A short story about winning (or not).
Vineet was an ordinary young man with one remarkable talent that came to the fore only in his late teens in college. It all started with an inter-collegiate festival.
His college and the hosting campus had a long-running feud and the annual festival was both, a new episode in the war as well as a chance for each batch to showcase its coming-of-age skills. When Anveeta, the cultural secretary had called for participants, he had been standing nearby, waiting for her to finish so he could leave the class. But she turned to him and snapped,
and his mind had gone on auto-pilot. Before he realized it, she had written it down and moved on to the next person. He didn’t even have time to tell her that he wasn’t into anything remotely cultural. Anyway, he wouldn’t have. Anveeta was not the kind of person one ever said no to. Not that she had ever asked him anything. Anveeta went with the power pack in college and he doubted that she’d recognize him on the road if they passed. Now that they had spoken, he realized that he would have agreed to anything she asked. Even though she had not really asked.
The festival had twenty-five events with about twelve colleges competing for the trophy. Each event awarded a point apiece for participation and more for clearing each level of the competition. The college with the highest total at the end of the festival would win the shining silver cup.
A bunch of 15-odd people were going to sing, dance, act, talk and strut down the stage for the various events. Vineet found himself herded in with the numbers to grab the participation points. These were the small runs, the ‘singles’ as his buddies on the cricket team called it. First to go were the accomplished artists in the music, elocution and art events. Next were the trained and rehearsed teams – the fashion show troupe, the debating team and the dramatics group. The sports teams had gone straight to the grounds and would catch up with them only at the end of the day.
That left four of them. One of them headed to the advertising contest, having set his sights on an internship at an ad agency that summer. The other two trouped off to the personality contest, more to ogle the participants of the opposite sex than anything else. They left Vineet standing in front of the schedule board.
What could he do? He ran his eye speculatively down the list some three times before he found an event right at the bottom. There were only 3 registrants so far and it sounded easy. So he signed up and walked towards the door he was directed to. To his dismay, it turned out to be a small-sized auditorium rather than a classroom. What’s more, it was almost half full. Most of the students were using it as a resting point to lounge in the airconditioning, secure in the knowledge that the peons wouldn’t be able to evict anyone on this day of the festival when it wasn’t clear who was a visitor and who, a student.
It was too late to turn back since the coordinator who had registered his name was jostling him from the back. Too bad she was so pretty. She was the only girl to have even looked at him that day. So he took a deep breath and walked up to the raised podium and sat down with the other three participants.
It was two hours before he was able to escape from that room. Outside, his team was waiting, Anveeta hopping impatiently from foot to foot as she gave him an annoyed look.
“So how many points do we have so far?”
Each person spoke up their share while she added it to the tally. When the stars were done, she stopped listening and just started counting off the remaining heads to allot 1 point each for participation.
“14…15…16…17…shit, we’re tying for third place. We’re never going to get there, dammit!”
“No, we’re at 24.”
Vineet ventured timidly
she paused in distraction and looked down at her tally again. He waited patiently while she recounted and turned back at him with a frown.
“The tally is correct.”
“No, you only counted 1 for me. I got 8.”
The rest of the group was listening now. Boldened a tad, Vineet raised his voice a notch but he was beaten by the captain’s low octave.
“That’s not possible. You’ve to cross all rounds and win to get that high.”
“Err, yes, I won.”
She was looking dumbfounded now.
He heard the girl behind him whisper to her friend,
“It’s a music event. They give you two songs. You have to take the words of one and the tune of another and sing them without a break.”
Still dumbfounded. With a supreme act of bravado, Vineet opened his mouth and launched into an encore of his performance.
“Jaadoo teri nazar, khusbhoo tera badan”
It took everyone a few minutes before someone whispered,
“But that’s…that’s…Om Jai Jagadish Hare…the tune is that”
“Tu hain meri kiran”
He was rewarded not with applause but with a shriek from the captain herself.
“24 puts us in the lead!!!!”
said a voice at his elbow,
“You didn’t tell us your name.”
The pretty girl coordinator from the mini-auditorium was smiling back at him, pad in hand. Vineet grinned. Well, when she asked like that…
And that was the day Vineet went from being an extra participant to a winner.