Sujata opened the door. Pooja rushed in, chucked her school bag in one corner, threw herself on the sofa and burst into tears.
"What happened Pooja? Have you spoilt your exam?"
"No ma, I answered everything."
"Why are you crying then?"
"That fellow Sanjay - he was copying from my paper."
"You should have told your teacher."
"How could I ma? It was she who told Sanjay to copy."
"What? But why?"
"Because she is his mother. I told you that day ma that Veena Puri, the new Hindi teacher, is my classmate Sanjay's mother. She joined three months back. Today Sanjay didn't know the answer to a question. He asked Veena maam. She too didn't know. She then asked me whether I had answered the question. When I nodded she told Sanjay, who was sitting next to me, to copy from me."
"Veena Puri shouldn't have done that. Anyway why should you feel bad? You have done nothing wrong. If Sanjay is getting into the habit of cheating he will surely pay for it."
Later Sujata kept thinking about the incident. She even discussed it with her husband Dinesh.
"I think you should complain to the Principal."
"There's no point Dinesh. What is the proof that Veena Puri asked Sanjay to copy from Pooja. It is Pooja's word against her teacher's. And moreover even if we are able to prove something it will only make matters worse for Pooja."
"After her final exams Pooja will be moving to class three. And Veena Puri is the Hindi teacher of class three. She will definitely try to take revenge on Pooja. And as you know Hindi is the only subject in which Pooja is rather weak. I think it is best to keep quiet."
* * *
From the next day onwards Pooja would come home daily complaining that Sanjay was merrily copying from her under the guidance of his mother. Sujata would try her best to console and counsel her.
"Pooja don't get upset or distracted by what Sanjay is doing or you'll end up spoiling your exams. Just concentrate on your paper."
Pooja was a very good student and invariably stood second or third in her class. Sanjay on the other hand lagged way behind, his rank lurking in the twenties.
A week after the exams the results were declared. Pooja had slipped to fourth position while Sanjay had stood third. Pooja was shattered.
"See ma, you keep telling me that cheating is bad and now look what's happened. I worked so hard and yet I managed only the 4th rank while Sanjay coolly copied from me and bagged the third position.
"Pooja I agree that Sanjay has beaten you once. But believe me a cheater never prospers for long. His gains are always short term. In the long run it is always hard work and honesty which comes on top. Remember, truth always triumphs."
* * *
Three months later the final exams commenced. This time too Veena Puri managed to bag the invigilation duty of class two. The first day Sanjay and Pooja were seated in different rows. Next day Veena altered the seating arrangement so that Sanjay was sitting on the same bench as Pooja.
On the day of the mathematics exam, at around eleven, Sujata was in the kitchen when the phone rang. It was Pooja and she was sobbing.
"What happened Pooja? Why are you crying?"
"I... ma....," she was finding it difficult to speak.
"Come on Pooja get hold of yourself. Tell me what happened."
"Ma...I... I have been thrown out of the exam hall?"
"What! But why?"
"Sanjay was copying from me when our Principal entered the room. One of my answer sheets was with Sanjay. On seeing the Principal approaching Sanjay panicked and dropped the answer sheet. I bend down to retrieve it. Seeing the confusion, the Principal asked Sanjay what the matter was."
"Sir, Pooja has given me her answer sheet and is asking me to write for her," Sanjay coolly replied.
"Ma I was so shocked by this lie that I could hardly utter a word. At that point Veena maam came up to the Principal and whispered something to him."
"The Principal looked at me and said, 'I am ashamed of you. A little girl like you cheating . It is shocking. Please leave the class. You will not be allowed to sit for this exam. You ask your parents to meet me tomorrow."
Sujata was too stunned to utter a word. Finally she managed to stammer, "Li...listen Pooja. I am coming to your school. Let me talk to the Principal. He can't do this to you."
Half an hour later Sujata was sitting in the Principal's chamber telling him Pooja's side of the story.
The Principal Mr. P.N. Sinha was a tall, lanky man with a stern demeanour.
"Mrs. Dutta, if what you say is true than it is really shocking. But can you prove it?"
