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Golden Moments

A 100 gm gold medal pinned to memory forever, but lost in transition

Inflation is not all that bad if you have a little gold to fall back on. It so happens that I had some gold, about a 100gms of it, which at the current price would have been worth about Rs 2 lakh. When it came into my possession, it was worth no more than Rs 200, but I have no idea where it is now, and it is a sad story.

Just around the last world war, I stood first in matriculation in Bombay (now Mumbai) and was awarded a gold medal. But I didn't actually see it until a year later, for one of the conditions was that I should continue my studies at least for a year in college. So I patiently waited for the medal for a whole year, through two monsoons and a summer, until I received a letter from the university asking me to attend a convocation ceremony and receive the medal from the hands of the chancellor, that is, the governor himself.

Easier said than done, I said to myself, as I was not really ready for the ceremony. I have to be presentable, I said to myself, but my usual dress was a white lenga and shirt, the kind of dress then worn by malis and street sweepers in Bombay. My friends said I should go for a proper suit, double-breasted jacket and all, for the medal would be pinned to my jacket by the governor himself, a burly Englishman called Lord Brabourne, and how would I look if I appeared before him in a mali's uniform?

I had a tailor friend and he offered to stitch a natty suit for me provided I supplied the cloth. My friends were now in full cry and I went in for a palm beach suit, then worn by the likes of Clark Gable and others, though it made a big hole in my pocket. Thus attired, I sallied forth, as P.G. Wodehouse would have put it, to receive the great medal.

Unfortunately, on the very day of the convocation, students of Bombay, a fractious lot, had decided to boycott the ceremony, and were protesting outside the hall complete with huge placards and black flags and some even carried dead crows in their bags, I was not sure why. One of the dead crows hit the governor's Union Jack and brought the procession to a halt. It was a bad omen - it was my first convocation and I didn't want it to be the last - but, a la Wodehouse, I persevered and appeared in the hall, palm beach suit and all, ready for anything.

There were about five or six medalists and we were asked to sit on the dais, behind the governor in his splendid gown, and his entourage. The hall was packed with the high and mighty of Bombay, the inevitable Parsi ladies in glittering silk sarees, along with their escorts whom one normally saw only in newspapers. There were also the usual army officers with more medals on their tunics than were being given away during the ceremony. And, of course, a strong contingent of teachers from local colleges strategically seated near the entrances.

The governor, as I have said, was Lord Brabourne, after whom the famous cricket stadium of Bombay is named. He was about twice my height and thrice my weight, and had also chosen to go in for a palm beach two-piece suit, but with a Saville Row touch about it. I was only sixteen at the time, worried to death about how to go home in pouring rain after the ceremony.

At last, the governor pinned the medal to my lapel but the effort seemed to have exhausted him. It was my tailor's fault. He had forgotten to make a button - hole and the pin just would not pierce the cloth. The medal weighed 100gms, and, according to my grandmother, who possessed more gold than the Reserve Bank, was worth at least Rs 200, a lot of money in those days. My first impulse was to sell it and pocket the money but grandmother said it would be blasphemy to let it go and would I please hand it over to her for safekeeping?

I never saw it again. God alone knows how anxiously I have been looking for it all these years, if only to help me make a dent in my growing revenue deficit!