Sudhir stared at the notice board. He frowned. Something was not right. He could easily digest the fact that he had stood second, but what he could not accept was the name above his own – Neha Samar.
Neha was one of the dumbest students in his class. She would have needed a miracle just to pass, let alone stand first! But, there it was mocking him in the face –Neha Samar: 96.2% followed by Sudhir Patel: 95.5%. There had got to be some mistake.
A friendly slap on his back disturbed his thoughts, “Congrats Sudhir! You made it to the top ten as usual.”
He spun around to find Aditesh standing behind him, a huge grin spread across his chubby round face.
“Thanks Adi,” Sudhir muttered somewhat distractedly. Sudhir and Aditesh had been the best of pals since childhood. They had been to the same school and were now studying in the same college as well.
“What’s the matter Sudhir?” Aditesh asked him as they walked towards the library. “You don’t look too happy.”
Sudhir frowned, “It’s nothing really. I just can’t understand how Neha stood first.”
“Oh Please!” exclaimed Aditesh. “You stood second. You should be happy. I did not even make it to the list.”
“And whose fault is that?” teased Sudhir
Aditesh chuckled, “hey! It’s not my fault I have such a great social life.”
Sudhir just shook his head disapprovingly. He did not approve of his friend’s easygoing nature. He and Aditesh were very different in that respect – Unlike Aditesh, Sudhir was very serious in most matters.
“It’s not that,” Sudhir revealed “Neha stood first. Neha! How can that be?”
Aditesh frowned, “Who cares Sudhir? It doesn’t matter. These are just the internals”
“But Adi, Neha is…”
“Dumb.” Aditesh finished for him. “I know. But, there’s nothing you can do about it. Just forget about it,” he ordered. He knew how hyper Sudhir could get about these things.
“It could be a genuine mistake,” Sudhir mused “Totalling error, a mix up…”
“O my God! You are right,” mocked Aditesh “Why don’t we just speak to the principal and tell him to verify our results because we think Neha Samar is too dumb to have stood first. Great idea Einstein,” he concluded.
Sudhir gave his friend a friendly shove. “Shut up. That’s ridiculous.”
“Well, first you stop being so silly.”
“But Adi how? …How?” Sudhir asked shaking his head “I just cannot understand how it could happen and its driving me crazy.”
“And you are supposed to be the genius here,” Aditesh frowned. “Everybody knows she has connections. So, it’s really not that surprising,” he shrugged.
Sudhir stared at him, “connections?”
“Sudhiiiir! Neha’s dad is Babu Tambe’s right-hand man.”
“Babu Tambe! MLA?” explained Aditesh impatiently.
“What do you mean Adi?”
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out dude!”
“Rubbish! That can’t be true.”
“You think such things do not happen?” Aditesh challenged. “Shit happens in colleges nowadays Sudhir. Ask Ankita. Every year she has ‘requests’ coming in from politicians during paper corrections.” Ankita was Aditesh’s older sister who was teaching at the university.
Sudhir stared wide eyed, while Aditesh added with a sigh, “Also, Neha’s a babe. Maybe she …”
“Shut up Adi,” Sudhir interrupted. He knew where this was going. “You are such a pervert.”
“Wake up and smell the coffee dude,” Aditesh laughed as he as he turned right onto the narrow lane leading to the college canteen.
“Adi the library is this way,” complained Sudhir.
“I Know. But, all this talk has made me hungry. Let’s get a couple of samosas to eat first.”
Sudhir opened his mouth to protest, but decided against it. Keeping Aditesh away from his favourite samosas was never a good idea. So, he quietly followed his friend into the canteen, still lost in his thoughts. Maybe Aditesh was right. He should just let things be. There was nothing he could do about it anyway. But, he could not help wondering just how Neha had stood first and whether any of what Aditesh had just said was true.
A couple of weeks later, Sudhir had a rude awakening to the rampant corruption that he had been so ignorant about. He had been unable to secure admission in one of the best medical colleges in the state.
He was almost in tears when he met up with Aditesh that day. “It is just so unfair Adi,” he shook his head bitterly. “Money and power controls everything.”
“Cheer up Sudhir,” Aditesh consoled “You will surely get into one of the other colleges that you have applied to.”
“You don’t get it Adi. Subramati Medical College is the best college we have here and the only reason I cannot get admission there is because I cannot afford to pay the so called donation – they wanted 60 Lakhs! Where the hell am I going to get that kind of money?”
Aditesh sighed, “I know. But…”
“… there’s nothing I can do about it?” Sudhir finished for him. “That’s what makes it worse.”
“I’m sorry Sudhir. I don’t know what to say.”
“Merit just has no value nowadays,” Sudhir continued angrily, “all you need is loads of money or political connections.”
Aditesh just listened quietly. Sudhir just needed to vent his bitterness and anger at the corrupt system. “Sachin ranked so much lower than me and he has got admission. How does that make any sense? All because he has the money to buy a seat,” Sudhir spat vehemently.
“Calm down Sudhir,” Aditesh mumbled. But, Sudhir was inconsolable. He had worked so hard the last couple of years in the hope of getting into Subramati Medical College and now his hopes had been completely shattered.
Sudhir’s fleeting thoughts were interrupted by a female voice. “Sir, you have not answered my question.”
Sudhir looked up at the young journalist interviewing him, “I’m sorry. What was your question?”
“Your opponents claim that the only reason you were given a ticket, is because your father-in-law is a close aide of Babu Tambe.”
“No, No,” Sudhir shook his head emphatically. “The reason I was offered the party ticket was because of my hard work. You are well aware of the fact that I have worked very hard over the last several months to resolve several issues in my village itself. More importantly, I represent the youth who are the future of the country.”
“But sir, don’t you think that the fact that you are the son-in-law of Mr. Samar had anything to do with you being awarded a ticket?”
Sudhir shrugged. “No,” he said simply, a small grin playing upon his face. He did not wish to elaborate. He could see she was fishing for some juicy bits of information that would make the next day’s headlines and he was determined to give her none.
She frowned, “And what was it that motivated you to join politics?”
Sudhir smiled. Like any seasoned politician he replied in a rather mechanical voice, “to serve my fellow-men and put an end to the corruption that has taken over our state and our country.”