At the Indian Institute of Management, examinations can feel like a mamothian task. When I got an email to invigilate I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. While the task of invigilating itself is not one that requires any brain power, it does require a lot of patience and attention. Invigilating IIM students definitely felt like a task. The picture perfect students of the country’s finest business school under my control made me feel unnecessarily powerful, no matter how limited that power actually was. Exams began early in the morning, which meant I had to be there earlier, prepared for the students when they walked in.
As they walked in one by one, I smiled at them unnecessarily. No one smiled back, a look of nervousness had creeped onto all their faces. They looked like they were in great despair and agony. The anxiousness in the air was palpable once everyone was seated. After the question papers were handed out, I sat down. Boredom seeped in. There was nothing much left to do. I lazily looked around the classroom, as students ferociously scribbled on blank sheets of papers. They looked tense. I wondered if they were writing well. Were they going to disappoint the person who corrected these papers? Was one of them creating a benchmark for the rest of them? Was one of them going to top the class? Who was it going to be? Where they thinking what I was thinking as well? I aimlessly wondered.
There was however one thing I looked forward to everyday. A middle aged man with a tray of tiny tea cups came to the examination room at exactly half past 12. He’d come to me first, leading the tray in my direction. The tray had an assortment of chai and coffee. Excited, I picked up two cups of chai for myself. I wondered for a second if it was okay to do so. But I brushed the thought away as soon as I sipped on the chai. It somehow activated my dead brain cells. This became a routine. Everyday, I would pick up two cups of chai.
Today, when the server returned with the tray, he refused the second cup of chai to me. As per my usual action, I picked up two cups of chai, he quietly said,
“You can only take one cup of chai.”
I stared at him blankly. It was a harmless cup of chai, and me wanting a second cup felt like a harmless action. I pouted.
Disappointed I said, “But I’ve been taking two cups of chai everyday,” I insisted.
“Yes, you can only take one,” he responded.
“Alright.” I said curtly.
I put the cup back in the tray as he walked away to serve chai to everyone else. I needed my second cup of chai like a child craving candy. I had to think on my feet. I started strategizing the best way to drink more chai. My eyes followed his every action and movement. He was swiftly moving from one seat to another, serving tiny tea cups one after the other till the tray was empty. He headed out to refill the tray. He would have to encounter me when he entered the room again. This was my shot, I thought to myself, this was my only chance to get his attention and convince him to give me the second cup of chai. I watched the door like a hawk, tapping my foot nervously, while sipping on the cup of tea I already had in my hand. I didn’t want to lose what I already had. I didn’t want to drink a cold cup of chai. I wanted to enjoy it while it was still hot. He entered the examination hall, looking determined to complete his task.
As he turned into the doorway, I beckoned him,
“Bhaiya!” I loudly whispered.
I had his attention.
“Please, take ten rupees and give me a cup of chai.” I said firmly.
He looked surprised. Perhaps it was the first time someone had offered him money for chai which was otherwise being served for free. For a second, he seemed confused. Gradually a smile cracked on his face and he extended the tray towards me,
“Here, take one,” he said softly.
I sheepishly picked up a cup.
“Don’t worry about the money,” he continued.
A wave of guilt washed over me. I wondered if I had shown too much desperation for a small cup, I wondered if he had to account for the extra tea cups he was serving. I felt terrible on the inside. However, he continued smiling at me.
“Please, take the money,” I insisted desperately.
He simply nodded, smiled again and walked away. He went around the room once more, serving chai and coffee to the remaining students. I thought about his kindness as a great service. After all, cricket, god and chai are three defining things of our country. He had indeed done me a service. Once he finished serving chai to the rest of the students, he headed towards the door. In a soft tone I mumbled the words thank you, and waved at him. Maybe it was the tone of my voice, or perhaps my smile but he turned his back against the door.
He paused and walked towards me, simply extending his tray in my direction, and asked,
This piece is a fictionalized retelling of true events.
Deep Dive is a weekly column written by Ashini Jagtiani exploring subjects that have revolutionised the socio-cultural fabric of society.