Warning: A very, very long post. Recommended only for students of Engineering.
A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was an engineering college with an extremely illustrious Mechanical Engineering department whose fame spread far beyond the furthest reaches of the galaxy.
* * * * *
“Have you completed the Design project?” Deepak asked.
“Gone mad or what? The submission is two weeks away”, replied Nabendu with an air of finality.
This was the final semester of the final year. Nabendu was already placed – along with 3/4th of the batch – in a software company and submission of design projects was not his priority. In fact, his only priority was to make dreadful jokes on his employer including one which poked fun at their indiscriminate hires – “Trespassers will be recruited”.
With a large group placed and a substantial group accepted in institutions for future studies – truth be told – submission of Engineering Design projects was not anybody’s priority.
Usually, these design projects needed a ‘mother’ – a solution (typically done by a topper of the previous batch) – to get going. Once we knew from an acknowledged master how the ferocious flanges were being subjected to treacherous torque, the calculations seemed infinitely easier. And once the calculations were done, slapping a drawing sheet on the previous year’s drawings and tracing it out was a cinch!
This being the final year, the ‘seniors’ had already left and finding a ‘mother’ was not proving to be easy.
In a rare display of enterprise, Nabendu and Deepak went around asking classmates on the progress of this design project. Of course, you could argue that speaking to 7 classmates over cha-shingara isn’t a great display of enterprise. Even that ended swiftly enough when they found an antakshari gang in the Canteen. Nabendu joined them with gusto and started singing “Romeo naam mera, chori hain kaam mera…” completely out of tune but with exact dance movements. Deepak went home with a mixture of unease (flunking a course in the last semester was the – well – last thing he wanted) and comfort (after all, even Uttam hadn’t started on it).
* * * * *
“Arre, let’s go and ask him once…”
“He won’t help… he doesn’t know enough design to help…”
“At least, he can waive off the submission requirement…”
“Hmm… that’s an idea…”
Nabendu and Deepak squabbled unnecessarily for 5 minutes before deciding that the only person who could help in this project submission was the professor himself.
Dilip Kumar Chatterjee – DKC for short – was popular for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, he was said to have a comely daughter. Secondly, he was horrendously un-punctual leading to frequent class cancellations. Thirdly, he was – or seemed – as clueless about his subjects as the students he taught! Overall, he seemed to be the sort who could be requested to postpone (or, in the extreme case, cancel) academic requirements without the fear of getting one’s head bitten off.
They knocked on his door and waited. After a few minutes, they peeped in and were greeted by an empty room. It was one of those inexplicable things why they still walked in.
Nabendu marveled at the empty table and the computer which had probably never been switched on. Deepak saw something else – a cupboard towards the far corner of the room which was so stuffed that the door hadn’t closed properly. The papers inside seemed like… he walked over, took out one of the files, glanced through it, stuffed it in his backpack and was out of the room in a flash.
Nabendu caught up with him almost after the jheel. “What the hell did you do?” he asked Deepak after managing to catch his breath.
Deepak took his time to answer. He was panting harder. “Its. A. Mother. Last. Year’s. File. Just. Picked. It. Up. Will. Need. It.”
“What are you saying, bastard?”
High-fives happened before they both left campus with the firm belief that if God does exist somewhere in the universe, he is probably perched on top of the stairs in the Mechanical Engineering department.
* * * * *
Deepak returned the file to Nabendu the next day. He had managed to copy out the entire calculations and the complicated drawing in one marathon night-out. The plan was to finish off both their projects in 48 hours and return the file to the cupboard in DKC’s room. But these things never turn out the way they are supposed to.
For starters, Nabendu decided to gloat over their acquisition to half the University and their maternal cousins. Even batchmates in the Electronics department weren’t spared the details of the ‘daring raid’ – which seemed to grow on every successive retelling and soon resembled one of the dangerous expeditions his father – a senior police officer – undertook.
Very soon, there was a queue of classmates who wanted the ‘mother’ to finish off their projects and it didn’t look like the file was returning to the cupboard anytime soon. Nabendu magnanimously handed over the file to the queue and remained quite satisfied in telling the story again and again. After a point, Deepak lost track of the people who completed their projects from that file and just assumed that Nabendu would have done it as well.
* * * * *
At 9 PM, Deepak was wondering what movie they would be showing on the local cable channel when the phone rang. It was Nabendu.
“Do you have some drawing sheets?” he asked strangely.
“No. Bought and used the last sheet for the Design project”, Deepak replied. “But why do you need it now? We don’t have any other submissions after the…” and then it dawned on him. “Nabendu, you STILL haven’t done the Design project? The submission’s tomorrow!!!”
“What crap? Of course, I have done it. I have copied out the calculations. Now, I only have to draw the damn thing out.”
“****er, why didn’t you do it earlier? Where will you get drawing sheets now?”
“Shut up. Just because you don’t have it and the Univ shop is closed doesn’t mean drawing sheets have vanished from the city. I will pick some up from the hostel… errr, what’s the 11 PM movie on Jain TV?”
