Our THE clerk
In every medical college, there is at least one THE clerk.
Almost unknown to Principals, Heads of Departments, and the rest of the non-medical world, this clerk manages and manipulates almost every “routine” aspect that keeps a medical college running: postings of medical students and interns in various clinical departments, issuing stipends to interns and paying patients for helping out during university exams, seeing to it that inspectors are happy with the paperworks, and most importantly, preparing marksheets of medical students from their internal exams and sending them to the University in time.
Some of THE clerks, if “motivated” in a way they fancy, will even get you any posting, signature or certificate. If THE clerk is daring enough, even a diploma certificate is gettable, without ever having to do the course. Seriously, yes!
Medical students and interns are the only breed that truly appreciate a THE clerk’s awesomeness.
This narrative is set in a little-known medical college in a dry and dusty, sparsely populated area in rural India. This college, too, had a THE clerk. Lets call him Slimy.
Slimy was a “localite”. He was 12th pass- perhaps the most qualified guy his village. In every part of rural India, being a “localite” gives huge leverage. It means you were born there, belong to that place. You are secure among members of your caste, religion, area, whatever. You know how to pull the strings. You perennially remind others that all the local politicians and their goons are your “brothers”. The brothers will do anything for you during election time, even though for the next five years, you may be as precious to them as a pesky pinworm.
Slimy had learnt the tricks of the trade over the years. His lack of “personality” in the conventional sense was never a barrier. Short statured, with his round build flaunting a proud beer belly; dressed in a way that made it clear that he didn’t consider personal hygiene worth a thought; and a mouthful of a deep red and gooey mash of tobacco with its typical stench. His pre-occupation with his piles were a running campus joke. With his somewhat pock-marked, constipated face flashing an all-weather sly grin, you intuitively knew he was one dirty, slippery fat pig.
Slimy was resentful of most medical students, since, he felt, if his father had a few crores to spare, he too could have become a doctor. His ultimate satisfaction usually came from bullying students of a certain “higher” caste and those who studied on merit seats. But to his credit, he was extremely efficient as far as keeping things moving was concerned. He knew his higher-ups’ ways of functioning well and was careful never to cross them wrong.
Our three medical students
Lets call our unlikely hero Aay.
There was nothing noteworthy about Aay. Quiet. Unremarkable physique and looks. Average height. Dark-skinned, yes. He was born a nerd and met his inevitable fate in a medical college.
He kept to his books and out of people’s way, including the girl he secretly had begun to like.
The girl- lets call her Moi– was junior to Aay by a year. She, too, kept a low profile, was very studious and was among the toppers of her batch. She was seeing a guy, though. He was the Bully from Aay’s batch.
Bully was well built by body and blunt by intellect. Impulsive, brash, and in his own words, a “go-getter” and a “doer”. His parents were both doctors with roaring practices. He had been doled out a merit seat in medical college due to reasons other than academic merit.
Campus gossip frequently explored the mystery of how the sensible and good-looking Moi could fall for someone like Bully. Strangely, they got along well. On occasions, Bully used to get her expensive flowers and cheap pre-printed love cards carrying mushy-mushy, passionate one-liners. They went out on dates in his flashy car. Moi seemed to love the attention.
Aay’s way of love
Aay never opened up with anyone. He made a few friends, but they only spoke of academics. His “image” as a nerd meant he was never invited to parties, or sports events.
For Aay, happiness lay in his books and the occasional thought of Moi. Once or twice he thought of talking to her in the library, but he dismissed the idea. He could just never do it.
Aay had once seen a bunch of love cards fall out of Moi’s books as she left the library. She didn’t realise it. He picked them up and went through a few of them.
The first one read, “For our bestest frandship” in attempted floral italic font. Down below, “Your sincerest admirer, Bully” was scribbled.
The next one, a much better looking card, read “I cherish each and every moment with you” in beautiful handwriting. It had no name or signature.
Aay realised that some cards were from Bully, and some were meant for Bully. He decided to keep them all. He felt guilty. But the ones from Moi would be his secret, and only treasure.
