We are a nation in love with examinations. Not exactly medical examination but school examinations. We have invented some medical requirements around it though, over the years. Exam fever, stress and anxiety disorders, suicide attempts are some of the side effects. These can affect children, as well as parents fighting for their rightful place in the convoluted social circuit.
Beware of the neighbour’s kids, the best friend’s kids and the entire range of in-law kids. They are some of the most potent opponents in the exam game. Life becomes hell if they beat us in the game. Motherhood’s success stands questioned and Mr. Guilt, woman’s worst foe and closest companion, takes over with immediate effect. Yes, I get it. We’ve got to be competitive. That’s survival. Isn’t it?
Thanks to Lord Macaulay’s incredible gift to the Indian Education system, one of the many legacies of the British empire, we the post colonials, love white skin and prefer the familiar traps. Sheer familiarity makes the traps comforting. We resist change. The traditional has always worked for us after all. Who questions ritual? Who questions tradition? Those are just supposed to be followed blindly and passed on to generations…
So with good reason, our Id is merrily sacrificed for the insatiable satisfaction of our Ego. Ego guised nevertheless as SuperEgo, for everyone’s benefit (that policy applies on moral grounds!). I am sure Sigmund Freud would love this application of his theory.
I still remember walking back from the school bus stand that morning. It had rained. My 6 year old sensory organs couldn’t resist the temptation of jumping in the puddles, chasing the frogs, catching the earthworms and screeching at the discovery of various new creatures crawling the ground. The rustle of leaves, the soothing smell of mud soaked in rain water, the riot of colour all around, the washed bright green, the pink orange and red of flowers in bloom… Ah the exam was over.
My world had an accentuated bliss, until I saw my mother. My anxious mother greeted me with her favourite question, “How was the exam?” Trying to avoid further probing, “good” I retorted. Since times immemorial, there has never been any stopping of mothers. I had to be interrogated question by question by question… listed in that wretched rolled question paper for the Hindi final exam. She had made me rote-learn every minute piece in the Hindi syllabus puzzle. I rambled on with applicable answers to all the questions.
Among other things, it included an essay on the Cow, our sacred animal (a bit beyond sacred these days). I had learnt it with spellings and punctuation, all intact. Yes, I had been able to blurt it out on the answer scripts too. Only some pieces shifted places to my peril! My kiddo brain, fried in the oil of limited time left for the last question, mixed up the order. So the first sentence I could pen to paper turned out to be as follows, “Gae gobar deti hai.”
The rest of the sentences came back to me albeit in random order. My rote-learnt essay lost its organised structure. Holding a heavy head in her hands, “ab Teacher bhi number gobar hi Degi,” reverted my desolate mother. It was so simple she said, “why couldn’t you remember, Gae hamari mata hai…” She was clearly tortured to bits. She had worked really hard for my exam. I had let her down! For a few moments, the wonder of rain, the comfort of end to an ordeal, lost all its sheen. Despair took over, filling the air with guilt and self-doubt. Little did I understand the working of the human brain back then. My 6 year old sensibilities simply felt good for nothing.
Thankfully, I soon found my own ways to deal with the perennial exam struggle. Some things were taken for granted, some motherly and teacherly dramatics ignored, some anger absorbed, some rules adhered and some not. The creative curious being inside me found ways to explore learning on my own, while barely managing to sail through the school examinations. There were many allies in this beautiful journey. One of our favourite quotes became,
“Gae hamaari Mata hai,
humko kuch nahi aata hai.”