I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. Maybe not a full stop, all that I wanted was a reset back to the day when my troubles started. I guess at this point, I take a break and give you a flashback of what exactly had happened.
The sun was up early and was trying his best to cheer me up but it was not really helping. I had a Sanskrit exam that day in school, and that was a subject that I rarely passed. School was just five minutes away from home and as I bicycled my way to the school cycle stand my heart missed a beat. A lady’s cycle with pink tassels was already parked.
‘She has already come in,’ I thought. The ‘she’ in this case was Priya, the daughter of the District Collector who also happened to be in my class. In my other life as Superman, I had saved Priya in battles across galaxies. In my real life, she hardly noticed me. With a sigh, I unhooked by bag and started to lock the cycle. I saw that a piece of paper was caught under the cycle tyre. I looked closer and the very first line on it, made my heart stop. “Sanskrit test paper – 12 Aug “it said on the top and below neatly laid out were the questions in rows.
Looking all around I realized that I was all alone in the bicycle stand. Bending as if to tie my shoe lace I picked up the paper and quickly pocketed it. After retying the already tied shoe lace I stood up. For a few minutes, I did not know what to do. It looked to be the question paper for the day’s class test. I opened my bag and took out one of the books. By a strange co incidence it was moral science and the chapter was on Gandhi ji, you know the story where Gandhi ji as a school student was asked to copy in class and he refused. I removed the question paper from my pocket and placed it neatly between the pages of this story and went through it again. The questions all 25 of them were there. It was an exam of fifty marks and each question was worth two marks.
“Studying for today’s exam?”
A voice from behind startled me. It was Priya. I smiled, laughed, grinned and coughed all at once.
“I hate Sanskrit. No matter how much you study, you never get more than fifty percent,” she continued.
“That is correct,” I said. A part of me was thinking how even fifty percent was way beyond what i usually scored in Sanskrit, while another part of me was trying to find something witty to say. I noticed that she was walking away. It was then that one of those light bulbs you see in cartoon movies popped in my brain.
“Priya, look what I found,” I said taking out the paper from my bag.
She stopped and turned back.
“This,” I said and extended the paper in her direction.
She pulled back for a second looked suspiciously at me.
“What is that?”
“It looks like today’s question paper.”
For a few seconds she just stood there as if in shock then she recovered and took the paper from my hand. She looked at it carefully.
“Yes, it does look like todays question paper. Where did you get it from?”
“It was lying here on the ground.”
“Just like that?
On the ground? Today’s question paper?”
“Yes, I swear,” I said. I felt offended. I was trying to help and she was doubting my sincerity.
“Have you copied the questions down? Can I take this?”
“Yes, you can,” I said. One part of mind was telling me that I had barely looked at the questions but the other part the ‘super-hero’ part was telling me that this was sacrifice time.
“You can take it,” I said.
She turned and quickly left leaving me standing there.
“Was that Priya you were talking to?”
It was Krishnan my friend who now wheeled his cycle in. I was still in a daze and did not hear him so he punched me in the stomach.
“Ohfff, that hurt. why did you do that for?” I asked.
“What were you talking with Priya? Did she ask about me?”
“Yes, she asked who is that dirty looking boy who sits next to you in class?”
This got me another punch in the stomach but this time with a lot of energy behind it. I jumped at Krishnan but he was too fast and ran off in the direction of our classroom. It is not easy lugging a heavy bag of books and running at the same time, but we put in our best efforts. The chase was cut short by the sound of the assembly bell. Throwing my bag on my desk I came out and joined the line which was forming outside the class. Every day we had a prayer session in the morning where we sang our way through a lot of prayers, finally winding up with the national anthem.
I noticed the girls in the line were all looking in my direction. It took me a few seconds to realize this but there was a lot of nudging and finger-pointing as well. For a brief second I thought that I may have forgotten to zip my trousers. A quick check revealed that was not the case. Next I thought there may be snot on my face and quickly wiped my face with my handkerchief.
“Is there anything wrong on my face?” I asked Krishnan who was behind me in the line.
He looked me over quickly and reported,” Other than the fact that you look like a monkey, no nothing wrong.”
