“Rishabh, hurry!” Mom yelled to keep me on track. “You will be late for exam.”
“Yes mom, two minutes. I am just revising the formulas.” I responded from my room.
“How many times will you revise? You will not get more than hundred percent marks anyways, my Einstein.” She said in a proud tone even though my struggle and repulsion with mathematics was known to her. My promise to get her ninety percent plus marks and topping the class in this year’s final exam was assumed fulfilled by her already.
I loved languages, history and geography. Mathematics, I hated from the core of my heart with all sincerity. I had been neglectful of the arithmetical evil until last year’s examination when he had played a killjoy by averaging down my percentage considerably single handedly and keeping me away from the top place in the class. This year, even through my persistent disgust for the formulas, theorems and equations, I had given extra lime light to the attention seeker brat to ensure last year’s misery did not repeat.
Moreover, I did not want to disappoint mom. Ever since dad passed away when I was in seventh standard four years back, she had gone an extra mile in every possible way to ensure my needs and studies remain unhampered; be it her working extra hours to fulfill my monitory necessities or often sitting late night for nothing, just to accompany me in staying awake while I studied. Everything that she did, revolved around me.
However, I was not sure what it was about mathematics that never worked for me. Despite months of studies dedicated personally to maths, I was not sure of conquering it like other subjects. Conversely, the more I studied maths, the more I ran out of confidence. I had no clue; why?
The last night had made it even worse. I had no idea of what the alphas and betas were trying to tell me at the darkest hour. I was lost in the jungle of integrations and derivations like a wanderer. I was turning blank to blanker. For a moment, even dropping out from the exam was an option under my consideration until mom’s smiling face surfaced in front of my swollen eyes and I dropped the dropout idea.
Still, scoring considerably high in maths – higher than my reach – was my top priority. Nonetheless, it did not seem feasible last night for more than one reasons; one – my natural hatred for maths, two – my fuzziness when it came to formulas and equations, three – the pressure of not letting last year’s disaster repeat.
My last night’s secret hard work was known only to me. It was the kind of hard work that I had never done before ever; never. I chose a path to walk which I had never walked before. I planned to cheat, yes, cheat. I preferred to cheat than seeing mom disappointed.
Foremost, I convinced mom to go to sleep saying she was tired and should rest; I promised to manage staying awake through the night as I had to revise.
With shaking hands and frightened mind, I spent all night in preparing cheat notes for the formulas and theorem hints. I cut tiny pieces of papers and noted down the formulas precisely with a pencil. I had to keep my hands as steady as a surgeon’s while noting down the tiniest letters that I had ever written in my life.
The morning was not so usual either. I had hardly slept for an hour; I could not sleep any more. I woke up early, took bath.
I dragged out all my socks from wardrobe and measured each of them against each other to hunt down the longest pair that I had. I had prepared myself for a mission that I had never been to. I got ready with uniform, socks and shoes. While mom was busy in the kitchen, I slid the cheat notes carefully under socks, both socks. I double checked. I fake walked to make sure cheats don’t peek from within.
I realized that fate of my commitment was sealed at my ankles. Shivers!
“Rishabh?” Snoozed mom buzzed again.
I left all my thoughts behind, picked up my bag and bicycle keys. Mom was standing near main door with folded arms wearing a proud smile like a triumphant emperor. She was waiting to send her warrior off to a battle that she presumed he had already won. My few sleepless nights, including the last night, were the motive for her confidence; though she had no trace of what exactly kept me awake last night. I was like a cat on hot bricks; very nervous.
I bowed and touched mom’s feet to take blessings.
“I know maths is not your forte. Do not worry, don’t be stressed. Relax and just give your best. I’m sure you will make me proud, as always.” She put her hand on my head. She blessed me on the morning of every exam but today it felt different. Probably it was the plan on my mind that was the difference in perceiving her blessings. Waves ran through my body as her palm touched my head. I paused at her feet for two second.
I looked up in to her eyes. As always, a tender smile full of love and blessings was showering positivity on me. She kissed my forehead before I left.
All through my way to school on cycle, my mind kept shuttling between what was buried close to my feet and the last words that I had heard.
‘Just give your best. I’m sure you will make me proud, as always.’ kept haunting my mind right till the moment I reached my seat in the exam hall.
