The nearer Amit’s plane came to India the faster his resolve melted because when he landed at New Delhi he would have to face his father.
It had seemed straightforward when he boarded the plane. Following the lead of the Engineering Faculty academics at Monash University, he was going to explain that, forced to study Civil Engineering, he’d failed the first year because he had no head for mathematics, and engineering was founded on maths. They understood that. They even understood why, in desperation, he’d cheated so spectacularly that it sent him packing, but still left with the academics’ good wishes. They suggested he’d be better suited to study at Melbourne University for a BA there and it was possible to win this degree in only three years whereas it would have taken four years to earn one in Engineering. It seemed a very logical argument to Amit in Australia. He’d thought his father might approve that.
But as the plane circled for landing Amit’s heart was racing. He knew it was not going to be simple at all.
His father’s face was set grimly tight as Amit launched into his idea of returning for a further three years, but he could see the idea was falling on deaf ears. Instead, there was a roasting for wasting the family money. It was an Engineering degree his father wished him to earn. In vain Amit tried to explain he’d really worked hard but his father simply didn’t believe him, and continued to ignore his errant son for the rest of the week. Amit had nothing to do but read the paper.
That was where he noticed an ad from the New Delhi Institute of Technology announcing a scholarship covering a course of instruction with a view to obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree at Melbourne University. Included was a commitment to return to New Delhi as an instructor, but he had to apply by the weekend. He downloaded the application form, completed it and delivered it by hand the same day, without a word to his family.
A test and interview followed and after completing these he was told he ‘would be contacted’, so it was back to a depressive vacuum at home full of black looks and foreboding. Two weeks later he was contacted. Amit was ecstatic and quickly told his father that he was shortlisted, with a final interview necessary; later he was amused to hear his father telling a friend how clever his son was.
The interview was full on and took a whole morning. They’d already contacted Monash about his engineering course and asked about his work ethic and were told that Amit was a hard worker but it was also their idea that he should attend Melbourne University Arts Faculty where he should do well.
Soon a letter came to say he and two others had been chosen and that he’d be expected to arrive at Melbourne University residences in February to settle in. Brandishing the letter he ran to show it, relieved to know that at last his father was proud of him.
‘The odd thing is,’ Amit explained, ‘the year I’d spent at Monash, although it ended in failure, tipped the scales my way. They considered it experience gained in knowing how to use university time the best way, and agreed that settling-in would be no problem for me.’ The Gods had indeed been kind, and Amit was aware this was a second chance at an opportunity. This time, he thought fiercely, he’d make sure he was successful.
On arrival his course was soon sorted with help from the admission officers. He would major in Political and International Studies and use Development Studies as his minor discipline.
While waiting for the start of tuition, he decided to call in to Monash, say hello to Pavil and friends still there and report to Dr Campbell on his good fortune. It would be good to thank him in person for all the help he’d received along the way. Dr Campbell showed him to a seat and Amit couldn’t help glancing at the spot where he’d bashed in the glass panel and tried to alter his exam marks last year. With a rush of guilt, he wondered how on earth he could have been crazy enough to do it in the first place.
Dr Campbell was delighted with his news. ‘It’s all due to the academics here,’ Amit told him ‘and the good advice I was given,’ and Dr Campbell assured him his thanks would be passed on.
Open Day came and went and early in March tuition began in earnest when Amit realised there was nothing easy about this course either! Just a case of hard work needed.
Gradually he found friends and this time his assignments gained regular average marks. This was a change, and Amit’s spirits rose. The first year rushed past and at the end-of-year exams Amit had a creditable result, but, returning for his second year, he realised that the only way to make that horrible shadow called ‘fear-of-failure-again’ disappear was to make an even bigger effort—it was all up to him.
The year flew past again and at classes during the last semester, he noticed a beautiful girl, always in traditional Hindu dress, but also always accompanied by a surly-looking young man as though he were her guardian.
The end-of-year exams results showed, to his delight, that he’d topped one of the disciplines, a fact he quickly passed on to his father.
A last big ‘class-coffee-meeting’ was organised in the usual noisy spot—a corner of the big coffee shop on campus and, to his joy, the beautiful girl was there. Happily she was on her own. No surly guardian to frown him away. Amit decided to introduce himself and found out that her name was Shalina. It sounded silvery when she said it, and as they chattered easily with each other, realised that she came from an area not far from his home in New Delhi.
