If I were to describe Ruchika in a word, it would be “Brains”. There have been moments where me and TJ have discussed at length of her gifted brain. The “SRCC” commerce tag was enough to stamp her academic superiority over us who had to shy away when someone enquired about our college of graduation. I don’t know how and why Ruchika agreed to be a part of our project group. Everyone wanted to rope her in the first term. There are some subjects where you have the freedom of choosing your own project group. The professors become god in the remaining few by making groups which they think would instill team dynamics in you. It seemed fun when they did it in the first term because you perceive everyone who has managed to get in brings to the table certain unique qualities. But once you start knowing the people in your section, these announcements on the notice board is the second most awaited thing in every term apart from the grades! Because it tells you who are the free riders who would be loaded on to your back and it would be your duty to take them to safety.
Ruchika becoming a part of our group had more to do with me and TJ than plain luck. That would be shared later. She was a huge value addition to my group, which consisted of Nano and Moti as well. Of course she bought us more backup in terms of assignments and projects should Moti & Nano flounder. But apart from that, she was in your face and focused. She would not hide her displeasure and spit venom at us if she found anything wrong. She made sure we all worked. The dream that I had seen with TJ of washing our hands of work once she becomes a part of our group had never materialized. We were made to work as hard. Her never say die attitude and strong will power rubbed off on us. It won’t be completely wrong to say that I was a little scared of Ruchika. She had a voice which had the decibel levels required to shatter the eardrums. I have seriously prayed a few times for her future offspring’s. They would have a tough time getting scolded a record number of times in a day.
Ruchika being among the toppers of the class was directly proportional to our grades improving substantially. This was because our assignments were distant cousins of her top grade assignments. We kept it at cousins because any attempt at being a sibling to her assignments would mean that the School of Management doctors called “professors” would operate on us and ensure that we never would be capable of becoming proud fathers of assignments ever again. I had been dressing up Ruchika’s children all this while by drastically changing their appearance. Even Kamal Hassan would have been proud of my camouflages. He might have done a record 10 different appearances in his latest movie, but I had lost count of how many times I had dressed up Ruchika’s assignments and come out with my “unique” version. Technically I could call myself father of the same because they carried some of my qualities. It would be unfair to accuse me of copying stuff because I was just following nature’s rule. I have always believed that assignments are like children. Two parties need to be involved to bring a new life into this world. Same was with assignments. In my case the child looked more like the mother but there would be some unmistakable traits of me which made my child completely different from its twin. Hence I used the term “distant cousin”. I had been religiously following the natural way and conceiving assignments at an unnatural rate until that fateful day. The day I went against nature.
Strategic management was one of the most dreaded subjects in the 4th trimester. It had more to do with the professor teaching the course. She was a strict disciplinarian and very hard taskmaster. Dr. Suparna Barjatya was a visiting faculty to the School of Management. She had taken a liking for the School of Management and would come back year after year. The seniors had warned us of the amount of hard work we would be required to put in to scrap through her course with a decent grade. True to her sketch made by seniors she bombarded us with assignments from the first day itself. We were required to put in a lot of hours preparing for her 1 contact hour. Not a single lecture went without assignments. All were graded. I had been following the natural way all this while. Till that day when I made an attempt at infidelity!
TJ was excited that day. “Balu bhai……see this…passes to the Management Institute annual fest……2 passes…you and me….and all the MI babes to look at!! Dress up for the party man! My friend Mali there has assured me he will introduce us to all girls from his batch. Stop lazing around you duffer. Get up!!” I was scowling in pain because TJ had kicked me hard. TJ was already rummaging through his wardrobe for his best combination. I looked at him in amazement. “You crackpot!! How can you even think of attending the bash. We have Suppu’s assignment on strategy to submit tomorrow. I have been getting messages that it is a tough one. People have been breaking their head over it yaar. You really think we should go?” TJ’s look was enough to convince me. I got dressed in a jiffy. Once at the Management Institute, I forgot all about the assignment. The girls were really pretty. There is something about parties. Girls look all the more enchanting. Being from the School of Management helped us get a head start. I did notice that TJ was with a new girl every time I glanced towards his side. He was hell bent on getting the maximum mileage out of this opportunity. We danced till the wee hours and had loads of fun. It was around 4 am when the music finally stopped and the students of MI started heading towards their hostels. We also got back to our hostel in half an hour.
I was feeling very tired after all the dance steps I had displayed to impress the girls. I collapsed into my bed. It was then that the realization dawned and I sat up with a start. Suppu’s assignment was hanging like a sword on my head. No wonder I had seen a lot of lights still on at the hostel. “This case should really be tough for them to be breaking their heads for so long.” I said to myself. TJ had started snoring. There was a lot of alcohol in his system to get him back to senses. I was about to pull him out of his slumber when I noticed the timetable kept on his desk. I was in a state of shock when the truth came crashing down on me. TJ had not opted for this course. It was not among the electives chosen by him. How could this vital piece of information slip from my mind? He obviously had refrained from enlightening me on this earlier because I would have refused him point blank then. I glanced at my watch. It was already 5 am. The class was scheduled at 9 am. The fatigue made it even worse. I tried reading the case but I was no Einstein to come up with an instant 2 minute noodle when other nerds had been cooking up a royal feast. The case was really tough. I could not make a head and tail out of it at the first glance. I opened my mailbox to find Ruchika’s assignment in it. This had become a sort of ritual. She would send me hers after completion which I would then read and mould it into my version. This case was so tough that even a completed assignment seemed Greek to me! I had suddenly turned infertile. I desperately wanted my child to take shape but the organ responsible for it wouldn’t budge. (P.S. Brain is the organ I am referring to here) I then did the most obvious thing to me…. “Cloning”. It was from the aftermath of the incident that I joined the group of scientists who oppose cloning citing it to be unnatural. I made a few cosmetic changes here and there to Ruchika’s assignment. I could not get the feeling of being a father how hard I tried with this child. It was simply a carbon copy of Ruchika’s assignment. My system did not have the strength to work on it again. I hoped that I would not be caught and went to sleep.
A week later the grades were put up. Ruchika had breezed past me in the corridor. Had I noticed a tear in her eyes? I rushed towards the notice board and my eyes stopped at roll no. 42. I had a big zero in front of my name. I had expected it. Somehow, I did not feel bad. There were quite a few who shared the honours with me. Luckily I did not have a “Meet” tag attached to my name. A “Meet” tag to your name was symbolic of the fact that Suppu had caught you cheating from a friend’s assignment and you had to fix an appointment with Suppu to give her an explanation. Surprisingly, Suppu spared the author of the original assignment and they would get away with only a zero to their name. I had got the punishment for what I deserved. “Oh Ruchika! What a friend she is…poor soul was crying for me. I will do well in the rest of the assignments and the final term paper to negate the effect of this zero. I will do well for your precious tears Ruchika.” I was halfway when a thought struck me. I walked towards the notice board again in a state of trance. My fingers were trembling when I moved all the way down to roll no. 38. My eyes popped out in horror.
Roll no. 38: Ruchika Agarwal (0/10) [Meet]