Once a week, in the privacy of his hostel room, his love-story would come to life. Moi and him were of the same caste, so there would have been no barriers to their marriage. With this thought he would start to gently go through her cards, and by the time he finished, he would be soaking in a harsh reality: she was already “booked”.
And each time, he would try to put an end to his little one-sided love story and try to get sleep.
A year later…
In his final year of studies, Aay’s grades in the internal exams dropped mysteriously. From high marks in the first two years, he was barely managing to get passing marks in internal exams now. Initially, he wondered, why.
He discovered the reason soon enough. It was common knowledge among the poor performers that one simply had to bribe Slimy- with money or liquor- and your marks would be “adjusted”. If you were of his caste, he would exempt you from the ritual. If you were of a particular religion which he despised, you could be in serious trouble.
In fact, the answer sheets of the internal exams were never checked by the teachers at all!
Slimy was the ultimate boss.
It irked Aay that wastrels who could hardly spell medical terms got top marks, while a few like him had to “compensate” by being failed to keep the averages believable in the eyes of the board; each year, one or two good students failed because they could not compensate for the low marks put by THE clerk in the internals during the final board exams. At the same time, most of the wastrels passed, since their internal marks were high and hence they had to score that much lesser in the boards.
Slimy was the prime culprit.
Aay still said nothing. He continued to slog and made up for his deficiencies in the internals during the final board exams.
Another year later…
Aay was in internship now. He was a quiet workhorse. Long hours of sitting slouched while reading and working had begun to hurt his back. He started applying Leopard Balm, a popular pain-relief ointment, to keep going. He loved its strong, pungent smell and the hot, piercing, almost scalding sensation it gave on application. It was good at making him forget about his ache, and allowed him to go on with his mundane life.
Side by side, unknown even to himself, Aay had developed good rapport with the professors by his sheer inability to offend anybody at all.
Once, Aay, along with a small group of interns including Bully, was observing a professor at work in the out-patient clinic. Slimy came to get the latest mark list of Moi’s batch signed by the Professor. Aay peeped into the list.
As expected, Moi was given borderline marks.
Aay decided to speak. He started tentatively.
“Sir, there seems to be some problem with the marks. This girl is a good student”. He pointed at her name in the list. “She has never scored below distinction before. But in this list she is barely passed. Err… could the papers be rechecked?”.
The surprised crowd looked at Aay and the professor. It was a bit difficult to believe that they were actually witnessing Aay take a potentially troublesome stand.
The professor looked at Aay and Slimy. He looked unsure of what to say. For years, he had never checked a paper. Slimy simply used to keep the marklist in front of him, and he simply used to sign.
“Slimy, what is this intern telling? Aren’t the marks fair?” The Professor looked at Slimy disinterestedly.
Bully, uncomfortable with the idea of gossip spreading of how Aay saved Moi, jumped into the fray for his share of spotlight. “Sir, he always does this. He takes bribes and puts marks. He also pockets half of our internship stipends, else we won’t get our posting completion certificates.”
Wham! Bam! Round one to Bully.
There was pin-drop silence. Slimy was red hot in the face and glared viciously at Bully. Any moment now, he would spray him with tobacco spit. Just last year Bully had bribed him to get passing marks, and now in return, for the sake of a girl, he had stripped him in public.
Fortunately, the professor spoke immediately. “Slimy, put the marks in fair order”.
“Sir, this time’s marks are already sent to the University. As you know, these marks are for the next exams. I’ll get back to you later.”
He didn’t give anyone a chance to respond. He immediately picked up the marksheets, turned over and walked away, leaving behind an embarrassed professor and a stunned crowd.
Jab. Round two to Slimy.
Bully and his small gang cornered Aay in a secluded corridor later that day. “Stay away from her. Don’t try to be a hero. Or else…”
To Bully’s disappointment, Aay seemed to have no inclination to put up a fight.
They let him go.
Shove! Round three to Bully.
Slimy was restless throughout the day. No one had questioned him all these years. Bully had recklessly exposed his modus operandi, seriously dented his income and shredded his “image”.
No one pricked him and got away. He would have to give it back.
The next day, Slimy went and sat opposite Bully in the crowded canteen. Several heads turned around to watch. Slimy wanted them to.
