Amit sat dejectedly looking at his University End-of-Year examination paper for Mechanical Engineering. I know I’ve failed, he thought, because I couldn’t finish either question three or four and there were are only four mathematical problems to solve for the whole test. They were just too hard for me.
All the bright students had long handed in their papers, he noticed, and probably disappeared back to their rooms. He looked around and saw there were only seven left in the examination room, looking as lost as he was, he had to admit.
‘Time,’ said the supervisor standing with hand outstretched for their papers and they had no alternative but to hand in their work.
Amit couldn’t bear facing the others back at the residences. They’d all be discussing how they had solved this and that part of the problems, and he’d feel even worse. They’d also be looking forward to returning home to India for the end-of-year break, and right at this moment Amit didn’t want to even think about that. He went to the Campus Centre for a soothing cup of coffee, and found a seat away from everyone else. His mate Pavel found him and brightly asked how he went in the exam.
‘Okay I think,’ he lied. ‘The first question was the easiest I thought, but I hope I’ve passed this time.’
‘Of course you will. I’ve never seen you sweat like these last weeks. You’ll do better than you think, and we’ll be able to travel home together in about two weeks’ time.’ He gave Amit a friendly push on his arm to show how excited he was about the forthcoming trip home.
Pavel was a good friend. He knew the tremendous pressure his friend had on him. The son of a foreman at Nestlé in New Delhi, money wasn’t wasted in their family. When Amit turned nineteen, and his sister, Lalita turned seventeen the parents sat them down and told them there was only enough money to send one of them to Australia to a good university. Lalita had acquitted herself brilliantly at school. Amit had fared less well, and never excelled in maths, his better subjects being Politics, International Affairs, and History. He would like to have done an Arts course.
His parents had the last word and, being an only son, it was decided to enrol Amit into an engineering course at Monash University, in Melbourne, Australia, and told he would be expected to work hard while doing the course.
Amit had tried hard all year. He’d locked himself in his room over the last few weeks and tried to study but the work was complicated. My trouble is, the maths won’t stay in my head permanently, he thought to himself. Each assignment had been an ordeal, each term test had been harder, and this end-of-year exam was about to find him out.
His stomach churned at the thought of fronting his expectant parents. They presumed he would be able to settle into any course at any university. Although Pavel knew his friend suffered from this constant strain, he didn’t know how fevered Amit was about going home and fronting his family. How would he face his sister? She should have come to this university, not me, he’d thought often throughout the year.
Pavel left him saying he had a date and was off to see a film in town. He slapped him on the back saying, ‘Cheer up Amit, you’ll find everything is okay. Don’t think about it until next week when we have our marks back. Go out somewhere and lighten up, man!’
Amit felt steadily more depressed. As afternoon turned into early evening he wandered back in the engineering faculty garden area. No-one was about and he walked past his lecturer’s room. Dr Campbell’s office was on the ground floor, one of several with a sturdy planting of greenery and shrubs outside their windows. He glanced in catching a glimpse of Dr Campbell’s desk and his heart gave a thud. He pulled the shrubbery aside for a moment and confirmed to himself that there was a neat pile of exam papers sitting on the desk and the obvious answer sheets placed on top. They were waiting to be marked in the morning as all the lecturers had long left the car park for home. There would be no-one back that night.
He stared at the pile of papers. If only he could get in, pull out his answers and copy the correct ones from the Doctor’s own notes! He sat in the gloom on a nearby seat and thought about this. It would be easy. A towel put against the glass wall, near the bottom, would dampen any sound of breakage; once inside he’d be invisible because all those northern facing windows had tinted glass. The more he thought about it, the more feasible it became and of course it would solve all his problems immediately.
Amit left it another two hours then with a hammer, towel, writing pad and pen all tucked into a satchel over his shoulder he set off to bring about a more fortunate result to his examination.
Everything went to plan. He was invisible from the garden although no-one was around anyway. The towel deadened any noise of breaking glass, and all he had to do was make it large enough to crawl through without being cut.
He was in! In front of him were the papers, and a lamp on the desk meant he didn’t have to use his torch after all. He soon had his own paper out in front of him and compared his answers to the correct ones. In question one he had half of it right anyway, and that would certainly earn him a few marks, so he decided to leave that as it was. If he suddenly gained one hundred percent, everyone would be suspicious. question two was similar, so if he corrected the last two questions he would end up with an average mark, and no-one would think to question that. Out came the pad he had used earlier that day so the paper would match.
