Virendra Kumar was one of my class-mates in the college. He was unusual in more ways than one. He had a towering personality. Physically, he could be classed, literally, amongst giants - 6'3" tall - and weighing 200 Pounds at the age of seventeen. His biceps were the size of my thighs and his thighs would match my waist. I had not seen Hercules but I am confident that Virendra when put side by side with Hercules would have proved a good match. He had a very pleasant disposition and was handsome, by all standards. His behavior with his friends was excellent and he was liked by almost everyone in the class. Besides his magnificent personality, he was smart and intelligent and at the same time very mischievous also. Even after over half a century, his pranks are distinctly remembered.
One of the proofs of his intelligence and ingenuity was demonstrated in 1931, in his ninth class, in a small town in India where Science was in its infancy, he set up an electrical equipment for demonstration in his school which could, through remote control, light a bulb from a distance of a hundred yards.
Despite his intelligence, however, due to his wide and varied interests and a large circle of friends, he failed to make the grade in the first year of his class, and had to repeat the course. He was granted admission in the college and registered for the course, but due to past record of his mischievous conduct. Mr. Chatterji, the superintendent of the hostels, refused to accommodate him in the hostel.
To solve his problem, Virendra devised a novel plan. It was summer and not cold at all. He took his bedding and spread it on the porch of the Principal's residence. In the morning, when the Principal came out, he found Virendra sleeping. He woke him up and asked -
"Who are you?"
"I am Virendra Kumar, sir."
"What are you doing here?"
"Sir, I have been admitted to the college but have not been provided with living accommodation in the hostel. I have come 500 miles away from home and have no place to go to or find any shelter. So I did not know where to go. I, therefore, thought that this place would be a good one to have some rest at night."
The Principal, Dr. C. H. Rice, an American missionary, was a kind hearted person. He saw the point and immediately, addressed a note to the Superintendent to accommodate Virendra in the student hostel. The Superintendent could not refuse the directive from the Principal and had to admit Virendra, contrary to his own wishes. He, therefore, provided him a place in a dormitory with four beds which, normally, was given to newcomers.
"Sir, this accommodation will not suit me."
"Well! This is the only accommodation you can have. Now that you have a place to live, you should have no reason to grumble." the Superintendent told him.
The Superintendent, unfortunately, did not know then, what he was in for, in the days to come and what he faced in dealing with Virendra, became a legend of the college at that time.
"Could you please change our room, sir?" said the three boys, who had gone to see Mr. Chatterji to plead with him.
"Why! What's the matter?" Mr. Chatterji asked.
"Well sir. It's so difficult to live with Virendra Kumar."
"He is behaving real queer, sir. He is strange." one of the boys replied.
"What happened? What is wrong with him?"
"Every thing is wrong with him sir. He has made our lives hell. He has no valuable possessions with him and so he does not care to lock the room after he leaves. When we want to study, he starts playing music. When our friends come to visit us and we are having fun, he would open his book, and shout at us not to disturb him. We are at our wits end, not knowing what to do."
"Why don't you talk it over and come to an agreement with him?"
"We have tried out best, but he is so non-cooperative. He refuses to listen. He says that he has already asked you to allot him a separate room, but since you would not see reason, why should he?"
"It is so strange that three of you cannot deal with one single boy and manage to set him right."
"But sir, it is very difficult to reason with a person of his type. You have to see it yourself to believe it. We would request you to make a visit and see it for yourself." The boys were almost in tears.
"O.K. I will come along with you." Saying so Mr. Chatterji decided to accompany the boys.
Reaching the room, Chatterji knocked at the door. It was Virendra who opened it and greeted him.
"Good morning, sir,"
Chatterji looked at the room and surveyed it. There were four beds in the four corners and a table with two chairs besides each bed. A book shelf was also provided for each student. Three corners of the room were kept in a tidy manner. They were neat and clean, and had some pretty pictures, decorating the walls.
Virendra's portion of the room was, however, in shambles. It appeared that it had not been dusted for long and there were cobwebs all over. A few bricks and brickbats were lying in the bookshelf. A pair of shoes could be seen on the table. There were two sandals hung from the wall in place of pictures. A broom was lying on the bed, and clothes were scattered all over the floor. The whole scene presented a gross appearance.
"What is this, Mr. Virendra Kumar?" Chatterji asked.
"What is what, sir?"
