“Write this down, it’s important.”

Mr. Candi does not bother to gesture. The routine is now far too familiar to warrant such a scandalous waste of his scant reserves of energy. In a barely legible hand, you add another bullet point to what will soon become a sort of sacred text – the Funda Diary - to be solemnly handed down to the next person anointed by those who tell everyone else exactly how they are to exercise their freedom to choose their representatives.

You nod pointedly at Mr. GC God while you note down the record-breaking 19.12894 seconds his Hall took to do the Illu split. Nodding is a kind of passive-aggressive tactic that you have learnt, from a scary amount of experience, which is remarkably effective in getting the speaker to sheepishly acknowledge your existence.  In the brief intervals between consecutive instances he says something Funda Diary-worthy, you allow your mind to wander while your face looks suitably attentive, as it should in the presence of any Influential Person, much less a GC God. As he pontificates contentedly on what is obviously a pet topic, as evidenced by the blissful halo of tobacco smoke around his eager face, you process the myriad thoughts that have been competing for attention for the surreal duration of the last three weeks.

The God sitting cross-legged on his bed in his shorts, like any entity worthy of the name, is self-important, arrogant and very, very finicky about what he accepts as propitiation. The wrong brand of cigarette or chocolate can incur untold wrath. Every member of the pantheon has his own preference, though ordinary Influential Persons are happy with anything you give them. You wince as you feel the semisolid mass in your pocket. Another 20 rupees of chocolate turned to waste by the March heat.

Why did you agree to a month of thankless, sleep-depriving, sometimes humiliating labour as a nameless minion? In other words, why did you become a Shadow? This question is a little harder to answer than its reverse: “Why did you not become a Shadow?”, whose answer, after paying all due respect to the inexpressible diversity of people’s dreams and motivations and the remarkably different ways in which humans rationalize their decisions, usually takes the form, “Because I have better things to do with my life. To be clear, if I were a soulless, talentless, brainless and indifferent slug, I’d still have better ways in which to live my pitiful life.”

Shadowdom is not, however, all dark and… shadowy. There are some positives, if you’re smart enough to find them. For one, no one is ever too rude to a Shadow. Good Shadows are remarkably hard to come by, even among the ranks of the hall tempo-addled, and in view of their scarcity in the poltu marketplace, Shadows are generally respected. When they are not being studiously ignored, that is. And every candidate is acutely aware of the debt of gratitude he owes to the constant presence that trails him every waking hour of the day. Consequently he will take umbrage, whenever he can afford to, when his Shadow is referred to in this rather dehumanizing way. Also, as a Shadow you know you are the answer to some of election season’s most intriguing questions, like, “How on earth did Mr. Candi meet and talk to so many professors  and seniors in a month when he had so much on his plate? It’s mathematically impossible!” or “Who wrote Mr. Candi’s statement of purpose?” or “Who wrote his proposals? Who was charged with making sure he had his SOP down pat? Oh, the suspense is killing me!”

A gentle nudge from Mr. Candi, and the world comes back into focus. You are a little embarrassed at this lapse, though your expression doesn’t betray you. You keep your face impassive as Mr. GC God obliges Mr. Candi with his blessings, allowing yourself the faintest of smiles at a personal victory when he shakes your hand and, probably commending himself on his excellent manners, gruffly asks your name.


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