What do I prefer? What should I prefer? A truthful attempt to the best of my ability or a shining score sheet with a hidden cheater-tag which only I would read? What would mom prefer? A topper, but not-so-honest son or an honest but, not-so-topper son?
By going down to my ankle, I was sure; in no way, I was going to make mom proud of me. I decided to let my last night’s hard work go in vain. I chose to be an honest but not-so-topper son. I decided not to use the cheats.
Surprisingly, this choice gave me a huge boost. Nervousness vaporized. I suddenly started feeling confident and energetic. I couldn’t wait to have the question paper in my hands. On a day of maths, this had never happened before.
Ms. Sahani entered the classroom with a light brown sealed envelope containing question papers. A peon followed her with a stack of blank answer sheets. Ms. Sahani was known to be one of the sharpest and toughest-to-fool supervisors. She was considered closer to a detective when it came to exam supervision. She had god gifted knack of nailing down the culprits.
It did not worry me though, as I was going to go the honest highway. I was anyways in her good books courtesy my sincerity and decent study records over the years.
Bell rang and proceedings were on the way.
Even while writing the answers, a part of my mind stayed focused on making mom proud.
Fighting temptation to peek for the answers I did not know, I emerged victorious. My hand even went to touch my ankle a couple of times but ultimately I chose to leave those questions unanswered than utilizing my resources down the socks. I was proud of choosing to do that.
This answer sheet was, for sure, going to hamper my target of topping the class; I knew. But somehow I managed to make peace with it. I was happy to pay this cost for holding my head high; and mom’s too.
I finished, barring the questions I had left alone, about twenty minutes before the designated time limit.
“Ma’m.” I presented my answer sheet to Ms. Sahani.
“Are you done already Rishabh?” she asked with a sarcastic smile.
“Yes ma’m.” I replied proudly. I was content with the choices I had made since morning. What I had answered, the way I had answered had overpowered what I had left alone.
“We need to talk before I accept your answer sheet. Keep it with you and wait there.” She pointed to a corner of the classroom by the window. I was surprised at her unexpected response.
“I’m sorry ma’m. I did not get you.” I tried to decode what she meant to say.
“Is it so difficult to understand? Wait there till I call you.” She pointed to the corner again in a harsher tone this time.
Making my way through the skeptical eyes of each one present in the classroom, I quietly went to the corner with a bundle of questions.
Why didn’t she accept my answer sheet? Is something wrong? Oh, is there something to do with the cheats? No, no. It can’t be that. I have not even used the cheats. Then what could be it?
I couldn’t stop speculating until final bell rang and she collected all the other students’ answer sheets.
Once the classroom emptied, the situation seemed even more mysterious. It was just the two of us in the class.
“Yes mister Rishabh.” She called me after arranging the pile of answer sheets.
With nervous watery legs and shivering hands, I went to her and presented my answer sheet.
She took my sheet and put it aside separately on the table. She raised her eyebrows and asked me something which slid earth beneath me.
“Remove your shoes and socks.”
I had my heart in my mouth.
“Unh? What? I mean, I didn’t get you ma’m?” I tried to control my fumbles. I couldn’t.
“Shoes. Socks. Remove.” She simplified for me.
“Ma’m?” I wanted to ask Why? But I could not gather enough courage.
“Do you hear me Rishabh?” her tone was getting stricter with every sentence.
I was left with no choice but to follow her instructions. With a hope that world would stop at this very moment, I bent down to untie my shoelaces. I tried to buy as much time as I could to give her enough time to change mind.
“You normally don’t take this much time to untie laces, do you?” She knew what I was attempting there.
I was already in deep trouble. I chose to keep mum.
I removed my shoes. So far, so good. I was hoping for her to let me off the hook at this juncture; but she had other plans.
“Socks!” She made her point clearer and louder.
“Ma’m. Is there something wrong?” I was still hoping that it was not going the way I was assuming.
“Let’s find out what is wrong.” She said. Had I been granted three wishes by a genie, I would have turned her into a statue, sent her to Antarctica and buried thirty feet under ice.
She had her facts sharper than a national intelligence agency officer. She was stuck in a wrong job, I felt. She should have been behind the terrorists leaving relatively innocent students alone.
