Yaar, I’ve a case discussion in a class! I’m getting late. Can I call you in the afternoon?
Which class is that? You are still going to classes? When will you stop these studies Boy!
It’s called SDM.
SDM? Sub Divisional Magistrate?
No, it’s not that SDM; it’s called Supply and Distribution Management.
Ok , I’ve called you after many years, you don’t know how I managed to get your mobile number and now you have got a case! You solve your cases later on. I’ve got amazing news to share with you.
Oh ok, what is it?
A chap has got into 10th board merit from our school. Finally someone has done it.
Ohh great! Who is he?
Yeah man, finally it is. It’s the principal’s son Prakhar Bansal.
Really, I’m so happy, we all used to be so much fascinated with the merit holders in our school time. Is that guy from our village?
No, actually that principal got his son registered in our school, otherwise he didn’t study there, he came to write the exams only from the nearby town, and you know some help is always there when it’s all happening in your backyard.
“he he, now don’t discredit the kid of his hard work. You were always suspicious about my marks too. You won’t understand what it takes to get first rank in the school”, I said.
Oh yeah! can you see his name on the internet? How much marks has he got? He asked.
Ok, let me try, Yeah, I found the name and roll number. Wait a second! Hey, here it is. Our dude has got 93.83%, and you know what his mother’s name is?
Hehe, Now what has his mother’s name got to do with it?
Haha, it is Sumita Agrawal! Sounds familiar, isn’t it?
Yeah, you remember, two girls with the same name were amongst the eight students whose results were declared in our time, out of the 180 students who wrote the exam at the center in our school.
Hehe, right! But there is more in this name. I can guess he was smiling on the other end of the phone.
Dude, I’m already late to the class, I’ll talk to you in the afternoon.
I entered the class, putting the mobile in the silent mode, looking for some empty chairs in the last rows, but as always the rows at the back always fill first, most of us are so scared to sit in the first row. It’s totally opposite to the school days, where we used to fight to sit in the front rows.
I hurriedly sat in the second row, first row was still vacant. I tried to flip through the pages of the case book. I haven’t even read the case; in fact I didn’t even know which case it was.
As I was still turning the pages, I felt as if I was sitting in that class room under the peepal tree, right next to the Hanuman ji ka mandir. All the girls sat in the first row, they had few advantage of being girls, and it was one of those. they got to sit in the first row, no matter how late they come to school.
“So, how are the preparations going for the board exams?” She asked without turning back.
I knew the question was for me only, not for the girl sitting to the right of her. I had come to school after many days as I was busy preparing for the final exams at home, there was no teaching in the school those days.
“Yeah going on fine, it’s just two weeks now. How’s your preparation? Still coming to school?” I replied.
The room was dark; the windows were sealed by bricks and plastered. The black patches looked strange on the white wall. It was second time that school was hosting the board exams and it was one of the sensitive centers. Being a village with majority of Jat and Gurjar population, the authorities didn’t want to take any risk.
Yeah, I thought someday you’ll show up, you vanished in thin air as if you never were part of this school, she whispered again, without looking back, only I and the girl sitting next to her could hear it.
“Good then, I’m leaving, I just came to collect the admit card today. See you in exam. Prepare well”.I said as I prepared to leave. I could see the smile disappear from her face.
I picked my notebook and rushed out of the class room. I didn’t want to stay there. Everyone in the class felt strange to me in those times, I used to feel as if I didn’t have any friend there and everyone was competing with me in one way or another, to get the attention of the teachers or someone else or to become the topper of the school.
It was morning of 23rd March 99; I woke up early, as it was the day when the board exams were to start. I must have been cramming the essays, it was my weak part. I got my tea in the bed that day; father brought it along with the news paper.
Your exams are cancelled. The English paper was leaked last night! He said with a bit of disappointment on his face.
I, on the other hand was quite happy about it. I put the passbook on the side of the bed, grabbed the newspaper and read the news myself. The exams had really been cancelled.
