How I Became A Communist
Note: Kerala, my home province, is a highly political place. Even the schools conduct elections - and they are conducted on party-lines. The major contenders are the Kerala Students Union (KSU), the student arm of the Congress Party and their powerful rivals, SFI (Students Federation of India), a Communist outfit. A watershed event in the history of the student politics in Kerala was the controversial 'liberation movement' run by KSU against the communist ministry led by EMS Nambuthiripad in the late 1950's.
Many years ago. I am in 10th Standard.Teachers at my school urge me very strongly to try for a State Level Rank in the SSLC public examination at the year end: "In its entire history, this school has not even come close. You are our best hope...". The hype - and the flattery - went to my head and I worked much harder than usual. Even Pop, prompted by my teachers, arranged some special coaching for me in some 'shaky' subjects.
The year passed in a hurry and the exams got over and then we had the holidays and eventually the results were out. I had no state rank and was not among the top 10 in the state (perhaps not in the top 100 either). I went to the school to collect the official score report. The teachers looked pretty glum. They looked at my score in each subject and those of my batchmates and remarked: "See, Ajit has got more than you in Hindi", "Look, Harish has scored one more mark in Math", "Hey, Martin has beaten you in English" the comparisons went on.. I was beginning to feel mighty upset at what I thought was a weird turnaround in their behavior, when the Headmaster delivered the coup-de-grace: "Look, you just about managed to top the school. Indeed we focussed too much on you. Actualy, Babu got only about 2 percent less than you overall. If we had promoted him the way we went out of the way to help you, he could well have beaten you and even got us the Rank!"
At home, a few days later, I have some visitors. I recognise two of my juniors from the school. With them is a slightly older young man who was obviously leading the group. He said: "Hi, I am Sekar, an old student from your school. The school has reopened and your juniors and former students are organizing a meeting to honor you, at the school. Will it be convenient for you to come to the school tomorrow at 9.30 am? It will be a half hour gathering and will be over by 10 when the classes begin".
I felt pleasantly surprised. "That is very nice. I shall come. Indeed I am honored!"
That evening, I told Pop: "The teachers might have behaved odd; but my juniors are showing some appreciation for my efforts!"
Next morning. I reached the school by 9.15 am. At the gate, Sekar and the friends I had seen the previous day were waiting. With them were a few middle-aged men in 'khadi'. There were very few students about - and none of the teachers. Sekar introduced me to these men "Mr. David, Mr. Ramesh,...". Intros over, I asked Sekar: "Where is the meeting being held?" Sekar says: "It will be right here. We just need to lay out some chairs and set up a 'mike'." Within minutes the arrangments are over. I muse "So, the meeting will be in front of the school gate, not AT the school, eh?".
It is about 9.40. Students begin to arrive for the day and several of them gather in front of the 'dais'. The khadar-wearers and Sekar fill the chairs. I stand beside with the juniors.
The oldest 'khadar-dhari' stands up and addresses the students: "Dear students, today we have gathered to felicitate Mr.... (he looks at me, then continues) .. your senior here who has topped the SSLC examination with 'first mark'.This meeting is organized by KSU (Kerala Students Union) who have always been tirelessly working for the student community in Kerala. This organization has a rich history. In the 1950's when the Communist Government led by 'EMS' was oppressing the common people of this enlightened State, KSU under the leadership of energetic student leaders like ...... relentlessly organized agitations till that tyrannical regime was ousted. "We shall make EMS pee in his pants" was the passionate (sic) slogan that was raised in those heady days... And THIS school has always in the forefront of KSU activities; it has contributed young activists like Sekar...."
After going on in this vein for some more time, he turns and gestures asking me to step forward. I am handed a brightly giftwrapped package and a thin stainless steel medal is pinned on my shirtsleeve. Then the leader hands over the mike to Sekar who launches into a similar speech, talking about KSU's achievements in the immediate context. He concludes by exhorting the students to vote for KSU in the forthcoming School Elections. After Sekar has spoken for about 5 minutes, the mike passes on to yet another delegate. He repeats what has already been said, more stridently..
By now around fifty students are watching the proceedings. But then, the school bell started ringing and the audience started melting away rapidly. Sekar stands up and raises some slogans - manifestly, to conclude the meeting on an emotional high: "Victory to KSU!" "Victory to David!" "Victory to Ramesh!" and then another guy adds: "Victory to Sekar!".
Suddenly, a different set of slogans rose -louder- from a group of students about 50 meters away: "KSU go back!", "Down with Sekar and his henchmen!", "SFI is our party!" and so on. Fearing trouble, I start moving away from near the chairs when I feel a pat on the shoulder. It was Paul, a junior well known to me and ardent SFI activist. "Hey man! How did YOU join this KSU scum?! We did not expect this!" I stammer a vague apology and quickly walk to catch a bus back home - without looking back at what Sekar and co are up to. Safely on the bus, I opened the package and found a slim English-to-Malayalam dictionary; the preface said something to the effect that it was a 'boon' for school students. It didn't make it home with me.