It was 1995. Dad had been posted to Pune, after his Command in Kupwara. The family was joining him from Delhi. I was 15 years old. After Class Tenth in The Army Public School in Delhi – aka SHELTERED – I joined what is called Junior College in the Indian State of Maharashtra.
Think, no uniforms, no rules. From Tenth Standard, straight to Eleventh but it was called FYJC : First Year Junior College. I was able to gain admission in the Ness Wadia College of Arts & Commerce. It seemed like a nice campus : lot of green, a basketball court, very close to some nice and cheap eateries.
I was a “good kid”. I wasn’t thinking of partying or bunking. I didn’t do those things. Despite being a TAPSite. Also, Delhi Mom’s are super protective, so my Mom was dressing me up in Indian-Wear. Salwar Kameez only, to start with. We’d see how it went and then we’d graduate to jeans and so on.
Our residence was quite far, by Pune standards, from the college. State Transport bus ride for about an hour.
I don’t recall if it was my first day in college or one of the days from my first week in college.
There I was. Reached early – as always. The place looked deserted. I thought I’d walk till the classroom slowly and enjoy the cool morning. I t was maybe about 8 a.m. perhaps.
I was wearing a purple salwar plus kameez and a lilac-colored chiffon dupatta. My bag was an olive green canvas satchel that my Mom had stitched for me and I had painted with fabric paints. Those were not the days of makeup or jewellery.
Walked into the main gate, immediate right, walked to the corner of the first building, turn left. This is where the line-of-sight from the main gate is lost. I was immediately accosted by a group of boys. There was at least four as far as I can remember but maybe more like 6 or 7. One of them reached for my satchel and tugged at it. One reached for my dupatta and tugged at it. One tugged at the hem of my kurta. They were also saying things – maybe jibes / obscene comments? I don’t recall much of anything else except that I clutched at my loose ends, and ran through the circle they had formed around me. I didn’t turn around till I reached my classroom on the first floor and promptly bolted the door behind me.
I don’t remember anything after that. I know I went back home at some point and told my parents what had happened.
Which is where Chhavi Nath came into the picture. He was the designated DR of the Battalion and he had an olive green Royal Enfield that could be heard chugging along from a mile away. Chhavi Nath was also almost six feet tall and had the longest, bushiest moustache in the whole world. He was, imposing. And scary. If you didn’t know him. Quite the sweetheart actually.
Chhavi Nath was deputed to accompany me to college the next day. I wore camouflage pants myself. I was his pillion rider on his Royal Enfield. All the way from Aundh to Ness Wadia, for the first time in my life, I got to ride on the DR’s motorcycle.
Personal vehicles were not allowed to enter the premises of the college. Disembark at the main gate. But that would not have solved my harassment problem. The security guard at the main college gate didn’t have the heart to flag down Chhavi Nath and his motorcycle. He rode the motorcycle ALL the way to the entrance of the stairwell to my classroom. He made sure he rode slowly, without stopping or wavering. And we went a little later than usual, so that attendance at the college was full and everyone would see him and me.
I was never harassed by anyone ever after that. At least not in Ness Wadia. And at least not physically. And I started wearing pants. And sometimes capris as well ( disgusting 3/4ths if you ask me now ). I’d still get cat called once in a while. “Jungle jungle pataa chalaa hai chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai”, especially when I wore the 3/4th capri. And there was this one incident during our final exams where a guy stabbed his desk with a LONG knife and challenged the examiner to prevent him from cheating. That was the last straw, which made me switch colleges and my relationship with the Symbiosis family of educational institutes began.
I met Chhavi Nath ji again after many years, at the Rezang La Day, 2019 celebrations in New Delhi.
Moochein hon to Chhavi Nath jaisi hon, warna na hon.
Moustache have then like Chhavi Nath, else no have.
That’s one selfie I HAD to take.