‘Oh! the ghost with the lamp’. Prakash looked up hearing the boy sitting near him whisper. They were in the study hall. It was not yet seven, but for the old wall clock it was already seven.
His eyes followed the boy’s gaze, in the direction of the narrow road which leads to the boarding school sleeping quarters. The light was moving towards them oscillating just above the road. Slowly a large white robe too became visible. Now Prakash was sure that it cannot be any one else other than Father Abraham, the Principal. He was carrying a hurricane lamp. In those days when electric torches were so common it was odd that he still used the old fashioned hurricane lamp. Prakash looked around; almost all the boys had their eyes on their books as if they were just a few minutes away from the final examinations.
‘Something is amiss, what it can be?’ he wondered. He had noticed that the seniors were unusually quite from the morning. He even felt that they were scared of him.
The boarding master and the principal entered the study hall. The prefect offered them chairs. Both the priest and the boarding master were in a very foul mood. Prakash could sense that they were just waiting for the slightest reason to get started. The introductory talk by the boarding master was full of threats. It sounded as if the principal was empowered to do any thing he wanted with the students. He mentioned the previous day's incident which had made the presence of the principal inevitable in the boarding.
The inmates were in an agitated mood for a week. The electrical fuse going out in the evening and the disappearance of the boarding bell, were normal. But the coin in the electric bulb holder, that too in the boarding master’s room, was really rare. The Boarding Master could not stand it. To him it was an insult. He could not find out who did it, so he punished all the boys in room number six which was next to his. According to him the coin could not have been placed in the holder without their knowledge.
The whole boarding felt it was unjust to punish any body with out finding out who really did it. The eating spree on the next two days that followed and the missing evening snacks (vatta appams) on the previous day were all parts of a revolt in disguise.
The priest placed the long cane he had with him on the table in front of him and started talking. He wanted to know who were responsible for the missing vatta appams. He sounded very angry.
It was just then that poor Kuruvilla rushed in to the study hall unaware of what was happening inside.
The priest was disturbed by the boy’s rushing in. He turned to the boy “What did u see yesterday evening in the dining hall”
“Vatta appam” Kuruvilla replied innocently and looked around smiling. He knew that the presence of the Principal was because of the incident of missing Vatta Appams on the previous day. But the students could not control laughter
“Ahangari, Dhikkari '" Boastful, disobedient, you come here”. The Priest shouted.
Kuruvilla was neither boastful nor disobedient; he was just timid and confused and had blurted out the first thing that came to his mind. But the priest thought the boy was making fun of him. He could not stand the laughing children. He started beating the boy with all his might and poor Kuruvilla suffered for no fault of his. The beating continued till the cane snapped.
Having exhausted both his energy and anger the priest sat down leaving the boy to nurse his wounds. That was enough for Prakash to decide not to say what he saw on the previous day in the dining hall. He had seen the senior boys grabbing appams, all that they could & more than their due share, and leaving.
The priest asked the boys one by one if he got the snack and if he saw any one else taking more than his share. The out come of the questioning was disappointing.
All the boys who got the appam said they took only theirs and every one including Prakash who did not get the snack maintained that all the plates were empty when they reached the dining hall. In spite of all the questioning the priest and the boarding master could not find out the boys who took more than their share.
Time was running out, having found no clue about the ones behind the missing appams, they moved on to the next offense.
This time there was no doubt about the culprits. While searching for the missing bell the boarding master had found a pack of cigarettes hidden in room number five. All the four occupants of the room were asked to stand in a row. They were all seniors. There was no need of questioning. The cigarettes were brought by one of them from a marriage party he attended and all the four had shared the contents of the pack. The crime was announced and the priest started punishing them one by one. The boy who had brought the pack was the last to receive his share. He had a nasal deformity. Part of his voice came through the nose. He received the maximum caning. He could not stand it, he cried out aloud. But because of the deformity, his sound resembled that of a howling dog. It prompted many dogs in the neighbourhood to howl in sympathy. The priest could not control his laughter, but the students did.
The ghost with the lamp went back having caused as much havoc as possible for him. And from that day onwards Prakash became a favorite among all.