Answer by Pranab Raj:

CARPE DIEM!

Everyone will give you an opinion on how to live your life. No one,  no  one will give you good advice on how to end it. Worse, they will  tell  you to continue living, without any respect for individual choice.  Yes,  hi, I’m Gautam Arora, and after eighteen wonderful years in  Delhi, I’ve  decided to END MY LIFE.

I sat with my best friend  Neeraj and his girlfriend Anjali at Costa  Coffee, DLF Metropolitan Mall  in Saket. The coffee is way overpriced,  but considering I had a day to  live, I didn’t mind getting ripped off.
“The joke isn’t that  funny,” Neeraj said, tearing open the second  sachet of brown sugar and  mixing it for his girlfriend. If this girl  can’t mix sugar in her  coffee, I wonder what she will be like after  marriage.
 
“Do  I look like I am joking? You are in medical  college, and as a friend  and someone two years elder to me, I am asking  your advice on what is  the most painless, graceful way to go. And  ideally, it should be  available at the friendly neighbourhood chemist,” I  said. I ordered a  chocolate fudge cake. What are a few extra calories  on your last day?
 
Anjali  kept quiet, her iPod plugged in her ears. She had come to the  mall to  shop with her boyfriend rather than meet me. Neeraj said he only  dated  Anjali as her father had given her a car and driver, which made  it easy  to go around. Besides, she looked ok. She was pretty enough to  invite a  second stare from men, though that’s hardly an achievement in  Delhi  where men’s standards can be quite modest.
“Dude, you topped your school. How much did you score in your class XII boards again?” Neeraj said.
“Ninety two per cent,” I said.
“Ninety   what?” Neeraj said as he ripped out Anjali’s earphones, “Anjali, the   dude scored ninety two per cent in commerce! Do you know of anyone who   has scored that much?”
Anjali shook her head.
“Wow, you must have studied a lot,” she said.
I nodded. I had done nothing but study in the last two years.
“No time for hobbies?” she said.
I shook my head. My only hobbies were eating three meals and sleeping five hours a day. The rest of the time was with my books.
“With ninety two, you should be fine,” Neeraj said.
“Not   according to SRCC, not according to Stephen’s and not according to   Hindu, oh what the heck,” I said as I opened my rucksack.
I gave  him  the special admissions supplement from the newspaper. I had snucked  it  out early morning so mom and dad wouldn’t see it.
“Wow, check out Lady Sri Ram. B.Com Honours is at 95.5 per cent!” Neeraj said.
“That’s a girl’s college,” Anjali said.
“I know,” I said.
“Don’t  worry, he wouldn’t have made it anyway. Anjali, why don’t you  go spend  some of your father’s money,” Neeraj said and winked at me.
Anjali  and I both gave Neeraj a dirty look. Neeraj air-kissed Anjali and  gestured to her to leave. Seriously, don’t kill yourself. To us, you are  still the school topper,” Neeraj said after Anjali left.
“So   what do I do?” I said, my voice loud, “stay back in school? This topper   tag makes things worse. My parents already threw a party for our   friends and relatives like I have made it big time in life. I cut a cake   with the icing ‘family superstar’.”
“Nice,” Neeraj said.
“Not   nice at all. All relatives congratulated my mother. They see me as the   next hotshot investment banker on Wall Street. The least they expect  me  to do is get into a good college in DU.”
“There are still some colleges that you will get,” Neeraj said as I cut him off.
“But none with the same brand value. Thus, you can’t get a decent job after them. You can’t get into the top MBA school.”
Neeraj   pushed my coffee cup towards me. I hadn’t touched it. I picked it up   and brought it close to my mouth but couldn’t drink it.
“I made one tiny calculation error in my math paper,” I said, “read one stupid unit conversion wrong. That’s it. If only…”
“If only you could chill out. You are going to college, dude! Branded or not, it is always fun.”
“Screw fun,” I said.
“What  kind of kids are they taking in anyway?” Neeraj said, “you have to  be a  bean-counter stickler to get ninety seven per cent. Like someone  who  never takes chances and revises the paper twenty times.”
 
