Sunday, September 11, 2016

Integrity (Micro fiction 2)

 Anureet caught herself listening to her guest’s monologue a bit dispassionately, “Mrs Gill, what did you do to get your son into a university like Princeton? It has been my daughter’s dream for the longest time. I know I would be imposing on your time but if you could help with the essays and the LORs, you will know just the right words, your vocabulary is so good.”

An inexplicable silence mushroomed in the predominantly white living room. The guest waited for a response, just like a devotee expecting a revelation. Anureet drew circles in the thick Persian rug with her pepper pearl toe nail. Seconds dragged and the anxious mother resumed, “Her school has agreed to co-operate fully. They told us to draft the letters of recommendation and the teachers will sign them. My daughter’s extracurricular accomplishments are virtually non-existent; she has been a bit of a nerd. How do you suggest we make up for it? I can get some certificates issued, what do you think?”

Straightening up with a deep breath, Anureet began in a deliberate tone, “Most of my family was against sending Rohan for under graduation abroad. In retrospect now, they may have been right. An emotional distancing happens, kind of willy-nilly; you miss out on major chunks of each other’s lives.” It was clear that the fired up parent would not be dissuaded off her track, “But what about the financial aid application Mrs Gill? Did you submit accurate and authentic papers?! I am paying some fifty thousand rupees to have professional admissions counsellor dress up her application, the acceptance rate is so scary.”

“You know, we send our children so far away from home, all by themselves in an unfamiliar culture, there are challenges we should think of and prepare them for,” Anureet made another attempt. “But Mrs Gill, what is there in our country worth staying on for, there is so much favouritism, corruption and unprofessionalism, at least out there, it is her merit that will get her places.”

“Take some time, give it more thought,” Anureet’s note of caution
was promptly dismissed with, “Is there any way we can correspond with Rohan? Get a first-hand sense, you know. My husband will have some questions, the entire family, extended included is involved in this admissions project.”
Anureet had to smile. It took her back to her days of sweating over FedEx packets and the cumbersome labels. The whiteboard over Rohan’s study table used to be plastered with document lists and deadlines. Graded analytical essay, senior secondary forms, teacher evaluations, transcripts, art portfolio, TOEFL and SAT exams, it was all a breathless whirl, followed by that interminable wait to hear back.

“How does Rohan like it there? He must be really making the most of an Ivy League education. Lucky you to be such a proud parent,” Anureet’s visitor began gathering her folders to back out of the room towards the front gate. The hostess followed, coughing and clearing her throat to get out some more advice but in vain, the caller’s rosy spectacles were firmly in place. In the still dread that ensued, Anureet pulled out the orange and black envelope from under the mantel for the sixth time. It was from the Academic Integrity Office of the university, informing that Rohan had been found guilty of plagiarism. He was being suspended from Princeton for one year, with censure having been added to his punishment for being dishonest with them. There would be a note on his transcript saying as much.

“Mum, Mum…hello, are you there?” Anureet jumped at the sound of his disembodied voice emanating from her face down Galaxy Tab. She fumbled the gadget open, heart heavy with grief. There he was, the pride of their family, reduced to tears. “I am sorry Mum, I know what all has gone into my coming here. We have this Honor Code we sign during our orientation. I believe I have indulged in “unpermitted collaboration”. I have breached the culture of academic integrity here.”
“But how, what happened,” his mother spluttered, “You are telling us now!”

Rohan’s voice dipped and climbed, “Mum, a friend told on me. We are morally obliged to report perceived unfairness. The exams here are not proctored.  I told them that in India, students score more for reproducing verbatim from notes and books rather than paraphrasing. But they say ignorance is no excuse! What would you call my superhuman admissions effort if not collaborative Mum? I am sorry but I am coming home for the remainder of this term and the next year!”

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Meltdown (Micro fiction 2)

Kira’s mind was abuzz. She had fixed a flag on the course with her gaze and was directing a silent monologue at it, “Have you ever been on the inside of a golf tournament? Behind the order and the fluttering flags and those neatly made up quote panels you see, there is a world of inner turbulence. Golfing minds are beset with the inherent imperfection of the game. No matter how competent and skilled a player is, the winds and the turf make for fickle friends. The ball has a mind of its own. Mistakes are inevitable and outcomes unpredictable.

“I must not lose myself in the woods or the pits today!” Kira’s mental chatter got acuter. Matches against strangers gave her the cold sweats, particularly when she played as a defending champion. She tried to distract her nasty self-talk by calling out to her caddie, “Nassir! Have you cleaned my bag and marked all the balls? Keep track of the score card alright; there was also some mix up last time with the yardage calculation and yes, we will use my pink ball on the greens.”  She thus extended her anxious shroud as she fought the onslaught of other people’s natty golf clothes, branded kits, their formidable handicaps, tales of the hundreds of balls they hit in practice and their impressive tournament experience.  “Dear sweet God, let me not make a fool of myself today!” went her silent prayer as the others stretched, hydrated and practice swung their drivers in the air around her.

Asked, Kira would be hard put to answer why she was there in the first place. Initiated into the sport by her parents, she liked it well enough; it was the patronizing magnanimity shown her gender and the lack of quality training that chafed. Of the only other woman she knew to be a champion, she had heard the gentlemen say, “But she plays off the ladies tees!”

“I hope I don’t mess up my fairway woods today. My drive has too
big a slice. If I end up missing any of those stupid two foot putts, I’m done!” Kira’s fidgety fingers flew over her T-shirt, patting her shoulder blades and the back, “Oh thank god! I am wearing my sports bra. My tatas get in the way of the swing, can do without all that bouncing and jouncing.”

Neil, her husband, was approaching her from the practice bay, “Just enjoy the game Kira. You look tense, decompress a bit. One shot at a time, remember. There is no making up in golf!” She nodded absently, almost dismissing the counsel, “Will you be following me?” She wanted to tell him that his body beamed the quality of her shots and that amplified her fear and frustration.

Something was amiss today. Kira’s emotions were stealing up, almost taking over. She walked towards the washrooms, conscious of jittery limbs and a humming pinball in the stomach. “It is only a game,” she whispered to herself, “nerves are good, they are priming, I am ready to go.”  Fielding myriad thoughts, she stepped into the shaded confines of the Golf Cottage. She was reaching out for the towel when a stabbing pain lit up her chest. Her throat closed and she hunkered down slowly, breathless and shivering. Dabbing at the sweat welling on her face and neck, she pulled out her phone and dialled Neil’s number.

Having materialized besides her in a jiffy, Neil took complete charge. Soon enough she could hear her sports doctor on the phone loudspeaker, he was responding to Neil’s description of her symptoms, “You are looking at a full blown panic attack. Don’t worry; she is healthy and quite safe. Her perfectionist attitude and competitive spirit have precipitated this crisis. She must have stood there, reviewing her worst moments of play. Bad strategy! Give her fifteen minutes.”

Kira lay down on the couch, taking deep breaths. “I want to WD!”

“Withdraw?!” the doctor cheeped. “Now listen to me. You have the cognitive wherewithal you need right now. Remember the two seconds rule, no more than that on bad shots then turn to your mental pre-shot routine.”

Kira pulled together her floundering muscles and straightened up at the memory of her coach’s words, “There is no other way. You play through misfortunes. That is the essence of golf!”