‘I planned to cheat. But everyone does! Why single me out?’

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Illustration: Anand Naorem

I made sure the little booklet — Political Science MCQ Paper II — was snugly wedged between the top of the toilet door and the low ceiling. But as I turned back to get out of the bathroom, I froze. A man, in his early 30s most likely, was staring hard at me.

“What paper are you appearing for?” he asked curtly. My first impulse was to run. In my head I did. But in reality I just moved forward an inch and mustering up all the strength I had, replied, “Political Science.”

“Which room?” Again, my first impulse was to run. But I had already blurted out what paper I was scheduled to sit for, so he could easily find out if he really wanted to. “Room 3, beside the library,” I replied.

Before he could interrogate me any further I actually did bolt out of the bathroom. Not the run-Forrest-run kind of a run. More like a speedy walk that a lot of people do in the morning at parks to exercise. Anyway, I made for my designated room and before I went in, I looked over to see if he had followed me. He was still standing at the other end of the corridor looking at me. Then he suddenly started to walk towards the room as well. I weighed all the possible exit routes before me. Maybe I could do the old chestnut of profuse apology blended with acute expressions of repentance, even shed a tear or two. But the last time I cried was when the Imtiaz Ali-directed movie Love Aaj Kal ended. And those were tears of joy that the movie had finally come to an end.

The second option was to feign innocence. However, the words of an authority cannot be overridden by those of a suspect candidate, especially one appearing for ‘pass subject’ or supplementary papers. The third option was to admit it. Yes, I planted a book in the toilet and intended to cheat. But everyone cheats! The State, capitalist corporations, everybody!

The man entered the room and spoke to the invigilator who was already beginning to take out the question papers. He said something and the invigilator frowned. Then they came towards me and hovered near my seat, and went outside. The invigilator re-entered but the man was gone. I was sure the man identified me and the invigilator had noted down my roll number for later reference. The fear of impending doom and zero knowledge about the questions cumulatively hit me hard like a hammer.

I looked around. The boy beside me had thick glasses on, a thin trace of a moustache and a look of purpose on his face. Suddenly I recollected seeing him furiously reading a big text book outside the examination hall. I surmised that he must be one of the few who actually studied for supplementary papers. I immediately turned all my attention to his answer sheet and proceeded to copy the answers.

Once the examination was over I rushed out of the room. As I made my way out, I noticed that same man near the entrance to another room, most likely waiting for someone. Three students soon came out and I saw him break into a goofy smile. They seemed to know him well. He left after some time and I quickly went up to the other three. “Do you know this guy? What subject does he teach?”

They stared at me, and then laughed, “He’s our batchmate. He has failed this paper twice. This was his last attempt at clearing it.” I walked away quietly and went into the bathroom. My book was not in its place.

When the results came out I saw that I had managed to scrape through. I had memorised the roll number of the guy who sat beside me, and I checked his score. He had done no better.

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