A query about the thickset guard was introduced carefully, and Shalina laughed. ‘His name is Mikul Garde,’ she explained, then casually added, ‘his family and my family are good friends and are trying to finalise arrangements for our marriage. There is a stumbling block though.’
He was dying to know what it was and if she were keen on the marriage idea or not, but not game to ask. Instead he decided to ask her out to a film in town, before he had to leave for home. After their date they decided to fly home together for company, and Amit’s heart soared at the idea.
It was on the plane that she mentioned Mikul again. ‘His family think my family is not good enough, you know, and,’ here she paused, ‘I’ve told my family I am not in the least interested. However, Mikul won’t give up!’
Amit had asked his friends if they knew much about Mikul Garde and they’d immediately become serious. Don’t butt in there Amit. Mikul’s a bad-tempered bugger, and he’s set himself up as her protector; you are buying into trouble my friend.’ one of them explained anxiously.
‘Well she can make up her own mind about that,’ Amit said, surprising himself at the comment.
‘Just be careful. He’s resitting exams this year so that’s kept him busy, but if he passes them he’ll be back next year,’ one of them added.
In Delhi both young people visited each other’s families and Amit realised he was now totally committed to winning this delightful person for himself. She’d told him she ‘liked him’, but that wasn’t the word he wanted to hear.
All too soon, his last year at uni was to begin. The old routine of café breaks continued and, as well, Shalina and he often enjoyed a Saturday trip with friend, Josh, who filled his car with friends and took them all on short trips, exploring the Dandenong Ranges and the Mornington Peninsula often, and by this time Shalina and Amit were holding hands comfortably.
Mikul had tried to take up guard duty as usual but Shalina pushed him off. Soon after that Mikul bailed up Amit in the middle of the cloisters when he was on his way to lectures. It didn’t matter that everyone was passing them as Mikul shouted at him for alienating Shalina. Amit tried to calm him, but Mikul became more and more aggressive and went to hit him, when someone grabbed his arm from behind and he was told to ‘bugger off’.
‘You need a bodyguard mate,’ the stranger laughed. ‘He’s one pissed off man. I’d watch it if I were you!’
‘Thanks for the help,’ Amit told him still recovering from the surprise attack. ‘He’s a bad loser, that’s all.’
‘They’re the worse kind! Cheers!’
After this incident, one of Amit’s friends told him that Mikul had gone over to the Engineering Faculty at Monash telling them darkly that he was ‘making some enquiries about Amit’s time at Monash’. ‘He means trouble for you, Amit, so I thought I should warn you.’
Indeed he did mean trouble.
At Monash, Mikul asked first to speak to the Faculty Secretary, who referred him, with plain disgust to Amit’s main lecturer, Dr Campbell. Settling himself in the chair Mikul immediately asked several pointed questions about Amit’s life as an engineering student.
Dr Campbell gave him short shrift. ‘I wonder why you haven’t asked Amit yourself, seeing he’s at Melbourne Uni with you? Amit was a hard working, student here. We suggested he would better enjoy a course in the Faculty of Arts. Simple as that.’
‘Then why didn’t he come to the Faculty of Arts at Monash? Was there some reason why he couldn’t?’
‘Because he was offered a course there by his home university, with a job attached; you’d do well to display the same acumen that Amit has shown, Mr Garde. This interview is over, so please shut the door after you,’ and Dr Campbell resumed the writing Mikul had interrupted.
Amit had already confided his idiocy at Monash to Shalina, but no one else, so he waited daily in anxiety ready for the bomb Mikul would set off. Nothing happened and Mikul kept his distance from both he and Shalina, telling anyone who’d listen that his family was far too exalted to be interested in Shalina as his future wife. But no one listened to Mikul anymore.
Studies were over, Amit’s mother and father both came over for the graduation ceremony, and Amit and Shalina flew back with them the following week. This time as Amit approached India, his heart wasn’t in his boots, it was soaring again. He’d enjoyed the course, held a brand new BA Melb, had a job to go to, and it was hinted he might be offered another year to complete an Honours degree. He’d regained his lost opportunity.
Best of all he was sitting here holding his fiancée’s hand, and looking forward to their big engagement ceremony, already being arranged for them.
‘What a journey it’s been,’ he said to her. ‘It’s made me appreciate my friends, and value all the luck I’ve received; here I am with you and I’m so happy!’ Shalina smiled and gave his hand an extra squeeze.
Bio: Shirley thinks good things should come after much effort, although it doesn’t always happen that way. However, wasn’t it Winston Churchill who said, ‘Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential’?