"How can I Mr.Sinha? It is my child's word against her teacher's. But you can see from Pooja's record. She is an excellent student and has always been doing very well in her exams. Sanjay on the other hand....."
"But I have been told that in the last exam Sanjay did rather well."
"That is because the last time too he copied from Pooja."
"But then, why didn't you tell me?"
"You would have again asked me for proof. I was also scared that Veena Puri might take spite on the child. But now since things have gone too far I have been forced to come out with the truth."
Mr.Sinha thought for some time and then said, "Okay, Mrs. Dutta I have one idea. This afternoon a mathematics exams will be conducted for both Pooja and Sanjay. I, personally will set the paper. The children will answer the paper in my chamber, in my presence and I will do the evaluation. We'll then know which one is genuinely a good student and which one is a cheat."
* * *
Sharp at two the exam commenced. At four the papers were collected by Mr. Sinha. He called Sujata to his chamber at 4.30 p.m. When she entered he was sitting behind his imposing desk, his serious face looking even more grave.
"Mrs. Dutta who do you feel will do better in this test?"
"Are you sure?"
"Well, " he paused and looked at Sujata, a stern expression on his face. Her heart skipped a beat.
"Pooja...did Pooja spoil ....." she stuttered.
Mr. Sinha's grave face softened and with a smile he handed her Pooja's paper.
"Congratulations Mrs. Dutta. You were absolutely right. Pooja is truly brilliant. The paper I had set was a rather tough one. And yet, as you can see, she has got hundred out of hundred."
Sujata looked at the paper with a feeling of relief, happiness and pride.
"Mrs Dutta , one more thing. This morning the poor child could not complete her mathematics paper. I have decided that the marks of the test conducted by me will be taken into account."
"Sir, what about Sanjay?"
"He got 56. It just proves that he is a parasite totally dependent on Pooja. I am firing that woman Veena Puri, she doesn't deserve to be a teacher in our school. We expect teachers to serve as role models worthy of emulation. The kids look upto them, learn from them and follow their example. We can't have teachers who encourage cheating in our school," Mr. Sinha paused and asked Sujata, "Madam what should I do with Sanjay? Should I expel him?"
"No, Sir. It was not his fault. He was only following instructions of his mother and practicing what has probably been taught to him. He is too small to know the difference between right and wrong, moral and immoral."
"I think you are right. Why should I punish the child for the crime committed by his mother. I'll let him be. Actually, Mrs. Dutta I feel sorry for him. His mother is turning him into a mental cripple by making him dependent on others."
* * *
That evening Pooja was preparing for her science exam which was the next day. Her mother came up to her and placing her hand gently on Pooja's head asked,
"So Pooja now do you agree with me?"
Pooja got up and hugged her mother.
"Yes ma, you were right. Finally, it is truth which triumphs."
A Note From Ramendra Kumar
So once again we have reached 'that' time of the year! The time to ring out the old and ring in the new. The time to look back at the achievements, analyze the past follies and plan for the future.
But I am sure if you were asked whether you would like to relive the year 2001 all of you would shudder and say NO. This has been a disastrous year for the entire humanity. A year all of us would like to erase from our collective memories. Let us hope and pray that 2002 would be a far better year - a year where the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Nanak and Gandhi will completely overshadow the doctrine of Osamas!
New year is also a time for making resolutions. Can I request you to make one too? There must me some one in your class, or your team or your neighborhood whom you don't like too much. Can you on 1st January, 2002 go to him (or her) and wish him (or her) A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR and also pay a teeny weeny compliment: anything that you like about him or her. For eg. "Hey Venkat I really liked the way you cracked the math's problem that day." Or "Ria, you know I was wondering if you can help me make a greeting card. I have to send one to my cousin in Hyderabad!"
I know it is not easy. But I am sure YOU can do it. And believe me it will make Venkat and Ria feel good and it will make you feel simply great. Why don't you try it and let me know. If one want to wipe out the goliath of Hate from this world then only you little David of Love can do it! And before I sign off here is wishing you and the members of you family from all of us a very, happy, creative, enriching and fulfilling 2002.