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Half Girlfriend(3)
Chetan Bhagat

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘You feel comfortable talking about her to me?’

He thought for a few seconds and nodded.

‘So tell me everything. Tell me the story of Madhav and Riya.’

‘A story that fate left incomplete,’ he said.

‘Fate can be strange indeed.’

‘Where do I start? When we first met?’

‘Always a good place,’ I said.

ACT I

Delhi

1

Where?’ I gasped, trying to catch my breath.

I had two minutes left for my interview to start and I couldn’t ad the room. Lost, I stopped whoever I could in the confusing corridors of St. Stephens College to ask for directions.

Most students ignored me. Many sniggered. I wondered why. Well, now I know. My accent. Back in 2004, my English was Bihari. I don’t want to talk now like I did back then. It’s embarrassing. It wasn’t English. It was 90 per cent Bihari Hindi mixed with 10 per cent really bad English. For instance, this is what I had actually said: 'Cumty room...bat!aieyega zara? Hamara interview hai na wahan... Mera khel ka kota hai. Kis taraf hai?’

If I start speaking the way I did in those days, you’ll get a headache. So I’m going to say everything in English, just imagine my words in Bhojpuri-laced Hindi, with the worst possible English thrown in.

‘Where you from, man?’ said a boy with hair longer than most girls.

‘Me Madhav Jha from Dumraon, Bihar.’

His friends laughed. Over time, I learnt that people often ask what they call a ‘rhetorical’ question—something they ask just to make a point, not expecting an answer. Here, the point was to demonstrate that I was an alien amongst them.

‘What are you interviewing for? Peon?' the long-haired boy said and laughed.

I didn’t know enough English back then to be offended. Also, I was in a hurry. ‘You know where it is?’ I said instead, looking at his group of friends. They all seemed to be the rich, English types. Another boy, short and fat, seemed to take pity on me and replied, ‘Take a left at the corner of the main red building and you’ll find a sign for the committee room.’

‘Thank you,’ I said.This I knew how to say in English.

‘Can you read the sign in English?’ the boy with the long hair said. His friends told him to leave me alone. I followed the fat boy’s instructions and ran towards the red building.

I faced the first interview of my life. Three old men sat in front of me. They looked like they had not smiled since their hair had turned grey.

I had learnt about wishing people before an interview. I had even practised it. ‘Good morning, sir.’

‘There are a few of us here,’ said the man in the middle. He seemed to be around fifty-five years old and wore square, black-rimmed glasses and a checked jacket.

‘Good morning, sir, sir and sir,’ I said.

They smiled. I didn’t think it was a good smile. It was the high-class-to-low-class smile. The smile of superiority, the smile of delight that they knew English and I didn’t.

Of course, I had no choice but to smile back.

The man in the middle was Professor Pereira, the head of sociology, the course I had applied for. Professor Fernandez, who taught physics, and Professor Gupta, whose subject was English, sat on his left and right respectively.

‘Sports quota, eh?’ Prof. Pereira said. ‘Why isn’tYadav here?’

‘I’m here, sir,’ a voice called out from behind me. I turned around to see a man in a tracksuit standing at the door. He looked too old to be a student but too young to be faculty.

‘This one is 85 per cent your decision,’ Prof. Pereira said.

‘No way, sir.You are the final authority.’ He sat down next to the professors. PiyushYadav was the sports coach for the college and sat in on all sports-quota interviews. He seemed simpler and friendlier than the professors. He didn’t have a fancy accent either.

‘Basketball?’ Prof. Fernandez asked, scanning through my file.

‘Yes, sir,’ I said.

‘What level?’

‘State.’

‘Do you speak in full sentences?’ Prof. Gupta said in a firm voice.

I didn’t fully understand his question. I kept quiet.

‘Do you?’ he asked again.

‘Yes, yes,’ I said, my voice like a convict’s.

‘So...why do you want to study at St. Stephen’s?’

A few seconds of silence followed. The four men in the room lpoked at me.The professor had asked me a standard question.

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