When Deepak put the phone down at 9:32 PM, the Design project was not on his mind. But if it had been, he would have prayed for it to be on Nabendu’s mind as well.
* * * * *
“You got the drawing sheets?” Deepak asked as he saw Nabendu’s smiling countenance come through the nervous group of students assembled outside the professor’s room for the final Design viva.
“Done.” Nabendu smirked.
Having spent much of the last four years with Nabendu, Deepak knew the solution his friend had adopted was not the conventional one. “Show me your drawing”, he demanded.
“Let’s go over to that side. Its emptier.” Nabendu replied with uncharacteristic diffidence.
Subbu, Shamik and Dipanjan had gathered around by now. The vivas were conducted in groups of five and their roll numbers were 90 to 92 while Nabendu and Deepak brought up the rear.
They ambled over to an empty classroom and Nabendu’s brought out his design file. The design calculations were supposed to be the first 20 pages, which were normal A4 sheets while the large thick drawing sheet was folded at the back to fit into the file.
Nabendu’s sheets seemed to be a lot less. Without anyone asking, he volunteered a response – “Have skipped a few steps in between. Who’s gonna check all of it, anyway? Managed it in 12 pages. Had run out of sheets and…”
“…and the Univ store was closed.”
This was not a major problem since project calculations – done under extreme time constraints – of most students were shortened and close scrutiny would reveal many skeletons from the last 4 years.
They turned to the Design drawing at the back of the file.
“Son of a… what is this?” exclaimed Subbu. The drawing sheet seemed to have been taken straight out of Tutankhamun’s tomb. It was creased, frayed at the edges and had duct-tape holding out the folds.
“F***face, what have you done?”
Nabendu was his usual cool self. “Oh, don’t over-react! When I started on this last evening…”
“Why did you start last evening?”
“…I didn’t have any drawing sheet. The store was closed. Nobody in the hostel had any either. On top of that, it was getting late. So, I just erased last year’s name and wrote my name there. Even his roll number was the same as mine…” Nabendu seemed to take this last bit of coincidence as some divine hint that assured him this was the right thing to do.
As they stared at the yellowing papyrus with horror, they could hear their roll numbers being called at the end of the corridor.
* * * * *
The panic had gripped all four of them.
A viva group was susceptible to mood swings of the professor brought about by one bad apple. While none of them were terribly well-prepared, they expected to steer through DKC’s usually calm manner and silly questions with a mix of common sense and obsequiousness. But this cavalier bit of plagiarism had thrown everything off gear.
They filed into the room and took their seats in order of their roll numbers. As they handed in their files, the usual greetings were made with a quiver in the voice.
DKC calmly took their files and started going through them. Many years later, when Deepak first watched a show called Masterchef and saw the judges pause for inordinately long periods before passing judgments, he was immediately reminded of vivas.
DKC went through the first three files with some silly comments and bonhomie, only to be rewarded with nervous grunts. He finally took up Nabendu’s file. He flipped through the pages without too much attention to the details of the calculations.
Then, he came to the drawing. His frowned at the duct-tape as he started to unfold (unravel would probably be more appropriate) the sheet. For the first time in their lives, they heard paper creak!
DKC’s frown slowly turned into round-eyed amazement as he unfolded the ancient parchment to reveal pencil-cravings from ancient times, probably symbolizing some pagan rituals. The group held its collective breath as he carefully examined the description panel on the bottom right of the sheet. The only bright pencil marks on the sheet seemed to be ‘Designed by Nabendu Mitra’ while the name of the original owner was clearly visible under that as Nabendu’s erasing was clearly half-hearted.
DKC fixed Nabendu with a stare as the other four started admiring the ceiling fan, the window grill, the door stopper and the outdated Bengali calendar on the wall.
“I will ask you a simple question, Nabendu. And you have to answer it truthfully.” DKC solemnly asked. “Did you do this design project yourself?”
If this had been a movie, a gong would have sounded for sure. But only the murmur of the waiting students outside punctuated the silence.
Nabendu cleared his throat before replying, “No, sir. I took the file from that cupboard.”
Cue for louder gong… with echo effect.
Later in his life, when Deepak had attended many marketing workshops, he got to know of a term called ‘moment of truth’. Whatever the real meaning of the phrase was, nothing came closer like the moment at hand.
And DKC decided to lift the dead-weight of the silence with what eventually became the ‘quote of the century’.
“Nabendu, your father is trying his best to stop crimes in this city. And you, yourself, embark on the path of crime…”
Deepak had visions of Nabendu running down an airport runway as his father chased him with a revolver in his hand. But he couldn’t laugh as he was too busy wondering what this statement would lead to?
Expulsion from the University? Repeating the year? What?
* * * * *
Deepak went on to do a MBA and sells soaps for a living now.
Subbu, Shamik and Dipanjan joined software firms after graduation. All of them lead large project teams now.
Nabendu is also a software engineer and is very curious about computer aided design software that don’t require paper to create complicated designs.
This is a work of fiction.
All characters are fictional. All the described events are figments of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.