Bully straightened his posture defiantly. Slimy grinned menacingly. Coolly, he asked Bully, “Did you feel your ass burning when I put low marks for her? Control your passion, kid! What can you do anyway? Don’t be a hero, or else… ” He got up, leaned over the table and got his spit-filled mouth very close to Bully’s confused face, poked a fat finger into his chest, and unleashed a torrent of expletives and tobacco spray.
Bully tried to retaliate, but could not match Slimy for long and went silent.
Slimy assumed that Bully got the message, loud and clear. He exited the place with a proud swagger. After a minute, Bully gathered his wits and wiped his face clean.
For the next several weeks, all campus gossips unanimously agreed on one point- DON’T MESS WITH SLIMY.
Dhishoom! Round four to Slimy.
A few months later, on a good day…
Aay was nearing the completion of his internship. He was now posted in Surgery.
Today, Aay was on cloud nine. Moi’s student posting was also in Surgery. She would be attending a two-hour class on piles by the Professor of Surgery. Aay would get to see her for two full hours and drool.
When he reached the lecture hall, Aay’s joy was cut short a little. Slimy was there, too. It was well known that though he understood little of medicine, he listened to as many classes on piles as he could. The Professors used to keep samples of creams used to relieve piles in their cabinets, to be given to poor patients. Frequent disappearances of those creams were attributed to Slimy.
The class started. Aay was already lost in his own world, watching her from a distance.
The professor’s voice seemed to come on and off. “Today’s topic is hemorrhoides and we will look into the practical aspects of managing…”
The minutes passed. Aay was still lost, only disturbed by the Professor’s sudden rise in tone once in a while.
“This is a single-use tube of the cream. Obviously it means you throw it into the dustbin after it is used once”. The Professor was holding the tube up for the rapt class to see, his chest swelling with pride at his attempted joke. Some eager students nodded their heads understandingly. “The cream should be applied around the anus before defecation… to the tube one can attach the applicator, which is a thin, long, tapering nozzle as you see here. One can insert the applicator inside through the anus and squeeze the tube, so that the area as well as the insides are well lubricated…. reduces the strain during defecation, eases the discomfort, reduces chances of bleeding and… ”
Two hours passed. Aay was disappointed that the class got over too soon. He watched as Moi gracefully drifted out of the class.
Aay sat there for a few moments. He pitied himself for being incurably passive. He spent a few more minutes in thought, and rushed out of the room to get on with work.
A month later…
Aay was nearing the completion of his internship.
One day during lunch, the whole canteen was excitedly discussing a “hot” development. The tiff between Bully and Slimy had got out of hand. In order to teach him a lesson, Slimy had decided not to forward Bully’s posting completion certificates for signature from the Head of Department. An enraged Bully had barged into his office that morning. Those who witnessed the scene said Bully had started off with “humble” requests, but Slimy turned abusive first. Things quickly got out of hand with unmentionable expletives getting louder and louder from both sides. Then they grabbed each other’s collars. Bully managed to crash a punch into Slimy’s face. It was difficult to say whether he broke his jaw, because no one could say for sure whether it was blood or tobacco spit that spew out. The crowd managed to prise them apart with great difficulty. A stuporous Slimy was carried away to the casualty. He spent the rest of the morning screaming and cursing there.
Bully was now staring at serious disciplinary action. He would be suspended for at least a few months.
And things did move ahead for him on expected lines.
Ten years later…
Aay, Moi and their batch were forgotten in the college now. Bully’s name was legend though, for he had carried out the wish of a large number of medical students a decade ago, and how!
Right now, they were all leading their lives happily, busy in their own practices, with their children and spouses.
Aay had a routine day at work today. Tonight he would be taking his family out for a special dinner. It would be ten years to this day today since that historic showdown between Bully and Slimy happened. He rocked back in his chair. His thoughts flew back to the day things changed for each of them.
Immediately after that class in Surgery, Aay had spent a few moments in deep thought. On an impulse, he got up and rushed. To the Professor’s office. It would be empty now, since the Professor would be in the operation theatre.
