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 cautionwas 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!”