Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Testing Times

Courtesy - http://ordinarypoet.blogspot.com

Hello Kaapizone...I missed you mmmmuaaaah!

Submissions done. Hair combed, nails clipped and eyes are slowly losing the addict’s look. I thought I’ll take a break from writing; but realized coffeetimeconversations is keeping a log of my absence. Now it won’t do to keep such readers waiting.

The last time I lost sleep over academic pressures was, well, more than a decade ago. Thankfully the way I’m assessed now is different; and I’m not in the rat race.

It was in high school that my ‘losing sleep’ started. It’s funny – we had monthly ‘unit’ tests, then a slightly important bigger test, followed by the term exam, and then the final exam. One would think with all those tests, a girl could just breeze in to the final exam. No such luck. It seemed I had flash memory – whatever I studied in unit test 1 was quickly erased by unit test 2 portions. Come final exam, my mind would be well- polished like an empty black board. Then, when I opened the text books to look over Lesson 1 – I’d think WTF? Did they even cover this?

And so, I was in the dimwit category because of my inability to process and reproduce texts and formulae learnt by rote.

Exam times usually meant the little round alarm clock ruled the roost. Well, some of my friends never slept. Rushing a couple of them to K.C. General for a bottle of glucose drips was the norm. The worst thing about keeping an alarm is a part of your brain is always awake. I’d wake up every hour to see if it’s already 3. Finally I’d give up by 2:30, switch off the alarm and freshen up to ‘study’.

Of course, Amma would be up with the coffee. She, like all mothers, would sit with me reading her own books as I ‘studied’. Appa was more worried about sleep deprivation. He’d sit up and scold the government and the school and launch a monologue about how knowledge should be nurtured like a blossoming tree and so on till Amma shushed him.

I hated the knotted feeling in the pit of the stomach, the sheer weariness of the mind, not to mention the dull ache behind the eyes. I’d wake up the night before a history test thinking – damn...was that Samudra Gupta or Chandra Gupta I? Of course there was Chandra Gupta II who was also Vikramaditya. But then, was it Chandra Gupta of Gupta dynasty or Chandragupta of the Maurya clan? Was it Mohammed of Ghazni? Or Gori? Both were equally ruthless in plundering. Was it Chola or Chalukya? Or Ganga perhaps?

What’s there to understand in History one would ask? Yet I found it so difficult to process all those dates. I was more interested in the human story. For example, in 300 or so BCE (see how I remember THIS date), it is believed that Chandragupta Maurya married a Greek princess, possibly Seleucus’s daughter. It was an era where the Greeks amongst other races roamed the streets of India. Remember Megasthenes, the ambassador who wrote Indica? It thrilled me no end thinking of those times – how exotic it must’ve been – Greeks and Indians intermingling – the kind of cultural exchange that must’ve taken place...be it is architecture, music or even literature. In fact, some of the ancient Greek jewellery that’s up on display in the British Museum resembles our own traditional designs so closely.

Chandragupta renounced the throne at quite a young age...forty or so (maybe it was considered old then). He followed Jainism, so it is believed he came down to our Karnataka – Sravana Belagola as an ascetic and fasted himself to death in a cave. For some reason, I found this so profound – this man, this emperor - he had the world at his feet – no dearth of beautiful wives, powerful sons, unbelievable riches. Yet he did this - walked down all the way from Pataliputra (Patna) to Karnataka, in nothing but a loin cloth, accepting alms, severing contact with all loved ones, and finally dying alone voluntarily. What would have been the strength of his spirit and the depth of his faith? I’d wonder in awe.

I’d think about the practice of building temples – not just in India, but all the rulers all over the world. I found it so fascinating that all these powerful rulers would build such extraordinary structures as a sign of respect and awe to unseen Gods.

But all such musings are useless in exams and tests, and they really did me in.

It was the same story with most other subjects. In mathematics...well as I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog, the fact that I had scored 8/100 in trigonometry is etched in the family history. Not that I did not understand the darned subject – but I could not remember the formulae. When the class teacher wrote out the test questions on the blackboard, it all looked like ancient Hebrew suddenly.

On ‘regular’ days, I could work out the math. On ‘exam’ days, somewhere an erase button would go on. That was probably because we’d have two tests or exams per day – so on the one hand, I’d be wondering about Bindusara, and on the other, about the hypotenuse. It all depended on what my brain chose to wonder about. If Pythagoras won the battle, then Bindusara would dissipate. Or it would be a combination of arithmetic and biology – and biology would win for sure. I was more interested in knowing where my pituitary gland was located and what it did; than in A union B intersection C.

But even in biology, my intentions were misconstrued by the teacher. Having a poor academic record makes you invisible. So when you score well in a subject it becomes an event. Now, it so happened that I got a good score in reproductive biology. It had nothing to do with my ‘raging teenage hormones’ as the teacher put it, laughing mirthlessly. I was more fascinated with the production design. Million to one ratio so to speak. And the impact of this on evolution; about how sexual behaviour has determined the way a species evolved and vice versa; and in the case of humans, how our social structures have revolved around sex; about how it is all such a delicate and precarious balance. But how do I explain this to the teacher who believed I won’t get far in life with what she deemed as promiscuous focus? More importantly, I was afraid of her scathing tongue – and the humiliation it could inflict.

Or upon reading all those complex protein structures in the body, and wondering more about how, at the very core, I was nothing more than carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen...and so worrying less about inconsequential stuff like algebraic group theory...the list is endless.

