As a partially metalled road turns left from Imadpur Chowk on the Hajipur-Muzaffarpur road for Hasi Malahi village, a shopkeeper smiles, “You want to go to Ruby Rai’s house?”
The Bihar state board Class XII Arts topper now famous for describing political science as “prodigal science” and calling it the science of “cooking” is fighting “depression” somewhere away, according to her 80-year-old grandfather Munshi Prasad Rai, who is the only one present at the family’s single-storey home in Hasi Malahi.
A village dominated by OBC Yadavs, who bear the Rai surname, Hasi Malahi has over 300 households. The nearest high school is at Kuawari village, 7 km away. The village boys and girls cycle their way to either Sarai (6 km), Kiratpur (10 km) or Lalganj (11 km) for Classes XI and XII. Ruby cycled to V R College at Kiratpur, which has been on the radar for at least a year since all its 1,007 Class XII students got a first division in 2015.
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Ruby’s father Awadhesh Rai is a retired Armyman, who tills 1 bigha of land in the village. The family also has a cow. Ruby’s elder sister Gudiya Kumari studied only till Class X, while elder brother Pankaj Kumar is doing his graduation in Patna.
Resting under a fan, the bare-chested Munshi thanks Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for the 20-hour power supply in the village. However, on the matter of Ruby or her treatment, he is evasive, only saying she has gone to Jamshedpur to attend a wedding with her parents. Munshi isn’t sure whether Ruby, who has already missed the re-test held after the controversy over the Bihar State Education Board (BSEB) toppers broke, would appear for another exam slotted for her. “I am happy that Ruby has been given a week to appear. But she is unwell,” he says.
“Ye sab media walon ke karan hua hai. Ek din achcha dikhaya, doosre din badnaam kar diya (It is all because of the media. On the day of the result, they were full of praise for Ruby, the next day they made her notorious),” Munshi adds. He says Ruby “got nervous” and “got a question wrong”, referring to her answer of “prodigal exam” during a media session. Asked why Ruby chose to take admission in VR College when the high school at Sarai was nearer, Munshi says, “I have no idea. I am a simple farmer and do not take much interest in what my grandchildren do.”
However, he admits that Ruby, who cleared her Class X with second division, herself did not think she would get a first division in Class XII, let alone score 444 marks out of 500.
As a youth enters the house, Munshi introduces him as Ruby’s “cousin”. The 20-year-old, however, reveals he is her brother Pankaj, who has come from Patna following the controversy. “It is not fair to put toppers through such grilling just because some of them could not answer a few questions because of nervousness,” Pankaj says.
Saurav Srestha, the science BSEB Class XII topper from the same institute, whose result stands cancelled after the re-test, lives at Pachdamia. The village is 13 km from Kiratpur. The nearest high school from Pachdamia is at Lalganj, 6 km away.
Saurav is not at home either. While his parents Ajay Singh and Usha Singh live in Patna, he stays here with his grandparents. Usha contested the election for mukhiya from Kartaha Bujurg panchayat in the just-concluded polls while Ajay is a builder and an “RJD activist”. Saurav’s great grandfather Shiv Sharan Singh was an MP from Vaishali.
Saurav’s grandmother Lilawati calls the entire thing a “political conspiracy” as Saurav’s mother was in the panchayat poll race. “Our opponents called media. A boy who faces the camera for the first time can get nervous.”
His grandfather Devendra Nath Singh, 82, a retired middle-school teacher, says, “The media teams asked Saurav five questions. He answered four of them but fumbled with one on electron and proton. Saurav has a good academic record. He did his primary schooling from Varanasi, got a first division in matriculation. He did very well in the re-test as well, and we do not know why his result was cancelled.”
Saying Saurav wants to pursue medicine like sister Pallavi, who is in a medical college in Pune, Devendra adds they will fight back. “The BSEB has no powers to cancel results and we will approach the high court.”
Asked why Saurav chose to do his Class XII from a Vaishali college when his parents stay in Patna, Devendra shrugs. He adds, “I agree VR College has been controversial and Saurav had to pay the price for its dubious past.”
The Bihar government on Sunday set up a three-member committee to probe alleged bungling in Class XII exams and evaluation, seeking a report by June 20. Breaking his silence on the matter, CM Nitish Kumar said, “We will get to know if there is any criminal conspiracy behind such a result.”