A bag weighing almost 13 kg in his right hand, a blue bag pack hanging on his back, and with an exuberant smile on his face Raj was back at what he called his second home. A new year, a new semester, new hopes and numerous exciting events were unfolding layer by layer inside Raj’s mind. He stood in front of his hostel, with the same smile, staring at a board which was dully lit with white lights making the letters on it read HOSTEL 8.
The evening was cold but this start of a new semester brought a comforting warmth with it. He had realized, not as a part of his new year resolution but to be a better person, that the ups and downs of the previous year had taught him how to be a stable person and he would implement them. But the new year was no one but the same old devil with a new mask. It had some crazy plans sketched beforehand for Raj and with the first ray of sun, Raj would feel the heat increasing beyond his bearing.
Paperwork was the thing Raj had hated the most other than his own birthday, but it was inevitable. Only paying fees weren’t enough here. One needed to go through a messed up process and bury oneself under humongous paperwork just to mark your existence and confirm it. Raj was about to get himself a real squashed up treat on the second day of a whole new and ‘bright’ year.
The dried leaves crisped and crackled as he stepped upon them. Morning breeze blushed through the newly sprouted leaves. To avoid the crowd and long lines Raj had decided to be the first person to enter the bank as soon as its shutter went up. He was right. He was the first person standing in front of the closed shutter which still was 15 minutes away from rising. In the meantime, Raj basked himself under the mild sun.
A man with long hair, split in half through the nose-line, unlocked the shutter sharp at 10. He had a dark complexion and was wearing a black full-bordered frame spectacles. He entered the bank and waved outside signaling to wait five more minutes. In the past 15 minutes, the alley was filled with almost a couple of dozen people. Apparently, Raj was not the only one with the unique idea. His idea was unique, just like everyone else.
He noticed a girl with small but shiny almond eyes and straight hair, a guy with his face covered in freckles hiding under his trimmed beard, a girl with a chubby face and lively smile standing among the crowd waiting anxiously to get over the first step of registration.
After another signal from the guy with half-split hair, the crowd rushed towards the door like a flock of pigeons crowding on a hand full of grains. The war for identity had begun. The very first step in the registration procedure required to fill in two forms with almost similar details and one small change, the amount. One form was to confirm the semester fee- 12350/- and the other one for mess charges-13500/-.
Raj, although being the first, stuffed in the crowd succeeded to acquire both the forms and come out of it safely. He sighed a relief as he thought himself to be one of the lucky people to get hold of the forms during the early hours as they were usually the leftovers from the previous day and new forms would take time to arrive.
Without wasting one more second Raj started filling up the form in the most traditional manner – horizontally. For the myth was this way it takes comparatively less time to fill in the complete form. Raj was third in the row to submit the forms and confirm the payment. Before him was the guy wearing a black sports jacket and spiked hair and the luckiest guy standing first in the long-misshaped line was a boy with wide face with little pimples on it.
A couple of moments later a pregnant woman took a seat across the table. She had a long face, dark brown eyes with its borders sketched with a black mascara, and a lipstick with a slightly darker shade of pink masked on her curvy lips.
Her periodic sighs made Raj believe that this was not a pleasant morning for her. Despite her maybe-bad mood, she was working like a younger sister of a supercomputer. Ten minutes later Raj, with his blurred thoughts, was facing the woman. The woman, without looking away from the computer screen, raised her palm and gestured to hand over the receipts. He did the same.
The moment when Raj heard the tapping of keys everything and everyone else in that room, except the tapping, went mute. With every digit that was entered his heartbeats raised twice the previous rate. He could hear his heavy breath and the big lump of saliva which he gulped out of nervousness. His physical condition was almost similar to one’s condition before a physics viva. In this technological and crowded era, where to be the first one could kill the other, a slight mistake or misplacement would increase the chances of been thrown out of the war by thousand folds. And everyone, except the pregnant lady, was haunted by this thought.
A few taps later the woman confirmed one payment and handed over the student-copy of the receipt to Raj. He received it like a medal of victory. He was just one step away to get out of this war-zone and one step closer to enter the next zone. His nervousness faded away and with a smile as wide as a crescent moon he waited to receive the second confirmation receipt. His eyes reflected brightly. He looked back towards the long misshaped line behind him and with a smirk whispered,
While Raj was busy pre-celebrating his victory with his dramatic mischief the woman was done with the second receipt. She handed over the original copy and said in a robotic manner,
‘We haven’t received your semester payment. It’s not showing here in the system. Please check with the bank from where this payment was initiated. N E X T’
Raj was dumbfounded. The woman’s words hit him like a meteor hitting a small planet. Just a few seconds ago he was one step away from getting out of here. Now he realized he was thrown miles away from where he had to come all the way walking to the same place and start over again.
He looked back at the line with saddened eyes and jealous heart. His pride had backfired upon him. He could hear hollow echoes drumming into his head,
‘Who’s the loser now?.. ’, the whispers became more terrifying
‘Y O U A R E T H E L O S E R….’, Raj grabbed the receipts from the woman’s hand and clasped them tightly. And like a failed warrior he walked out of the room. Not for a single second did he dare to look around into the eyes of the people standing back of the line, not even once did he ask the woman to recheck. He accepted the fact that he had failed halfway through his mission.
As he stepped out of the room the mild heat now pierced like sharp needles into his body. He had no other option but to walk all those miles and come back. He felt his feet buried three feet more under the heap of paperwork. With an exasperation blow, he picked up his phone and called his father.
His father received the call almost at the last ring. Raj’s anxiety had reached at the highest possible point until then. Words sputtered out of his mouth like flood water escaping after busting a dam.
‘They say they haven’t received the semester payment. How is it possible? Didn’t the bank initiate the transaction? What should I do?’, his lips trembled as he spoke.
‘Calm down Raj. What’s wrong? Tell me. Calmly’, replied his father.
‘The woman here says that their is no information regarding my semester fee payment. I think they didn’t receive it. I think the bank from which we paid did not initiate the payment at all. You have to go and check right now!’
‘Ok Ok. Don’t worry. I’ll go and sort this out. I’ll call you’
Raj took a deep breath and thought what he can do in the meantime.
The next step, independent of the bank-war-zone, was to fight in the colored-receipts-zone. This was the zone where every student, regardless of confirming the mess payment, had to double confirm it and acquire three different receipts. To make things a little interesting administration had introduced three different color receipts which apparently made the whole scenario astonishingly colorful as a rainbow.
Raj marched towards the colored-receipt-zone with a pale face where another adventure was waiting anxiously for him.
Standing in long queues had become an essential part of daily routine in every Indian’s life after the November currency apocalypse.
Raj had already entered the colored-receipts-zone and just when he was about to enter into the office his phone rang.
‘Yes dad’, he answered.
What he heard next shook the ground beneath his feet and he felt himself drowning two more feet into the heap of paperwork.
‘I checked with the bank here. They say payment has been initiated and your bank has already received the payment. There’s definitely something wrong with the bank or that woman’, replied his father.
Raj felt like standing on a tiny piece of land surrounded by deep waters. He had to rush to the bank and sort the fees problem but he also was the next person to enter the office and double confirm the mess payment. Time, for the first time, ran like a horse in a race. He could hear the tick-tick of the watch, scribbling of the tip of a pen over the colored forms and chatter of the crowd. He had the decision to make and he had to make it right now. But just then……..
T O B E C O N T I N U E D . . . .