Part 1 of 4: Because long blog-posts are not my thing.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first in a series of four blog-posts which will cover the first two chapters of my debut novel "The Steadfast Tin Soldier?", published by Leadstart Publishing and releasing in July 2013. Once you reach the end, do let me know what you think in the comments section. And if you enjoy what you read or if you just want to do your good-deed for the day, don't forget to share the post!
Underlining the most important points in my essay, I glanced up at the clock only to realize that there were only two more minutes left to tick away. After the fiasco that was the Mathematics exam, I knew it couldn’t get worse. But this was better than what I had bargained for! CBSE’s English board exam was proving to be a stroll in the park. A blind cat could top this exam, I thought to myself.
Nevertheless, one must never be overconfident, and I rechecked some answers in the Literature section. Soon, the only loose string left to tie up was the one which would ensure that my answer booklet didn’t fall apart. So, with great composure, I did precisely that. Then I deposited my booklet in the invigilator’s arms and walked out in gladiatorial fashion.
This great big flourish was precisely the boost I needed before my last board exam, Science, which was the only thing which now stood between me and a wonderfully languid vacation. I walked out of the examination centre with my chest puffed out and my head held high. There was a spring in my stride, a smile on my lips and a song in the air. I laughed at stupid things all the way home and as soon as I stepped through the doorway, I threw my bag to one corner of the room and stripped myself off my shirt. Throwing it lazily into the washing machine, I proceeded to turn on my computer and play round after round of ‘Counter-Strike’- a much needed post-exam stress buster.
The next day, my preparations for the last exam of the summer commenced. Everything went as planned and I familiarized myself with all aspects of the sciences. If I wasn’t this modest, I’d say that I was bloody good at it. So, as expected, I was in high spirits on examination day.
Whistling a tune I know not from where, I pranced about the house slipping into my uniform. Mom stared at me as if I was a strange species from the Pacific depths and Dad gave me one of those looks which he normally reserves for the mentally unfortunate. None of this deterred me as I picked off my Idlis one after the other.
Checking my pockets for appropriate stationery – pen, pencil, eraser and all – I smiled a contented smile. A few more hours and I’d be free – as free as a frikkin’ bird!
I finished the routine check by opening the compartment of my bag where I normally kept the hall ticket. Not finding it there, I sedately walked up to my drawer and rummaged through its contents, careful not to hurt sheets of white which bore resemblance to the ticket. It wasn’t there either. Sensing a slight jolt in my diaphragm, I jogged to my bedroom and checked the study table. No hall ticket. Feeling faint, nauseated and numb, I collapsed on my bed. And then I ran around the house, tossing aside cushions and ransacking desks and tables. Still ‘no’… Bloody hell, I thought, this is the end.
I did what any normal fellow would do under such dire circumstances – I told my parents. And then I did what routine guys did, again – I regretted telling them. It was quite apparent that they couldn’t help me in any way whatsoever, apart from rummaging spaces I had already rummaged and running about flustered as I was myself. But the worst part: the questions – “WHERE DID YOU KEEP IT?” they asked, as though I had hidden it somewhere and had challenged them to a scavenger hunt.
My head was swimming the way unfortunate ants swim in your tea as I sat beside dad while he negotiated the Chennai roads. We said nothing to each other and I was choking on the silence. At every traffic signal, he’d look at his cell-phone one more time as if it would tell him something. My head was entirely blank. Even if I wrote the exam, I wondered if much good would come off it!
As I alighted from the car, I told dad that he needn’t join me on my way to the exam-hall. Nothing good can come off it, I thought. But parents seldom listen to logic, do they? So, ignoring my rationale, Dad got out of the car and walked me towards the open ground where we were supposed to gather. The closer we moved to the crowd, the more wary I became – I didn’t want dad having to explain how and why I lost my hall-ticket! So, begging him to stay where he was, I proceeded to attempt solving the problem myself.
He wished me luck as I walked away and told me to do well in the exam, even though I knew he was actually hoping that I get to write it in the first place!
The crowd was getting itself into order, in the form of sections and lines, as I approached them trying to look as unfazed as possible. “Breathe deeply,” I said to myself. I joined the assembly of students in the ground; friends waved and I waved back as if nothing was wrong. I decided to confront my teachers at the first opportunity possible and tell them the entire story.
Having said the prayer and sung the National Anthem- as was the routine before every exam -- I walked up to my Principal. I had an elaborate speech prepared, but watching my classmates disappear into the exam halls, all I could manage was – “Help.”
They made me relate the story to them, again and again – first to my principal, then to my teachers, then to the principal of the school where the examination was being held and then to some CBSE authority who couldn’t care less. Feeling like a convict whose story wasn’t being believed, I heard them discuss the various nuances of educational laws and ethics – the CBSE is apparently very thorough.
“How can we be sure he’s the boy he claims he is?” asked one elderly man.
“It’s not ethical to allow him write an exam like this… It will set a precedent,” said a rather fat lady with a mole on her nose.
More people joined the discussion, even as the preliminary bell rang, which meant the exam would commence in less than five minutes. And here I was, in the school ground, staring at a group of teachers who seemed to be in a team-huddle. All the time, I saw dad standing a fair distance away nibbling away at his nails.
A few long minutes (and what seemed like two-thirds majority) later, a teacher walked towards me and threw me a smile of pity. “It’s all right,” she said. “We will permit it this one time, if you promise not to do it again.”
“I promise,” I said, feeling rather foolish.
“What we’re doing today might well be against the law,” she said conspiratorially. “But anyway, we have decided to allow you this time. Off you go!”
I didn’t understand why someone would want to impersonate me during something as trivial as a board exam, but there’s no point pondering about these things. I waved at dad and ran like hell.
The exam was relatively easy; the most difficult question I faced was when I was asked my hall-ticket number. I managed to pull out the digits from the crevasses of my memory. Throughout the exam, I prayed the exam would never get over, as I didn’t want to face the firing squad once this was over. I didn’t want the holidays to begin. What an anticlimax, I thought.
Alas, the exam did end. And I was left to face the music. Dad blasted me for an hour-and-a-half and said that he hadn’t seen a lad as irresponsible as I in his entire life! Mom didn’t talk to me properly for a day; when she did, she blamed herself for bringing me up the way she did. If that wasn’t all, my grandparents forced me to go to the temple and wash away some evil-eyes. If my brother, Abhinav, was at home I’d have got a few mouthfuls from him as well.
I tried defending myself, of course: I told them that someone ought to have flicked it from my bag on my way home in a crowded bus. Unfortunately, since nothing else was missing- What kind thief opens your bag, flicks your hall-ticket and leaves everything else, they asked me.
And then it got worse, thanks to grandma. While folding my shirt, she discovered a rather fibrous lump in my pocket – one which broke even as she tried unrolling it. The fragments would have been dismissed as unimportant scrap had it not been for a portion of a very familiar seal which was still visible. And only then did it strike me.
I hoped no one else identified the seal, but alas, more evidence came into existence. A rather soiled passport-sized photograph of mine was discovered, and with it was signed my death warrant. Nothing can be more blasphemous than tossing your hall-ticket into the washing machine.
As the book is finally running its final lap on its own in the offices of my publisher in Bandra, I am unable to provide you the links to the book immediately. It shall be put up as soon as it is made available to me, as a late edit (in this space) and in subsequent posts. Stay tuned!