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The Scholar

 

By Chaturvedi Divi

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Sathya was sitting under the banyan tree outside the English department of Seven Steps Balaji Maha Viswa Vidyalaya waiting for his research supervisor, Ratnavali. He pulled out from his backpack Ruzbeth N Bharucha’s book, The Fakir, and started reading it.

Sathya had an exposure to spiritual life at an early age. His father, Sachdev, despite his busy medical practice in Chennai, never hesitated to spare time for serving the patients at the free clinics he organised during weekends. Sathya’s mother. Bhuvana, started a publishing unit, devoted to spiritual books. Encouraged by his parents, Sathya did courses in writing, and he played different roles as a translator, book editor and marketing manager. At the recent youth festival in the city, he ran book promotional sessions, and happened to meet a Ph D scholar, Vinay. Impressed by Sathya, Vinay made it a point to interact with him every day during the week-long youth festival. When Sathya discussed with his parents the challenges young researchers face, his mother sensed his new-found interest, and asked him to enrol for a PhD programme.

“Research, yeah, that is a different kind of world. After all that exposure, you may find that the family business is more challenging and even fascinating, who knows,” his father said.

                                             ***

“Wearing white safari suit and sitting under a tree is not a good idea, sir. Sit in the Library…”  It was Raju, the junior assistant in the English office.

“In the library you find books on Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf and the like. Nothing relevant to my research work.”  Sathya consulted his watch. It was 11 am. He moved towards the English department. He saw Dheeraj in their supervisor’s chamber correcting MA exam answer sheets. As he was about to enter, he heard the sound of flip flops. He turned around and greeted Prof. Ratnavali.

 “Dheeraj, are you still correcting…?” 

“Mam, I need just two more days.”

He gently asked Sathya, “Look, is this the right answer?”

Even before Sathya opened his mouth, Ratnavali frowned. “Dheeraj, ask me.”

“Mam, the deconstruction theory…”

“Are you reading those answers? Don’t waste your time. You need not even turn the pages. Just allot some marks between 60 and 70. If everybody gets first class no one will complain.”

 “Ma’am…”

Cutting in, Ratnavali said, “Look, both of you. Don’t meet any other teacher in the department. They are all nebbish and maladroit.”

“Mam, I just greeted…”

 “Don’t argue, listen.” She paused. “The sinusitis is driving me crazy.”

“Try steam inhalation of basil leaves ma’am,” said Sathya.

“Will it work?”

“Yes ma’am, six times a day.”

Ratnavali scribbled on a piece of paper and dropped it into her handbag.  She waited for a few moments and then took out a strip of Benadryl capsules from her handbag. “Sathya, I am afraid that the capsules you brought are in bad shape. The pharmacist might have put a lot of weight on these strips.”

“Heavens above!”

“Any way, I’ll check again.” She removed one capsule and said, “This seems to be good. I’ll check other capsules too.” She went on removing one capsule after the other and emptied the pack. “Better you return. I don’t need them anymore. Get cash.”

Which pharmacist will accept them, Sathya wondered?  “Mam, did you go through my article?” 

“Oh, not yet. If I read for more than 15 minutes, I get a headache. Anyway, I’ll try to finish it shortly.” Ratnavali ran her hands over her head as if she were adjusting her hair style, took out dragon balm and a wad of bills from her handbag. Applying the balm to her forehead she said, “Dheeraj, can you pay the electricity bills? Today is the last date. I have a severe headache. I must go home.” She tried to contact someone on the phone. “No response from the cab service.’

“Usually, we find cabs at the main gate mam. I’ll try.” 

“Look, you have to bargain. I never paid more than Rs 50.”

Sathya thanked his lucky stars when he found a cab near the canteen. As the fare was Rs100, Sathya gave Rs 50 to the driver and asked him to accept Rs. 50 from Prof. Ratnavali. The driver immediately returned the amount and said that he had bad experiences with her. She would stop at all the three temples on the way and at a grocery shop.  It would take at least one hour for him to cover the three km distance and she never paid the waiting charges. He softened his stance only when Sathya offered one hundred and fifty rupees. Sathya had a sigh of relief as Prof. Ratnavali got into the cab and moved out of the premises. When he returned, he saw Dheeraj paying the electricity bills online. He checked the bills and said, “Dheeraj, you’re poorer by Rs 8000.”

Dheeraj looked at the bills disinterestedly. “I know you gave that article to her several months back.”  

“Yes, eight months back, on the teachers’ day. You brought roses and we both greeted her.”

“Then, imagine the time she takes to read my thesis!”

“It will take ages. No hope at all. She has to read in between headaches.”

“I feel tired, I feel exhausted.”

“Shall I arrange for a drink? Do you prefer boost, sir?” asked Raju, who had just entered the room.

Dheeraj was startled.  “When did you come here Raju?”  

“At least we have cleared our written exams,” Sathya said.

“We are only one step ahead. There are six more steps.”

“How do you mean?”

