From Chapter 2

Prof. Sen distributed the answer sheets in class two days later.

“Five? I got a five out of twenty,” I said to Alok, who sat next to me in class.

“I got seven. Damn it, seven,” Alok said.

“I have three. How about that? One, two, three,” Ryan said, counting on his fingers.

Prof. Sen wrote the customary summary scores on the blackboard.

Average: 11/20

High: 17/20

Low: 3/20

He kept those written for a few minutes, before proceeding with his lecture on cantilever beams.

“I have the lowest. Did you see that?” Ryan whispered to me, unmoved by cantilever beams. It was hard to figure out what he was feeling at this point. Even though he was trying to stay calm and expressionless, I could tell he was having trouble digesting his result. He re-read his quiz, it did not change the score.

Alok was in a different orbit. His face looked like it had on ragging day. He viewed the answer sheet like he had the coke bottle, an expression of anxiety mixed with sadness. It is in these moments that Alok is most vulnerable, you nudge him just a little bit and you know he’d cry. But for now, the quiz results were a repulsive enough sight.

I saw my own answer sheet. The instructor had written my score in big but careless letters, like graffiti written with contempt. Now I am no Einstein or anything, but this never happened to me in school. My score today was five on twenty, or twenty-five per cent, I had never in my life scored less than three times as much. Ouch, the first quiz in IIT hurt.

But take Ryan’s scores. I wondered if it had been worth it for him to even study last night. I was two points ahead of him, or wait a minute, sixty-six per cent ahead of him, that made me feel better. Thank god for relative misery!

Alok had the highest percentage amongst the three of us, but I could tell he did not find solace in our misery. He saw his score, and he saw the average on the board. I saw his face, twisting every time he saw his wrong answers.

We kept our answer-sheet, the proof of our underperformance, in our bags and strolled back to Kumaon. We met at dinner in the mess. The food was insipid as usual, and Alok wrinkled his pug nose as he dispiritedly plopped a thick blob of green substance mess-workers called bhindi masala into his plate. He slammed two rotis on his stainless-steel plate and ignored the rest of the semi-solid substances like dal, raita and pulao. Ryan and I took everything; though everything tasted the same, we could at least have some variety of colors on our plate.

Alok finally brought up the topic of the quiz at the dinner table.

“So, now you don’t have anything to say?”

Ryan and I looked at each other.

“Say what?” I said.

“That how crap this is,” Alok said.

“The food?” I said, fully aware Alok meant otherwise.

“No damn it! Not the damn food,” Alok said, “The apmech quiz.” His expression changed from the usual tragic one to a livelier angry one. I found that expression marginally more pleasant to look at and easier to deal with.

“What about the quiz? That we are screwed. What is to discuss in that?” Ryan simplified.

“Oh really. We are screwed, no damn doubt in that,” Alok said.

I think Alok picks up a word and uses it too much, which ruins the effect. There were too many ‘damns’ in his dialogues.

“Then drop it. Anyway, you got the highest amongst us. So, be happy.”

“Happy? Yes, I am happy. The average is eleven, and someone got seventeen. And here I am, at damn seven. Yes, I am happy my damn Terminator ass,” Alok scoffed.

I told you, Alok ruins the effect. I wanted to tell him that he should stop ‘damn’ right now but something told me he would not appreciate the subtleties of cursing right now.

“What? What did you just say?” Ryan said, keeping his spoon down on the plate, “Did you say Terminator?”

“Yes. It was a stupid idea. Your stupid damn idea,” Alok said.

Ryan froze. He looked at Alok as if he was speaking in foreign tongue. Then he turned toward me.

“You heard what he said? Hari, you heard? This is unbelievable man,” Ryan turned to me.

I had heard Alok, nothing being the matter with my eardrums but I wasn’t paying attention to anything apart from keeping counts of the ‘damns’.

“Hari, you think I screwed up the quiz?” Ryan asked slowly.

I looked at Alok’s and Ryan’s faces in quick succession, mediating on something I did not understand yet.

“Ryan, you got three. You still need me to tell you that you screwed up?” I counter-questioned.

“No. I mean Alok is saying I screwed up the quiz for both of you because I took you to the movie. You think so or…?”

“That is not what I said…” Alok interrupted even as Ryan raised his hand to indicate silence.

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