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Gautam Bisht

Choose the odd one that does not belong to the group:

(A) BCDE          (B) JKLM            (C) STUV           (D) WXYZ

Half a mark was to be deducted from the final score for every wrong answer. Everyone in the examination hall avoided answering if they were even a little unsure. Under pressure, some of them even forgot what they had practiced all through the year. But Viksa found the questions easy and just 15 minutes into the exam he was almost halfway. 

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Astha Upadhyay

Ram is half the age of his father. 20 years ago, the age of his father was 6 times the age of Ram. What is the current age of Ram?

(A) 25         (B) 27          (C) 21        (D) 24

Viksa was 32. Everyone had been waiting for many years for him to become the man of the house. His father had wasted much of his life being a sidekick to the sidekick of a local politician and now squandered much of his day in a local tea stall engaging in political debates.

His mother was the only person who had a source of income. She was a government health worker and was expected to visit the villages in her block to check the health status of women and children. But like most other health workers, who were poorly paid and were preoccupied with their own household, she would hardly go to these villages. However, to maintain the adequate work record, she gave a part of her meager salary to the senior officer.

Under Hindu law, marriage is a

(A) Sacrament         (B) Contract          (C) Both A and B         (D) None of these

His younger sister was 21 and relatives would send pictures of eligible men for her. The family would go over them at dinner. These pictures would be accompanied by a large sum of money that the groom expected as dowry. Eventually the room would be filled with despair. “If only you had some work.” Viksa’s mother would say to him. To avoid such conversations, he would often skip dinner and go home when everyone had slept.  

Over the years, Viksa had taken up several low paying odd jobs, but he would end up leaving them soon after. Oftentimes, he fought with his managers or complained about the working conditions. His few well-wishers warned him of his attitude, feeling it was too rude of Viksa to be expecting respect in addition to a wage.

Slumdog millionaire won the Oscars award in which year?

(A) 2008          (B) 2009          (C) 2010         (D) 2011

Even though Viksa was a man of low repute, many people in the community turned to him in times of crisis. If a snake would show up in someone’s house, Viksa would be called. If someone needed to be taken to a hospital in the middle of the night, Viksa would accompany them. If someone needed to move their house, Viksa would be the one packing their stuff. He was always available for other people. Sometimes, he blamed his inability to be selfish as the biggest cause for his lack of success. He felt that people who had the ability to manipulate others did well in life. 

“Don’t be fooled by all the poverty you see around…there is lots of money here… and this money is always moving Viksa…you just have to get in its way.” Lallan, Viksa’s childhood friend, would tell him in a state of inebriated profoundness.

Lallan worked closely with Block officers in rolling out development schemes for poor farmers. He had offered Viksa some work several times, where he was supposed to generate a list of fake beneficiaries. That list would be used to release funds under a work guarantee scheme run by the government. Even though Viksa was in dire need, he never took up such work, more out of his fear of getting caught and perhaps a little out of his sense of morality.

When two equal and opposite forces are acting on a body, the net force acting on a body becomes?

(A) Two times          (B) Three times          (C) Zero        (D) Four Times

But not everyone could afford to interpret Viksa’s reluctance generously. When Roshni, his girlfriend, told him that her father was planning to get her married to someone with a job in the Railways, she thought Viksa would consider eloping with her. But Viksa felt he could not leave behind the responsibilities of his house.

“I really love you, but given our circumstances, I think it would be best for you to marry him,” Viksa said, heartbroken.  

Eventually, Roshni did heed to Viksa’s advice, but not without her own last words for him.

“How easy is to act noble, when you are simply incapable!”      


Unemployed and deeply affected by Roshni’s last words, Viksa sat all day in a defunct government grain storage, smoking ganja with his friends and watching his favorite category of YouTube videos—motivational porn. Sometimes he would get so motivated that he would break his chillum and would pledge to get his life in order. But in a couple of days, he would run into family conversations that would deal with his sister’s dowry, their unrepaired house, or the health condition of his mother that they were forced to ignore, which would upset him enough to push him back to- smoking and self-loathing.

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Astha Upadhyay

When a body moves on a circular path, the force that acts on the moving body towards the center is called:

 (A) simple force     (B) gravitational force    (C) centripetal force    (D) angular force

One day, as he was engaged in gossip and ganja at the grain storage, he found out that one of his old friends, Gulshan, had cleared the police constable exam. Everyone was discussing this news with great disbelief.