"Is that the way you keep your room?"
"Why, what is wrong? I don't see anything wrong, sir."
"The room is so untidy."
"That is the way I keep it."
"Why are those bricks and brickbats in the book-case and the brooms on the bed?"
"I like them that way."
"And what about the sandals hanging on the wall? Do you think that is decoration?
"Sir, the sense of decoration differs from person to person. That is my idea of decorating my room."
"I am told that you don't cooperate with your room-mates."
"On the contrary, it is they who do not cooperate with me."
This was enough to make anyone angry and Mr. Chatterji was in great rage but outwardly, he kept his calm as he wanted to show himself to be rational and reasonable. After all he was a teacher of an American College, where equality is regarded as the highest value. He sensed that he had to deal with a tough guy. He also saw that it would be difficult for any other students to adjust with him and any one else who was shifted to that room would have the same miserable existence. Noting that discretion was the better part of valor, he decided not to be obstinate and provided a single seated room to Virendra. While doing so, of course, he saw to it that the room he allotted was the worst one on his list and that too on the third floor.
And that was the end of episode No. 1
There was a rule in our hostel that if any student wanted to go to the late-night movie on a weekday, he had to take prior written permission of the Superintendent of the Hostel. All Students, otherwise, had to be back in the hostel by 9.00 P.M. when the Roll Call was taken. Anyone absent at the Roll Call without proper permission was severely scolded and heavily fined.
One day Virendra went to the superintendent's quarters for obtaining such permission. A Portion of the superintendent's residence was his office. There was a notice displaying that the superintendent would see the students only during office hours ' 4.00 to 5.00 P.M. It was 9.30 A.M. Yet Virendra pressed the call bell. Mr. Chatterji came out and enquired of him,
"What do you want?"
Virendra brought out an application from his pocket requesting him to approve his absence to go to the late night movie.
"But for this you have to come during my office hours." Chatterji said pointing to the visiting hours board.
A few days passed and on one occasion Virendra noticed that Chatterji was not in his office during the notified hours. He guessed that, perhaps, he had gone to visit his girl friend, who lived a couple of blocks away. So he immediately got on his bike and went there. In response to the call bell, the girl friend came out and he asked her if Mr. Chatterji was there. Sure enough, he was, and as soon as he came out Virendra presented him the application for being permitted to go to the late-night show.
"But is this the place to bring this application? You must come to my office." Chatterji growled.
"Sir, when I go to your office, you ask me to come during the office hours and now, when I have come during the office hours, you want me to come to the office. I cannot understand. I thought wherever you are during your office hours that would be your office."
Chatterji must have boiled within himself but did not know how to handle the situation. To avoid any further trouble, with clenched teeth, he put his signature on the application.
Rooms in the hostel were not provided with any fans. According to the college rules, a student had to pay a monthly charge of Rs. 10.00 to be allowed to use a fan in the room. The heat of Allahabad during summer months is unbearable. But ten rupees was considered to be quite high a sum in those days and only the very rich could afford to pay for this luxury. The poor students had to rest content by using hand fans to cool themselves. The students, however, resented this restriction and felt that the college had kept the rates high to make a profit out of it.
Virendra wanted to use the fan and yet not pay for it. He, therefore, went to Chatterji and requested, "Sir, I would like to use a fan in my room."
"Of course you can if you pay the required charges."
"But sir, ten rupees a month is a heavy charge for it."
"No, not at all. People waste so much electric power and will not try to economize because the college pays for it. In fact, the college has to pay a heavy amount every month as electric charges."
"Well sir, what is the harm if I had a separate connection with a meter and pay for what I consumed. It may work out cheaper for me."
"That is not permitted by the college rules."
"Then sir, I will bring my own batteries and work my lighting and fan both from it."
"It's up to you."
What Virendra did was that he brought a wooden box and put some old discarded car batteries in it. He then connected a few wires from it to give the impression that he was getting his power from there, though the fact was that he had connected his room lighting and fans to the college mains. To prove his point, he inserted a very thick fuse wire in the positive circuits and a thin one in the negative. (The supply in those days was D.C. with separate positive and negative polarity). He connected the light and fan of his room on the positive circuits, while grounding the negative line. With this arrangement, as soon as the current was short-circuited, the negative main fuse will blow off, keeping the positive fuse intact. The whole hostel would get into darkness, while Virendra's room would continue to remain lighted. This really convinced the authorities that he was getting power from his batteries. Virendra Kumar thus managed to run his light and fans without having to pay for the electricity.
