Above Average: extract

Bagga, and his constant companion Karun, were identically thin and wiry. Their long, sculpted faces always seemed to gleam with a mischievous hunger. They would sit at the back of the class, their pens at alert, their heads cocked, like predators hunting for fundas. Every so often they would swoop on their notebooks and scribble something, then jerk back up, their thirst only partly slaked. I went up to them one day after class. The pretext was that I wanted to look at their notes, but the fact was that in that section they seemed to be the two guys having the most fun. ‘Hi,’ I began. ‘I am Arindam.’ Bagga was fumbling inside his bag for something. He looked up. ‘So?’ I was nonplussed. Karun burst out into laughter. ‘Umm, I just wanted to take a look at your notes for the mechanics class. I think I missed one or two things.’ ‘Why should I give you my notes?’ asked Bagga. ‘What have you given me?’ Karun sniggered. ‘Uh, okay, sorry,’ I said and turned to leave. ‘Wait, wait, yaar,’ said Bagga. ‘We’re just joking. Here, take the notes.’ While he retrieved the notes, Karun introduced himself and Bagga. He asked me what school I was from and told me what school they were from. Then, as we walked towards the bus stop, the real questions began. ‘So, which book do you use for maths?’ ‘M L Khanna,’ I said, feeling a little unsure of myself. ‘Waste of time,’ said Bagga as Karun nodded wisely. ‘Bring it to me, I’ll mark out the important questions. Just do those.’ ‘Have you done Loney?’ asked Karun. ‘The trigo Loney?’ ‘No, the physics one,’ said Bagga in the sarcastic tone I was to hear often in the coming months and exploded with laughter, slapping palms with Karun. ‘I thought that was only for class ten,’ I said. A mock sad expression came over Bagga’s face. He looked at Karun. ‘We’ll have to look after him,’ he said. ‘He needs it,’ Karun replied. Then Bagga turned to me. ‘The last few chapters are advanced. All the really hard trigonometric identities in JEE come from Loney. If you’ve done Loney then ten per cent of maths is yours.’ ‘Do you know how much difference ten per cent can make?’ asked Karun. I shook my head. ‘Ten per cent,’ said Bagga, ‘can be the difference between computer science in Kanpur and electrical in Bombay.’ ‘Or mechanical in Kharagpur and metallurgy in BHU,’ said Karun. ‘Have you taken Brilliants?’ asked Bagga. ‘No, I was thinking of taking Agrawals next year.’ ‘Good,’ said Bagga. ‘Brilliants sends too much material. Agrawal is concise and good. Just make sure you get hold of Brilliants’ YG File.’ ‘YG File?’ ‘Young Genius File,’ said Karun. ‘Just problems. Best problems.’ ‘How will I get that if I don’t take Brilliants?’ We were at the Max Muller Marg crossing now. I realized that they had been walking me away from my bus stop all this time. Karun ran up to a car standing at the light. ‘Faridabad,’ he said, yanking at the passenger side door. The man waved him in. ‘Bagga!’ Karun shouted. The light changed to green. Bagga ran to the car, a scooter missing him narrowly. ‘But how will I get YG File?’ I yelled to them, feeling bulldozed by the conversation, my first intimation of what a massive task getting into IIT was. The car had crossed the traffic light and was speeding away down Lodi road towards Nizamuddin when Bagga stuck his head out the window, turned back towards me and shouted one word. ‘Photocopy!’