Friday, September 23, 2005

Eight Point Someone

Just finished reading “Five Point Someone”. Inspired by the theme of the novel, I present to you a short story, perhaps not as interesting, but worth a read all the same.

This also is a story about 3 friends, and their struggle against the education system. But it is not based in a hallowed IIT. Instead, it comes from a run-of-the-mill engineering college, where run-of-the-mill Profs. taught run-of-the-mill students. The only thing which was not “run-of-the-mill” in the institute was final placement. Why?? Because it did not exist at all!!

The complete absence of placements from the institute made all the final year students most anxious, because they knew that within one year, they would all become B.E.s.. i.e. “Berozgar Engineers”. Year after year, as soon as the penultimate semester commenced, most of the final year students engrossed themselves in either preparing for PG (CAT, GATE, GRE etc.) or off-campus job interviews. A PG from a reputed institute appeared as the only opening towards a decent career for most. Even the usually draconian college administration, (which forced the students to maintain over 90% attendance and write inhumanly scheduled mid-term exams) understood the plight of the final year students, and did not schedule mid-term exams in the final 2 semesters.

But this year was different. Some sadistic decision makers at the top had decided to make life even more miserable for the final year students. Poor fellows, already grappling with the pressure of preparing for the tough pre-PG exams and interviews (which usually took place during 7th and 8th semesters), with their careers at stake, were forced to attend all classes and given loads of extra assignments. And if all that was not enough, mid-term exams were scheduled for 7th and 8th semesters, for the first time in the history of the institute. The poor students could often notice sadistic sense of pleasure on the smiling faces of some of the goons masquerading as lecturers. All over the country, the final year is the time, when the academic pressure is kept at its minimum, to ensure that students can work towards their future goals. But the exact reverse was happening here. At times the students felt as if the sole intension of all the extra academic workload was to prevent them from making it to a good PG institutes. They were getting crushed under the relentless pressure, but had no means of escape. Unlike most other engineering colleges, this one had no student organization either, which could raise a voice against the authorities. And no one was willing to risk rustication, by taking the initiative and independently raising his own.

Balbhadra, Baburao and Bakhtar were three such tormented souls. Like all their batch mates, they too were enraged by the career threatening goings-on in their college. But unlike others, they decided to do something about the wretched state of affairs. As Balbhadra once said “Guys, if we don’t stand up to this injustice now, we will never be able to raise our voice against anyone all our lives. We will never forgive ourselves. If our careers are not worth fighting for, what is??”

Now that the 3 had decided to do something, the big question was, what to do?? They could think of only one name which could clear the entire mess at one go. He was the Secretary of the Board of Directors of the institute. He was like the God-father of the college. No one, including the college Principal could raise a syllable against him. And whatever be his real intentions, he liked to portray himself as a well-wisher of students. The 3 friends thought, if they could somehow get the news about their plight to his ears, all their problems, might.... just might be resolved.

But all the internal rhetoric aside, all 3 knew they did not have the guts to speak to the big man directly. For all they knew, their audacity could fatally backfire on them. The Secretary might just dismiss their plea. Then they would be sitting ducks in front of a blood thirsty administration. Time was running out too. The 7th semester mid-term exams were just a week away. They simply had to stop it at all costs.

Finally, they figured it out. An anonymous phone call was the way to go. They decided to call up the Secretary, and bare all, hoping that he would understand their problems and force the administration to mend their ways. But it was not as easy as it sounded. They had to cover all their tracks first. They needed to make sure there was absolutely no way anyone could find out who had called up the Secretary. Thus, after much deliberation, they chalked out the following plan.
- They would make the phone call from a PCO, located in a completely different part of the city, from one where they stayed, lest their names could be derived from the phone number and the area from were the call was made.
- What they had to say was meant for the ears of one person, the Secretary, and no one else.
- The call would be made from a closed phone booth, and not an open phone, to make sure no one overhears the conversation.
- They would take an oath of secrecy, and not divulge their deeds to anyone, not even to their closest pals.

Now it was time for the big decision- who would make the call?? They decided to go for a draw of lots. And Baburao’s name was selected. Next in line, who would accompany Baburao to the PCO. Another draw of lots. This time, it was Balbhadra's name. Now it was time to sort out a few last minute details. What if the Secretary insists on knowing their names, assuring them immunity?? No way, never trust an old administrator, they said to themselves. If he agrees to listen to them anonymously, well and good. If not, too bad.
Another issue, what if he makes a return call to the PCO and enquires about the guys who made the last call?? Solution, make the call from a crowded PCO only, and get your asses out of there as soon as you finish, so that no one can recall your faces.

