I have loads of friends. In fact I have been friends with one guy since we were in prep school. Well if you can call our relationship friendship. Now don’t get any ideas, we are not gay. It’s just that we fight so much over such trifles that sometimes I wonder how we have remained on talking terms for so long. But then it is said that people who know each other the best fight the most, isn’t it?
He is called Mikes out of love. And he is loved by all who know him. A decent guy and a great friend. As I have already said, I studied with him since prep school right up to our 10+2. As fate would have it we were selected into the same professional college, and ended up in the same hostel. Call it coincidence or call it happenstance. We were the much exalted first years of our hostel, along with a bunch of other sorry figures. It was a great experience-horrible, entertaining, enriching, and worth remembering for the rest of our lives. We didn’t get much time to study for the first few months. Not that I wanted to study. I like reading more, you see. When the time came for our first semester exams, we found that none of us were reasonably prepared. The others started studying hard for all the subjects. I devised an easier way. I decided to sacrifice one shitty subject called SPM for the sake of passing the others.
I appeared for the exams with the rest of the guys. We helped each other learn new things in the exam hall. We copied shamelessly, that is to say. Now came the night before the SPM exam, of which I hadn’t even had the textbook. I decided to chill out. I didn’t want to disturb the others with their studies though. So I got myself some grass and went to the bank of the Brahmaputra, which is about five minutes walking distance from the hostel. There I sat alone and blew blue smoke. I smoked myself into oblivion till it was late at night. I returned, had my dinner and peacefully went to sleep.
The next morning. The exam hall. SPM exam. Mikes was sitting behind me. The question papers had been distributed. I scanned one side, turned it over, and realised that it felt like I was trying to read Latin.
I turned around, “Mikes, I don’t understand anything.”
“Who asked you not to study?”
“Hey I pay attention in class! I thought that would have helped me get into double figures. I didn’t expect to get a zero!! You have to help me, bro. Otherwise I will have to submit a blank answer sheet.”
“I don’t understand half of this shit either. I will dictate to you all I know, ok?”
“God, you are a savior! I could kiss you,” I said.
“That’s wouldn’t be required. Just start writing. I won’t repeat anything.”
Suddenly I felt like Lord Ganesha, who had been given the task to complete writing the Ramayana with Valmiki reciting it out just once. I told myself I was upto the task.
“I am Ganesha, I am Ganesha,” I chanted to myself, though I don’t have a potbelly, an elephant’s head, a penchant for laddoos, or a mouse for a vehicle!!
“Answer to question number one. Write,” Mikes said.
“Do I write ‘write’ too?” I queried.
“Stop being silly, you dumbass.”
Now tell me one thing, how can a dumbass not be silly? It’s a contradiction in itself!
“Carriers are those organisms or things which can….” Mikes continued.
I shut off the memory part of my brain, and fine tuned the part given to auditory sensations immediately, and started noting down whatever he was dictating. The first answer was completed. Oh, and by the way, have I told you that my handwriting is beautiful and Mikes’ is like illegitimate scrawls that can be made by any four year old using a crayon? No? Well, secret no longer now, that.
“Second answer?” I asked.
“You really don’t know anything?” he sounded exasperated.
“You thought I was joking? Well I am not. So go ahead and save my ass.”
Mikes sighed. “I dunno the answer. Let’s go to number three.”
“Anything you say, Sir. After all you are the master and I am but your slave!” I chuckled.
“Stop trying to act smart. Here’s the third answer…
It was a long one and I kept writing as fast as I could without trying to make any snide comments, so as not to break his flow. It lasted for better part of an hour, when the lady invigilator came near us. Mikes was oblivious to all worldly concerns and kept on reciting. She went to him and asked:
“Young man, what are you doing?”
“Why, writing my answers of course,” he answered in all innocence.
“Then why are you saying them out loud?”
My pen hung an inch over the answer sheet, ears all prickled.
“Haaaaaaaaaaaa I can’t remember the answers if I don’t say them out loud.”’
“I forget the answers if I don’t speak them out to myself.”
