The uncle conundrum

Kakai Singsit *

I was no more a spring-chicken (not young) when I reached the University but a man in the twilight of his prime years thanks to the ubiquitous academic breaks that chequered my academic journey. My tenacious involvement in activism compounded by my hedonistic inclination towards life did not help me either.

I realized that most of my, to be, classmate were far junior to me in age and aptitude but my diminutive physique came to my rescue. Only a few close mates were aware of the skeletons in my cupboard but they chose to hold their mouth. It was quirky when my classmates address me as bhai (buddy) oblivious of the fact that I was very much senior to them. So what I did was - swim along with the tide and frolic around in the University like a teenager. But all was not well.

During my third master degree I pried into the documents of a few mates and came to know that our age gap was very significant. Academically I never lagged behind these young brains but rather had outmanoeuvred them many times.

My involvement in activism became my Achilles Heel as it had forced me to truant many classes but was made good by straining every nerve whenever I was free. I was on the top of the world when this redundant brain could make it to the ranking of the examinations. That was my last master's degree.

When the result of MA (History) was announced, at the blink of an eye, an intense speculation was running riot of me making to the coveted rankings. It was assumed that there must be either clerical/tabulation mistakes or that I must have bribed some of the professors to rig the results in my favour. Well I don't blame anyone for their surmises and conjectures however ludicrous it might be but I am still smug of the fact that I had stole the thunder of even the gold medallists.

And I have this bizarre propensity of showing the seamy side of my life to the world and kept the good side a close secret. I was seldom free from trouble- either I created them or it just came running towards me. You can ask any VC and they'll vouch for it or better HNK Sharma, former VC, who never stopped berating my HOD for not keeping me on leash. On two occasions the Students' Union election had to be postponed because I threw tantrums.

I had a whale of a time during the political science semester exams as I appeared on each and every paper tipsy but when the results came it was flamboyant sending shockwaves around the University. The Gandhian Thought was really in harmony with the kick. I love political science and the Greek philosophers.

Their philosophy of 'Hedonism' that life is short and should be enjoyed to the hilt caught my fascination and still clinging to it. The buzz was that I have got an ingenious brain to party every night and then scored sixers. I love party and the people who love it. That's how all the thugs and reprobates of the University, cutting across communities, became my friends.

And there is no dearth of friends who never fail to turn up to my door laden with drinks the night before I was to appear for my exams. Though I was pissed off it feels great to wallow with them and empty all the pungent juices down our gullet. They took extra care that a few sips were set aside for my morning hang-over. And the aftermath is that I have to take a peg or two as a palliative to ease the aches in my head before heading for the examination hall. Hence, the narrative was built up that I was extraordinarily gifted.

My uncanny imagination and flair for writing also add to my good fortune when it comes to scoring marks. I vividly remember the paper, Introduction to Communication, when I answered one question like this- According to Professor Jongchal......... by contriving a made up quote and made an exhaustively lengthy explanation. Jongchal is a derisive term for male monkey in my dialect.

Our professor had told us that communication theory is a grey area and no particular theory that is being accepted, for the moment, so we could rely on any source even if it is from the internet. So I took my chance but defended my premise very articulately and strongly. Frankly, this paper was the most difficult, convoluted and taxing of the entire Mass Communication. The trick worked and I did scored a handsome 78 marks. I still have a hearty laugh whenever this episode comes to mind.

My only regret is that I could have fared better than this colleague of mine from Ukhrul, Mr. Aleng who had the temerity to bag the gold medal in M.COM while he also drinks like a fish. Not only that, he got the prestigious JRF the next year itself thus belittling my feat. But I am proud of him for lifting all the drinkers to the pedestal of glory while the rest of the world chose to denigrate us.

But little did people realize how much we have to sweat and toil to get those good grades. Memories are still graphic when my late father came to my room at 2:00 AM chastening me for sitting up too late. He was concerned for my health since this was going on for months. Before every exam I'd switched off my phone to remain incommunicado so that I can drown myself in studies. 13 hours a day was the normal time that I pored over. I tell you, I am no genius and everything was the outcome of hard work. You know I could read for hours even if I was punch drunk and that also works to my advantage.

During my second year in political science examination at DM College of Arts one evening as I went to my favourite evening rendezvous at Mujikhul the owner of the tavern was emphatic that I will not pass the exam as I regularly went for my evening sips even during exams. I retorted that I will come in first class to which we had a bet that if the results were true to my words he would offer shindig and if not I was to do the same. The next year after the BA result was declared I retrieved my mark sheet via the internet and pasted it on their wall. He was stunned beyond measure but lived up to his promises.

