The Other Shubham.
Raindrops from my leaking roof startled me out of my nightmare. I dreamt that all students with a quota for admission in an IIT were lined up and shot in the head, in alphabetical order of their names. I was about to be shot, by a Sahib in a suit with thirteen gold rings and thirty-seven platinum chains, with a gun made out of diamonds that shot normal bullets. "What a shame", I remember thinking in my dream, "if only the bullets were made of something precious, at least I'd die rich", before I woke up with cold water droplets on my head, wondering how in the name of God do the poor deserve broken roofs and smelly homes filled with three thousand farts even in heaven.
It is 6 am. It is also Result Day. I make tea for my father, who has to go to work, and I think of what this day might hold for me. The thought of passing with enough marks to make it to an IIT excites me and scares me. I'll probably get in on a quota, in which case, if I tell anyone I have a quota, I will be socially exiled, bullied, beaten up or killed, or all of the above. But, at least I'll have a fair shot at a good life. I want to worry about the money, but as I serve my dad his morning tea, he tells me not to, without me asking or saying anything, to begin with. "Shubham," he told me kindly, "if you get in, and I'm sure you will because no one knows you better than your mother and I do, please don't worry about the money or any other such immaterial thing. Do not let anything stand in between the celebrations today. Eat all the Maggi you want. Go meet your girlfriend that I'm almost sure you have. Pray to God and be grateful. And even if you do not make it, beta, your mother and I will stand by your side and do the best we can for you with whatever resources we have. Okay?"
"Yes Papaji", I replied, "oh, and I absolutely do not have a girlfriend," I quickly added. My father laughed as he left for work. I couldn't help but smile too. I would rather die than disappoint him, but he just makes it so difficult for my sister and I to do just that specific thing.
My dad drives the local buses in the city. My mother is a domestic helper. My sister, who is a year younger than I am, works part-time at a beauty salon. My house was only another roof-leak short of a jhuggi. My parents couldn't afford to send me to a coaching class for engineering entrance exams, let alone hire a tutor. Whatever I've studied for the past two years, I've learned on my own from borrowed books, borrowed time (from my friends at school who could afford fancy classes), or from borrowed attention from the tutor of a child of some lady whose house my mother cleaned everyday, who also later banished both my mother and I from her home after my mother spilled hot tea on her brand new silk sari by mistake.
I suspect it was because I outsmarted her kid that one time. Not to sound ungrateful, but that lady is a clown.
My family stood by me when I needed support the most. They've always done the best that they could. It would be a shame if today, it turned out that somehow I couldn't.
If I fail, I may die a little more than I've been dying every day already because I've only ever lived fully in my dreams, in my ambitions. I do not want to lose what may be my only chance at living fully in reality. I can't afford it.
Yes, I am afraid of failure.
But aside from the fears that no one can see and that no one but my sister knows of, I have absolutely nothing to lose. But even if those fears come true, I feel like my family would give me strength.
I walk to a cyber café to view my result. I score 90 percentile. The ST quota cut-off is 70 percentile.
Everybody doubts if they'll make it to the IITs. AND I WILL. I PASSED.
Shubham Sharma did it!
My heart leaps out of my chest as I wonder for a second, "Am I actually in heaven?". My face and my hands become warm in a way I didn't know they could. The cyber café guy congratulates me. Everyone else in the little shop follows his lead and some people pat me on the back. I walk out of there and head straight to a shop with the money my mother gave me for sweets when I left. When I protested her overconfidence, She said, "Beta Shubham, whether you pass or fail, get sweets. You deserve to be happy today."
As I walked home, I realize I am breathing with more ease than I had in the past two years. I finally have a chance to access the resources that will make my dreams come true. I think to myself, "I have my chance to fully live now! I can make it!"
I am very grateful to God. I am very grateful to my parents. Yes, I am nervous but I won't let other people's doubts, their prejudice or their highly probable bullying hold me back, just like I didn't let my self-doubt hold me back.
I have faith in my abilities.
But this story isn't about that.
It's about justice.
It's about the need for equity, not blind equality.