I bent down with the deepest regret I had ever felt. I removed my socks, one at a time, carefully. I wanted cheats to remain inside the socks. It was my last self rescue attempt. I succeeded too; but in a pin-drop-silent classroom the paper cheats made enough sound for her to glare at me with an evil smile.
She extended her hand asking for socks. I handed over as a gesture of surrender.
She plucked socks from the toe end and held it high; one in each hand. A couple of jerks; and tiny paper sheets dropped taking my fate along.
“Let’s go. Principal Sir must be waiting to see you.” She said and collected dropped cheat notes. She handed over my answer sheet back to me and picked up the heap of other sheets herself.
“Ma’m please. I am sorry. I have not cheated. Trust me please.” Hard work pays, I had learnt somewhere but today I knew I was going to pay for my last night’s hard work.
She ignored my lame attempt of salvage and started to leave. Missing the submission of my answer sheet meant failing in mathematics with a zero; which would have never been the case had I not planned anything that I did.
I had no choice but to follow her. I tried my best to stop her from going to principal Sir but she was a stubborn examiner.
My feet refused walking as soon as we approached a shiny, polished brown door with a nameplate which read ‘Mr. Joseph Mathews – Principal’.
She knocked the door and went inside. I waited outside with face down in frustration. I had no courage to enter. I was ashamed of myself to the core of my spirit.
Why didn’t I throw away the cheats once I decided not to use it? Why, in the first place, I planned to cheat? Was this the way I was going to make mom proud? How disappointed would she feel knowing about this episode? How happy she was when she blessed me in the morning! How could I do this to her? A part of me wanted to kill a part of myself.
“Rishabh, come.” A couple of minutes later , probably after briefing principal about my case, Ms. Sahani came back out to take me inside the courtroom; yes it was no less than a courtroom for the day.
She hit another nail to my name saying “Mr. Mathews normally doesn’t meet without appointment, good that you have an appointment; dis-appointment. Please come.”
“Ma’m please forgive me. I will not do this ever again, I promise. Please ma’m. My whole year will ruin.” I was on the verge of crying. She overlooked me and went inside cabin leaving the door open for me to follow.
With my head shaking in disgust upon myself, I entered Mr. Mathews’ cabin with baby steps.
As if what had happened so far was not enough to shake me enough, just as I entered the cabin, what I saw was the least expected and the most shocking.
Mom was sitting in the chair opposite to principal sir. I wished the land that had slid five minutes back, buried me underneath it. My eyes, almost teary, widened more than ever. My blasting heart refused to pump blood to my brain. My heartbeat rate would have read double the normal, I could bet. I started feeling dizzy. In no time they had managed to call mom to school? I was stunned and strangely impressed.
“Mom!” I said in shaky voice. “I have not cheated. Trust me. I have not.” My legs decided to walk towards mom without my brain’s instructions. I had presumed that mom must have known everything by now.
Mom did not react, at all.
“Rishabh, the evidences are against you. Cheats were found inside your socks. Do you confess that?” Mr. Mathews, the judge, asked me to check if I admitted to my crime.
“Sir, yes sir. That is right, but I have not cheated is also true.” I was at my honest best.
“Hmm. Ms. Sahani, I leave the decision up to you.” Mr. Mathews said.
“Sir, I would not accept Rishabh’s answer sheet. I cannot ignore the evident offense. He will need to repeat the year. He deserves that.” Apparently Ms. Sahani had forgotten all that I had written in her good books over the years.
“Ma’m please forgive me. I have not cheated. You were at the classroom all the while. Did I cheat?” I was trying to prove my point.
“You could be too good a thief. Who knows? You could have cheated under my radar. How do I believe you?” She had a point.
“Ma’m, I haven’t. Mom, Sir, I have not cheated.” I was trying to get someone by my side.
“How do you want me to believe that? Can you prove your innocence?” Ms. Sahani gave me a chance for the first time.
I thought hardest that I could and it clicked. Fight against the temptation!
“Yes, I can prove that ma’m. Please check my answer sheet against the question paper. I have not responded to questions whose answers I did not know. I had cheats within my reach for those; still I have left them alone. Trust me ma’m. Though I had prepared cheats, I had willfully decided not to cheat even before exam started. I did not want to disappoint mom, or even myself.”
