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Half Girlfriend(4)
Chetan Bhagat

‘I want good college,’ I said, after constructing the sentence in my head.

Prof. Gupta smirked. ‘That is some response. And why is St. Stephen’s a good college?’

I switched to Hindi. Answering in English would require pauses and make me come across as stupid. Maybe I was stupid, but I did not want them to know that.

‘Your college has a big name. It is famous in Bihar also,’ I said.

‘Can you please answer in English?’ Prof. Gupta said.

‘Why? You don’t know Hindi?’ I said in reflex, and in Hindi.

I saw my blunder in their horrified faces. I had not said it in defiance; I really wanted to know why they had to interview me in English when I was more comfortable in Hindi. Of course, I didn’t know then that Stephen’s professors didn’t like being asked to speak in Hindi.

‘Professor Pereira, how did this candidate get an interview'?’ Prof. Gupta said.

Prof. Pereira seemed to be the kindest of the lot. He turned to me. ‘We prefer English as the medium of instruction in our college, that’s all.’

Without English, I felt naked. I started thinking about my return trip to Bihar. I didn’t belong here—these English-speaking monsters would eat me alive. I was wondering what would be the best way to take their leave when Piyush Yadav broke my chain of thought.

‘Bihar se ho? Are you from Bihar?’ he said.

The few words in Hindi felt like cold drops of rain on a scorching summer’s day. I loved Piyush Yadav in that instant.

‘Yes, sir. Dumraon.’

‘I know.Three hours from Patna, right?’ he said.

‘You know Dumraon?’ I said. I could have kissed his feet. The three English-speaking monsters continued to stare.

‘I’m from Patna. Anyway, tell them about your achievements in basketball,’ Piyush said.

I nodded. He sensed my nervousness and spoke again.‘Take your time. I am Hindi-medium, too. I know the feeling.’

The three professors looked at Piyush as if wondering how he had ever managed to get a job at the college.

I composed myself and spoke my rehearsed lines.

‘Sir, I have played state-level basketball for six years. Last year, I was in the waiting list for the BFI national team.’

'BFI?’ said Prof. Gupta.

‘Basketball Federation of India,’ Piyush answered for me, even though I knew the answer.

‘And you want to do sociology. Why?’ Prof. Fernandez said.

‘It’s an easy course, No need to study. Is that it?’ Prof. Gupta remarked.

I didn’t, know whether Gupta had something against me, was generally grumpy or suffered from constipation.

‘I am from rural area.’

‘I am from a rural area,’ Gupta said, emphasizing the ‘a' as if omitting it was a criminal offence.

‘Hindi, sir? Can I explain in Hindi?’

Nobody answered. I had little choice. I took my chances and responded in my language. ‘My mother runs a school and works with the villagers. I wanted to learn more about our society. Why are our villages so backward? Why do we have so many differences based on caste and religion? I thought I could find some answers in this course.’

Prof. Gupta understood me perfectly well. However, he was what English-speaking people would call an ‘uptight prick’. He asked Piyush to translate what I had said.

‘That’s a good reason,’ Prof. Pereira said once Piyush was done. ‘But now you are in Delhi. If you pass out of Stephen’s, you will get jobs in big companies. Will you go back to your native place?’ His concern seemed genuine.

It took me a few seconds to understand his question. Piyush offered to translate but I gestured for him not to.

'I will, sir,’ I finally replied. I didn’t give a reason. I didn't feel the need to tell them I would go back because my mother was alone there. I didn’t say we were from the royal family of Durnraon. Even though there was nothing royal about us any more, we belonged there. And, of course, I didn’t mention the fact that I couldn’t stand any of the people I had met in this city so far.

‘We’ll ask you something about Bihar then?’ Prof. Fernandez said. ‘Sure.’

‘What’s the population of Bihar?’

‘Ten crores.’

‘Who runs the government in Bihar?’

‘Right now it’s Lalu Prasad’s party.’

‘And which party is that?’

‘RJD - Rashtriya Janata Dal.’

The questions kept coming, and after a while I couldn’t keep track of who was asking what. While I understood their English, I couldn’t answer in complete sentences. Hence, I gave the shortest answers possible. But one question had me stumped.

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