The Bunk Bed And Other Life Lessons

Outside of the cupboard, the steel framed bunk bed was the closest thing to ownership that I had in the dormitory.  Coated in chipped white enamel the two levels of the bed’s steel frame supported plywood planks, on top of which a knotted cotton mattress was placed.  Whatever bedding went over this was up to the student to provide.  The final piece was the bed cover.  Identical for all beds in the dorm, this was an unimaginatively designed, color appropriate striped sheet (in my case it was dark blue and white) that was used to wrap each student’s bed.  This gave the impression of an orderly environment, despite the sometimes urine stained, often unwashed sheets and sleeping bags that were underneath.

The Ajit House dorm I lived in had four rows of bunk beds, each ten bunks in length.  The two center rows were placed against each other, with a wide walkway that separated these from the outer two rows.  Every bed in a row was equally spaced, with just enough room on either side to squeeze through.  To get to a top bunk there was a bar welded just below the center of the bedframe’s head and foot, which was used as a foothold.  No handholds were given, making any attempt to scale these bunk beds, especially for the smaller kids, a dangerous endeavor.  Often kids would use the bedding of the top bunk to hold onto while climbing up.  If the bedding was not properly anchored or tucked in, it would shift or slide, causing the student to lose their balance and tumble to the ground, or worse, crack their head against the frame.

The bunk bed’s metal frame also conveniently served as the perfect instrument for waking us up, and our Dormitory Supervisor was a master at playing it.  His morning performance began with turning the lights on at 6 am, followed by a scream I imagine he perfected while fantasizing about being a soldier in the Indian Army and charging Pakistani defensive positions.

“Wake up!  Wake Uuuuup!  Waaaaake Uuuuuuuuuup!” 

Using his wooden cane, he would beat it back and forth against the metal frame of each bed until he felt the child in that bed was sufficiently awake.  Some students would play for my time, by sitting up until he passed, only to lie down again when he went on to the next row of bunk beds. 

For these hardcore sleepers, who refused to be rousted by the Supervisor’s first act, the finale was guaranteed to do the job.  The show culminated with the virtuoso ripping away the covers of any student remaining in bed, while yelling, “Saala!  Mader Chod! Waaaaaake Uuuuuup!”

Once satisfied that his work was complete, the Supervisor would vanish as quickly as he appeared, leaving the students to groggily go about their business, heading to the bathrooms or beginning to get dressed.

The first day of the school year was crucial, in that once you picked a bed, either a top or bottom bunk, this remained your spot for the rest of the year.  So getting it right was important.  If you happened to get into a fight with your neighbor, they would remain your neighbor, unless you could talk another kid into trading places.  Like much of boarding school life, you quickly learned from your mistakes. 

The choice in choosing a bed had two considerations.  The first was location.  Learning from the mistake of being too close to the dorm’s entrance the first year, as this was where the Supervisor started his wake-up routine, in following years I always chose a bed on the furthest corner away from the entrance, so that his yelling wouldn’t be so jarring and I’d have a few minutes to wake up before he got to my bed.

The second thing to consider was to make sure, no matter what, you got a bottom bunk.  The obvious reason was getting in and out of a top bunk could prove much more dangerous over the year.  Having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night when you were in a top bunk involved a much higher level of alertness and therefore less sleep.   The other reason was the ability to block out light.  Since you had no say when the overhead lights were turned off (the Dormitory Supervisor controlled this) and you wanted to go to sleep a little earlier than that time, having a bottom bunk helped.   If you had a top bunk you were at the mercy of these lights AND the rising sun on Sundays, our one day off a week where we could sleep in.

The American kids often slept in groups which helped further control the light on Sundays.  On Saturday night a group of us would push our beds together and use our bedsheets as curtains to block out the early sun, by tucking them under the top bed’s mattress and running them along the sides of the bedframe.  This also gave us the feeling of privacy, which was relished, as living in a dorm room with eighty children you were afforded little of it.

Looking back, it is interesting to see how much we rolled with the punches, doing our best to get by while making damn sure we made the right choice on things we could control. 

