“Hurry up, the final bell has rung!” Mr Satnam Dubey, or Dubey Sir as students used to call him, shouted in the exam hall. “STOP WRITING AND SUBMIT YOUR PAPERS”. He bellowed again. Raghav Chaturvedi, facing 10th Board Exams for the first and the last time, placed the final dot at the end of the answer, gathered his things, moved slowly to the front desk thinking about how he is going to enjoy next few days. It was his last Board Exam. He stuffed his things inside the bag, thinking he is not going to open if for a week or so, and left the exam hall with a smile on his face. The entire month of late night studying for exams, by-hearting each line for paper next day, a month without even touching his musical instruments as he was busy in doing well in exams at hand was slowly playing in his mind in slow motion once again. What a year it has been for him! Almost entire school came to know him after his splendid performance at the Annual Function. Such an emotional moment it was for him to finally portray his skills for which he has trained hard for long. Nothing could go wrong. He has checked all the boxes in the list of meritorious student. Little did he know what was going to unfold in his life, which is going to change his perception forever!
As Raghav reached his hostel room, to pack all his things and leave for long awaited summer holidays, he heard a familiar voice from behind: “Yo Topper! When are you leaving?” “In two hours, I will be out of this place, onto a bus, flying to my home, like a tired bird returning to her nest in eve.” , replied Raghav and started to unlock that old rusty lock of his, which used to get stuck quite often. But he had a peculiar liking for his things, an attachment and hence he never replaced that lock. Just as he was about to open the door and enter, his hostel warden called him from the end of corridor. He immediately recognised his voice and quickly approached his superior with a greeting. The look on his Warden’s face was quite puzzling. Those raised eyebrows, deep breathing, and layer of sweat on his forehead clearly indicated something was wrong and Raghav was already alarmed.
“Have you submitted your answer sheet today? Before leaving the exam hall? Check once” panting voice of Warden questioned Raghav. “Yes…..Sir I have submitted it, look into my bag….if you want. I have nothing to hide”, he replied. “Yeah, good idea. I know you are a sincere student, but still let me confirm myself “Warden said, while taking Raghav’s bag into custody. After fumbling through his belongings, Warden, with widened eyes and shocked face, looked at Raghav and said: “Son, what have you done! It wasn’t expected from you. Take this answer sheet with you and report to Dubey Sir’s Chamber immediately!” he uttered in a trembling voice to a pale and shook Raghav. He was finding it very difficult to keep his hands from trembling, he felt a peculiar chill down his spine which he usually felt only when in shock. None of this was supposed to happen, how it could have happened? With puzzled mind, sweating brows, he ran as fast as he can to Dubey Sir’s chamber.
He can see the expression of worry on Dubey Sir’s face! Raghav admired his teachers from the bottom of his heart. To him, they were angel, perfect creatures who were supposed to teach him the difference between right and wrong. He had a good reputation in front of Dubey Sir, since maths was one of his favourite subjects. All the way to his chamber, he was thinking only one thing: “Thank God, I didn’t cheat or discussed any answer on my way to room earlier. Nothing will happen. It is caught soon enough. I will cooperate in all the ways they will ask me to.” Dubey Sir, recognised him immediately, and asked for his answer sheet, then asked him to sit down on the chair and cool down for a minute. Raghav was panting by this time, consolidating himself all this time, trying to stay positive.
After a minute or so, Dubey sir asked him in an unusually strict voice: “What happened from 10 minutes before the bell to this moment? Tell me all the relevant details! This is not a small issue! Don’t expect it to pass! Strict actions will be taken, hence I will need you to be as much honest as you can. Your future is at stake here.” That chill again. Something bad was going to happen. With a stammering and unevenly pitched voice he calmly explained what he did in the time duration. He himself could not believe that something like this can happen! That something of this sort can happen without his awareness at all. He felt helpless, robbed and unfortunate, all at the same time. Dubey Sir, listened to his story, nodded a few times, and just as he finished his detailing of the incident, he got up and asked him to follow him.
