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Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Short Story: Cheats Don't Win

This is a short story I wrote as part of an exercise being conducted by a South-Africa based writer's group. The prompt for this was "New Life" and word count was 1000 words. 

Let me know what you think of my effort and if you'd like to read more of my stories 😊

“Group hug!” shouted Dev, grabbing Atul and Jai before walking into the examination hall. Just two more papers to answer, and then, a new life, thought Atul. Already selected by a top firm during the campus recruitment drive, he didn’t need to worry about looking for a job. He had beaten Dev to it, but his best friend hadn’t seemed to mind because he’d also been placed with another good company, albeit with a smaller pay package.

Two hours after the question papers were distributed, Atul’s pen continued to move furiously, filling up the pages of the answer booklet. 

Which is why he didn’t immediately stand when ordered to. A hand pulled him up, then slid into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper with some formulae scribbled on it. A voice barked, “What’s this?” and before he could realize what was happening, Atul was being dragged downstairs to Principal Nadkarni’s office. The dreaded flying squad from the University, monitoring examination centres, had struck.

“We caught this boy with copying material. Book a malpractice case.”

Nadkarni slowly asked, “Did you catch him copying?”

“No, but the slip is evidence enough that he intended to cheat.”

Atul finally found his voice. “Sir, I don’t know how this paper came into my pocket. I ..I ..went through a check before entering the hall, they…they didn’t find anything then…Sir, please believe me. Ask the staff; they’ll tell you I’m speaking the truth….please, Sir, I haven’t done any cheating…please, Sir… don’t book a malpractice case against me, Sir!”

Nadkarni asked Atul to wait outside the office for a while. Turning to the men from the University, he explained that Atul was the college’s star pupil who had excelled year after year in both academics and extra-curricular activities. Besides, his ailing father couldn’t work and the family ran on the meager income from Atul’s part-time job.

“We can understand that, Nadkarni Sir, but rules are rules and we have to set an example so that no one else dares repeat this offense.”

They argued back and forth until finally, a compromise was reached. Atul was called in. In front of his very eyes, one of the men drew a line through each and every one of his answers. The men warned Atul, “It’s only due to the immense respect we have for Nadkarni Sir’s words, that we’re letting you off the hook, but you better never try this trick ever again.”

People on the pavement saw a boy run blindly out of the college gates. They yelled at him to stop, but it was too late. An ominous screeching of brakes and then, there he lay, sprawled on the road, his leg twisted, blood all around…..

A few minutes later, Raghu the lab technician ran into the Principal’s office. “Sir, I’m sure Atul couldn’t have had a slip in his pocket.”

“How do you know, Raghu?”

“Because I’m the one who checked him at the entrance to the corridor and there was nothing in his pocket!”

The light in Principal Nadkarni’s office burned long into the night and when he finally left, he thought he knew what had happened.

Three months later, when Atul came to the college office to pay the fees for the supplementary examination, Nadkarni spoke to him.

“How are you feeling now, Atul?”

“I’m okay, Sir. The first two months after the accident were bad, but now I’m busy studying for the supplementary exam. I can’t afford to mess up this time,” he grimaced.

“How’s your dad?”

“He’s ok, although a bit sad that I couldn’t complete my course on time to take up the job secured through the campus placement. But he accepted the accident as an act of fate and says God does all for the best. If only he knew --”

“Study well, Atul. I’m sure you’ll score well and once the results are out, you’ll quickly find another job.”

“Thank you, Sir. For everything. If not for you, I’d have been tainted with the “malpractice” tag. At least now, I can honestly blame the accident for finishing my course late.”

Six months later, the phone on Nadkarni’s table rang.

“I’ve cleared the exam and scored 80% marks, Sir.”

“Great news, Atul! Congratulations, my boy!”

“And Sir, I’ve also been selected as a trainee at BT Info Services. I start work tomorrow. Thank you for all your support, Sir.”

