Like wildfire the word spread around the hostel that Kalyan had lost it.
The dawn had progressed into the morning and for the morning it was quite a news.
We had all finished our morning prayers, a compulsory ritual at the Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission Hostels, and had gone to our respective rooms to freshen up and get ready for breakfast.
The word spread like wildfire, especially during breakfast.
I finished my breakfast in a jiffy and moved towards Kalyan’s room.
There was already a bit of crowd in Kalyan’s room. I jostled and pushed around others and peered in. Kalyan was sitting on his bed upright, his feet planted on the ground and he was making a strange, eerie movement and chanting something.
He would pat the left pocket of his trousers and say NANDA, then he would pat the right pocket of his trouser and say PANDA, he would then pat the right pocket of his shirt and say GANDA and finally pat the left pocket of his shirt and say GIRI.
He was thus looking directly at all of us without batting an eyelid and going NANDA-PANDA-GANDA-GIRI-NANDA-PANDA-GANDA-GIRI-NANDA-PANDA-GANDA-GIRI-NANDA-PANDA-GANDA-GIRI.
He was intense and in such a trance that no one dared disturb him. In the meantime, Sanjoy Ghosh who had always wanted to study medicine came in, looked at Kalyan, studied his symptoms and diagnosed dementia, Alzeihmer’s, mental retardation and what not. The terms were alien to us and so was Kalyan’s behaviour.
Suddenly Chandu, our batchmate, walked in, looked at Kalyan and said “ I think he is pregnant” and walked out.
We all thought that was plausible as this was a condition we understood though we did not know its symptoms.
At this point, Kalyan suddenly shouted five hundred and stopped. Without warning, he started hurling the choicest of expletives/abuses at us and after having cooled down told us to listen to what he had to say.
Our mathematics examination was coming up the next day and Kalyan was having difficulty in remembering formulas. He had therefore decided to write down various formulas in small chits of paper which he would neatly fold and put in his pockets and try and cheat from them at the examination hall.
He had decided to prepare four chits and place one each in his trouser left pocket, trouser right pocket, shirt left pocket and shirt right pocket. However, having done that he also needed to remember which formula was in which pocket so that when required he could stealthily pull the correct one out.
He had thus devised an ingenious plan. He prepared four chits each representing the professor who taught the particular subject in mathematics. For example, if professor A taught Calculus he put all the formulas pertaining to professor A and thereby calculus in one chit and so on.
There lay the secret of NANDA-PANDA-GANDA-GIRI. Nanda, Panda, Ganda and Giri were names of professors who taught the different chapters of Mathematics and who all went into different chits and into different pockets.
While chanting NANDA-PANDA-GANDA-GIRI and patting respective pockets Kalyan was merely memorizing which chit was in which pocket so that he would not forget to unleash it from the correct pocket when the time came.
The shout of five hundred was to indicate that he had practiced the chant 500 times.
It may be noted here that while Nanda, Panda and Giri were surnames of professors Ganda was a nickname derived from the Bengali word Gandar meaning Rhinoceros. This professor, because of his rotund bulk had been nicknamed as Ganda and the name had become so famous that no one eventually remembered his original name.
It may also be noted that Rakamrisnha Mission Residential College was very strict in terms of its discipline and even very minor offences like wearing shorts in the corridors of the hostel ( we were allowed to wear only dhotis or trousers ) were enough to get a student expelled. Cheating in the examination was various notches higher in terms of crime so obviously caught while cheating was sure shot expulsion.
The mathematics examination started as scheduled the next day. We settled down to write the examination but now and then we would steal a glance at Kalyan so that we could witness the act and watch him pull it off.
I was seated not far from him. After about half an hour or so I could hear whispers and could discern the now-familiar words NANDA-PANDA-GANDA-GIRI. I looked at Kalyan and could see him very quietly chanting and patting his pockets. He was like a bowler warming up for the next cover. I knew action was coming so I stopped writing and kept looking at him.
He suddenly stopped at his right pocket and pulled out a chit of paper and neatly placed it under his answer sheet. The action had begun.
I then saw him slightly pull out the paper from under the answer sheet to check the formula. Then he looked puzzled, pushed the chit back under the answer sheet and slowly started chanting again. I was not able to understand what was happening. I suddenly saw him pulling out the chit of paper from under the answer sheet and putting it back in his pocket again.
He was again chanting, had a frown on his face and was looking puzzled. He again stopped at another pocket, pulled out a chit, looked at it quickly and put it back in his pocket again. He looked very perturbed and he was fiddling with his pockets. It was at this point of time that the invigilator Tarun Brahmachari saw him, felt something suspicious and started walking towards him. I knew he was a goner and I could visualize him getting packed off for good.
I was whispering at him to draw his attention towards the invigilator. Luckily at the nick of time, he looked up and saw Tarun Brahmachari a step away from him.
