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The Vermilion Boat

By Sudhin N. Ghose

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When I called on Profulla Babu I found him surrounded by a number of my acquaintances. Daoud Benisraeli was among them, and was their spokesman: he had presented Profulla Babu with a teaser.

Ben was complaining about the stupidity of the university authorities.

At an examination several scores of answer papers were found to have been written by one and the same hand! The examiners were upset: they consulted the Comptroller of Examinations and the Registrar, then the Principals, the members of the Senate and the Syndicate, the Deans and the Vice-Chancellor; they were all greatly perturbed. Physically it was impossible for one student to write out several hundred sheets of paper in the course of three hours. Moreover, the standard of answers in different sheets varied considerably. The feat was possible only for a prodigy. Some professional forgers who were serving their terms in the Presidency Jail and the Alipore Penitentiary were unofficially consulted by the authorities. According to them, reams of white sheets bearing the water-mark of the University must have been smuggled out and many weeks before the examination time a calligraphist must have sat down to the task of writing out varied answers to the questions set by the examiners. The candidates were naturally accused of bringing with them the answer sheets written by the remarkable penman.

The matter was serious. Much more serious than pummelling a professor. Far graver than the open sale of forged question-papers a fortnight before the examinations in College Square.

These question-papers were hawked right in front of our Senate House. ‘Get ready for your finals and intermediates,’ the pedlars barked. ‘Question-papers for sale! The very questions you will be asked to answer! B.A. question-papers for ten rupees a set! B.Sc. papers for fifteen rupees! M.B. papers for twenty rupees! Money refunded if not satisfied.’

These hawkers were not ordinary hawkers who could be just told off by the hall porters of the Senate House. Chumchicke Adhikari was among them, and he was their protector. His protégés were all furnished with regular licence, number plates, accident insurance policies, and other paraphernalia.

The Comptroller of Examinations tore his hair and telephoned the police, and the police authorities rang back that they could do nothing about it. They themselves were helpless: a judge’s writ had to be issued before those licensed hawkers could be dispersed. How could a police magistrate issue a writ without some adequate proof of law-breaking or the intention of law-breaking? What proof was there that the question-papers of the hawkers had been stolen from the office of the Comptroller of Examinations?

Chumchicke Adhikari had his laugh. ‘Results of forthcoming horseraces are hawked about openly,’ he chuckled. ‘Old Moore’s Almanacks and Gupta Press Panjika tell you what the stars foretell for the coming twelvemonth. What is wrong about making forecasts of coming examinations? Let all the sets be sold at the uniform rate of five rupees. We have the law on our side. Let us see what the university authorities do.’

The authorities did nothing—at least, nothing spectacular. They began printing an entirely new set of questions.

Activities outside the Senate House did not concern them. But the answer papers did: scores of them written by the same hand! They set up a commission.
‘What do you say to all this?’ asked Daoud Benisraeli with a grave face. ‘We have been accused of cheating at the examination.’
‘This means rustication,’ Bijan Mandel theatrically groaned, ‘if it can be proved.’

‘Meanwhile,’ murmured Gopal Sarma, wearing an equally serious expression, ‘the results of our examinations are held up. No one knows when the commission will start its enquiry.’

‘Much good will it do,’ Profulla Babu growled, ‘to collect the opinions of a confounded band of pettifogging bum bailiffs. If you want to spare them bother you should write to the Vice-Chancellor and tell him the truth.’

We looked at each other.

‘You have been copying Tagore’s handwriting,’ Profulla Babu went on without bothering to scan our surprised faces. ‘That’s the long and short of it. He writes a bold hand. I commend your latest fad. Tagore is worth emulating.’

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