Money, Merit and other skills I lacked
For the last few weeks I hardly touched my journal. First semester examination is on the deck and we had to cover tons of pages of giant alien books on all possible engineering subjects. Though we all had our specific streams, for some strange reason, through the first year we also had to read mechanical, electrical and civil, basic electronics, C programming language… the list goes on.
Learning is a great idea but studying to pass exams is a big pain in the ass. The pain was more acute for Section C students, since we had started our class a month later than usual. All thanks to our fucked up ranking and the limited bank balances of our parents that kept us in the waiting list for most colleges for a long time. In today’s educational system you need either of these two M’s in an extreme amount: Merit or Money.
Long story short, we didn’t get a chance to survive the ragging period properly but were hit badly as the mock tests began for the First Semester. I did terribly in the first set, but recovered in the second. The occasional declaration of Dad’s downward spiralling financial status (my tuition fee being the prime reason) kept me awake for many nights. But I realized I am not star son material. After three sessions of late night studying, I just had to refresh with occasional porn and computer games for the next few nights.
The most important part of my recent college life is Rishi. We bonded very well and have become inseparable. Rishi is a fun person to be with and I liked him right from the first day’s belt saga. I don’t think I did anything likable in my ‘indecent proposal’ act, but he was the only guy who didn’t mention it to me later.
He has something honest about him. Apart from his tendency to insult music artists and novelists which sometimes becomes intolerable, overall he is fun. He already knows everybody in college and is comfortable with everyone, including girls. I was shocked the other day to learn he had the numbers of many girls already, whereas I hardly recognize the faces of any students other than from my own section. Somehow he makes everyone comfortable around him.
I think I liked him and wanted to befriend him from that first day. He seems everything I am not. Smart, confident, and comfortable with girls. I like how he acts as a mirror to me and lets me see my own shades which I am unaware of or perhaps don’t want to see at all. I don’t know what he finds cool about a below average guy like me, but he seems to like spending time with me.
I also made peace with Isha recently. I really hated that girl and used as many foul adjectives as possible in my imaginary angry speeches to her. But it is difficult to stay mad at a girl who travels with you every day. We had pick up and drop off service from college buses at specific points of the city. Isha and I usually boarded a bus from the same stop and during our return we used to take the shared three-wheeler autos along the same route. I wanted to avoid being in the same auto with her, so I came up with a strategy. The first few days I waited and let her take the auto first. It worked initially but soon turned into a bit of pain for me as she joined a gossip-girls group who hung out at the stop after getting off the bus. They made fun of boys, teachers and other girls and sometimes their sessions ran for quite long. They didn’t really care who was listening and even what they were talking about. After a regular interval I could only hear ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha.’
Waiting for their sessions to be over and donating blood to the mosquitoes at the bus stand didn’t seem great options. So I decided to change my timing. It worked for the next few days and when I started to believe that I had the perfect solution… it happened.
One evening I got into the auto and the driver was waiting for another passenger. These shared auto drivers would make perfect project managers. They believe in total resource utilization. They are never satisfied with less than six passengers. Till every inch of their auto is filled with human flesh, they just don’t get enough motivation to start the vehicle.
“Can you move a bit please?”
We finally had our last passenger. All the passengers looked excited. They had almost lost hope the vehicle would ever start. However, I was in a bit of a dilemma since respecting the request would mean moving and the next movement of my body would take me onto the lap of the lady sitting beside me. I acted as if I was trying to shrink my body and make more room. She squeezed in beside me and said, “Thanks Devashish! That’s your name right?” Holy shit!
All cryptic, I shot a Yes at her, keeping it brief intentionally. Already the driver, a couple of boys sitting in the front and that lady had given me an ‘Ok so we can see what’s cooking’ look when Isha pronounced my name. What’s wrong with our society? A girl can have a normal conversation with a boy in public. Sometimes it makes me feel we are still living in the Stone Age.
Then what Isha did shocked me and all the other people in the vehicle. She held my hand and said, “Hey sorry for the other day. It was my fault. I don’t know what they were thinking. I can feel if someone is trying to flirt. You are not like that…I...”
The lady next to me had her eyes glued on our joined hands. I got rid of Isha’s soft hands quickly, “Can we get down and talk please?”
“But…” Isha looked confused. Why can’t girls see what’s happening around them? “My stop is different than yours...I mean…”
“I’ll get off with you,” I assured her. When we got off at her place, the driver gave me an evil smile while taking our fare. I ignored him and walked away.