He recognised the path immediately. Raghav have followed the same trail once before but those were completely different circumstances. That time, Dubey Sir was taking him to meet Principal John David, or Father David as students often called him, to recommend him for a scholarship awarded to meritorious students and each teacher was allowed to recommend one student. He was elated and surprised then, shocked and scared now. The maddening contrast. Same old knock and same old answer from Father David, he called Dubey Sir inside and asked Raghav to wait outside. Already sweating and nervous he kept rewinding through those last moments of exam, trying to come up with a sensible explanation to give! But nothing was able to come up. He had no memory of those 15 seconds!
After a few minutes, he saw Dubey Sir leaving principal’s office, wiping sweat from his half bald forehead, with a sorry look in his eyes, throwing a quick stare on Raghav. In those 2 seconds of eye contact, Raghav realised what has happened. He has been thrown under the bus! He was not expecting this at all from Dubey Sir. Feeling betrayed and annoyed, he heard that loud voice : “CHATURVEDI, GET IN HERE!” Raghav took a few deep breaths, failing every attempt to calm himself down, he slowly grabbed the doorknob, and entered the room, facing cold and heartless eyes of Father David. With raised eyebrows, narrowed eyes, and determination to punish, Father David looked scarier than ever before! Again he was asked the same questions and he answered in the exact same way, as true as his memory allowed him to. Just as he finished, Father David declared the verdict: “I have been principal of 3 different schools and this is 4th school. In my last 20 years as a Principal, I have seen quite a few cases like you. What does your father do?” Raghav replied: “He is a businessman, Sir” “All right, go back to your room, call him and tell him you have been suspended from this school on grounds of cheating. Your Board result will be nullified too. I will inform all your teachers in my letter. You can leave now. This school has no place for a cheat.” said the cold voice of Father David.
“But sir, I didn’t cheat at all. I didn’t even know that I had this answer sheet with me. I told you, I checked in front of Warden Sir! All the answers here are unaltered! I didn’t cheat sir. Why will I cheat? My exams are going so well. I am confident about this paper too, that I will score good. This was all a honest mistake sir! Please reconsider. My entire future will be ruined. I didn’t cheat. I have told you everything as truthfully as I can!” replied Raghav in a very scared voice. Father David nodded his head and again said “ I have handled students like you, who think they are above rules. Students like you think that you will alter a few answers to get a perfect grade in a subject and then using your reputation, you will escape with this fraud. I have no place for a cheater in this institution! You may leave now, and inform your parents too. They can come and pick you, as I came to know, you are already leaving!” These words pierced through Raghav like a knife piercing through mellow butter.
Raghav felt like he was banging his head on wall with no effect. His soul, his belief was torn apart. He felt cheated, betrayed, robbed by everyone, including himself. He somehow controlled his tears in front of Father David and got up to leave. He didn’t want anyone to see him crying. He has always been a persistent fighter, and inspiration for his juniors for moral strength and honesty, and now world was calling him a cheat, a liar. He couldn’t believe that someone could be so biased about him that he is not even ready to ask for a proof and simply declared the verdict. His perfect image of a teacher or principal was completely shattered and nothing seemed clear to him.
He locked himself into his room, didn’t reply to any phone calls or text messages. Even his parents called to ask whether he boarded the bus or not, but Raghav had already made the mind that he will not be leaving here, without a fight! If he was going down for a simple mistake like that, the least he can do is to fight for his honour, and prove his validity to the world. The grounds on which he was suspended was more hurting for Raghav than the suspension itself. For some reason, he could not stop tears rolling down his cheeks. He tried to stuff his face into his pillow to stop tears but they kept flowing. There was no stopping them. Even his neighbour tried to talk to him but he wasn’t opening the door and kept crying. He hated tears and his inability to control them made him feel even more helpless.