I came out of the room, as if the exams were over on that day itself. Most of the friends, whom I met that morning, were quite happy too. We all went to play cricket in the afternoon that day.
After a week or so, the new date came as 22nd April. We all got one more month to prepare.
This time again we were all ready to write the exams, I was again cramming the essays in the morning that day, but as the luck would have it, the papers were leaked once again. But this time I too was not happy along with my father.
It was getting quite boring; after all it was end of the April, when will the exams start? I was getting really frustrated after so much preparation, how many time would someone read those books, I even had a marriage to attend in the family in the first week of May, which I was planning to go for sure after the exams.
The new date was declared by the end of the April. It was 13th May. The local politicians demanded fans in the class rooms but that was all in the talks, who will arrange fans for a million students in two weeks.
The marriage was on 6th May. Now I worried that I could not attend it, I knew it for sure. But somehow father agreed. He allowed me to go to it, the request made to mummy worked.
Finally it was the eve of day; the 13th May had come at last. I was hoping it doesn’t get shifted once again. It was really very hot during that time. I had really put in my best in the preparation. I had never stayed awake after 10 PM unless it was the Friday night movie on DD-1. But now I couldn’t sleep even after 11 PM, father would ask me to sleep, quite surprising, I thought!
The power cut had its own timings; it didn’t matter if it was exam time. My father would clean the glass of the kerosene lamp and lit it up at the roof top. It was better at the roof; it is a common practice for the people to sleep at roofs during night time. We didn’t have the water cooler either and the fan was useless, as it was just hot air blowing on your face.
I woke up early, still struggling with the essays. This time I had written these in Hindi, and was planning to translate the sentences, which I had mugged up, directly into English. I reached the exam center along with my father. I said I would go alone but he insisted to come along. It was an electrifying scene there. Students had come from nearby villages on cycles, motorcycles and tractors while some on foot. More than students, the people came to see the board exam, what does it feel to appear for a metric exam, they just wanted to have a look at the preparations there.
I was chatting with my friends, wanted to be away from my father, how other students would think about me that I had come with my father, and I was still a kid in nursery. No one wanted his parents to come to school. They used to come only if someone had big fight with some teacher or other student and the rustication was on the cards.
Then one of my classmates tapped me on my shoulder and indicated to one big fat man, it’s him. He smiled at me, shook my hand and said, so you are Vikram!
I think it was the first time someone’s father shook my hand; it was not a common practice for the elders to shake hand with boys of my age. He’s her father, my friend informed!
I was surprised, why would he come to me. Has he also come to know about the rumors which my classmates have made up? I gathered myself hurriedly and said, “Namaste!”
So, how are the preparations? He asked. Which one of you is getting in to the merit list? You or she? Both of you have got good competition. Let’s see who had prepared well.
I smiled, let’s see, I haven’t prepared well. But she is very intelligent. I hope she’ll make it to the merit.
Why not you? Students like you only do it. You have prepared enough for it, he said, smiling at me.
My father saw us both, he came towards us. By this time the gate had opened. It was the first time I had seen policemen guarding our school gate. She too came towards us from a corner where all the girls were chirping like birds at the dawn. She was smiling as she walked towards us, keeping her eyes straight, she didn’t even look at me. Her father kept his hands at the heads of both of us. Do well! He said.
“Take it easy, and don’t rush to finish the paper, take your time before writing the answer”, my father suggested.
Both of us moved towards the gate, tried to see our seats on a display board, students were hurdling in front of it. We are in the same room, she said, finally looking towards me, but still avoiding the eye contact.
We were not only in the same room, but very near to each other. Out of the four rows in the room, my seat was at the end of the fourth row while she was at the end of the third row. We were seated just two-three feet away from each other. Both of us laughed after seeing that, we felt as if our school teachers had knowingly arranged it this way.