One of Amma’s friends had even suggested administering a kashaya of herbs and roots and barks – passed down by Dhanvantari no doubt – to improve my memory. She said she’d been administering this to her son, and ‘he seems calmer’. Amma of course laughed it off. We did not get an update on his memory performance though. When I told Appa about this, he said I'll probably start remembering my past life, but I still won't remember the formula of copper sulphate for the chemistry test...because, 'your mind has to understand the concept; be wondrously fascinated by it...only then you will remember.' Yeah. Appa oft times was like Calvin's dad. I spoke of the boy's 'calmness' - Appa had a theory that the kashaya was probably a narcotic; in which case he wanted to try it on his boss.

Thinking back, exam time turned the most hardened of students superstitious. It was a time when many scampered to nearby temples and prayed fiercely for an ‘easy’ paper. Some came with holy lockets which they’d kiss repeatedly as the question papers were distributed; some others would get ‘lucky’ pens touched by a godman or even a small paper packet with kumkum from a Ganapathi temple. It was the only time when foreheads were smeared with copious amounts of vibuthi and kumkum – like a beacon to the gods saying – here I am, now zap me with extra gray cells.

Post exam question paper discussions were traumatic – I’d have gone and written about ethyl alcohol instead of methyl alcohol. But there’s an advantage of being in the dimwit category – you’re kind of protected in that average – below average zone. But for the superior performers, such mistakes would be unspeakable. Some of the girls I knew wept uncontrollably – because when they estimated the marks they’d get, it would be ‘only 85’ instead of their usual 95-100 range.

Well I’m glad I don’t have to take such exams. Not that what I’m doing is a walk in the park. It is still tough, but a good kind of tough. A toughness that demands the very best output from me. As they say, when the philosophy is knowledge for knowledge’s sake, only then true education occurs. Otherwise, it’s just a qualification.

© Sumana Khan - 2013


  1. Dimwit, my foot! I am not believing any of that :)
    On another note, I was the calmest person among all the worrywarts that usually make up any class before exam time. Not that I had revised everything, not even half of it. My philosophy, then as now remains the same, 'worry never gets you anything'. I slept peacefully, went to class nonchalantly, wrote whatever little I knew and came out cheerfully. I still remember the sobbing faces of my classmates on the Maths exam day in 10th std. The questions had all been from "out of syllabus". No prizes for guessing who wasn't bothered. :)
    And you got up at 3 a.m.? OMG! *faints*

    1. LOL! I can so imagine you walking in without a care in the world...and frowning down at teachers and pouting fiercly at them ...ha hahaha

      oh yes and the 'out of syllabus'. as far as i was concerned...I was perpetually out of syllabus :D

  2. Hhhhaaa enjoyed this ramble . It was as though my own life was flashing before my eyes :P

  3. Good to have you back and telling stories. So this was the first year under?

    1. Thanks Anjali. Yeah. Hopefully I should graduate in Sep.

  4. Students would have loved you if you'd been their history teacher. :)
    Easy paper, exam days and regular days, setting the alarm - all took me back to my school days.
    And the penultimate paragraph reminded me of a line from Yograj Bhatt's Drama. The heroine says she always gets 90 plus percentage in exams. And the hero exclaims that three innocent boys would have passed in that. Hehehe.. :D

    1. LOL! I'd have never ever finished the History syllabus.

      LMAO...only Bhattru can come up with such lines!

  5. I was a proficient parrot and hence always in the top three. Thankfully, I was aware that it was just to get food on the table. :)

    1. ***gasp!*** A first bench goodboy with neatly parted and combed hair answering all tough-tough questions and first to hand in homework written in the best cursive and has all notes in both 'fair note book' and 'rough note book' up-to-date and always goes to the board to solve the tricky math problem and always has books well-wrapped in brown paper and neatly labelled and is always called by the teacher if something sensible has to be done...***she turns up her nose***

  6. very glad t see u writin again,... i had been away frm blogs for sometime too...quite involuntarily.. nd watever u say u have an uncanny memory for history lady!! :P remembering all those Mauryas and their history still!!...i used t erase them after each test lik u said :)liked that account abt hw ur dad wanted t use the kashaya on his boss...lol...write more...so u must be havin sem breaks nw by the luks of it?

    1. Thanks Leo. back to the grind in a week.

  7. Glad you considered my request to come back and write :) And again its a treat.
    As others, I too took a trip down the dusty memory lane of school days. I used to hate History just because of the question on chronology and identifying places and provinces on maps!
    I was more like you while studying for exams. Forgetting the 1st test syllabus by 2nd one and waking up in the middle of the night, though not to find answer to questions but I'd have dreamt of forgetting my hall-ticket or pen or paper or can't find my room. I'm a nervous freak when it comes to giving exams.
    It used to be a torture session when mom used to revise the question sheets when we got back home to know how we did. But that thankfully stopped in high school :)
    So glad I'm past the exam writing stage, now that I've actually started to love history.

    1. ha ha those 'forgetting' nightmares! thanks CTC.

  8. Even thinking of exams have always given me nightmares.... and those nightmares hardly vary.. it's always, either I have studied the wrong subject or I am hopelessly late for the exam... And end up waking up with a tiny heart attack,sweaty palms and feet, panting - the works :) Am so, so relieved that I don't have to write any more exams... yes, the dates in the history lessons drove me nuts too... I fail to grasp the rationale of mugging the exact year in which some event took place.