“I don’t know, I revised it five times. That stupid calculation…”
“Gautam, relax. That paper is done. And sticklers don’t do well in life. Innovative and imaginative people do.”
“That’s   not what DU thinks. You don’t understand, my father has proclaimed in   his office I will join SRCC. I can’t go to him with a second rung   college admission. It’s like his whole life image will alter. Hell, I   won’t be able to deal with it myself.”
An SMS from Anjali on  Neeraj’s phone interrupted our conversation. At  Kimaya, tried fab  dress. Come urgently, want your opinion. Neeraj typed  the reply back.  Honey, it looks great. Buy it.
Neeraj grinned as he showed me his  response. “I think you should go,”  I said. Rich dads’ daughters can  throw pretty nasty tantrums. Neeraj  took out the money for coffee. I  stopped him. “My treat,” I said. Leave  people happy on your last day, I  thought. “Of course, I take this as  your treat for cracking your  boards,” Neeraj said and smiled. He ruffled  my hair and left. I came  out of the mall and took an auto home.
 
I met my parents at the dinner table. “So when will the university announce the cut-offs?” my father said.
“In a few days,” I said. I looked up at the dining table fan. No, I couldn’t hang myself. I can’t bear suffocation.
My mother cut mangoes after dinner. The knife made me think of slitting my wrists. Too painful, I thought and dropped the idea.
 
“So now, my office people are asking me, ‘when is our party?’,” my father said as he took a slice.
“I told you to call them to the party we did for neighbours and relatives,” my mother said.
“How will they fit with your brothers and sisters? My office people are very sophisticated,” my father said.
“My  brothers are no less sophisticated. They went to Singapore last year   on vacation. At least they are better than your family,” she said.
My father laughed at my mother’s sullen expression. His happiness levels had not receded since the day I received my result.
 
“My office people want drinks, not food. Don’t worry, I’ll do another one for them when he gets into SRCC or Stephen’s.”
My   father worked in the sales division of Tata Tea. We had supplied our   entire set of neighbours with free tea for the last five years. As a   result, we had more well-wishers than I’d have liked.
“Even my   country head called to congratulate me for Gautam. He said – nothing   like Stephen’s for your brilliant son,” my father said.
“Gupta aunty came from next door. She wanted to see if you can help her daughter who is in class XI,” my mother said.
Is she pretty, I wanted to ask, but didn’t. It didn’t matter.
I  came to my room post dinner. I hadn’t quite zeroed down on the exact   method, but thought I should start working on the suicide letter anyway.   I didn’t want it to be one of the clichéd ones – I love you all and it   is no one’s fault, and I’m sorry mom and dad. Yuck, just like first   impressions, last impressions are important too. In fact, I didn’t want   to do any silly suicide letter. When it is your last, you’d better make   it important. I decided to write it to the education minister. I   switched on my computer and went to the Education Department website.   Half the site links were broken. There was a link called “What after   class XII?” I clicked on it, it took me to a blank page with an under   construction sign. I sighed as I closed the site. I opened Microsoft   Word to type.  Dear Education Minister,
I hope you are doing fine and the large staff of your massive bungalow is treating you well. I won’t take much of your time.
I’ve  passed out of class XII and I’ve decided to end my life. I  scored  ninety-two per cent in my boards, and I have a one foot high  trophy  from my school for scoring the highest. However, there are so  many  trophy holding students in this country and so few college seats,  that I  didn’t get into a college that will train me to the next level or  open  up good opportunities.
I know I have screwed up. I should have  worked harder to get another  three per cent. However, I do want to  point out a few things to you.  When my parents were young, certain  colleges were considered  prestigious. Now, forty years later, the same  colleges are considered  prestigious. What’s interesting is that no new  colleges have come up  with the same brand or reputation level. Neither  have the seats expanded  in existing colleges fast enough to accommodate  the rising number of  students.
I’ll give you an example. Just  doing some meaningless surfing, I saw  that 3.8 lakh candidates took the  CBSE class XII exam in 1999, a number  that has grown to 8.9 lakh in  2009. This is just one board, and if you  take ICSE and all other state  boards, the all India total number is over  ten times that of CBSE. We  probably had one crore students taking the  class XII exam this year.
While  not everyone can get a good college seat, I just want to talk  about  the so-called good students. The top 10 per cent alone of these  one  crore students is ten lakh children. Yes, these ten lakh students  are  their class toppers. In a class of fifty, they will have the top-5   ranks.
One could argue that these bright kids deserve a good  college to  realise their full potential. Come to think of it, it would  be good for  our country too if we train our bright children well to be  part of the  new, shining, gleaming, glistening or whatever you like to  call the  globalised India.
But then, it looks like you have  stopped making universities. Are  there ten lakh top college seats in  the country? Are there even one  lakh? Ever wondered what happens to the  rest of us, year after year? Do  we join a second rung college? A  deemed university? A distance learning  programme? A degree in an  expensive, racist country?
 
