For the past two months, my son has been burning the midnight oil preparing for his board exams. Seeing the date sheet, I was reminded of an anecdote from my schooldays. It was the last exam before we left our boarding school for the winter vacation. Given the thrill of ‘Home Day’, no one wanted to study for the dreaded subject of maths. Many a strategy was drawn to find a shortcut to success, but none offered optimism.
Our only hope lay in the invigilator, a newly appointed teacher who was unaware of the devilish potential of our teenaged minds. I and a couple of other so-called ‘brainy’ students were bullied to help the ‘needy’ who could not even differentiate between geometry and trigonometry. A seating plan was designed that would ensure ‘free flow’ of numerical information. These students’ aim was to just get pass marks and save the unpleasantness that invariably accompanied their report cards.
When the exam commenced, the inexperience and naivete of the invigilator emboldened the class and soon the goalposts were changed — the needy had turned greedy. The ethical code which even thieves are known to exhibit was flouted. Soon, whispers turned into dictations and the answer sheets were cloned with replicated content. By the time the invigilator could salvage the situation with threats of tattling to the headmaster, a lot many marks had been pilfered.
When the results were declared, the maths faculty was astonished. Some backbenchers had scored well beyond belief. It also became difficult for me to justify my scoring lesser marks than some of these ‘stalwarts’ who till very recently had known Calculus more as a character in Tintin comics than a topic in the syllabus. It came as no surprise when a re-exam was held the very next day with no preparation time and the wheat was separated from the chaff.
‘If you really care for your friends, help them grow tall or else they will get a false sense of height sitting on somebody’s shoulders,’ the teacher’s words are etched in my mind ever since. A letter of displeasure was despatched to our parents. My father never hit me. This time, too, his puckered brow conveyed more than what his words would have.
Now that I am a father myself, narrating this incident was my way of cautioning my son against such misadventures. ‘So, what is the moral of the story?’ I asked him. ‘Papa, the maths exam should never be the last one as the students are distracted by the fast-approaching holidays’ — his reply made us laugh, livening up the otherwise exam-stressed atmosphere. Ironically, the last exam in his date sheet was also maths!
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