“A Small Village”
By Dhruv Raghavan
The dormitory, if one could even call it that, was a small, cramped, dingy little building, with dirty rooms and molding walls. As soon as we entered, the policeman gave us each a toiletry set, sheets, blankets, a uniform, a scrubber to wash clothes, and some sandals. We were to wake up at 4 am each day, take a bath in the well, eat our morning meal, and report to the courtyard by 5 am. Then we would train hard until 1 pm, and eat our midday meal. We would then resume our training and then go to our dorms at 7:30 pm. We would then have 15 minutes of recreational time, and then we would eat dinner at 7:45. Then we would do our homework, which apparently would take over one hour. Then we would go to bed. Any slackers would be whipped, or they would clean the latrines. The policeman left after giving instructions, and we entered the dorm.
My first thought was that the place was crowded. There were so many peasant boys like us. And I’m pretty sure they’re all from different states. They were just sitting on their cots with solemn looks on their faces. Some had friends, while some were sad and alone. At least I have many friends. “So, what are we supposed to do now?” I asked. To my surprise, somebody answered in Tamil.
“I see you speak Tamil,” he stated. “It is 7:30 pm now. We have recreational time. Oh, and I don’t know how there are teachers who speak every single main language in India! But anyway, welcome to the New Delhi Soldier’s Camp. We all live a tough life here, and you’ll eventually learn the ropes. In fact, I already know some Hindi, because they teach fast. Once everyone’s here, we all have to speak Hindi. I’m Vineet, and I’m from Coimbatore.” He shook each of our hands as we introduced ourselves. Soon it was dinner time, and we all walked to the mess hall. We were given some chapattis and subjee (flatbread and curry) which we ate fast. As we finished our food, a middle-aged man with a uniform walked up to us.
“Welcome to the New Delhi Soldier’s camp. Or as I call it, the Military Institute of Idiotic Peasants. I am Professor Das, and I took the time to learn your silly languages, but I won’t have to remember them for long. Because you will learn Hindi faster than any school will teach you. Though I bet you didn’t understand a word I’ve uttered so far. Because of your stupid peasant education.” He frowned and walked away.
“What a rude guy!” I yelled. “Does he know who we are? Though we are peasants, we are strong. We know every single trick to survive! If that grumpy, stinky old man ever shows his face again, I will bury him in a heap of cow dung!”
“Ravi, be careful,” Somu whimpered. “Professor Das will p-punish y-you.”
“P-punish y-you,” I imitated. “I already told you what I will do if he comes.”
“Really?” Professor Das suddenly asked. I spun around, but he had already grabbed the edge of my shirt and lifted me up. “I DO NOT TOLERATE THICKHEADED STUPID IDIOTS LIKE YOU!!!!!!!!” he thundered. “YOU SHALL PAY DEARLY!” he laughed. Then he raised his fist and punched me in the face. Blood spurted out of my nose like a gushing fountain, and the pain was unbearable. Spots danced in front of my eyes, and I screamed as loud as a cockerel in the morning. “SO, LITTLE PEASANT,” professor Das shouted in glee, “YOU TOLD YOUR FRIENDS THAT YOU WILL BURY ME IN A STINKY HEAP OF COW DUNG! THOUGH I WANT TO INFLICT THE SAME PUNISHMENT ON YOU, I WILL BE KIND TODAY.” Then he calmed down a bit. “Instead you will clean the dormitory toilet! So go now!” I got up and started walking to the dorm. I looked back once and saw the sorry looks of my friends. But professor Das had a permanent sneer on his ugly face.
I reached the dormitory toilet. I first washed my nose and put a cloth around it to stop the blood from flowing. I swear that I will someday punish that fellow. But I would have to do it tactfully. I looked at the toilet. It stank so badly and the area around it was covered in dirt and garbage. I took the mop and began to wipe the floor. I put the dirt and garbage in a bucket and went out towards the garbage can. On my way, I saw professor Das.
“Back so soon punk?” he sneered. “Looks like I need to give you more work!” And he kicked the bucket and all the dirt, water, and garbage spilled on the floor. “Looks like you’re going to clean the floor too!” He laughed and walked away. Cursing, I ran to the closet to get more supplies. As I cleaned the mess, I realized that this was how my life was going to be.
While everyone else was doing homework, I and my friends went to the initiation booth. We pledged allegiance to India and got many papers to do as a start. We then went back to the dormitory and started working on it. The papers were printed in Tamil for us, but I noticed that Vineet’s was in Hindi. I remembered that Professor Das had said that we would learn Hindi very fast, so I looked at my stack of paper for Hindi Homework. Sure enough, there were some basic translations that we had to learn. I immediately started working on it.