Your government runs a lot of  things. You run an airline that never  makes money. You run hotels. You  want to be involved in making basic  stuff like steel and aluminum,  which can easily be made by more  efficient players. However, in  something as important as
shaping the young generation, you have stepped back. You have stopped making new universities. Why?
 
You   have all the land you want, teachers love to get a government job,   education funds are never questioned. Still, why? Why don’t we have new,   A-grade universities in every state capital for instance?
Oh  well,  sorry. I am over reacting. If only I had not done that  calculation error  in my math paper, I’d be fine. In fact, I am one of  the lucky ones. In  four years, the number of candidates will double. So  then we will have a  college that only has 99 per cent scorers.
My  parents were a bit deluded about my abilities, and I do feel bad  for  them. I didn’t have a girlfriend or too many friends, as people who   want to get into a good college are not supposed to have a life. If only   I knew that slogging for twelve years would not amount to much, I’d   have had more fun.
Apart from that, do well, and say hello to the PM, who as I understand, used to teach in college.
Yours truly,
Gautam
(Poor student)
I  took a printout of the letter and kept it in my pocket. I decided  to  do the act the next morning. I woke up as the maid switched off the  fan  to sweep the room. She came inside and brought a box of sweets. A   fifty-year-old woman, she had served us for over ten years. “What?” I   said as she gave me the box. It had kaju-barfi, from one of the more   expensive shops in the city. The maid had spent a week’s salary   distributing sweets to anyone known to her. “My son passed class XII,”   she said as she started her work. “How much did he score?” I said, still   rubbing my eyes. “Forty two per cent. He passed English too,” she said   as her face beamed with pride. “What will he do now?” I said. “I don’t   know. Maybe his own business, he can repair mobile phones,” she said.
I  went to the bathroom for a shower. I realised the newspaper would have   come outside. I ran out of the bathroom. I picked up the newspaper from   the entrance floor. I took out the admissions supplement, crumpled it   and threw it in the dustbin kept outside the house. I came back inside   the house and went back into the shower.
I left the house  mid-day. I took the metro to Chandni Chowk and asked  my way to the  industrial chemicals market. Even though I had left  science after class  X, I knew that certain chemicals like Copper  Sulphate or Ammonium  Nitrate could kill you. I bought a pack of both  compounds. As I passed  through the lanes of Chandni Chowk, I passed a  tiny hundred square feet  jalebi shop. It did brisk business. I thought  my last meal had to be  delicious. I went to the counter and took a  quarter kilo of jalebis.
I took my plate and sat on one of the two rickety benches placed outside the shop.
A  Muslim couple with a four-year-old boy came and sat on the next  bench.  The mother fed the boy jalebi and kissed him after each bite. It   reminded me of my childhood and my parents, when they used to love me   unconditionally and marks didn’t exist. I saw the box of Ammonium   Nitrate and tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t eat the jalebis. I   came back home. I wondered if I should use my chemicals before or after   dinner. Maybe it is better after everyone has slept, I thought.
 