Another incident, I remember, which created quite a stir at that time was that he managed to have a duplicate key of the mail box meant for depositing the outgoing mail. (There were no such strict laws about tampering with the mail and even if they were there, who cared for them at that carefree age and the 'what do I care attitude'? He would take out Chatterji's mail, select some really juicy love letters written by him, copy them out and read them to his friends. They would all enjoy and appreciate his romantic penmanship. Once or twice, out of mischief, he read them within Chatterji's hearing too. Chatterii did wonder at the familiarity of the words but could not figure out how it happened.
Last but not the least was when Virendra thought of going on a midnight cycle trip. It was a full-moon night and river Yamuna was nearby. There was a road bridge across the river and with a cool breeze blowing; it was very tempting to go cycling at that time. The problem, however, was that he had no permission to go out at that part of the night. If he was caught, it would mean heavy punishment, and he was sure, to be reported to the parents.
Virendra could, however, always find a way out. From his room on the third floor, one could go out through his window at the back to the roof of the bath room wing on the second floor and then climb down to the ground with the help of the drainage pipes attached to the building. Of course, it was acrobatics. However, Youth is youth and can go to any length to have some excitement.
So he got out of the hostel, took his bike and started his midnight jaunt. As luck or ill-luck would have it, when he was in the middle of the bridge, he saw Mr. Chatterji, the superintendent and Mr. Roy, the warden, coming from the other direction on their motor bikes. They must have seen him as they passed. Virendra was scared, almost to death, at being caught in the act. Both Chatterji and Roy felt that rather then confronting him on the road and creating a scene there, they would go and check his room and take up with him for being absent from the hostel at that part of the night. So they went directly to his room in the hostel. In the meanwhile, Virendra turned back, scaled the pipes and was in his room through the rear window. He feigned of being asleep.
Roy and Chatterji were wonderstruck, having found the door of his room unlocked from the outside and bolted from inside (In those days, we used to lock our rooms by outside padlocks). They thought that some other boy might be sleeping there whom Virendra asked to be there, while he was away. Roy knocked at the door. There was no response. He knocked harder and shouted, "Mr. Virendra Kumar, open the door please."
Virendra allowed them to continue knocking for sometime. He, then, shouted and yelled at the top of his voice, "Who the hell is there and would not allow me to sleep? Get away, you scoundrels. I cannot tolerate it. I will report you to the authorities."
"Mr. Virendra Kumar, open the door please." Roy repeated with another knock on the door.
Virendra opened the door and exclaimed as if taken by surprise, "Is it you sir! I thought it was some mischievous student disturbing my sleep; there are students who would neither sleep themselves nor allow others to do so. I am sorry for the foul words, I used. I'm really very sorry."
"But Mr. Virendra Kumar, what were you doing on the bridge a little while ago?"
"What bridge sir? Me? On the bridge?"
"Yes, we saw you there. You were there."
"Oh, no sir, I've been sleeping in my room for a long time. You must have been hallucinating."
"No. Both of us saw you. You were there. We are sure of it."
"And I think you are drunk, sir! At this late hour you must be returning back from a party, where you might have taken a few too many. That is why they say, that drinking might be O.K., but one should not get drunk."
"Please behave! How dare you accuse us?"
"Well sir, facts are facts. I'm only saying what truth is. I feel, at this time, you should go home and sleep. We should talk only when you are sober." And Virendra shut his door, bolting it from the inside.
Both Roy and Chatterji seethed in anger but had no alternative except to go back to their quarters. They also did not feel like reporting the matter higher up as it would show a weakness on their part as they were not able to handle the situation. They preferred to keep quiet about the whole episode.
After a few days, Chatterji called Virendra to his office and enquired. "Mr. Virendra Kumar, please tell me the truth. Wasn't it you, who was on the bridge that night?"
"Yes sir. It was I."
"Then how did you get back to your room in such quick time?"
"That is a trade secret, sir. Please do not ask me that."
And there ends the whole story of Virendra Kumar.
After we left college, I never met Virendra Kumar again, but what I learnt later was that be did very well in life. He was a senior executive in a reputed firm. The sad part of it was that he died rather young having had an untimely early heart attack.