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One name, emotions many

A seat next to the window with a friend alongside was a scenario I happily embraced every

morning. The forty-five minutes daily journey by bus to a picturesque spot on the outskirts of the city I dwelled in seemed like an excursion more often. The trip would eventually end inside a campus that was then our gateway to knowledge.

I was a second-year student then. It was another normal day as I lazily alighted from the bus

and strolled towards my classroom. The corridor was crowded as usual, but the buzz around a few classrooms symbolised tension; an incident that happened the previous day served as the backdrop.

It was a time in the year when freshers had to be victims of an unwanted ritual called ragging. This time around, a group of second-year students went overboard with the practice andhumiliated one of the juniors. While leaving the spot, he vowed to avenge his manhandling. The words he uttered did send a shiver down the spine to many. Fearing retaliation anytime, the lotresponsible for the act discussed the ways to counter an onslaught.

It was half-past twelve when we stepped out of our classroom and ambled towards the

canteen. We were busy munching on the delicacies served when one of our batchmates rushed towards the table where Senthil, my classmate, and Siva, my batchmate from another

department, were seated and whispered something into their ears. I could sense panic setting in.

In a flash, all the three left the place to join the rest of the gang. Their worst fear was about to turn true. The young man who had threatened to return with a vengeance had stuck to his


Ten men, five in a car and another five in a van, had entered the campus during the lunch

break to settle scores. Two of them were out of the car, enquiring about the incident, while the rest remained inside the vehicles. The news spread like wildfire, and the only way out was to negotiate, but who would bell the cat was a question that had no answer as the man they had to talk to was a don by the name Ajju Baba. The name then was synonymous with danger, and none in the college had seen him before. With stories that many vehicles were ready outside the premises and more men could sneak in anytime to wreak havoc doing rounds, Senthil and the rest were cautioned to send people who had no role in the incident for the negotiation. The idea seemed good, but will Ajju Baba agree to the proposal? By all means, he wouldn’t.

When I walked out of the canteen with my friends, I could see Senthil and Siva moving

towards the van. With no options left, they had decided to give it a shot, come what may. From a distance, the two young men standing outside the car looked more like students; the rest, though, were still inside the vehicles and never looked like stepping out. Was that their standard operating procedure? Could be.

Curious to catch a glimpse of the two, I walked further to position myself appropriately to see their faces whenever they turned. As I inched beyond a certain point with anticipation, one of the men turned towards me, only to be left shaken. It was Sridhar, an old friend of mine from the neighbourhood I was once a part of. Not knowing how to react, Sridhar turned back, advanced towards the other person who stood behind the car, and uttered something to him. The two then walked towards the van where the negotiation was happening.

Seeing Sridhar’s reaction, I was confused. Why was he shocked in the first place? Was he

embarrassed because I got to know his association with Ajju Baba? All the while, I was shrewd and didn’t display any emotion. I waited for his next move.

In a few minutes, Senthil and Siva started to walk away from the van, making way for me to

look past the open door. The sight of a huge figure seated inside was a shocker. For all the

students who waited anxiously for the talks to be over, he was Ajju Baba, not for me, though. It was time for Ajay to repeat what Sridhar did a few moments ago. I stood in disbelief. What

unfolded in front of me was hilarious to the core, and I had to struggle to remain composed. A giggle would have put the cat among the pigeons. Ajay was Sridhar’s junior and a first-year

student in one of the colleges in the city.

Ten gutsy students had entered a huge campus to threaten the people around using the name Ajju Baba. With a long kurta and a loose pyjama, Ajay was apt as Ajju Baba, his enormous frame supporting the cause. A closer look inside both the vehicles revealed more nervous faces; they were all familiar faces too. None of them expected to bump into me. Their plan would have gone for a toss if I had, by instinct, waved at Sridhar. I didn’t, and that sealed the deal for them.

With their mission accomplished, they left the campus relieved.

Having successfully negotiated an assault, Senthil and Siva spoke like heroes; if only they had

known the real Ajju Baba. I met Sridhar and company that evening. They burst into laughter the moment they saw me, and the sound of laughter broke all boundaries.

After twelve years, Ajay waited anxiously to present himself before an interview panel. He

was vying for the position desperately and was confident to impress the men who mattered.

When it was his turn to step in, he marched forward holding his head high. Seeing Ajay walk in, one of the members of the panel instantly got up from his seat in disbelief, and Senthil met Ajju Baba for the second time in his life.

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