Tarun Brahmachari stood in front of Kalyan like a General in front of his regiment. Kalyan did not even lookup. He was concentrating on writing his exam and he looked very busy.
Tarun da stood for a minute and then called out “Kalyan”.
“Wait, Maharaj,” said Kalyan,“ I am trying to solve this question”, without even looking up and behaving as if in deeply focussed in trying to solve the question.
“Kalyan, stand up “ this time Tarun Da’s voice was a bit stern. Kalyan looked up at Tarun da and stood up.
“You are cheating,” said Tarun da. Kalyan looked baffled, developed a frown, looked at Tarun Da in the eye and said “ What”? “ Are you mad Tarun da”? “ You are accusing a serious student who has always taken his exams seriously”. The frown on Kalyan’s face was genuine, the voice had a concern, astonishment and a hint of disappointment.
Kalyan, we thought, had decided to attack. Everybody now had stopped writing and were all looking at the drama waiting to unfold.
“Come to the front of the class Kalyan” shot back Tarun da. The voice was sterner. The strict invigilator in Tarun da had started kicking in. We were all tense and waiting with bated breath. I had started imagining the jeep and Kalyan being packed away. His career seemed doomed. There was a deadly silence in the air and you could hear the pin drop.
Kalyan looked relaxed. He was constantly muttering to himself and telling Tarun da that this was not done and that he was being unnecessarily suspected and harassed.
Kalyan moved out of his desk and walked up to the front of the class. Once there he turned to face the class. He was standing there and looking at all of us. The stance had an arrogance about it. Both hands in his trouser pockets, eyes steady, facial expression a mix of bewilderment and anger.
“Bring out your hands from your pockets and raise them,” said Tarun da. “ I will search your pockets”. “This is an institution where such acts cannot be tolerated”.
“By all means Tarun da,” said Kalyan and brought out his hands from his pocket and raised them out with clenched fists and stood with his arms open as you would while being frisked at the airport.
He held his posture and said “ Come on Tarun da go ahead check my pockets. Come on go ahead”.
It was game on and we were sure Kalyan was getting aggressive to avoid the search. He was playing it mentally. We also knew it was a matter of time. He was sure to get caught with the chits in his pockets.
Expulsion hung like a sword above his head and we were all staring at him and waiting for the sword to fall.
We had all forgotten our exams. The atmosphere was very tense.
Tarun da inched forward. Kalyan stood like a rock with arms widespread. His fist-clench getting tighter with anger as he bit his lips.
Tarun da put his right hand inside Kalyan’s left trouser pocket. He probed inside, moved his fingers, pulled out his hand and put them in the trouser pocket again.
We were unable to breathe.
Tarun da pulled out is hand. He had found nothing.
Tarun da looked puzzled, so did we. I stole a look at Kalyan. He stood there like a rock and started muttering further.
“ Is it fine Tarun da. Hope you understand now. I am telling you I am not cheating. This is not done.”
“Let me check your other pocket,” said Tarun da.
The process was repeated in Kalyan’s right trouser pocket. We could hear the time tick in our heads. In what looked like a never-ending one minute Tarun pulled out his hand. He had again struck blank. Both the pockets were empty except for a handkerchief.
Our Jaws had dropped. This looked like black magic. We were looking at Kalyan and making question mark signals at him with our eyes, hands and what not. I perhaps could discern a slight wry simple forming on Kalyan’s lips.
“Go back to your desk Kalyan. I am sorry” said Tarun da.
Kalyan walked back to his desk like the victorious Knight in full armour.
The exam resumed but we were waiting for it to end as we wanted to know what had happened to the chits. They were in Kalyan’s pocket. How did Tarun da not find them?
After the exams, we all rushed out and Kalyan told us to meet him in his hostel room. We all went into Kalyan’s room. Once we were all in we locked it from inside and as the room was jam-packed we told Kalyan to stand up on a bed and tell us what had happened.
This is what Kalyan said.
“In the nervousness of the exam and the tension around it I had messed up the sequence of NANDA-PANDA-GANDA-GIRI thereby bringing out wrong chits twice. I was thus puzzled and was trying to get the sequence of the chits right. My odd behaviour perhaps attracted Tarun da. I had no option but to attack Tarun da and divert him. While I was walking up to the front of the class I held my nerve and an idea came to my mind. To execute the idea I had to somehow ensure to divert Tarun da’s attention towards my trouser pockets. Therefore I pulled out my hands from my pockets and while doing so I clasped the chits in my palms and folded them into a fist and pulled out my hands. I thus stood there with my hands spread out clinched into a fist. While Tarun da was busy searching and probing deep into my pockets I was carrying the chits in my closed fist”
God, what presence of mind we exclaimed.
Moral of the story: No matter what happens hold your nerve and ensure that your judgement is not clouded.
Three Cheers to Kalyan and his presence of mind.