Life in the University was idyllic as people of all ages and leanings sat under the same roof irrespective of the gulf in their age. The ubiquitous presence of taverns/pubs in the vicinity made it even better. But how will you react if a man of your size or your classmates calls you uncle? Will you be comfortable with it? Or will you lose your composure if a girl whom you think hitting on her calls you uncle. This is something that should happen only in the surreal world but here in the University it is a frequent recurrence.

Where are you going uncle was the greeting that accosted me while I was meandering around the university campus at the break hours? I flew into passion at this unsolicited courtesy and gave this young man the berating of his life. Angrily, I beckoned him to come nearer and snorted at his ears that I will break his bones if he ever calls me uncle again. He was confounded but walks away nodding sheepishly.

Yes, the guy who was at the receiving end of my anger is a nephew of mine and there was nothing wrong with his honorific but the catch was that on that fateful day he was he was accompanied by a girl whom I had some loose-ends. He was confused with my aberration and consulted his mother how were we related. On seeing me her mother roared into convulsion of laughter slapping my back again and again.

Live not a soul who doesn't want to be young and hearty for the rest of his life. Just as nobody of importance wants to grow old as such none will relish the word uncle from a man of the physical size and academically at your level. I have come across senior citizens, inching towards the graveyard that will shout the hell out of you if you call them grandpa but rather rejoice at being called Tamo or brother. It is in human nature that everyone wants to be sweet and twenty throughout their lives but the only hitch is we can't.

Many students after completing their graduation courses prefer to opt to teaching or other callings. This might be due to the pressure to augment the family income or sheer pleasure of taking sabbatical from taxing academic chores. This gave rise to academic hiatus.

It is a common sight at the university to come across students having long educational breaks. In such a situation you are forced to sit with someone who is very much junior to you in age and propensity. But it all turns out well and in spite of the age divergence for everybody, old or young, mingles well. It is especially in the political science and history department that you will notice maximum students with long breaks. Whether you believe it or not there were some students who are even older than their professors.

One Ngangam from the political science department had a long academic hiatus due to his involvement in Ngo activities. The other Khiyangngam claims more than ten years break and Bruce Lee who also had the same amount of long breaks had thrown tantrums after one of our friends hit on her foster daughter, a student of class 12, during a jaunt to Ukhrul.

Mr. Ngangam arrived a month before the University entrance examination and stayed in the hostel with one of the students from his area. As he was strolling around the university campus a girl came up to him and asked him, "Uncle where is the university administrative block?" He mumbled and angrily launched tirades against her for calling him uncle. When the session started both of us sat in the same class room.

Stomping in, brother Haokip, a senior research scholar barged into my room demanding the whereabouts of my roommate, Mr.Jangamang, from Tamenglong. He was trembling with rage and told me that he will tear my roommate into shreds wherever he met him.

What's the matter brother, I asked? Dodging my query he left hollering. The moment he left my mind was furiously groping for probable reasons of what made him so furious. Brother Haokip was one of the coolest guys I had ever come across in university.

If he was angry that means there must be a good explanation. When my roommate arrived I narrated to him of the preceding episode. I had called him uncle out of respect in front of everyone was his answer. I could not contain myself and broke into a convulsion of laughter. It was the last answer I had expected and was hilarious.

Ours was a gang of break students and we were a ten- obnoxious clique with an impeccable record of years of academic break. Weird as it seems, this compatibility of blot in our career must have brought us together.

One day we visited one of our friends' houses, Mr. Lena for a sleepover. From the word go her mother kept on pestering us to find suitable girls and lead a settled life. We tried hard to divert the topic but she just kept on harping it. Her stance was we have past our prime life and so it was imperative for us to settle down.

Fed up with her persistence we narrated her an episode of us courting a girl. In the yore, we came across a damsel and stalked her till her doorstep. The next evening it was decided to pay a visit to her home. The moment we stepped into her door she accosted us with a horrendous welcome note, " Uncles please step in".

We were all caught off-guard at this gratuitous welcome note and were reeling at the door at loss whether to step inside or retract. Immediately the blame game started to whom the word uncle was addressed. Finally, the onus was fixed on Ngangam, the senior most and whose beauty was the most elusive.

On hearing the incident our friend's mother burst into hysterical peals of laughter. She laughed the whole night and the moment the day broke I still could hear her profusely giggling on her bed.

* Kakai Singsit wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 10 2021.

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