Everything was sorted out now, they thought. But just as Balbhadra and Baburao were about to depart on a bike, Balbhadra said, “Wait!! I can’t go. My grey eyes are a dead giveaway. Anyone can notice it. And there are about 3 people with eyes like mine in the entire college!! I would be hopelessly trapped!!”
“Then??” said Baburao
“Idea!! I will wear sunglasses!!”
“What?? Sunglasses at 10PM in the night??”

Half an hour later, 2 young men, one wearing sunglasses, entered a crowed PCO in a remote corner of the town. Baburao entered a phone booth and dialed the Secretary’s number, his heart ringing as loud as the phone on the other end of the line.
“Can I talk to ******* Sir??”
“He is not home. Call back in ½ hour please. May I know you name??”

An agonizing half hour later, in another remote corner of the town..

“Can I talk to ******* Sir??”
“What is the matter?? Who is it??”
“Er.. I am a student of ***** college. Can I speak to Sir please?? It is urgent!!”
“I am his daughter speaking. You can tell me. I will let him know.”
“Er.. Maam, I need to talk to Sir directly. Please understand!!”

“Plan backfired!! Daughter picked phone!! Got suspicious!!” uttered Baburao as he rushed out of the booth. “Pay for the phone fast and get the hell out of here!!”

As Balbhadra and Baburao stood paying for the phone call, their worst fear came true. The phone inside the phone booth from where Baburao had made the call rang.
“Shit!! It is the return call!! Run!!” Baburao whispered in Balbhadra’s ear. Both of them rushed out of the PCO as fast as possible, without appearing like thieves, and made a dash for their bike parked at an inconspicuous place 500 meters away.

Later in the night...
“Now what??” asked Bakhtar

“Will we be caught??” Balbhadra asked the obvious
“Depends.. if the PCO owner got a good look at us or not.. But I doubt if he did..” Baburao replied
“So, our plan goes down the drain” said Bakhtar
“No! What’s a battle if it is won in the 1st exchange! We will make another try!” Balbhadra urged the other two.
“Makes sense.. the Secretary must have smelt the rat by now.. I bet he himself will pick up the phone this time.. That’s our chance..” Baburao joined in. “But hey! I am not making the call again! You guys got to bell the cat this time!”
“Fair enough.. Bakhtar! Let’s Go!!” said Balbhadra, putting on his sunglasses and looking at the his watch.. 11.30PM.

Another half hour later, in yet another remote corner of the town..
“Is it ******* Sir??”
“Sir, I am a final year student of ***** college.. I have something most urgent to tell you..”
Over the next 20 minutes, Bakhtar and Balbhadra bared all. They let the Secretary know all about how bright careers on the brink of ruin, due to the undue academic rigor being imposed in the final year. The Secretary appeared to be unaware of the goings on, and listened sympathetically. He offered to investigate the matter.

Soon afterwards, the sleepy PCO owner almost fell from his chair, on seeing 2 customers, one wearing sunglasses at 12PM in the night, do a jig inside a cramped phone booth.

For Baburao, Balbhadra and Bakhtar, the next few days were like the period between exams and results. Everyday, they anxiously waited for the results of their efforts to appear. They waited for some news about the Board Secretary visiting the college, or to see a change in the attitude of some of the lecturers. All the time, a sinking fear was biting them as well. What if their identities came to be known?? What if the Secretary, instead of enquiring with the students, talked to the administration first??
Soon, the mid-term exams for the 7th semester began. Every day, as they climbed the stairs towards the examination halls, the 3 hoped that the exams would be cancelled. They hoped, but in vain. Nothing happened. Nothing changed. The 7th semester ended just as it had started.
But the 3 friends were not all that disappointed.
“Although we did not succeed in our mission, at least we did not bow down against injustice. We DID raise our voice, however anonymously, but at least we TRIED.” they told themselves. "Girte hai ghudsawar hi maidane jung mei ...voh tifl kya girega jo ghutne ke bal chalta hai.."