When I was done, I handed it to a teacher to check it. The teacher looked at it and gave me an F, which was the worst grade. I sadly slunk away to my bed and curled up on the sheets. I fell asleep in no time.
“Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” went the alarm at 4:00 am. I grumbled and groaned, but managed to get up. I took my bath and went to the cafeteria to eat my morning meal. Today it was some rice and khadi, which was a curry with yogurt and spices. I gobbled it up and went to the courtyard for roll call. Luckily, professor Das wasn’t there, but I saw another man. He was tall, gaunt, and slim. He smiled at me and introduced himself as Doctor C. I didn’t know what his real name was, but I didn’t ask.
“OK,” he stated in Hindi, “I will call your name, and you will say here. Understood?”
“Haan!” we all exclaimed, which is “yes” in Hindi. So he started calling names. He said my name, and I replied saying “jee shreeman,” which is “yes, sir” in Hindi. When he called Swami’s name, however, there was no reply.
“Where is Swami?” professor Das, who had just arrived asked. No one knew, so he sent someone to go get him. He was sleeping, apparently, and the other student had to drag him to the courtyard. Professor Das stood there with a plastic whip. “Those who do not wake up in time will skip their bath and meal, and receive 25 lashes.” Saying so, he whipped Swami 25 times, and each time Swami screamed.
“Sorry sir,” Swami whimpered, “I will wake up on time tomorrow.”
“Good!” professor Das exclaimed, and he walked away. Doctor C just stood there with a sickly look on his face. He resumed roll call.
After roll call, we were divided into groups and were sent to the gym. Professor Das stood nearby with a whip in his hand. He was trying hard to find the slightest opportunity to use his brown, 6-foot long, leather whip, with a needle at the end. I saw as he whipped a boy for talking to his friend, and he screamed clutching his bloody hand. He didn’t get whipped again because he probably would have lost his hand. Professor Das smirked as the boy walked on. As I passed him, I walked in a straight line and faced forward, hoping he wouldn’t notice me. But he did anyway.
“Well well, look who is here!” sneered Professor Das. “My little friend, I am not done with you yet. And I’ll be keeping an eye on you. Or two eyes, or three. Now off you go.”
Phew! That could have been worse. Much worse I thought as I saw the boy who had been whipped before; an expression of contorted rage and immense pain shown clearly on his tear-stained face.
As I walked into the gym, I could hear the gym teacher screaming, “Oho little maggots. Time for some fun. In this gym, we train hard and no one ever has fun. So in this time for fun, you won’t have fun, which means you will feel terrible and sweaty and you’ll wish you were dead. And that will happen soon. For if you don’t sweat hard, I’ll be scraping your brains off the ground. And also I’ll have to buy a new weight and a new peasant to replace you. And we all know how much a peasant’s worth!” He doubled over laughing maniacally. It sounded more like seven walruses who had just caught the black death.
I fumed in rage and was about to say something when Vineet walked over and shushed me. “Trust me,” he whispered. “This guy makes professor Das sound like a sweet little puppy. He was a dangerous robber, and yesterday he had been put to work training peasants. Most say he likes to drink blood. Yesterday he was going to whip a boy, but the boy ran out of the gym. The gym teacher ran after him, and in a couple of minutes, came back. The boy was not with him.” I shuddered fearfully. I glanced around at the other kids and they were all looking as scared as me. One of the kids’ eyes moved to a leather sack beside the gym teacher. My eyes followed his, and to my horror, the gym teacher opened the sack. There was a metal whip in it. Professor Das’ whip looked like it was made from butter compared to this whip. It had spikes all over it that were long and sharp. The whip was 10 feet long and flexible. I watched as a stray chicken entered the gym searching for food. The gym teacher saw the chicken and brandished his whip. I gasped and he stared at me. “Do you like the whip, pretty boy?” he asked. “Well, I’m going to show you how beautiful it truly is.” And without another word, he brought the whip down on the chicken. It clucked once. Then it split in a half and blood gushed all over the gym floor. “Time to drink up boys!” he called out. And he bent down to drink the chicken’s blood.
After the chicken incident, we were made to do push-ups, weightlifting, and shooting. After lunch, we went to Doctor C’s classroom and learned Math, Hindi, Science, and India’s History. Then came the rec time, in which I started my homework (due to the advice of Vineet), and talked with my friends about the day, and the two idiots running around in the school. Professor Das, and the gym teacher (we called him “Chicken Splitter”). We ate a dinner of Naan bread and curry and went to the dorms to do homework. After that, I slept. I dreamed that I was a chicken and that Chicken Splitter was chasing me with the whip.