“This is Seven Steps Balaji Maha Viswa Vidyalaya.”

“We have successfully merged all the steps into one big step,” Raju said.

“Raju, are you still here? What is that one big step?” Dheeraj asked.

“I’ll tell you. First pay my consultation fee?”

“You mean tip?”

“No, it’s a consultation fee. I’ve been working in this dept. for more than 20 years. You should know that I can provide you with valuable information.”

Dheeraj offered Rs 200. Raju returned Rs 100 and said, “My fee is Rs. 100 only. Not one rupee more or not one rupee less. I’ve some ethics. I learnt this art of making extra bucks from your supervisor, Madam Prof Ratnavali. You meet Prof. Saskar. He will help you out,” Raju said and left.

Dheeraj said, “Maruti too mentioned Prof. Saskar’s name. Now Maruti is our neighbour. He bought an apartment just four blocks away from my house. The other day he met my father, and he mentioned your name. He said that he couldn’t have cleared the methodology paper without your guidance.”

“I explained to him literary theory and documentation. I prepared some notes too for him.”

“Oh! I too must thank you. My paper was accepted by the organizers of The Great Writing Conference, London. It was you who suggested the topic when I had no clue and you helped me in drafting it.” 

“Congrats. Is it the one on Amitav Ghosh?”

“Yes. Fragmentation in the Novels of Amitav Ghosh… but that is not going to make me happy at all. Can I ever submit my thesis? It is clear. She is not normal. She needs mood stabilizers.”

                                          ***

The next morning Dheeraj and Sathya had the shock of their life. Prof. Ratnavali called them to her house. She almost threw their theses on the centre table. “Sathya, why did you make it topic centric? It should have been author centric?”

“Ma’am, I followed your instructions.” He pulled out a notebook from his backpack and showed the suggestions written by her.

 She was taken aback. However, she gathered herself and said, “No. You have to rewrite the entire thesis. I’ll be busy with my overseas assignment for one full year. Research work is not time bound. It may even take 10 years or beyond.”

She then turned towards Dheeraj and said, “Your theoretical approach is incorrect. Apply psychoanalytical theory instead of postcolonial theory.”

“Ma’am, you told me…”

“Don’t argue, listen.”

Dheeraj became furious. “I’ll not allow you to play with my career. I can join some other university and get my degree within two years.” He picked up his thesis and almost ran out of the house.

There was an uneasy calmness for a couple of minutes. Sathya stood up. He thought he said bye ma’am, but words didn’t escape his lips.

When a two- wheeler zoomed past him, Sathya realised that he was on the wrong side of the road. He moved ahead unmindful of where he was going. After some time, he noticed that he was at the banyan tree outside the department of English of Seven Steps Balaji Maha Viswa Vidyalaya.     

“You are on the wrong side, sir.” It was Raju, near the university gate.

“Am I still on the road!” Sathya wondered. He looked around and turned towards Raju questioningly.   

“My consultation fees.” Slipping the Rs. 100 -note into his wallet Raju said, “I have learnt this art of making extra bucks from Madam Prof. Ratnavali but I’ve some ethics. I just sell ideas, not degrees like the teachers.”  Sathya wanted to cut in, but he waited patiently.

“Dheeraj won’t quit, sir. One of his relatives is an IPS officer. He must know when to offer a carrot and when to use the stick.”

“Don’t tell me that you knew what happened just one hour back….”

“Yes, of course, I knew. I am a member of the Campus Information Service. Every piece of information reaches the members within minutes. Our people are everywhere, even in the Chamber of the V C. Prof. Saskar is the head of the service.”

“Really?”

“You must realise that expressions like modifications, theoretical approach, and documentation are stock words used by the supervisors to create trouble for the scholars. The greater the trouble, the more the flow of money into their pockets. The entire show is run by Prof. Saskar. Neither the supervisor nor the external examiners make a serious reading of a thesis.  I see the same panel of examiners year after year at every viva.  He has hijacked the entire examination system. You can’t bank on the head of the department or the chairman. They will not come to your rescue. They are scared of Prof. Saskar and Prof. Ratnavali. They don’t hesitate even to harm you as they don’t want to strain their relationships with Prof. Saskar and Prof. Ratnavali. Avoid confrontation. Just buy your degree or quit.”

Sathya tightened his jaw. “Thanks a lot for your long speech. Do you think that I’ll buy my degree?”

Ignoring what Sathya said, Raju tried to convince him. “Even if you don’t have money it doesn’t matter. Prof. Saskar and Madam Prof. Ratnavali can arrange for bank loans. That was how Madhavan got his degree. He is now in Australia.”

“I am a spiritual person. I won’t meekly submit to anti-social elements, come what may.”

“I have told you sir you are on the wrong side.”

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Chaturvedi Divi’s short stories and poems have appeared in the anthology of Only Men Please, Reading Hour, America the Catholic magazine, Twist & TwainSpillwords  and elsewhere.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

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