 Only one day off a week from school? Ok.  Living in a room with eighty students?  No problem.  Top bunk for a year?  No fucking way, I will kill you. 

Although at times I fixate on things I cannot change, I do my best to let go of these and focus my energy on fighting for the things I can.  Lord Bunk Bed has granted me this wisdom.  

Day One: The Adventure Of The Portable Cell Phone Charger

 

Holy Crap.  That was hard.

I thought it would be a simple flight from Delhi to Dehra Dun, followed by an easy taxi drive up to Mussoorie, before ending with a leisurely stroll to my “too good to be true” priced hotel.  But I forgot.  This was India.  Instead, it was a quick refresher course on the sheer random chaos, simple cons and bureaucratic shenanigans that goes along with most any day here.

It started with the mundane; taking a taxi from my hotel in Delhi to return to Indra Gandhi Intl Airport.  As I was in line to check in for my flight, I noticed a sign stating that all portable cell phone chargers were not allowed in carry-on baggage.  Realizing I had mine in my carry-on, I quickly transferred it to my bag that I was checking in.  A few minutes later, I was on my way to security, with my bag checked and ticket in hand.

Unlike the U.S. where the TSA provides instructions on how to clear security (remove laptop from bag, take off belt, no liquids over 3 oz, etc.), here there was nothing to inform passengers on what to do.  Add to this the fact that there were plenty of people whom had never flown before and this helped to create a security line of epic proportions.  I watched as they pulled bag after bag for having bottles of water, fifths of Johnny Walker, a bottle of indeterminable green liquid and many other beverages.  The family with the large bottle of green liquid refused to forfeit it, but instead passed it amongst themselves until it was finished.  For every bag that was being pulled, a security officer had to create a handwritten log, noting in a book that I’m pretty sure no one was ever going to read, the details of each passenger.

After a half an hour of watching this play out, I finally made it through the bottleneck and made my way to the gate.  At the gate, there was a vending machine full of Indian sodas.  Feeling nostalgic, I bought a Thums Up, a slightly sweet cola with a big red thumb on the can, found a seat and began drinking it.  Halfway finished, they called my name.

“Ravi Singh, Ravi Singh.  Please come up to the boarding gate desk.” The attendant said.

I stood up and began walking towards the desk.  Raising my hand to get his attention, I said, “Ravi.  That is me.”

Ignoring me, he continued repeating his announcement.

“No dude, that is me,” I said a little more forcefully, presenting my boarding pass, as proof for my claim.

Incredulous at first, it took him a few seconds to process that this was really my name. The reactions so far from people hearing my name after seeing my face have been hilarious.  The best part about it though, no one misspells Ravi.  No Ravee or Robi. Shaking this off, the attendant then informed me that there was an issue with my checked in luggage and that I need to go to Gate 27 to clear it up.

At Gate 27 I was told that my checked in baggage had a item in that was not permitted, a portable cell phone charger.  They said if I had it in my carry-on, it would have been fine, but now that it was found in my checked luggage, I could not keep it.  Furthermore, they were not allowed to remove any items from a passenger’s luggage (completely understandable) and that I would have to be brought to the bag to do it myself, so I could then turn it over.

After a good face palm, I did my best to accept the situation.  I misread that poorly worded sign at check in and now had to deal with the consequences.  I and a gentleman flying to Jaipur were lead to where the bags were kept with items not permitted to go on a plane; a basement room all the way across the terminal from my gate.  In order to get to this room, we had to pass through a secured door.  There our boarding passes were noted by a security guard, who took this information down by writing them into a very large book.

Down in the basement, I zipped open an outside pouch on my bag, removed the offending power source and handed it over.  I signed a form releasing ownership and then had to watch as an inspector dutifully created another handwritten log to record my relinquishment.

Thinking this would be the end of it, I was led back up to the security door, which thankfully did not require another log to leave and began to walk towards my gate. Luckily I had gotten out in time to overhear the announcement over the intercom,

“Ravi Singh.  Ravi Singh Kreow-sun.  This is you last chance to board your flight for Dehra Dun.”

“Fuck,” was all I had left in me as I broke into a full sprint across the terminal to get to my gate.