After copying the correct version of questions three and four he knew it was time to go. Carefully slipping his altered exam paper back where it had come from, he collected all his things. Mustn’t leave anything behind. He crawled out of the hole at the bottom of the window, stood at the back of the big shrub and looked each way before emerging, then walked back to his room. What a relief. He’d fixed everything in half an hour. He’d be able to go back to India with his head held high, and that night slept like a baby for the first time in months.
Unfortunately for Amit, Dr Campbell didn’t sleep so soundly. Lying in bed idly going over the exam he’d set, he realised he’d made a mistake in the answers to question four. He decided to redo the mathematical problem right there and then, and worked for some time on it. Relaxed he went back to bed and he, too, slept soundly.
When he opened his office door and saw the hole, he was alarmed and sent for both the Dean and Secretary of the Faculty who came hurrying down to see the damage and all agreed it must have been someone having an urge to alter an examination paper.
‘As it happens, I‘ll be able to find the culprit pretty quickly I think,’ said Dr. Campbell, smiling at them.
The lecturer set to work looking through all the question four answers and soon found that only one student had the same figures as the original answer sheet. Amit Kaul had produced an exact copy of the incorrect answer sheet, and, after consultation with his superiors, Amit was sent for, to attend Dr Campbell in the Engineering Drawing Room One—the site of the original exam.
Amit was not alarmed, only alert. No-one saw him; he knew that, so it must be something about his ticket home to India and visa to return.
He opened the door and was shocked to see the hierarchy of the Engineering Faculty sitting waiting for him. Amit tried not to panic. ‘You wanted to see me Dr?’
Dr Cameron quickly outlined the problem finishing with, ‘… and your paper was the only one with the figures I had put on the original marking sheets on top of the papers. It must have been you who broke in. Is that so?’
It was no use trying to deny it. Amit sat there staring at them first of all, and gradually his face dissolved into sobs as he told the group why he had felt desperate enough to take such measures.
When he’d finished and was trying to compose himself there was silence from his interrogators. Every one of them felt sorry for him. Finally the Dean of Engineering spoke. ‘There’s no doubt we’re all sympathetic to your plight Amit. Why didn’t you speak to your tutor about this? Why couldn’t you explain to Dr Cameron here? Caught early enough we could have transferred you to Science or Arts and enrolled you in something more suitable. You probably could have excelled there. One thing you must have in engineering is a good head for maths.’
‘My father would only hear of me doing engineering—for its prestige, you know.’
There was another silence. ‘Very well. Amit, just wait outside for a moment while we discuss this will you lad?’
When called in, the Dean spoke again. ‘Amit, we are very sorry for the ordeal this year has caused you. Most students here don’t have to work under such pressure and we can only imagine how hard that must have been for you. However, you tried to cheat, and there are rules about that. Your marks are annulled; you will have to leave the university and you’ll never be permitted to enrol in engineering again under any circumstances.’
‘You may stay overnight in your room in the Residence, but must be gone during the day tomorrow. However, we have decided not to pursue you for the cost of the window you smashed. I don’t know what you’re going to tell your father,’ the Dean continued ‘but, although your actions were wrong, we have addressed that and the matter is a closed book now. Do you understand, Amit? ’
‘Yes sir. Thank you,’ Amit said in a wobbly voice.
‘We wish you all the best Amit,’ and they all nodded to him as they left the room.
‘Poor bugger,’ they all agreed as they walked away. ‘Fancy expecting him to excel in any university course decided by his Dad!’
Next morning Amit was packing for the journey home. His plane left at 5.30 pm and Pavel was puzzled at the sudden departure. Taking the lead from the academics, Amit had already decided not to impart any details of the break-in to anyone so he told him what he was going to tell his family—that he knew he’d failed. Although he’d worked very hard for the whole year, he’d never had a head for maths, and, unfortunately, Engineering was full of maths.
Amit decided that, when he fronted his father, he’d try a proposal. As his father had been prepared to support him in a four-year course, he might relent enough to support him in a three-year Bachelor of Arts degree. Melbourne University was famous for their results in Arts degrees. This was prestigious too, and, as he had proved that he was a hard worker, he was reasonably sure the results would please next time around.
It was certainly worth a try, and who knows, his Dad just might be interested in retrieving the opportunity lost.
Bio: Shirley comes from Rosebud, Victoria, and feels sorry for any student that has to carry extra worry about their courses at university standard, such as her character, Amit.