Half a minute of bizarre silence followed. No one spoke. Just a few glares between ma’m, sir and mom were doing most of the conversations. I was clueless.
“Ma’m I can write the whole answer sheet again from scratch, sitting here in front of you all and it will match what I have already written. Please allow me one more chance.” I was putting my case stronger with each argument. Had I a law career?
“Rishabh!” mom spoke for the first time since my landslide.
“Mom! Trust me. I have not cheated.” ‘I have not cheated’ had become my mantra for the day, it seemed.
“I know.” She said. It was a silver lining in the dark cloud.
“Oh! Thank you, mom. Thanks a lot.” I afforded to smile after a long time.
“By the way, what did you think son?” she asked. “I could get a incessant nap while you were awake on a night before exam. I had no clue about what kept you busy last night. I had no clue about why you had to run through lengths of each of socks in the morning. I didn’t know why you paused at my feet when I blessed you in the morning. You thought so, didn’t you?” She said with a smile as if nothing had happened. My world turned upside down in a minute.
That was a beamer. I was stunned. She knew. She knew, I was going to cheat, didn’t she? I could not figure out how to react.
Mom nodded to Mr. Mathews and Ms. Sahani. That was a signal, a signal to reveal the cards, cards that would blow my residual mind off.
“Rishabh, you have a great mother and a unique one too. She trusts you blindly and she wants you to walk the right path in life. She wants you to be a better human first and a topper later. She is ok even if you need to go through a hard time to understand the importance of good things in life. I salute her for that. ” Mr. Mathews interrupted volcano of my thoughts.
“Sir?” I had no sentences to follow.
Ms. Sahani joined the mission to blend my brain.
“Yes Rishabh. Your mom knew that you had prepared cheats for today. She informed me in the morning before start of the exam. I had kept a special watch on you during the exam. I intentionally ignored looking at you for giving you a chance to cheat, had you wanted. But you didn’t; I know. I know you have not cheated. I am going to accept your answer sheet as it is.” Ms. Sahani gave me a clean chit, or was it too early to conclude.
“Yes Rishabh, we know you have not cheated.” Mr. Mathews, the Supreme Court, upheld high court’s judgment.
I took a sigh of relief.
“Then why? Why did you make me go through all this, ma’m? Sir?” I sought an explanation.
Mr. Mathews looked at mom for her to explain.
“Son, I knew you had the cheats but I also had a belief that you will not cheat. I trusted the manure that I had put in to nurture you. With kind co-operation of Mr. Mathews, I had requested Ms. Sahani to examine this confidence of mine today. It was my exam today, not just yours. Had you cheated, I would have been in vote for punishment that your teachers would have decided.”
I stood speechless as a thief who never stole.
She continued, “I want you to top the class; yes I do; but not through cheats. Even if you fail without cheats, I may be fine with it. If you top through cheats, I would not approve it. I want you to win; but fair & square. And remember, it’s not about getting caught while cheating. I’m talking about cheating yourself. I’m happy that you have returned from the verge of jumping off the cliff today. You have made me proud, by choosing to pass me in my exam.”
“I am sorry mom for letting you down by even thinking to cheat. I really am.” My tears were visible by now.
“Yes, you should be sorry. Not for me, but for yourself. The psychological rampage you went through in last half an hour was Ms. Sahani’s proposal with my approval. This was your punishment. I wanted you to realize how big was the mistake that you had planned to commit. Thanks Ms. Sahani and Mr. Mathews for helping me through this.” Mom said.
“It is our satisfaction to have helped someone realize importance of choosing a correct path in life and consequences of choosing otherwise. After all that is what teachers should be doing, right?” Mr. Mathews said with a smile.
“Mom, Sir, Ma’m, I am extremely sorry to have even thought of deceit. Today, I have realized what I must not be doing more than what I should be doing. I promise that I will never ever give you a chance to complain again, never ever!” I said with rejuvenated spirit and a smile with teary eyes.
“Thanks Ma’m and Sir. I sincerely thank you for making me go through this. This will take me a long way in life.” I said.
“And yes, in next exam, I promise you highest marks in maths, mom.”
“Now I’m sure you will do that.” Mom extended her arms to hug me.
I hugged her and felt the warmth that soothed me from the turbulence of last hour or so.
The purity of the path that leads to the goal is the essence of the joy felt at the destination.