I kicked him in his shin and we commenced hostiles.
“You two come and stand here,” Kumari Madam was our class teacher. She had seen the shin-kicking match going on between us and ordered the two of us to stand in front of the whole class.
“There seems to be a problem?” said Krishnan whispering through the corner of his mouth. “Why are all the girls looking in our direction? May be now that they are seeing me in front they have suddenly realized how handsome I look. Like a mutant with genes of Tom Cruise and Shah Rukh Khan.”
I found that combination funny and sniggered.
“You two do that once more and I will march both of you to the Principal’s office,” said Kumari the ‘Terror’. This ultimatum had an immediate sobering effect on us.
The Sanskrit test was the last period of the day. In class, again I noticed the girls standing in a group and discussing. Then it hit me. Priya must have had passed the question paper to her friends who had handed it to their friends and now it seemed that all girls in the class had got it.
“So where did you get the question paper from?”
It was Rajesh, that class-bully who always hung around Priya. I could not believe it, she has given him the question paper as well. This was turning out to be nightmare.
“What paper? What are you talking about?” I asked innocently.
“Come on, I have seen it. Don’t lie to me, you scoundrel. I thought you were a weak-kneed sissy. Lifting question papers from teachers closets…hmm not bad, not bad,” Rajesh thumped me on my back and went away. I was sweating from all pores now. I did not know how to react to this. Was I to feel happy that I had been acknowledged as a hero by Rajesh or should I be worried that almost the whole class had access to the question paper now.
“You rat, you call yourself my friend and you did not share it with me. I had to copy it from Rajesh and that too he only showed me half the questions,” said Krishnan and pinched me on my arm.
“I gave it to Priya as soon as I got it,” I said rubbing my arm.
“Oh, so you will give it to a girl and not to your best friend.”
“Well, if you had been as pretty as she is I would have given it to you first.”
He would have jumped at me and we would have resumed from where we had left earlier, had it not been for Mr. R.N Singh our Physics teacher’s entrance.
During recess except for me everyone seemed to be studying. Even the idli-chutney in my tiffin did not work its magic. Normally the other children in class would eat it while I got helpings from their tiffin’s, but today everyone had their nose in their Sanskrit text books. I was not feeling hungry. I was beginning to feel worried. One by one the classes went by and finally it was time for Mrs. Bedekar to come in. She had been a gestapo jailer in her previous life and enjoyed throwing her class test at us. Today as she came in she found the class unusually cheerful.
“It seems all of you have prepared well for the class test,” she said and reached into her bag. Then a frown took over her face. She started searching again and then looked up.
“There seems to be a problem. I seem to have misplaced the question paper,” she said. “Wait, let me get another one from the staff room.” The staff room was just around the corner and the entire class stopped breathing till she returned.
“What if she has another question paper?” asked Rajesh and seemed to echo the one question everyone in the class had.
Mrs. Bedekar waddled in and plopped herself on the chair in front of the black board, wiping the sweat from her brow. She had a paper in her hand.
“Luckily for you all I had another copy of the question paper,” she said. She sat for a few minutes catching her breath and then got up turned towards the board and started writing the questions. As the question appeared on the board, smiles spread across the classroom. The questions were exactly what was on the paper I had found. Everyone had an easy test, everyone except me. For in my eagerness to give it to Priya and later in all the worrying about the rapid spread of the question paper I had forgotten to study. As usual it was a bad test for me.
A week later Mr. Gopal, our History teacher was explaining to us the Crusades when Mrs Bedekar stormed in.
“Wait Gopal there is something I need to clear up first,” she said and turned towards us. “The test I took last week, all of you did well in it. How is that possible, I was wondering about this and did some investigation of my own. Mr. Hari Kumar, would you care to explain what happened.”
All eyes turned towards me as I stood up. Putting on the most innocent looking face that I could come up with I said, “Madam, I did not understand what you are asking,”
“Perhaps you will understand when the principal asks this,” she said and marched me straight towards the principal’s office.