When Aay reached, the office door was slightly open. Through the crack, he saw Slimy hurriedly scavenging through the stock of creams that were in the Professor’s glass cabinet. In a few seconds, he found a small carton with “piles” printed on it. Spotting that word was enough for him, for that word was all that he understood and mattered to him. He emptied the carton. There was a tube of cream and an applicator. He re-checked the contents, the word “piles” on the tube as well as the carton, put the tube and the applicator into his pocket, the empty carton into the dustbin, and hurriedly out of the room, oblivious to Aay’s presence in the corridor.
Aay got into the room immediately. He walked to the cabinet. It was not locked. Good. He opened it and easily found another set of the same cream that Slimy had just stolen. He smiled. The plan was on.
Aay took the tube back to his room. He would have to wait till the weekend for privacy.
The next Sunday afternoon, things were calm.
Aay took out the tube and got into a washroom. He carefully emptied its contents into the closet, careful not to crumple the tube. He came back to his room, took out a brand new jar of Leopard balm, and kept it in a tumbler of warm water to liquefy it a bit. After a short wait, he filled a 20 cc syringe with the semi-liquid balm. He then carefully put the syringe to the nozzle of the tube, and pushed gently. When the tube was refilled, it looked almost like new. No one would suspect a thing. He prayed Slimy wasn’t smart enough to notice the tampering.
The next day, when Slimy was out of office, Aay went in, took out the tube, rubbed it all over with a cloth to erase fingerprints (just in case), and placed it in his drawer, along with the applicator, on top of all the files and papers.
For the first time in his life, Aay would discreetly keep his ears open for campus gossip, for any related news.
The next week, news spread that Slimy had taken three days off, sick. When he rejoined, his face was puffy. His eyes were red and he looked really, really worried. Scared, rather. It looked as if he had been crying through hell. He walked and sat awkwardly with a bit of discomfort, leaving no one in the campus in doubt as to where and how deep his problem lay. It was clear that this time it was something very serious and unusual. But only Slimy would know what really happened.
The next afternoon, Aay sneaked into his office once again. From his pocket, he took out one of Bully’s cheap love cards to Moi. He placed it on Slimy’s table and walked out.
When Slimy entered his office after a while, what he saw on his table threw him into a fit of uncontrollable rage. His scream was reflexive.
It was a card with a message in floral italics:
Is this how the burning fire of passion feels?”
It was signed:
Same with me here,
Slimy did everything he could to “teach Bully a lesson”. He refused to get his completion certificate signed citing one reason or another.
Finally Bully lost patience and confronted Slimy directly in his office. When Slimy accused Bully of having made his life hell, Bully refused to be held responsible. Slimy then took out Bully’s love card and demanded that he admit his crime. A stunned Bully refused. Things worsened. Expletives. Fisticuffs. The punch. The crowd separating them. In the melee, Bully managed to wrest out the card from Slimy’s clenched fist.
Bully was not bothered about the action that would be taken on him by the college authorities. After all, he was from an influential family, of a particularly advantageous caste, and rich. There was a good chance that he could get away with only minor scratches.
But first, he had to see Moi.
Moi was shocked at Bully’s behaviour. She never imagined he would be so aggressive and physical. He demanded to know what she had done to Slimy, to him, and why she had done so. She, too, refused to be held responsible for the mess. Driven by disbelief and blind rage, Bully hit her and left her to cry for a week.
Bully and Moi broke off the following week. They went their separate ways in life.
The dust settled over the next few months. Over the next few years, they would all get married to people their parents chose for them. Moi would go on to specialise in Family Medicine (what she called “a beautiful specialty for beautiful people”), Bully would be a Hospital administrator, and Aay would specialise in Radiology.
It was heard that Slimy was very careful while making students’ marksheets for internal exams for the next couple of years. Once convinced that there was no one to challenge his actions among the next generation of students, he eased into his filthy old ways.
The present moment
It was dinner time in the resort that Aay had promised to take his family to. He was relaxing in a cozily cushioned cane chair. A few feet away, his wife was playing ball with their beautiful daughters, now aged 7 and 4. It made him feel so happy to see them.
The waiter came to take the order.
“I’ll start off with a soup”, said Aay. “Some French fries for the kids”. He raised his voice and called out to his wife, “And what would you like to order, Moi?”
Final Round: Aay wins by knock-out.
“The story of a slime”