“By all means speak them out to yourself. But the volume doesn’t need to be so loud that it disturbs the students around you. Or is it for their favour?” she said and came over to my seat.
He mumbled something and went back to writing, and whispering in a lower tone. I, on the other hand, tried my best to put on my most intense expression to show that I was trying very hard to remember something. The invigilator tapped my desk and I seemed to come out of my reverie.
“We have been instructed to deduct 10 marks from anyone who is found copying,” she said.
I let pretense go down the drain, turned the answer sheet towards her and said: “Please, go ahead ma’am.”
She was stunned. Shocked, maybe, or awestruck. Her mouth was open in a big O. I took the chance and said: “I would get a zero if I don’t copy. I don’t know any of the answers. Please ma’am, deduct the 10 marks and let me continue.”
She shook her head disbelievingly and left us alone. She was not seen near us throughout the exam. So Mikes’ dictation and my scribbling didn’t end upto the last question.
“Last answer is a diagram,” Mikes told me.
“Tell me how to draw it.”
“Are you mad?”
“Haven’t you known it for all these years?”
“Haaaaaaaaa okay, okay. Go to a new sheet. Divide it into three parts by two vertical lines.”
“Now write capital A in the first part. And little below it write capital C.”
“Where’s B?” I asked.
“Shut the fuck up and do what I say.”
“Okay. The middle of the sheet between the two vertical lines? Write capital B there between A and C. A and C in first part, B in second part between them. Got it?”
“Yeah, got it.”
“Now, draw horizontal line from A all the way to the third part. Another from B to the third part, and one from C to the second part. That’s it.”
“Oh wait,” he said after a pause, “write capital D at the bottom of the third part and make a short horizontal line from it.”
I did all he had suggested even though I couldn’t make head or tail of it. The diagram didn’t seem to make any sense, so I held my sheet up to show him. He glanced at it and said:
“Perfect. Now for the legend.”
“Awww there’s more to this? What legend could possibly be behind this shitty diagram?”
“The labeling, you cretin. Otherwise how will one know what the fuck A, B, C, D and all those lines mean?”
“Oh, now I get you,” I smiled.
He dictated all the rest of it and I was out in five more minutes flat. Mikes stayed back to revise because there were fifteen more minutes to go before the final bell. I found outside that I was one of the early few to leave. Another friend of mine, Arnie, hailed me and asked if I would pass the damn paper.
“Ask Mikes,” I replied rather enigmatically and went towards the college canteen for a cup of much needed coffee. Arnie stared after me with a confused look in his eyes.
The best was yet to come. Time flew as it is always wont to. We got our freshmen’s social and were no longer treated like dogshit. We had even become friendly with our seniors. One fine day I was sitting alone in the common room on my hostel, deciding to have bunked classes. I had a couple of joints and was watching some stupid pop song on the telly, not because I liked it but because the remote was busted and I felt too lazy to get up and change the channel. Mikes comes charging in. Three of our friends were holding him back.
“You cunning bastard,” he was screaming.
“Calm down,” Arnie was telling him, “it’s because of your handwriting. The examiner mustn’t have understood half of what you wrote.”
“No this bastard Neel cheated me. He wrote down everything I dictated to him. And then he wrote some more answers which he didn’t tell me.” Mikes was seething. “Let go of me. I am gonna kill him.”
I had no clue what was happening. Arnie explained.
“You passed SPM. He flunked.”
I started laughing. That must have been the last straw for Mikes. He broke free and charged at me. I was too sluggish and he hit me in the face hard before I could even think of getting up from my seat. I saw stars dancing in front of my eyes. By then the others grabbed him again and dragged him off me. I would soon get to flaunt a bruise under my left eye.
“Don’t you ever talk to me you asshole. Don’t even come near me. Don’t ever dare to show me your fucking face,” Mikes yelled as he was being dragged away.
We didn’t talk to each other for about a month after that. Things were back to normal though when we boozed together at a party. See what I mean about our friendship? But I swear I had written only what he had dictated to me and not another word. It must have been his rotten handwriting, or my blessed luck.