The exam started, unlike normal exams, lots of instructions were read out by the invigilator who was one of our teachers from the same school. A team of teachers checked us thoroughly if we had any paper or unwanted material. The first part of the paper had multiple choice questions and it started at 10 AM; it was for half an hour. After around twenty minutes, the peon of the school came with a jug of water, his son was my classmate and he was also writing the exam at that center only. The peon offered me water, I denied, I thought that the exam had just started, and it was too early for the water break. But his purpose of the visit to my seat was something different. He slipped me a small piece of paper, and asked me to write the answers on it and left to make a round of the room with the jug in his hand. He came in two minutes, asking everyone if they wanted water. I had not written anything on the paper and rolled it into a small ball and threw it out of the door which was just in front of my table.
He came back to me and asked for the paper slip. I said, “I threw it”. He stared at me and left, without saying anything.
In next few minutes, the first part was collected and the second part was given. The answers to these questions were to be written on an answer sheet which was given before the start of the exam. It was made of good quality paper; I had never seen such a big answer sheet. How someone would fill it, I thought for a moment.
I started with the essay, it was my weakest part, and it had a significant part of the marks. I started with the translation work. I sneaked a look at her; she too was busy writing with her new pen, which was brought by her brother from Jaipur, especially for the board exams. She too gave a look towards me, which I could notice, but I continued writing, as I was in danger of forgetting the essay!
It was almost an hour now; the peon came back with the jug of the water, and slipped a sheet of paper once again. I threw it away in front of him only and warned him that I’ll tell invigilator. This time he left without even looking at me.
The time was running short, I wrote whatever I could, and English was never my strong subject, so even more worries. Finally the time was over, and I could hear the chatting of other students as I was the last person in the room and still trying to finish the answer but the invigilator snatched the sheet.
So how was it, you were writing all the time, she asked after coming out of the room. I said, “It was ok”.
After coming out of the school we came to know that some of the students in other rooms were caught cheating, their answer sheets were seized and new answer sheets were given, it was all the talk about them afterwards, and no discussion about the paper as it happen in schools in cities.
The exam continued, the peon didn’t come with the sheet again as I had told my father about it and he complained to the center in charge before the exam next day.
It was first paper of the math; most of the students were worried about it. By now everyone knew that she and I were sitting next to each other and they used to come to see us in our room just before the start of the exam, as if we were some items!
In these three four days, the students were comfortable in talking to each other during the exam; we too used to steal a moment from the invigilator and ask each other the answer to the multiple choice questions, we used to indicate the answers by count of showing number of fingers like 1 for A, 2 for B and 4 for D. It was fun!
After almost an hour after start of the exam, someone struck at the window which was sealed by bricks, from outside. It was a loud noise, after two-three hammers the brick came out and fell at the table of a girl sitting by the side of it, luckily she escaped unhurt. The person tried to trough few papers thorough the newly created hole in the window, but the invigilator took it before someone could pick it to copy the answers. This was something totally unexpected. Few policemen rushed to look out for the person who was doing it. After few minutes, they came towards to center in charge’s office dragging and beating a boy, but he didn’t cry. I was just seeing it all from the door in front of my desk.
As the exam time was coming to end, both of us tallied the answers of questions, as it was just a numeric figure in the math. I came to know that one of my answers to a question was wrong, I corrected it and finally the dreadful math paper was over. It wasn’t that tough, and I was quite happy about it.
The next paper was of social science, it was second last paper of the season. While everyone was busy writing the paper, suddenly an outside checking team came to our center. The gatekeeper informed the administration before opening the lock at gate. The invigilator in turn informed us all that the checking team was in another room and it was about to come to our room. Suddenly many of the students started giving many pieces of paper to the invigilator, while some of them tried to throw them out of broken window and the gates. The invigilator was Rekha Madam that day; she tied her Dupatta at her waist, collected the pieces of paper from many students and put them in her kurta. In few minutes her belly looked as if she was pregnant. Even though she was strictly against cheating but that day she helped many students saving themselves from the checking team. I still couldn’t believe that she took such a big risk to help the students which she didn’t even knew as she was a new teacher.