“Good, Atul. And don’t worry - a bright spark like you will soon rise to greater heights. I wish you the very best for the new life you’re going to begin!”

No sooner had he finished speaking to Atul than Nadkarni dialed another number. A call long overdue, he believed.

“Is this Dev? I’m Principal Nadkarni….yes, yes, good morning to you too. So, are you still working at BT Info Services?”

“Oh, that’s nice, that’s nice. Isn’t Mr. Krishnakanth your manager? I know him very well ….we studied together…. Dev, do you know that Atul is joining your company tomorrow? …Oh, you do…that’s good. I hope you will help him, Dev…yes, yes, he’s already lost almost a year….By the way, are you free this Saturday? … No, no…nothing urgent…I just wanted to show you the footage from a CCTV camera in the college corridor on the 1st floor. Remember that day when Atul had his accident? I can’t hear you clearly…speak up Dev…you’re sounding very faint….Right, as I was saying, I was watching that footage and it seemed to me like just outside the exam hall, when you and another guy were hugging Atul, your hand slipped into Atul’s pocket….what’s the matter, Dev? Is the signal weak? I can’t hear you very well…ok, I’ll wait for you on Saturday at 10.30 am, don’t be late!”

After two days, it was Mr. Krishnakanth who called Nadkarni to say, “Your student sure is a star….what do you mean, which one? Of course, I mean Atul….no, no…not Dev…I don’t know what came over him…he suddenly resigned two days ago.”

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

This I learned from the Ramayana

Today is Sri Rama Navami – the day we celebrate the birth of Lord Rama. This occasion means a lot of things to me and I’ve written about it previously here.

When I was a child and listened to the Geet Ramayan being sung, one of my most favourite songs was the one that went “Setu bandhaa re…” and depicted the spirit with which the vaanaraas worked enthusiastically to build the bridge to Lanka.

Later in life, I heard two stories that again revolved around this same Setu-bandhan activity. Time and again, these stories have served to inspire me.

The first one of these is the story of a tiny squirrel.

All the vaanaraas were rushing about uprooting trees and lifting huge boulders and carrying them to throw into the sea. A squirrel who saw all this also felt enthused to contribute to this task. Although it could not uproot trees or carry boulders like the vaanaraas, it did what little it could. It carried a few small pebbles in its mouth; it also rolled its body in the sand on the seashore and then shook off the sand grains and pebbles on the bridge that was taking shape.

Some monkeys laughed at the efforts of the tiny squirrel. Rama Himself reprimanded them by pointing to how the pebbles and sand crept into the crevices between the stones, helping to bind together the whole bridge structure and give it strength!

The story continues to say that Lord Rama lovingly stroked the squirrel’s back, giving it the famous stripes we see till today. The more relevant part of this story for me has always been that spirit of “seek to do whatever you can to help – no matter how small it may appear in the overall scheme of things.” 

The second story narrates how Lord Rama was watching the vaanaraas uprooting, carrying and throwing the boulders into the sea. Throughout the activity, and especially while dropping the rocks, they kept chanting “Jai Shree Rama” and each stone they threw into the water, unfailingly floated to the surface, to form a chain of rocks, giving shape to the bridge. 

Watching this, Lord Rama himself picked up a boulder and threw it into the sea but surprisingly, for all His divine prowess, it sank without a trace. The difference between His action and that of the monkeys – He didn’t echo their chant. 

This story is what gave rise to the famous tenet “Raam se badaa Raam kaa naam” that says the Name of the Lord is greater than His Form. Every time I recollect this anecdote, I’m reminded that when I do things to the accompaniment of chanting the Lord’s Name (whether loudly or mentally), they turn out far more successful than I ever imagined possible.

We must all aspire to abide by Dharma as conscientiously as Rama; but to be able to do that effectively, it is important to first cultivate the spirit of Hanumaan. With every single breath, like the Pavanaputraa, let us ask for His unstinting faith and devotion to the Lotus feet of Lord Rama!

Jai Shree Ram !