Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Award

There are lies, that you speak to avoid falling into a mess, and then there are LIES, that, after the initial escape, lunges forward and grasps your conscience so hard that you are entrapped in a feeling of guilt and repentance. The courage to speak the truth can take us through all situations, even though there might be initial hurdles. Persistence with lie, however small that might seem, brings us to a cross road where dilemma and sense of regret flood our shores.

I was in the eight standard, a phase where we embrace our teenage years, and gain understanding of the good, bad and ugly. You know how competitive school life is. Pressure to study, pressure to excel, and pressure to be ahead in the race. It’s this constant pressure that’s exhausting, but then, when you live up to this expectation, the feeling is exhilarating. Exhilaration, yes, was what I experienced when I scored a perfect hundred in my Mathematics paper, thus making me eligible for one of the Subject Topper Awards. The teacher praised me, the entire classroom clapped for me, and the jealousy in the face of my competitors made me soar in pride.

I was thrilled, I was glad. And, then came the ugliest feeling of all – guilt.

The answer sheets were handed over to each student so that they could evaluate their mistakes, and know where they went wrong. When I went through mine, I noted that there were two questions that I had solved incorrectly, but the teacher had mistakenly marked them as correct. Had she been more careful, I would have scored 90, not 100, and definitely not the highest in class. The accolades and cheers would then all go in vain, and the Topper’s medal too wouldn’t land in my hand. It would surely be a losing situation if I informed the teacher and made her revise my marks. I kept quiet.

However, the voice in my head didn’t stay silent. It shouted and screamed, urging me to do what is right, inform the teacher, so that the student who rightly deserves the Topper Award receives it. I tried to shut the voice in my head. After all it was the first time that I was receiving any award. I would by no means lose this chance.

Next day our Principal came into the classroom to congratulate me, and also a few other subject toppers who were from my section. I smiled at her, even though the guilt was weighing heavily on my mind. I thought she would leave after the customary greetings, but she stayed on. What was even more surprising was the announcement that came next.

The Principal, in her authoritative tone, announced, “Every year, we have the Annual Prize Distribution Ceremony in June. However, since our school will be hosting the All India Sports Competition that time, we will be awarding the winners in tomorrow’s morning assembly.”

If there is a moment when the heart really skips a beat, this was it. I looked around. Students were clapping, the teacher was smiling, and the guy who had the second highest marks in Mathematics, with a score of 98, had a dejected look on his face, even though he tried to look happy and bright. In that moment I knew how it felt to be on the wrong side of justice. If I accepted the prize tomorrow, he would be upset, but then, he would double his efforts to grab the trophy next year. What about me? Would I be happy? Would I jump in joy? Would I be able to proudly showcase the trophy in front of my parents?

Would I be able to beam in excitement when others refer to me as the Topper in Mathematics?

In that single moment, I got my answers. I stood up, and with a choked voice, and tears streaming down my face, said, “Ma’am, I am sorry, but I do not deserve this award.”

The entire class looked in shock. The room that was laughing and cheering just a few seconds ago, had suddenly turned silent. It was as if Gods from heavens had turned on the mute button on their remote. A pin fell somewhere, and I understood what pin drop silent really meant. This was it.

I narrated the tale of the mark that I had mistakenly received, and handed over my answer script for correction. The teacher and the Principal stared at me in utter disbelief. The two of them, then went out of the class. I looked back at the guy who had scored 98. He shrugged his shoulder, asking me why. I smiled back. Atleast, I could smile peacefully now, with no weight on my heart.

Five minutes later, the Principal and the teacher re-entered the room, and the former announced, “We are sorry for the error in marking. As correctly pointed out by Amrit, his paper was wrongly checked, and instead of hundred, his score stands at 90. The Maths topper for this year is Gaurav with 98 marks.”

The class cheered for Gaurav now. I too clapped at him.

“However,” the Principal continued, “it’s not easy to speak the truth, specially in today’s cut throat competitive environment. All of us want to win, by hook or by crook. We sacrifice our morals and values in the race to the top. But this young man here today, Amrit, has opened our eyes. Studies don’t just teach you to excel in studies, it should also teach you to excel in humanity, to be a better person, a better civilian of the society. It should teach you to adopt the path of truth, courage and honesty, and shun everything that’s wrong. Moreover, studies should teach every girl, every boy, every man and every woman, to be like this boy, who sacrificed the award and chose the path for righteousness. We are proud of you, yes, very very proud, and for your unselfish and truthful act, I announce a new category of awards this year – Honesty award. This goes to you Amrit.”

This was a moment of celebration, when I could proudly showcase my achievement to the world. True, I didn’t score high in Mathematics, but I did score excellently in honesty. Can there be any better award than that? After all, Kitna chain hota hai na sachchai mein.

This is my official entry to Kinley Happy Hours organized by Indiblogger in association with Kinley.

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