A student threw a piece of paper under the table of the girl, who was sitting next to the broken window. She was unaware of it and was caught by the checking team. She denied vehemently that it was not her chit. But the checking team member snatched her answer sheet and put a note on it in red ink. She was given another answer sheet but she started crying loudly as soon as the checking team left. That day she disturbed most of us, I could not write answers as she kept crying till the end of the exam, teachers from the other rooms kept on coming to console her. But she won’t stop.
It was the time for last paper, I was quite excited, and finally the exams were coming to an end. Previous night, another classmate of mine at the nearby roof top was busy tearing apart his book to make chits. It was final exam and he was ready to take any risks to pass the exams, after all he was preparing to join Indian army and it was necessary to pass the secondary exam for achieving his dream. I turned off the kerosene lamp around midnight and went to sleep.
It was the last day; I bought some toffees on the way to school. I was planning to offer these to her probably for the first time. I called her and threw one on her table. The toffee fell off the table and she bent down to pick it up. She noticed that there were some paper chits inserted in to cracks of the table. She took these out and started searching her table and chair to look if any more are there. I too started searching my table and chair and to my utter surprise, my table was also full of paper chits.
Someone, probably one of the visitors, who curiously used come to our room to see both of us sitting next to each other, had put these intentionally to get us caught by the checking team. But luckily these chits didn’t come out in front of the checking team or the invigilator. Neither of us knew who had put these and when. But there were many who could have done these as no one was happy even seeing us talking to each other. It’s still a secret who did it.
The final exam was a lot tougher for me, as I was still worried about what might have had happened had any one of us was caught with paper chits in the table. I wrote whatever I could write; we didn’t tally the answers as we didn’t want to take any further risk. Both of us were sitting idle just after half way through the exam time as we didn’t have any teacher for social science in our school and we didn’t even complete the syllabus for this subject.
We kept looking at each other; I could see the feeling of sadness in her eyes. It was probably the last time that we were seeing each other, and who knew where we would land up for the further studies. School was the only common place where we could see each other, in fact just feel the presence of each other as we never saw each other perfectly as we were so ashamed of even having a good look at each other’s face, what to say of an eye contact.
The board exams were over; our fathers came to receive us. It was second time that I saw her father. I strangely asked him, where he was planning to put her in the next class. But he had not thought about it. “Let’s wait for the result!" was the only reply came from him. All four of us walked together to some distance before they moved on the way of their village. Both of us looked at each other as if it was never going to be possible for me to even see her again. There were no telephones or mobiles at our homes back then, so there was no question of being in touch with phones. It was over! I felt strange and came home along with my father.
The board exams were over on 22nd may. It was a lot hotter by now, the power didn’t come and it was really tough if I look back, but it was good time.
The result finally came on 26th July in the local news paper. Everyone was shocked, only 8 student’s out result was declared while other’s result was withheld. No one knew the reason. Luckily both of us were successful in being in those lucky eight successful students. The newspaper informed us about the passing division only and the marks could be seen at the internet, somewhere in the Bharatpur city. None of us knew what internet was? But my father went to see it. He noted the roll numbers of all the eight of us and got the marks for both of us. Later we came to know that the other student’s result was blocked because there was mass copy at the center and the answers were matching with one other for most of the students in the science paper.
The report sent by the checking team recommended the removal of the board exam center.
Whether I got to see her again is something which is still a mystery as her presence is always felt, unfortunately she has not grown up in my memories as she still seems to a girl studying in that school. But the time has passed like anything….It has been 12 years since that board exam.
“There are two eternities that can really break you down, yesterday and tomorrow. One is gone and other doesn’t exist! So live today only”
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