“The last I heard he was underground for selling alcohol illegally.”

“Yeah, he gave a bribe to get that cleared. After all, he had earned well from his dealings.” 

“Wasn’t his maternal uncle a traffic inspector? He may have used his jack for the job.”

While others were busy adjusting to their envy, Viksa zoned out. Memories of his school came back, where Gulshan would often ask for his help. This little recollection of his superiority over Gulshan propelled him to make one last attempt for an entry level railway job.

Two trains, one 152.5m long and the other 157.5m long coming from opposite directions crossed each other in 9.3 seconds, The combined speed of the trains would be: 

(A) 130km/hr          (B) 125km/hr            (C) 120km/hr         (D) 115km/hr

Viksa had been away from books for years, but he started skipping the ganja gatherings and secretly studied. 

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Astha Upadhyay

Before his exam, his mother took him to a local Baba she had great faith in. A few years ago, when Viksa fell deeply in love with Roshni, his mother was not happy with that relationship, as Roshni belonged to a lower caste.  She consulted Baba, who further warned her about the dark energy of Roshni. At the request of Viksa’s mother, Baba used his occult methods to split them and a few months later, Roshni got married to someone else. Baba’s powers in the eyes of Viksa’s mother multiplied, when one year after Roshni’s marriage, her husband died in a work-related accident.

When Viksa came to Baba before the exam, he made it clear that no matter how hard he tries, success would evade him due to the current alignment of his stars. 

“Your luck doesn't stay and sometimes you are the one who gives it away,” Baba said in a stern tone looking straight at Viksa. Viksa looked at Baba with guilty eyes.  

But Baba diagnosed problems that only he could solve.

“You need a brown cat’s urine; its first few drops of the day. Use this sacred cloth to collect it. 

Always have it with you, and you will conquer the world!”    

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Astha Upadhyay

Viksa did not have the luxury of skepticism. So, with that sacred cloth soaked in cat’s urine in his bag, he set out for a 350 km journey for his entrance exam. The station was filled with countless unemployed and ticketless young people. As he jostled with others to get onto the train, he almost lost his bag. 

In the ruthless heat of June, with no space to even stand, these men on the train hugged and kicked each other in solidarity and frustration over their fate. Those who would clear the exam would get a 12- hour a day shift and 20 kg of equipment to clean, repair, and maintain the railway tracks.   

              Which of the following is not a fundamental right under the Constitution of India?  

(A) Right to Education    (B) Right to work   (C) Right to Equality    (D) Right to Freedom

The exam entailed 100 such questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Viksa answered this last question even before half time and left the hall confident about his performance. After a long time, he felt a glimmer of hope.


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Astha Upadhyay

On his return, Viksa had to walk back home from the railway station, which was a stretch of 45 minutes. The road was infamous for drunk truck drivers and an unusual number of fatal accidents. From a distance you could faintly hear the beats of DJ Akash playing Lehariya Luta Ae Raja.  Viksa was hungry, tired, and somehow dragging himself back home. He took out his phone and started watching a video where a famous Youtuber animatedly explained how artificial intelligence would take away most of the current jobs. 

Amidst the dramatic music of the video, Viksa felt that he heard some footsteps, but ignored it. When the sound of the steps rapidly increased in speed and got uncomfortably close, Viksa panicked. He stopped walking and considered turning around. In that moment of indecision, he felt a strong jerk on his shoulders and almost fell. As he regained his balance, he saw the man that pushed him running hysterically and the jack of his earphones hanging in midair. He immediately realized that his phone was snatched. The moment he looked up, the other man who had pilfered his phone, now some 100 meters away, failed to dodge a pothole, tripped, and fell. 

Though this road had gone through several reconstructions, and many politicians had promised improved conditions, potholes were second nature to it. A truck passed by, and its honking brought Viksa back from the state of shock he was in. He could now hear the other man crying in pain, almost asking for his help. Viksa hesitantly walked towards him, fearing that he may have a weapon. The thief was holding his leg with one hand and Viksa’s phone with the other. The phone was playing a motivational video, where a man declared in an enthusiastic tone: “Falling down is an accident, staying down is a choice.”

As soon as Viksa spotted his phone, he immediately reached for it, paused the video, and checked for scratches. He was feeling a strange mix of fear and anger, but confrontation was something Viksa avoided. Though he quickly wanted to leave the place, he also did not want to run and give the impression that he was scared. So, he nonchalantly turned and started walking slowly.