We   sat at the dinner table. Dad had told mom not to cook as he’d brought   Chinese takeaway for us. Mom brought the soya sauce, chilli oil and the   vinegar with cut green chillies in little katoris. We ate American   chopsuey on stainless steel plates. I looked at my watch, it was 8 pm.   Three more hours, I thought as I let out a sigh.
“One thing  Kalpana,” my father said to my mother, “job candidates  aren’t what they  used to be these days. I interviewed for new trainees  today,  disappointing.”
“Why, what happened?” my mother said.
“Like this boy from Stephen’s, very bright kid. But only when it came to his subjects.”
“Really?” my mother said.
“Yeah,  but I asked him a different question. I said how would you go  about  having a tea-shop chain like the coffee shop chains, and he went   blank,” my father said, an inch of noodle hanging outside his mouth. My   mother removed it from his face.
“And then some kid from SRCC. He   topped his college. But you should have seen his arrogance. Even  before  the interview starts, he says ‘I hope at the end of our meeting,  you  will be able to tell me why I should join Tata Tea and not another   company’. Can you imagine? I am twice his age.”
 
I could tell my father was upset from his serious tone.
“If   you ask me,” my father continued, “the best candidate was a boy from   Bhopal. Sure, he didn’t get into a top college. But he was an eighty per   cent student. And he said ‘I want to learn. And I want to show that  you  don’t need a branded college to do well in life. Good people do  well  anywhere.’ What a kid. Thank God we shortlisted him in the first  place.”
“Did he get the job?” I said.
“Yes, companies need  good workers, not posh certificates. And we are  having a meeting to  discuss our short listing criteria again. The top  colleges are so hard  to get in, only tunnel vision people are being  selected.” “Then why are  you asking him to join Stephen’s or SRCC?” my  mother said.
My  father kept quiet. He spoke after a pause. “Actually, after today,  I’d  say don’t just go by the name. Study the college, figure out their   dedication, and make sure they don’t create arrogant nerds. Then   whatever the brand, you will be fine. The world needs good people.”
 
I   looked at my parents as they continued to talk. Excuse me, but I have a   plan to execute here. And now you are confusing me, I thought. “So   should I study some more colleges and make a decision after that?” I   said. “Yes, of course. No need for herd-mentality. Kalpana you should   have seen this boy from Bhopal.”
Post-dinner, my parents watched  TV  in the living room while eating fruits. I retracted to my room. I  sat on  my desk wondering what to do next. The landline phone rang in my   parent’s room. I went inside and picked it up.
“Hello Gautam?” the voice on the other side said.
It  was my father’s colleague from work.  “Hello, Yash uncle,” I   said.  “Hi,” he said, “congratulations on your boards.”  “Thanks uncle,”   I said, “dad is in the living room finishing dinner, should I call   him?” “Dinner? Oh, don’t disturb him. Just tell him his mobile is with   me. It is safe. We were on a field trip today. He left it in my car.”   “Field trip? For interviews?” I said. “What interviews? No, we just went   to the Chandigarh office,” he said.
 
I wished him good  night and  hung up the phone. I switched on the bedside lamp in my  parents’ room.  Confused, I sat down on my father’s bed, wondering what  to do next. To  make space, I moved his pillow. Under the pillow lay a  crumpled  newspaper. I picked it up. It was the same admissions  supplement I had  tossed in the bin this morning. My father had circled  the cut-offs  table.
I left the newspaper there and came to the  living room. My father was  arguing with my mother over the choice of  channels. I looked at my  father. He smiled at me and offered me  watermelon. I declined.
I came back to my room. I picked up the  chemical boxes and took them  to the toilet. I opened both boxes and  poured the contents in the toilet  commode. One press, and everything,  everything flushed out.
 
“Gautam,” my mother knocked on the door, “I forgot to tell you. Gupta aunty came again. Can you teach her daughter?”
“Maybe,” I said as I came out of the toilet, “by the way, is she pretty?”

What are some nice, beautiful stories?

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