Hands up all ye who still dream of sitting for their Std X examinations. Yes, thats what I thought, we have a full house here. Ever so often, make that once a week, I wake up sweat pouring down my face, my stomach all in cramps, and a sinking realisation that I really dont need to sit for an Algebra or Physics examination ever again in my life. Or in fact, that I have spent three fourth of my life without having any need for the damn equations I broke my head trying to mug up by using various ingenious memory enhancing methods like writing them on every available body part enroute to the examination hall, not forgetting chits of paper, etc. No, I kid you. I am the scarediest cat on this planet. I would never have the courage. I would enter the hall shaking like a leaf with St Vitus’ Dance and be immediately nabbed by the alert invigilators and be thrown into a dank dark cell and divested of all my earthly possessions including lipstick and eyeliner and be condemned to a life without a qualification. A fate worse than death by calorie counting.
This, dear reader, you must note was in the era when getting 75 percent and thereby a distinction was cause enough to light firecrackers in the neighbourhood and distribute mithai far and wide in celebration. I did get a distinction, and I did get into Arts because I had a passion for English Literature and hoped to make a career from wordsmithing. This, too, much against the grain of the times when getting a distinction meant one followed the herd into the Science stream, because of course, scoring well meant one had a brain that could be put to better use in the sciences rather than in the humanities. Well, the brain has rusted away, and has been further corroded by motherhood and living by the sea. And so when one sees the throng of students pacing the sidewalks outside a school which is ostensibly a designated examination centre, one stares at them puzzled, wondering which new fangled youth ritual this could be, not realising that this is a time honoured tradition of last minute cramming, which is designed only to make one go completely, totally and absolutely blank when the question paper is handed over to you.
“Why are all these kids on the road today?” I asked the spouse who was nose into his laptop gurgling over the phone to his stockbroker. He gurgled indeterminately. “Eh?” I replied. The driver took mercy on our conversation and informed me that the SSC examinations were going on. I was immediately cast back to 1986, when I sat for my SSC exams. Where my primary concentration was on what I would wear to the examination centre the next day, there being boys on the premises, and me having been incarcerated in an all girls school for the past ten years. While the rest of my classmates, revised and revised and revised till late into the night, and got up in the dark of the predawn to, yes, revise and revise and revise, I stayed up agonising whether I would wear yellow, or pink, and did I have a pair of shoes that would look coordinated with what I needed to wear, and how on earth could I draw the attention of that cute fellow two seats away without physically plonking myself on his desk or bunging him with a spit ball. I had my priorities all right at the time. It took college to corrupt me and make a bookworm out of me, a bookworm who didnt notice the male species which was quite okay, given that the male of the species didnt notice me.
Standard Ten examinations are stressful these days in a way it never was during my time. Today children are killing themselves if they lose a mark or a percentage point. Us, we shrugged our shoulders and went on to make the best we could of our lives, with or without that mark. I wonder how things would be by the time my son gets to his Standard Ten. I wonder if I would be as blase about it if it is my son out there, his nose in his text books, trying to cram in last minute revisions just before he needs to run into give his examination. Knowing my son, of course, he might just decide to be the floorshow and perk up moods by doing the moonwalk on the sidewalk. I digress. I wonder how my education has served me. It has made me literate. It has opened my eyes to the joy of literature and reading. It has given me a rudimentary grasp of basic mathematics to enable me to function on a day to day basis and not need to whip out a calculator while going vegetable shopping. I dont remember either me or my mother being stressed out during my SSC examinations. In fact my mother went off to office as normal and I wended my way to the examination centre on my ownsome lonesome. We celebrated the end of the examinations by treating ourselves to lunch at a restaurant near Khar Railway station and a movie at Gaiety Galaxy at Bandra. There was no nailbiting when the results were declared, and of course, back then one had to run to school to see the results tacked onto the notice board, because the internet was back then still a gleam in someone’s eye.
I only wish the children today could take examinations the way we did, without the crushing pressure of struggling to ensure they bag every single mark available. I wish examination results were no longer a life and death moment. I wish some cleaned out the Aegean stables of our education system. Our children deserve better.