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Half Girlfriend(5)
Chetan Bhagat

‘Why is Bihar so backward?’ Prof Gupta said.

I didn’t know the answer, forget saying it in English. Piyush tried to speak on my behalf. ‘Sir, that’s a question nobody can really answer.’ But Prof. Gupta raised a hand. ‘You said your mother runs a rural school.You should know Bihar.’

I kept quiet.

‘It’s okay. Answer in Hindi,’ Prof. Pereira said.

‘Backward compared to what, sir?’ I said in Hindi, looking at Prof. Gupta.

‘Compared to the rest of India.’

‘India is pretty backward,’ I said. ‘One of the poorest nations in the world.’

‘Sure. But why is Bihar the poorest of the poor?’

‘Bad government,’ Piyush said, almost as a reflex. Prof. Gupta kept his eyes on me.

‘It’s mostly rural, sir,’ I said. 'People don’t have any exposure to modernity and hold on to backward values. There’s poor education. Nobody invests in my state. The government is in bed with criminals and together they exploit the state and its people.’

Prof Pereira translated my answer for Prof. Gupta. He nodded as he heard it. ‘Your answers are sensible, but your English is terrible,’ he said.

‘Would you rather take a sensible student, or someone who speaks a foreign language well?’

My defiance stumped them all. Prof. Fernandez wiped his glasses as he spoke, turning his head towards me. ‘English is no longer a foreign language, Mr Jha. It’s a global language. 1 suggest you learn it.’ ‘That’s why I’m here, sir,’ 1 said.

My answers came from the heart but I didn’t know if they had any effect on the professors. The interview was over. They asked me to leave the room.

*

I stood in the corridor, figuring out where to go next. Piyush came out of the committee room. His lean and fit frame made him look like a student, despite him being much older. He spoke to me in Hindi. ‘Your sports trial is in one hour. See me on the basketball court.’ ‘Sir, is there even a point? That interview went horribly.’

‘You couldn’t learn some English, along with basketball?’ ‘Nobody speaks it in our area.’ I paused and added, ‘Sir.’

He patted my back. ‘Get out of Bihar mode, son. Anyway, sports quota trials are worth 85 per cent. Play well.’

‘I’ll do my best, sir.’

2

If she weren’t tall I wouldn’t have noticed her. It is funny how her height shaped my life.

If she had been four inches shorter, my eyes may never have met hers and everything would have been different. If I had not been bored and arrived at the basketball court an hour earlier, it would have been different. If someone had not missed a pass and the ball had not come out of the court and hit me on the head, I would have had a different life.Tiny bumps in time shape our lives, even though we spend hours trying to make long-term plans. I had no plan to meet the love of my life on a basketball court. I was there only to kill time and because I had nowhere else to go.

A small crowd of students, mostly men, had gathered around the Stephen’s basketball court. Girls’ sports trials always garnered an audience—-there was no better excuse to check them out. Everyone spoke in English. I didn’t speak at all. I straightened my back and stared at the court with a sense of purpose, mainly to come across as if I belonged there. As ten girls came on to the court, the crowd cheered. Five of the girls belonged to the existing college team; the other five had applied for admission under the sports quota.

Piyush came to the centie of the court, ball in hand and whistle in mouth. As he blew it, the girls sprang into action.

Five feet, nine inches is tall for an Indian girl. It is tall even for a girl in a basketball team. Her long neck, long arms and long legs held every guy’s attention. She was a part of the sports-quota applicants’ team. She wore black fitted shorts and a sleeveless sports vest with ‘R’ printed in yellow at the back. She collected the ball within seconds. She wore expensive Nike ankle-length sneakers, the kind I had seen NBA players wear on TV. Her diamond earrings twinkled in die sun. She dribbled the ball with her right hand. I noticed she had long, beautiful fingers.

‘Ten points for looks, coach,’ a senior student called out as R passed the ball. The crowd tittered. Well, the men did. The wisecrack distracted R for a moment, but she resumed her game as if she was used to such comments.

The sports-quota girls played well individually. However, they didn’t play well as a team.

R dribbled the ball and reached the opposition’s basket. Three opponents surrounded her. R passed the ball to her teammate, who missed the pass.

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