Halfway there I started gasping, exhausted from jetlag.  I also had to fight the urge to vomit, mostly thanks to the Thums Up I just drank.  But like a badass, I got to that goddamn gate in time and made that flight to Dehra Dun.  My bag, however, did not.

Next to the empty bag carousel in Dehra Dun’s Jolly Grant Airport, a representative of the airline explained, “Yes, Mr. Ravi, your bag did not make it because there was something keeping it from getting on the plane.”

My heart sunk.  Thoughts of having to fly back to Delhi to clear up whatever else needed to be taken out of my bag started to creep in.  After several back and forths we finally got the core reason why my bag was not put on the flight.  If you guessed handwritten paperwork relinquishing my ownership of my cell phone charger, you are smarter than I.  Despite my initial protests, telling the representative that I had already signed that form in Delhi, I knew the best way forward was to be cooperative rather than belligerent and do whatever I had to get my bag.  Another form was signed, stating that I was relinquishing my cell phone charger.  Four hours later, I was reunited with my bag.  Here is a photo of the Dehra Dun airport bathrooms that I got very familiar with during that time.

Bag in hand, I was elated that I would not have to live out the next two weeks wearing the clothes I had on.  I booked an air-conditioned taxi to drive me to Mussoorie.  Although a ton had changed along the way, you could still see much of old India, some of which is pictured below.

 

 

With my taxi reaching Mussoorie, I disembarked at Library Point, the far western side of town and proceeded to make my way to where I thought my hotel was located.  The funny thing about trying to remember where a place is after 30 years, is that it likely isn’t where you thought it would be.  My hotel was supposed to be located on the opposite side from Picture Palace, a movie theater that anyone like myself, who had spent time in Mussoorie knew.  Now either it moved, or I just knew the name and never went.  I could of sworn I saw a movie there, called Crossfire in Caracas, a latin take on a Blaxploitation spy film.  Well whatever the case, senility or moving shop, Picture Palace was well past where my mind had placed it.  After dragging my roller suitcase for a good couple of miles, I reached the famed movie house.  Using the map I printed out, I found the side street my hotel was located on and walked down to check in.

Reaching the bottom of the hill, I identified the hotel that was supposed to be next to mine.  However, there was no other hotel next to it.  I looked at my map and crosschecked off all the other businesses located nearby.  I was definitely in the right spot.

When in doubt, ask the locals, I thought.

I went in to the adjacent hotel to ask if they knew of my hotel.  No luck.  Exasperated, I resorted to using my international wireless service, to call the number of the hotel chain, only to be told that this hotel did not exist in their database.  Someone conned Hotels.com and in turn me and now I had figure out where I was going to stay for the next four days.

Not having data for my phone so I could search for available hotels, I began to start making my way back towards Library Point, stopping in hotels and asking if they had any vacancy.  Mussoorie had become a discount tourist destination for middle class Indians, so finding a place that wasn’t a complete shithole proved to be harder than anticipated.  Running out of options and beginning to feel the pull of jetlag, I checked the time in NYC and felt 8 o’clock on a Sunday wasn’t too early to call a friend for help.  Thankfully Flora picked up.

After filling her in on the craziness of the day, I asked, “Hey, can you help me find a hotel?”

“Sure!” she replied. “I am not familiar with Mussoorie, obviously, so you’ll have to bear with me”

After going through a list of hotels either too far away or without Wi-Fi, I had almost made it back to Library Point.  Perched high above all else, was a sign for The Savoy, known in Mussoorie for being THE luxury hotel.

“Fuck it, ” I said surrendering to my desire for comfort and the ability to check my emails,  “See if the Savoy has any rooms available.”

“They do.  It’s expensive,” Flora said, “are you sure?”

“Yes. I don’t care right now.  Please book it and I’ll call you after I get checked in.”

“Cool.”

“Thank you so much.”

So for my first night in Mussoorie, I stayed at one of the fanciest hotels I’ve ever been in.  Dated?  Yes.  But still crazy, bend over backwards service and much, much more (on Day Two).

Although, you’d think at $260 a night, they could afford an extra “E” for their sign.