But as the 8th semester commenced, some changes slowly became apparent. The mid-terms were cancelled. The assignment workload got considerably reduced. And what’s more, the students who had to shuttle across the country to PG interviews were even given grace attendance. All this time, the 3 friends sat and wondered what had resulted in this sea change. Was it their phone call which did the trick?? Did the Secretary ask the administration to be a bit easy on the final year students?? Or was it just a natural change in attitude?? Did the administration think, ok we have tormented them enough, let them have some peace in the last semester??
They kept wondering, but were never to know the real reason for the change. Neither did they talk about this to anyone, partly because they were afraid of a belated backlash, and partly because they thought no one would believe their stupid audacity.
Baburao, Balbhadra and Bakhtar, became the unsung and unknown heroes, whose efforts had perhaps rescued the careers or many of their batch mates. But they kept hoping that someday, somehow, the world would come to know of their heroics......

Epilogue - Saat Saal Baad....

Balbhadra was now an MBA and IT consultant. Those fateful last days of engineering were now but just a fading memory in his mind. He had not been in touch with Bakhtar for years now, though Baburao had remained close to him. But life finds strange ways of surprising you...

One fine day, while shopping in a super-mart, a most unexpected person appeared to pass by him. It was the most barbaric Lecturer in his college, who used to put Hitler to shame by his conduct in class all those years back !!
All old memories came flooding back to Balbhadra's mind.. When students used to wonder how could a teacher be so inhuman towards his students. What sadistic pleasure could he derive from trying to ensure his students do not get a chance to make it in life. How he was the most hated teacher in campus. How even the sight of him made all students utter the most colorful of expletives within.

Balbhadra recalled the innumerable number of times he prayed to God to let him get hold of that Lecturer once he had graduated. He had promised himself to give him an earful; only his own decency would have prevented him from bashing him up physically. And here, after all those years, Balbhadra found his erstwhile tormentor, standing next to him, buying grocery.

Balbhadra went up to him and said, "Excuse me Sir, do you remember me?"
"Err.. No.."
"I'm Balbhadra. I was a student of your's in engineering, many years back."
"Oh yes! I remember now. How are you?"
"I am fine. Working as an IT consultant now. How are you?"
"I am good too. I quit teaching a few years back. Moved out of the country subsequently. I am now back in India. I came to this city to meet a friend. Nice meeting you again. Bye!!"

As his old Lecturer walked away, an overwhelming sense of guilt and desperation filled Balbhadra. "What have I done??", he told himself. "This was the opportunity I had dreamt off all those years back, when I would get to meet that rascal outside the walls of my college. And I could not even say a word to him about the pain he inflicted on so many people!! I will never forgive myself for this !!".
Regathering his calm a few moments later, he called Baburao and narrated what had just occurred. Baburao too could not believe that Balbhadra had missed such a golden opportunity. He urged Balbhadra to run out of the store, catch the bugger and at least politely convey to him the fact that his students still remember the torment they had suffered in his hands.

Balbhadra rushed out of the store, much in the same way as he had rushed off after making the phone call all those years back. But the person he was looking for was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the only chance he would ever have of giving a piece of his mind to the tormentor of so many souls, was gone and lost.

Balbhadra, dejectedly shaking his head, walked back to complete his shopping.
Will life give the trio another chance to avenge their pain?
Perhaps not.
But as they say.. Never Say Never..


Nikhil Kulkarni said...

I have been an audience to this story much earlier ... it is much more exciting to hear becuase of the voice modulation that accompanies it ... wish all readers of this blog could 'hear' the story!!

chaos said...

Man that's an example of real guts...though i would have tried going and talking directly... (as a representative, and not alone)

salute to 3 guys!

Lord of all Things said...

that booksz a masterpiece:D and i liked ur version too..:d me was gonna write on the lines but as uve written change of plans:d and i really agree with the fact that those saditic heads screw up the students lives ....!! thank u i love that line:d

Lord of all Things said...

btw not all of them end with a gud note ur just a lil optimistic

the_new_cloud said...

I know the 3 heroes..
Can i spill the names???
Great great post...

Saurabh Shrivastava said...

U rock man...
Amazing combination of words specially....Click....and sunglasses @10 PM.

Keep likhing

Adhoora Khayal said...

Halla Bol !!

May be some day there will be no Mid-term exams.. and then.. mere bhaiyon... u guys can disclose ur anonymity to become the first who sparked this war :D

Awesome post dude!! U can b next chetan ;) ... I hv not read that novel yet, but u hv made me curious enough to do so.

Nikhil Kulkarni said...

Oh! Shit .... he met his tormentor and he squandered a chance to give him some piece of mind?

Well many times when I reflect back of some momentous occasions of my life, I feel that what seemed HUGE then is not so HUGE today. So I guess its ok if you did not have the "fire" left in you to send back the signals. The guy has anyway quit teaching, so he may not even take your words seriously - so why bother?