I already had enough fuel inside me all set to burn from the last couple of months and Isha’s action here was the perfect matchstick.
Fire came in my words, “What’s going on? You introduced yourself to me, followed me and then said good bye to me on the first day. Next thing I know, I was accused of being romantic with you. Today you are telling me you knew I was not flirting with you. Holy crap! I hardly spoke any words to you! Also in the entire wide world you choose to say sorry in a crowded auto while holding my hand? Don’t you see people are staring? What’s wrong with you?” I stopped to breathe and was shocked to see Isha was laughing merrily.
What an anti-climax, I wanted her to feel bad at my poisonous words and there she was enjoying my bitter blast.
“So you felt shy when I held your hand?” she was still smiling. Damn! Of my speech, she just filtered her own favourites. I was getting really worked up. “Bye.” I started to walk.
“Hey! Dev! Chill. Please don’t leave like that. Please! Let’s start afresh okay? No more harsh words. Can I offer you our local golgappa? It’s the best, you know. I owe you that.”
“No thanks.” I said, “I am late.” Though I noticed she called me Dev.
“Please Dev. Look, I have never said ‘please’ so many times in such quick succession to anyone. So…c’mon buddy…”
When a pretty girl says sorry it’s difficult to ignore her. Isha won me over with her feminine charm and I ended up having golgappas with her which were indeed very good. She didn’t seem that bad as we talked. She is crazy of course and a bit self-obsessed, but I couldn’t stay mad at her.
Though things with Isha are fixed now, I made another blunder in my engineering drawing mock test.
I never really liked the subject from day 1, and drawing with such a large T- square didn’t seem to be my cup of tea. But I needed decent marks to secure a good internal score. We had our mock tests stream wise. So all the electronics students from three sections were randomly grouped in three batches and sat together for the test. Luckily Rishi and I were grouped in the same batch. Rishi came up with the news that a girl named Sapna in Section A was excellent at drawing and she was in our batch. So we planned to save our asses by arriving a bit earlier on the day of the test and grabbing seats next to her. When I entered the classroom I saw at least 30 students had beaten me to the exam room. I didn’t know who Sapna was, so I started looking around for Rishi. I saw him at the end of the room fighting and pushing two other students. Amazingly, this clash was happening next to a gentle girl who seemed to be enjoying it.
That must be Sapna! So we had to fight hard to get a place near her. I saw Rishi literally battling for that goal. I was dumbfounded at the whole situation. Rishi was pissed off as I took far too much time to reach him. “What the hell are you doing, lingering at the door? Do you need an invitation?” Rishi shouted. I still stood transfixed.
“Throw me your bag.” Rishi was losing ground fast.
“What?” My bag? Why? Does he need a weapon?
“I …I can’t … Give me your bag…need to…block the place,” Rishi muttered. He was almost on the verge of defeat.
In desperation I tried to throw the bag towards him and it got stuck on my hanging T.
Why does everything related to me end so disastrously? I pushed my bag far too hard to get rid of it and it shot off like a cannon ball. Rishi had lost the battle anyway and some random guy had won the place beside Sapna. But that was not the worst thing to happen. My bag flew in the Matrix style and hit a girl in the face.
A WOOOOOH sound filled the classroom. And then everyone was silent. As usual, I took some time to digest what I had done and when I got my senses back, I saw ten students gathered around the casualty. I couldn’t see my actual victim. Someone shouted, “Take her to the restroom.”
Considering that the best idea, the contingent paraded slowly out of the class. I was thinking I should go and check on her but the active members of the self-appointed nursing group gave me a ‘get lost’ look.
“What’s wrong with you?” I didn’t realize Rishi had walked towards me.
“The bag slipped from my hand.”
“Whatever. It was a bit funny though. Let’s hope she doesn’t complain to the regulation committee.” I kept mum. It was Rishi’s idea to throw the bag. Smarty pants, why don’t you shoulder some responsibility for the throw-away bag too?
Rishi was judgemental, “I don’t know how you could throw so terribly almost in the opposite direction?”
“Should I go and say sorry to her?”
Rishi shook his head, “Not a good idea right now! She was already pissed off with you and she might even kill you now.” Rishi’s wisdom wasn’t comforting me.
“What do you mean she was pissed off with me earlier? I hit her for the first time.” I was trying to analyse how damned my position was.
