeper. He is the king of the campus. And when he is in the mood, he turns into a fashion police and moral cop rolled into one. Ripped jeans and falling pants irked him the most. If someone wore a pair of jeans with a tear, Shukla would sarcastically say, “Kya hua? Pocket money khatam? Ya cigarettes pe uda diya?”
If it wasn’t our clothes, it was our behavior which came under scrutiny. Every college watchman can become the poster boy for the anti-Romeo squad. Imagine sitting in the corridor making small talk with the pretty girl from the next class, trying very hard to keep her interested in you, when suddenly a moustached watchman starts rushing your way with his danda, screaming, “Yeh sab college ke bahar.” I’ve lost count of the number of times the sound of my sweet nothings was shattered by the shrill shrieking of Shukla’s whistle. There is nothing in this world that could produce a louder sound and antagonise different generations of college students all at once.
For Shukla, the whistle was his weapon and he’d never lose an opportunity to brandish it. He’d walk in on students discussing a project on the campus and whistle into their ears because they were “sitting too close”, he’d whistle to announce that the principal’s car was arriving, he’d whistle to disperse the crowd at the cafeteria because it was time for his chai break.
But every strongman has his weakness and Shukla’s was chocolates. I figured this out after I befriended a class topper, who brought Shukla Mars bars causing him to pop a rare, warm smile.
So one exam day, when I forgot my ID card and Shukla refused to let me enter college, I thought I’d bribe him. I didn’t have Mars, so I sheepishly gave him a Mentos waiting for him to flash a smile and allow me in. Instead, his face turned red and he screamed, “Shukla ko rishwat deta hai!” Overnight, I became the boy who tried to bribe the watchman. With a Mentos.
That day Shukla let me in after a lot of pleading. And that’s when I gave in to the powers of the watchman. In college, the principal is a lot like the president – the nominal head, while the college watchman, much like the prime minister, is the real deal.
Nihal likes to believe that darkness is more beautiful than frightening. He likes to be called Bambi, a nickname, his friends gave him.