Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Graduate in a Day

Course: Bachelor of Arts (Economics)
Duration: 24 hours
Fee: Rs 2,000


First Term: “Tell me,” says a former school chum (let’s call him Prakash), “if you need an education certificate — BA, BSc, BE, MA, MSc, MBBS — from Bombay, Poona, Calicut, Delhi universities… you name it, I’ll get it for you. Or for your friends. Since you are a friend, I’ll take minimal commission.”
Prakash, who deals in smuggled electronic goods in uptown Bombay, explains how he met a person (called Thomas) at Byculla in south-central Bombay, who is in the certificate business. Prakash has apparently struck a deal with Thomas, by which Prakash can charge his ‘clients’ as much as he wants, as long as Thomas gets his fixed rates.
“Sorry,” I tell Prakash, “I don’t think I need a degree certificate. I have a bona fide one from Calicut University and it serves me fine, thank you. As for my friends, sorry again, I can’t help you as I have reputation to protect.”
Second Term: But soon enough, my journalistic senses are atingle. “If you can show me how this racket is run, I can probably pay you, and, of course, your identity will be protected,” I tell him.
Prakash is smarter than I expected. “I know,” he says, looking at me slyly, “you want to write a report. Then I suggest you get a certificate made in your own name, which will definitely strengthen your report.”
“Brilliant,” I say, “then get me a degree certificate from Bombay University in Economics in the year 1991. And, yes, charge me the least you can.”
Prakash says he will charge me only Rs 2,000 from me though his current rates are Rs 3,000 and above for bachelor’s and master’s degree certificates, which are supposed to be “straight from the campus.”
Third Term: The next day we meet at Byculla. “I will take you to the place provided you don’t mention that you are a journalist,” Prakash warns. I nod. He takes me through some labyrinthine lanes and we enter a dilapidated building, climb three floors, and Prakash knocks at a door. A 40-plus Thomas greets us and takes us into his parlour.
The parlour is a certificate-aspirant’s delight. An open rack is crammed with certificates for different degrees and courses, supposedly from various Indian universities. A table is cluttered with rubber and imprint stamps, bottles of various shades of ink, a wide range of fountain pens, and other paraphernalia.
I liked Thomas’ sophisticated way of functioning: apart from the predictable telephone, fax and the answering machines, there are a PC, a TV and other electronic gadgets required for giving an authentic touch to the products manufactured here.
I was delighted when I saw the parlour walls, which were decorated with samples of various certificates Thomas can deliver, and the chronological lists of chancellors of almost all important universities. Against the chancellors’ names are the period they served and their specimen signatures.
Fourth Term: Thomas demands: “Your requirement?” Prakash gives the details. Thomas asks: “Obviously, you will want a first-class degree, eh?” He is quite amused when I say I would prefer a second class. “You seem to be smart and informed. So, no employer will raise an eyebrow when he peruses a first-class BA Economics degree made in your name.” I convince him a second class will be more than enough.
Thomas’ next query: “Fake of original? Prakash might have told you, fake will cost you around Rs 1,000 and original, Rs 2,000. This doesn’t include the commission you pay Prakash.”
What’s the difference — between the ‘fake and the ‘original’? “Fake is something we print at one of our presses in Thane. The original is a certificate on genuine bonded university paper with an imprint stamp — directly from the campus. Only the writing will be by us, as also the signature of the chancellor.”
Thomas also tells me that ‘original’ certificates are available only from Bombay, Poona, Calicut, Gandhiji, and Kerala universities. Why? “We have our men there, not in other places.”
But how can I ascertain that the one I am going to obtain is ‘original’ and not a ‘fake’? Thomas is obviously annoyed. Throwing a glance at Prakash, he says: “Ask Prakash, I have never cheated (sic) anyone in my life. I have been in the industry for more than seven years, and none of my clients has complained about my goods. As for your certificate, my contact in Bombay University is none other than my brother-in-law, whose name, obviously, I cannot mention. Take it or leave it.”
Fifth Term: I plan to take it. An intercom buzzes. Seconds later a lean man with thick glasses enters. “Give him the details — accurate, because I can’t waste any ‘certificates’; they cost money,” Thomas says. I oblige. In a spidery, slant hand, the bespectacled man writes my name, the college I ‘studied’ in (Thomas suggested the Maharashtra College of Arts and Commerce, as the “risks there are less”), the day, month and year I was ‘awarded’ the degree, the subject, and, finally, the chancellor’s signature, for which he refers to Thomas’ list.
Thomas appreciatively looks at the ‘graphic artist’ and confides to me: “He is the best in the market. He does his work much better than the ones in any university. You know, Rs 600 of the Rs 2,000 you pay me goes to him.”
In a matter of minutes, the certificate is ready. Thomas hands it to me to appreciate. I look at it in awe, like a fresh graduate. It looks better than the real thing my cousin, who had actually passed out in 1991 from Bombay University, had. The printing and writing are difficult to differentiate, the then chancellor’s signature impeccable, and the imprint perfect.
Sixth Term: “If you need a mark-sheet, it will cost you another Rs 1,000. But since you’re a friend of Prakash, I can tell you that to procure a job in the Middle East or in any private sector firm in India, this certificate is quite enough. Though chances of discovery are minimal, it is advisable to avoid the government sector,” cautions Thomas.
Thomas also says that if ever I try for a job abroad, for which educational certificates have to be attested from Mantralaya, the state government headquarters in Bombay, he can get it done in a day. How? “We have excellent contacts there. But since they are attesting a fake certificate, you may have to pay Rs 2,000 more.”
I say I’ll contact him in a few days and leave with Prakash. Back on the street, I feel honoured. I am a double graduate now.
— Sunil K Poolani

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