“Aren’t you Viksa?” the other man said, looking around for one of his slippers that had fallen off. Viksa was taken aback by this call of recognition. The light was not sufficient to see his face clearly and the voice did not seem familiar. 

“Don’t you remember me?”

Of all the questions Viksa had answered that day, this one felt the most challenging. 

“I am Manjhay!”

Viksa still looked confused.

“You were in PYP college? Second year exams?” 

It slowly came back to Viksa. Manjhay worked at the local college, where Viksa was once a student. PYP was the only college in that region. Yet, it never conducted any classes. Instead, it would conduct exams and declare results somewhat whimsically, ensuring that students doing a 3-year course would receive their degrees in 5 to 6 years. 

Manjhay was an office boy, and he would run around and take menial orders from the college staff. In Viksa’s second-year exam, Viksa was caught cheating, and his answer sheet was taken away by a visiting invigilator. Even though Manjhay didn’t know Viksa personally, he managed to return Viksa’s sheet and gave him another chance.

A truck passed by, throwing sufficient light on their faces for them to see each other clearly for a brief moment.

With this recollection, Viksa was suddenly overtaken by a sense of obligation. As he helped Manjhay get up and move to the pavement, he could sense how out of shape Manjhay was for what he was up to. 

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Astha Upadhyay

As both of them sat under a flickering streetlight, Viksa started working on his Khaini. Unable to hold the awkward silence anymore, he blurted out: 

“Kya marde! What are you doing? You had a job!”

“I lost it”, Manjhay said, staring at the pothole. 

“Lah! What happened?”

Manjhay avoided looking at Viksa. He tilted his head upwards at 60 degrees and stared unblinkingly at a billboard of a telecom company that read “Life is Beautiful”. With his mouth slightly open, Manjhay had zoned out. Viksa nudged him on his shoulder to pass on the Khaini, which Manjhay gratefully accepted as he narrated his story.

A rivalry had broken out between a prominent college teacher and a senior administrator at Manjhay’s workplace. The teacher escalated the issue by blowing the whistle on the mismanagement of funds during the admission process. But corruption in the college was so participatory and inclusive that the administrator threatened to expose the whole chain. Eventually, when people from the senior management got involved, it was considered wise to settle the scam. But now that the case was out in the open, someone had to be made the scapegoat. Manjhay, a temporary employee, who had been urging the staff members to get a raise for several years, was the perfect candidate. Manjhay not only lost his job but went to prison for six months.

As Viksa listened to Manjhay’s story, he looked up at the hazy sky. The few stars he could spot looked pretty misaligned. So, when Manjhay was finally done telling each mundane detail that led him to this pothole, Viksa took out the sacred cloth from his bag and bandaged it across Manjhay’s wound.  Manjhay moaned a little, looked at him with moist eyes and said, “You are a good person, but it’s not a good time for good people.”

“I hope things work out for you or else you should practice some running,”  Viksa said as he got up to leave. 

“You know when they framed me, one of the charges they put on me was that I allowed students to cheat and took money in return…”

In the middle of his speech, Manjhay wrinkled his nose to figure out the foul smell, but then resumed.

“These are dark times, but there will be a new day, there will be light...”

As Manjhay went on, Viksa slowly walked away, a little confused and concerned. Manjhay’s words stuck in his head. Though he did not really know what they meant.

Next morning Viksa woke up early and went for a walk, like he used to, when he was younger. The sun was about to rise, and the birds were singing. The sensation of his feet hitting the ground was oddly satisfying. He found a small corner for himself and meditated for a while. When he opened his eyes, he felt a sense of calm within.

Walking back home, he saw a group of youngsters huddling together. A little intrigued, Viksa joined them. They were all glued to a phone watching the morning news program. The anchor had an announcement: The recently conducted Railway Group D examination has been declared null and void. The decision was taken because questions were leaked at one of the centers. The authorities are looking into that matter and express their regret for the inconvenience caused. 

Viksa slowly walked towards the grain storage.

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Astha Upadhyay

Gautam Bisht is a PhD student at Northwestern University in the School of Education and Social Policy. He also runs a nonprofit in India called Sinchan Education and Rural Entrepreneurship Foundation. He has written fiction, essays, and articles for The India Forum, Punch Magazine, Outlook, TheSmartSet, CafeDissensus, and the Flickside. He is interested in decolonial literacies and design based research.

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