The principal had already got some other staff members in his room and I was asked to stand outside and wait. Standing outside the door of the Principals office I could hear the voices, especially Mrs. Bedekar’s shrill voice cutting through all the discussion.
“He has cheated. We should call his parents.”
“Everyone cheated. We should call all the parents,”
“But he is the one who got it,”
“Even Priya has cheated.”
Immediately the discussion stopped and everyone thought about the repercussion of calling her parents especially her father.
“Call Hari in,” I heard the Principal’s voice which cut the silence. I was called in.
“So, young man would you care to explain your story. No need to lie. Priya has already told us that you had given her the question paper. Just for your information the whole class has scored over 80% in the test.”
The result of the class test was neatly written on a paper right on the Principals desk. With my head down I started my story. The cycle stand, the piece of paper stuck under the tyre, the shoe lace, Priya coming up – I did not leave out any detail. No point hiding anything they already knew the details, I was just validating it.
“You found that paper under your cycle tyre. I don’t believe that,” said Mrs Bedekar.
“I did find it there, Madam,” I said, now almost on the verge of tears.
“Let him finish,” said Principal Narayanan.
“Sir, I am telling the truth. The question paper was lying there on the ground. It was under the tyre. “
After I had finished there was silence all around. Then Principal Narayanan started speaking.
“Hari, I know the part of the question paper coming under your cycle tyre was not your fault, but what happened after that is something you had control over. You could have come over and handed the question paper to me or to Mrs. Bedekar. If that had been the case, I may even have given you a prize. Instead you chose to share the question paper with your friends, who by the way are also to blame. Now look what has happened. Your entire class has scored well in the exam. Everyone has scored over eighty percent.”
As if to emphasize his point he picked up the sheet with the marks and scanned it. As his eyes ran down the list, it stopped.
“What? How much did Hari get in the test?” he asked Mrs. Bedekar.
“I don’t remember. He must have scored the highest,” she said.
“Well, your name is Hari Kumar, right?”
“Yes Sir,” I said.
“Do you know how much marks you have scored?” he asked.
“How was your test?” he asked
“He had the question paper Sir he..,” said Mrs Bedekar, exasperated at the slow progress of the Principal’s enquiry was looking for quick justice. In her eyes, I was the culprit, the guilty one who deserved no mercy.
“Wait, let him speak, Mrs. Bedekar. So, Hari, you had the question paper, how did you find the exam?”
“Not good, Sir,” I said in a low voice, head down, eyes examining the mud encrusted on my shoe.
“Speak up, young man.”
“I did not do well Sir,” I repeated.
“Do you know you have failed in the test. You had the question paper, and yet you failed.”
I did not look up. I was expecting that.
“I find this amazing. You are the person who had the question paper, you shared it with the rest of the class, all the other who saw the question paper got good marks and yet you failed,” said Principal Narayanan.
“He is not smart,” said Mrs. Bedekar and gave me a nasty look.
“Or he is honest and refused to do what the others were doing. He knew he was doing something wrong and so did not follow through and add more wrongs. You are excused. Young man in future if you get any question paper before an exam please come and give it to me. Would you do that?” asked Mr. Narayanan.
I could not believe my ears. I was free to go.
“Sir, can I go?” I asked.
“Yes, you can, unless you want to sit with me and discuss other equally important issues,” said Principal Narayanan.
“No Sir. I mean thank you, Sir, thank you very much. I would never ever repeat such a mistake,” I said and ran out of the room.
The epilogue to my story was that the exam was cancelled and a fresh exam was held. Bedekar ‘the horror’ this time ensured that almost everyone failed. My classmates looked upon me as if I was a traitor. My crime was I had shared the question paper, my crime was failing the test while they had all done well. It was a week before anyone including Krishnan spoke to me again. As for Priya, she had lost her sheen in front of the teachers and blamed me for it, she never spoke to me after this. The rest of the year was mostly uneventful. Principal Narayanan remembered me till the day he retired, which was about a year later. He would always stop me and talk to me and check how my studies were progressing.
Personally, I would have given anything to move the clock back to the time before that piece of paper landed under my bicycle tyre. My life may have been uneventful, unnoticed even boring perhaps but at least I would have been happy.