It was twelfth/tenth standard.
That statement was enough to send a chill down his/her spine. The very mention of the name of the dreaded class was potent to let all courage slip away from his/her heart. It was as if he/she and his/her classmates were being lowered down the mouth of an active volcano. While the lava and flames leapt high to burn the children up, the teachers, parents and society clicked the button that would lower them furthermore. They pressed harder despite the chorus of screams and the reek of burning flesh. “My child will perform well under pressure” said a parent in hauteur, watching as the boy/girl was blackening from the burning. “Your child hasn’t been working hard enough.” said a teacher, tightening the noose of another child whose head alone remained above the molten lava. The screaming and the choking were not enough, “Oh, we expect to see his/her name in the State Rank list.” chimed society. Suddenly, the devices held by the trio dropped the children at the base of the volcano and the mouth automatically shut itself, sealing away the muffled cries of the children who tried to protect themselves from the all consuming , ruthless lava.
(Face Of War- Salvador Dali)
Salvador Dali could conjure an interesting painting if he were to study the shifting mental balances of the children who are taking their board exams/waiting for the results to appear. The above is not just a surreal idea in the making but a harsh reality that young students have to face. The education machinery churns out several such stories year after year around this time. The recurrent nature of these types of incidents must shake the intelligentsia and general populace into action. Allow me to spill the beans, these lives are very very real although the names of these people have been fictional.
Rita was hoping to do well in her Physics examination and waited impatiently as the aides helped her through the customary Board Exam procedures. The wait, the hurried last minute preparation, the bribery of God through prayers, the formal prayer ceremony…she wished that life has a fast forward button for occasions like this. She had studied really well and wanted to get a centum to prove her worth. Her breathing steadied as she entered the hall after leaving her slippers and water bottle outside the hall. Time was annoyingly slow that day. The question paper took forever to find its way to her table. The bored invigilators walked the length of the aisles as the students’ eyes were glued either to the giant clock or the table on which the question papers were kept. After a long time, the papers arrived and there was a visible tension among the students. Eyes widened as they gazed at the question paper but Rita kept her cool. When the piece of paper was dropped at her table, she pored over it and slowly felt confidence drain out of her. Half of the paper was full of questions she never comprehended!!! How on earth was she supposed to clear her paper? She felt something break within her. Gone were her dreams of studying in IIT. “Excuse me, Madam” she said after an hour of writing answers. The invigilator came to her side and pulled out a sheet of paper. “I’d like to drink some water.” Rita said. “Please do.” the invigilator said. The girl stepped out of the hall and jumped from the top of the balustrade to her death. When a scream was heard as life left her, the invigilators rushed to find her crumpled body on the ground.
Timothy was the Games Captain that year. He had an entire list of sporting achievements in his kitty and was happy about his fairly good academic track record as well. He had his dreams of making it to a good college that allowed for greater sporting prowess. After a lot of thought, he had made his choices and decided to do well in his Board Exams. Her waited like Rita for the question paper to arrive. His reaction was a lot less severe that hers when he saw the paper. A few minutes into the exam and he began to hiss softly to grab the attention of his classmate who sat before him. He was in luck, the girl understood his signal and moved a little to reveal a few of the answers from the Multiple Choice Questions section. He copied them out carefully until she unconsciously adjusted her posture, blocking the paper. He stained forward and hissed again. This time, he felt a hand on his collar. He turned to find the invigilator looking at him with sternness written in every feature. “Copying , huh?” the invigilator confronted. “No Ma’am. I was not copying.” he blurted out in a bid to protect himself from getting caught. “Don’t lie, I saw you hissing at the student sitting in front of you. Get up and leave the hall.” she ordered. Timothy was in tears as he was forced to abandon his answer sheet and walk towards the open door. “Ma’am, I know this boy.” he heard the voice of a teacher who rushed to meet the invigilator. “Ma’am, he is unwell right now. He’s got viral fever and the hissing you heard was probably the sound of him blowing his nose. I know that he is an honest boy.” the voice pleaded as the invigilator refused to buy the teacher’s story. Timothy stood outside and began to weep. “Come inside, boy” the invigilator called out to him in a rough tone, “I believe your teacher. Get back inside and finish your exam.” Timothy felt nauseous as he returned to his seat. The look in his classmates’ eyes seared through his mind.
Sruthi was confident that she had done her exams badly. Every time she got back home and confided in her parents that she hadn’t done too well, she could see the disappointment in their eyes. “My colleague’s son topped the State last year.” her father said as she trailed into the bedroom. She knew that it was his way of telling her to buck up and do better. She had stopped watching TV, accessing Facebook, playing with her friends and even reading novels for the sake of doing well in her Boards. Tuition after tuition filled her time, all she could do at the end of the day was collapse on the bed and will herself to sleep. “Life is a rat-race. You won’t do well if you don’t run fast enough. Push yourself harder.” her class teacher would exhort repeatedly. That voice kept ringing in her head even at nighttime, preventing those weary eyelids from shutting themselves to sleep. It was 1:00 AM by the time she slept and 4:30 AM when the alarm pushed away every trace of sleep. Underslept, underfed, undernourished, she’d trudge to school for every revision exam only to hear “You’re not working hard enough, Sruthi. Stop being a failure.” With just a week or so left for the results to come, she didn’t know how to handle the pressure. Her parents stopped talking to her, she refused to meet her classmates or friends and ate every meal in stony silence. Locking herself up in her room, she smiled for once as the rope caressed the roundness of her face. Even her ashes wouldn’t rejoice the fact that she’d scored 83% in her Boards. Her parents sat red eyed, realizing their mistake too late. She was gone. Forever.
Kedar knew he had done well. In his heart of hearts he expected three centums and a couple of ninety fives. While everyone else panicked themselves to death, he waited expectantly for the results to come. He would top the school and become the Best Outgoing Student that year. He could imagine him standing onstage, receiving the huge wooden shield from his Principal while his parents stood among the audience, wiping away happy tears. He relished the thought of his parents feeding him laddu on the results being announced. His grades never slipped below 95 percent during all the revision and model papers. He knew that God would help him as he stuck to his vow of avoiding chocolate and sweets for an entire year. Victory would be his, this time. “Kedar, come to the hall.” his father called out. He obeyed and sat before the computer. Once the register number and password were keyed in and the ‘Get Marks’ button clicked, Kedar wrung his palms together. When he opened his eyes, he heard two forceful gasps. His heart was in his mouth when he saw that he had scored an average of only 65%. His father was too shocked to say anything. His mother shook her head in disappointment and said “Didn’t I tell you, pride goes before a fall?”. “Ma, but….but I did well. This cannot be my marks.” he hesitated. “Kedar, these are your marks.” his father said plainly. He felt strange as the telephone lines began working up a cacophony. It hurt him all the more to see that Arnab who consistently scored 50% during all class tests had now topped the class. “You lied to us” his father scolded him. He sat there with his head in his hands, weeping madly.
Rita, Timothy, Sruthi and Kedar live among us today. They are victims of a system that promises accomplishment and reward but turns them into Mark Producing Machines that the society can either curse or gloat about. Before calling Rita a coward, Timothy an immoral youth, Sruthi a deluded loser and Kedar a proud creature; lets contemplate the relevance of this system. Whether cyanide is administered in a teaspoon or a barrel, it doesn’t cancel the fact that cyanide is still poisonous. Is education becoming a mere cesspool of marks? Are question papers mere repositories of sadism?
A penny for your thoughts.