"Hey Osman, who do you think will top in the State Talent Scholarship Exam?" asked Mandeep.
"How can you be so sure?"
"He is the best, yaar."
"But students from other schools of the city will also be giving the exam."
"So what? Our Shantanu is the best. See, for this exam one has to appear in four subjects - English, Maths, General Knowledge and Hindi. Now in Maths, Shantanu is too good. In class six itself he is in the school quiz team, so I don't have to tell you how terrific he is in G.K."
"What about Hindi? That might pull him down."
"I agree, Hindi is his weak point, but he is not all that bad. I think in the other subjects he will take such a lead that Hindi won't really matter."
"What do you think about Akash?"
"Akash! No chance yaar. He is no where close to Shantanu. He is good at cramming, but as far as brilliance is concerned Shantanu is way ahead."
Akash was sitting in the class, solving maths problems. He couldn't help listening to the conversation which was taking place in the corridor. He knew Osman was right. Shantanu was very intelligent. He didn't really mind anyone praising Shantanu, his best friend, but he didn't quite like
being dismissed off as a bookworm with little or no brains. Yes, he Akash was definitely hardworking but that didn't mean in the brains department he was a zero. He shrugged and went back to his work.
The State Government conducted the State Talent Scholarship Examination (STSE) for students of class six. The top three rank holders were given a scholarship. This meant they would not have to pay their school fees till class ten.
STSE was a very prestigious examination with each school sending its best students. Akash's school Nalanda Public School had had the distinction of bagging the top spot for a record four times. This year too everyone expected Shantanu to top and keep the record intact.
Akash and Shantanu had been together since nursery. They were best friends and rivals. Shantanu was an outgoing and fun loving kid with a great sense of humor and Akash was the shy and quiet type. Shantanu never seemed to work hard but ended up topping the class while Akash who was very diligent ended up coming second in class. In the Maths and Science periods too, the toughest questions were answered by Shantanu. Akash had genuine admiration for Shantanu and would try his best to do better than him. But in spite of all his efforts he had never succeeded. However, this rivalry had never come in the way of their friendship.
When they met after the scholarship examination Akash asked Shantanu, "How was it?"
"Great I think I cleared the Maths paper. I should get hundred. Only Hindi was tough. What about you?"
"I did okay. A couple of questions in G.K. had me stumped. Why is color blindness known as 'Daltonism'?"
"This condition gets its name from John Dalton, the color blind school teacher from England who laid the foundation of modern chemistry with his theory of atoms."
"Wow! I had no idea."
"There was another very interesting question. 'Which great inventor exclaimed, "Mr. Watson, come here, I need you,' to prove that his invention worked."
"I left that one. It was too tough. Do you know the answer?"
"Of course. It was Alexander Graham Bell, the great scientist who said this. And this exclamation was the first human message to be transmitted over telephone."
"You are terrific Shantanu!"
"How did your English and Hindi go?"
"Hindi was a bit difficult. But I did well. English was easy."
If Shantanu had a flair for Maths and General Knowledge, Akash had an aptitude for languages. He could pick up languages very easily. He loved reading and his favorite past time was curling up with a book. In English and Hindi he was the best in class. He was also a regular winner in the essay writing competitions organized in the school from time to time.
Two months later the results came out. Akash had topped the examination. The second spot had gone to a girl from St. Anne's and the third to a boy from Little Flower. Shantanu's name was nowhere in sight. The result was announced in the School Assembly and Akash was given a
special prize by the Principal.
Shantanu was devastated. When the results were declared Shantanu and Akash were standing next to each other. Shantanu couldn't believe his ears. He managed a weak smile and mumbled to Akash, "Congrats." But later he refused to talk to anyone about it. How could that dumb bookworm beat him - the Maths wizard and quiz buff? Shantanu started avoiding Akash after that. Akash also caught him making snide remarks about him.
Once Mr. Vasan the Maths teacher posed a question to the class. It was a difficult one and no one could answer. Shantanu who was sitting behind Akash sniggered, "The scholarship holder should be able to answer. After all he is the brightest brain in the city." Akash turned red. He was really hurt. He couldn't understand why Shantanu was blaming him for his own failure. Gradually Shantanu and Akash drifted apart and a stage came when they were not even on talking terms.
The half yearly exams were in progress. Today was the Hindi exam. Shantanu was busy writing. Next to him was Ranjit. He had taken admission to Nalanda Public School after the first term. He was the tallest boy in the class and also the oldest. He was a big bully and most boys were scared of him.
"Hey Shantanu," Ranjit whispered. Mr. Abhay Sharma, the Class Teacher of 6B, who was invigilating, was at the other end of the room.
"Shantanu," Ranjit whispered again.
"Shantanu looked at him and raised his eyebrows.
"You are writing on the additional sheet, why don't you give me the first answer sheet."
"Are you crazy?"
"If you don't do as I say, you see what I'll do. I'll tell my father you were calling him Kaluduttam. He'll skin you alive."
The school was terrified of Ranjit's father Mr. T. Devduttam, the new P.T. teacher. He was tall and hefty with a dark skin and eyes which were perpetually red. He was known for his mean temper.
"Come on Shantanu, give the sheet to me or I'll fail," Ranjit was now pleading.
Shantanu looked at Mr. Sharma. He was busy staring out of the window. He quietly passed the answer sheet to Ranjit who took it and started copying whatever Shantanu had written.
"What is this? What are you doing with two answer sheets?"
Ranjit looked up. It was Mr. Sharma. His eyes had narrowed to pencil points.
"Sir...Sir, Shantanu gave me his answer sheet and asked me to write on it," Ranjit lied.
"What? S..Sir this fellow is lying. He begged me for the answer sheet. He told me if I didn't help him he would fail," Shantanu said.
"Sir, it is not I but Shantanu who is lying. Everybody knows he is not good in Hindi. And you can ask my father Sir, in my previous school I always used to get the highest in Hindi," Ranjit said.
Mr.Sharma looked from one to the other.
"I'll take you to the Principal, let him decide."
"No, need of doing that Sir," a voice was heard, just across from where Ranjit was sitting.
Mr.Sharma turned back. It was Akash. He got up with a look of quiet determination on his face.
"What do you mean?"
"Sir from where I am sititing I can see and hear both Shantanu and Ranjit.
And I know exactly what happened," Shantanu looked at Akash. Seeing his grim face he was sure Akash would take revenge. He would pay him back for all the taunting and teasing he had done.
"Sir, I clearly heard Ranjit first requesting, then threatening and finally begging Shantanu for the paper."
"Sir, this fellow is lying to protect his friend," Ranjit cried.
"Shut up. Everyone knows Akash is one person who can be trusted. Now come with me you cheat," Mr. Sharma caught hold of Ranjit's hand and dragged him out of the class, leaving Kuldeep, the monitor in charge.
After the exam as Akash was quietly walking to the bus stand he heard his name being called. He turned back. It was Shantanu, hurrying towards him.
"Hey, Akash. Thanks a lot yaar. You saved me. The smooth way in which Ranjit was lying, I was sure no one would believe me." Akash smiled but did not say anything. There was an awkward pause. "Akash, yaar, I am really sorry. I behaved like a heel. I am a poor loser, but you, I must say, are a real winner,"
Shantanu said and the two friends hugged each other.