“Oh man! You didn’t recognize her? It’s the same girl you tried to impress on the first day with that unique proposal. Now you hit her in the eye. Have you heard of Dinesh Sinha, the advocate? Of course you haven’t. But most of us have. He’s a powerful man and a trustee here. Your bad luck, she’s his daughter. You fucked up badly, my friend.”
I started shivering. I was in the worst possible situation a human being could manage to be in. Trustee’s daughter? Seriously? What next? How badly will my dad react if I have to go back to a degree college?
Suddenly everyone seemed in a hurry to get back to their seats as Professor Saha entered the room with a set of papers. “C’mon,” Rishi called me. “Sit behind me. I can pass info from Sapna to you.”
I nodded but was looking at the door; almost all the nurses and doctors had returned to the classroom but the patient was missing. Is she hurt badly? Does she need an artificial eye? Is she already complaining about me to her Trustee dad?
Prof. Saha announced, “Everyone settle down now. The test starts in five minutes.”
Rishi pulled at my hand, “What are you thinking? C’mon. Pick up your bag and sit behind me.”
I had to see how she was, and more importantly, what she was up to. I couldn’t bear the suspense anymore. I picked up the bag and gave it to Rishi, “Put this on the bench behind you. I’ll be back in two minutes.”
I rushed out to stand near the ladies toilet. I had absolutely no clue what to do next. I needed to see what was going on inside. Time was passing by and the exam would have already started. I was toying with the idea that maybe she was not in the restroom at all and had already returned to the classroom. As I was about to move back, the door opened and there she was; looking beautiful even with a black eye. I had just wanted to see how she was faring but she came and stood bang in front of me. I immediately regretted my decision to come checking on her. There was no chance I could come up with a decent sentence to show my concern or explain how sorry I was. I was back to the ‘deaf and mute’ Dev.
Luckily she spoke first, “Are you insane? Don’t you understand how dangerous that could have been? I could have lost my eye.”
I looked at the brighter side, at least she recognized me as the culprit; that meant she didn’t need an artificial eye. I needed to say sorry and swiftly at that before I had to say it in front of the whole regulation committee. But before I could say anything she spoke again, “Because of you I am late for the exam too.”
In desperation I announced my grief with the best possible intensity and the worst possible choice of words, “I am so sorry! Please! Please! Don’t complain formally. Don’t ask your father to suspend me. Please!”
I could have just said a simple sorry but I held my reputation up and spoke the exact words I shouldn’t have.
“What do you know about Dad?” She turned back towards me and raised her eyebrows as high as she could.
“I…I have heard...” I mumbled.
She bit her lips thinking. I could not afford to let her think longer and get pissed off, so I intervened, “Look! I know what I said that day might offend you and today again I did something horrible. But trust me, I didn’t mean any harm. That day I was out of my mind with the pressure of ragging, and today Rishi... my friend asked me to throw the bag. I am not good at throwing things. Believe me, the bag slipped from my hand. I know you are hurt but please don’t get me suspended…” I was amazed I could speak so quickly to a girl. It’s true that you explore your true potential only when it comes to survival.
She looked at me with one good eye. “What’s your name?” Does she want to remember it to tell her father? Oh God!
I stammered, “D…Dev...”
“Look Dev... I don’t know who told you about my father. But I don’t want anyone to know. I am here on my own merit and I don’t want to disturb my father for every small thing, especially not petty stuff…”
I had never felt so delighted to be referred to as petty before.
She continued, “…and about you. I didn’t mind the other day. You were being ragged and I was pulled in too. It’s supposed to be fun...right? Don’t make things too serious when they are not. Today, you did something irresponsible. You are sorry about it. My eye will be better in a couple of days. That ends the matter. Can we go to class please? It’s already 15 minutes into the exam.”
“Yeah! Sure…” I was on cloud nine with my great escape and I really didn’t give a damn about the test anymore. She looked like an angel to me, without wings of course, and with one black eye.
When we walked towards the classroom she looked at me, “Can I ask a favour?” I nodded. “Please don’t discuss my father! I don’t want to be treated as Daddy’s girl for the next four years,” I respected her more for that.
I rushed to assure her, “I am not going to bring it up again. I don’t know how my friend figured it out but I’ll tell him not to spread this further.”
She looked more comfortable now. “Thanks! By the way, my name is Neera! Nice to meet you, Dev. Don’t throw things at me in the future,” she smiled.
I smiled back. Neera, I had read her name from her ID card on the first day but it had slipped my mind. I am not going to forget it again, that’s for sure.