Even he didn’t know when he slept while he was crying. He just vaguely remembered having a dream, in which, he was calling home, and telling his father that he has been punished with suspension and thus all the dreams his father has created, all the plans both of them made together for the future are going to be stripped from the canvas! He woke up due to cold tears rolling down his eyes. To him, this situation seemed over! He was ready to give up. His logical and reasoning abilities seemed to have eluded him. He has never felt more helpless, depressed and cheated. It wasn’t anger but frustration. It wasn’t fear of losing but fear of having to give up. It wasn’t desperation to escape suspension but desperation to clear his name and stop the world from calling him a cheat. He didn’t want to prove the world wrong, but he wanted to set his name right. To him, it was the end. The end of everything.
Dubey Sir couldn’t sleep that night either. He felt the guilt of throwing one of his students under the hammer, just to save himself from some accusation. “I haven’t done my part honestly as well. As an examiner, It was my responsibility to prevent anything of that sort to happen. But I simply blamed it on to that poor child Raghav. I know he is innocent. He is a sincere student and wouldn’t do anything like that knowingly. Now he is suspended. I should have been there to protect him. It was both our fault. But I put the entire blame on him. Oh, what have I done! That poor kid will be devastated from it. I need to set it right. I need to prove to him that this world is fair to truthful people. It is now my duty to teach him that still truth is valued more in this world and It is not wrong to commit mistakes. Entire life is not ruined by a simple mistake. There is always a second chance.” He thought while staring into the fireplace. He knew he has learned his lesson.
He immediately grabbed his phone and rang Father David, knowing that Father won’t be very happy from this late night phone call. He explained the situation to Father, apologised to him and also the mentality of Raghav and how he processed things. Dubey Sir and Raghav have been working together for a year after all. He asked him to arrange a meeting with Raghav, who was still staying in the hostel, as soon as possible before something terribly wrong happens.
There was a loud knock on his door. Raghav was startled by this late night visit from someone. He realised he again fell sleep crying. His pillow felt like a poodle of saliva and tear. His eyes were red. “End it all” a thought flashed into his brain. He opened the door anyway to find the hostel peon at his door asking him to come with him. He refused by hostel peon grabbed his hand and dragged him down the corridor. It was difficult to recognise the path he was traversing in the dark but then soon he recognised and tried to resist even more. He didn’t want to sit in front of Father David like this. “He is not worthy as a principal. He should resign from the post. He is too biased. He is too unjust. I don’t want to talk to him. I will just sit there and nod. He is unworthy.” Raghav thought all the way.
Peon knocked on the door and there was this familiar voice of Father calling him in. As he entered, wiping his eyes, in desperation to hide his tears from Father, he recognised Dubey Sir too. He was sitting there, smiling. Father asked him to sit on a chair and drink a glass of water. It was 2 A.M. in morning. He was surprised to find them all sitting there. Then
Dubey Sir quickly summarised his talk with Father David and also apologised for his actions. Raghav stared at him blankly. Father David then continued to inform him that he has written a special letter to Board to check his answer script and all the teachers are ready to sign on it happily. He also told him that he has booked a ticket for him to leave for home in morning and has already informed his parents about it over the phone.
“Why? Why now? It is all meaningless. It was heart-breaking to know that if a student makes a mistake, the first impression made about him is of a “cheater”. I don’t want to stay here. It wasn’t even worth it.”, Raghav replied in a sore voice. Father David smiled. He said: “Son, you have just graduated from 10th standard. You haven’t even had a glimpse of what life can do. What cosmic powers can bring upon you. The ups- and downs of life. Compared to that, this is a very small incident. I am very happy to see how boldly you took the decision in front of me and didn’t try to influence me in anyway. This is not an easy thing, Son. Many a men have failed right at this. I am humbled by your bravery and courage and integrity. I am sorry for the turn of events. We all have learnt our lessons haven’t we! This is a small gift from my side. I had made this decision a day before board exams.” He handed Raghav a letter which indicated that he has been awarded that two year scholarship by the school. The scholarship he was working very hard for. Tears again started rolling down his eyes. This time he didn’t hide them. He let them roll down. They were surprisingly relieving!