Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Exam season - a trip down memory lane

When I began to scan today's newspaper, the first thing that I caught my eyes was the note that SSLC exams were beginning today. That took me a trip down memory lane.

Even though the last exam I wrote was quite a while ago, the mention of the word "exam" still brings up a variety of feelings in me. Nostalgia, fear and relief together is a unique combination.

When we undergo an ordeal, it seems most distressing at that moment. But after a while, we seem to enjoy it. And after even more time, we begin to miss it! Exams were just like that. I still remember the ceaseless preparations, late night studies (mostly because I lazed around during most of the year), anxiety and a whole range of what-ifs. What if this question for which I was not prepared appeared in the paper? Just thinking about that possibility made many a student nervous.

I still remember the food restriction imposed at home. I was supposed to eat only light food - not that I had the appetite to eat anything at all! And of course, the unavoidable drowsiness! During other times, I would be able to stay up late at night - but during exams, no, not at all! I would feel drowsy at 8 PM!!

Mid-term exams were never a problem - but final exams were. One reason was that they all happened in the scorching summer. I used to have exams at 2 PM. Imagine walking to school in the wonderfully hot summer sun at 12:30 PM! That too with all that tension!

And can we forget the Divine? Especially during exam times? Such fervor was never seen before and would never be seen till the next exams! How devoutly we bowed down to the pictures of Gods and to the temples on the way to school! How devoutly did several of us apply vermilion and vibhUti on our otherwise unadorned foreheads!

I had pictures of my favorite God Ganesha pasted on my pad! And that pad! That unavoidable accoutrement of the exam season! That faithful companion when all else, including your textbooks, friends and other resources, had abandoned you! That wonderful thing that provided support to your answer sheets! Was any pad other than my lucky pad acceptable? What if I took something else and the question paper became so ponderously unanswerable (shudder) !

And when you went into that exam, you would have friends (would you call them friends then?) waiting around. Some would be better prepared than you and a few others would give you that happy consolation that you had company! Some officious ones would try to check your level of preparedness before the exam, asking about some obscure thing in the text book, which, of course, you would have heard about only then! Then you would spend the rest of the time praying for that not to appear in the paper, or if you were a bit braver, try to finally (and frantically) see those unopened corners of the book where such precious nuggets were hidden.

That usual bell which signaled commencement of the day's classes otherwise, would sound ominous. This would then set off a slowly trudging group of sober students towards their exam rooms. Once textbooks and bags had been laid in that inaccessible corner, students would then approach their seats and sit in them, all the while offering silent prayer or recalling that tidbit which would become useless in a couple of hours.

The wait for the question paper would be a veritable eternity. Once the answer papers were given, several would mark it with their favorite auspicious word - be it Sri or OM or RAM or whatever! And finally would the paper be delivered. Some would begin scanning the papers and others would begin scanning the faces of their classmates. A purposeful smile let out by the second ranker would rankle the first ranker whose position would be in jeopardy if he/she didn't do well. The answering would begin.

There were always those who felt great sadistic joy in requesting for that first additional sheet with a triumphant spring from their seats! These would inevitably draw anxious eyes from the rest of the room. And competition would begin for more sheets amongst the students.

Some would always get out of any exam thirty minutes before the rest. Everybody would look at that person incredulously. "What is with this guy? Is he faster or am I slower?". Some confident guys would think - "Poor guy. Probably didn't know the answers to all the questions". And then there were those from whom answer sheets had to be literally snatched away by the invigilator.

How can I forget that rarely absent, mostly latent, sometimes patent and even blatant tendency to copy? In mathematics exams, one could see the dire desire of several students to check if they indeed had obtained the right answer. Ingenious means of communication would have been developed for this juvenile act. Of course, a few unfortunate ones got debarred at public examinations.

Once the students got out of the halls, there would be this cross-checking with others. These meddlesome ones who wanted to check all the answers of their classmates would be chased away by those sullen characters who would be sure of their dismal performance in the exam even without being sure of the correctness of their answers.

This solemn process would occur on each day of the exam.

This dark cloud of the exam had the silver lining of the last day when everybody knew that their ordeal had come to an end. They would not be subject to any more torture that year. They were free! It is this feeling that evokes a fond feeling of nostalgia even now. Once enmeshed in the real world, things to look forward to are not that easily available; one would have to make them by and for oneself. The exam (and the subsequent long summer vacation) presented a system provided annual event which would be the thing to collectively look forward to.

When elders would tell us wistfully that student life was golden, we would curse them for not being sympathetic before grudgingly looking at our textbooks. How true they were! When I advise students (usually some hapless young relative that I have captured for the time being) to enjoy their student lives, I feel as if I am looking at a mirror that shows my face back in time.

But relief is another feeling that accompanies thoughts about examinations. No more of those cruel "Draw a diagram of the digestive system of a frog. Label the parts" or "Write short notes on Alfonso de Albuquerque". No more cramming useless dates for questions such as "Describe the causes, course and results of the (put your most hated battle here)".

This is something that will never come back in our lives. We may relive the same through our children or reminisce about those wonderful, crazy, funny, young and innocent moments.

"koi lauTA de mere beete hue din" - sings the Hindi part of my brain. Or for those preferring English, Bryan Adams sang - "Those were the best days of my life".


parijata said...

Nice post.
Reminds me of my 10th standard exams. A teacher of mine happened to remark to the invigilator in front everyone that they were expecting a rank from me. This guy who was sitting next to me then started pestering me to show him all the answers. He looked much elder than an average high school kid, and looked very intimidating. From that day, my Father used to come to school, stay till the exam was over, and accompany me back, though the school was literally stone's throw from home.

Another incident comes to mind. There was this policeman's daughter who was writing her exams in the same room as I was. Her father used to supply all the answers for her. God, the happiness on her face was shocking, to say the least!

Ahh, good old days!

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

I lived through the entire process through your post --- really really nice post.

And someone please kill Blogger for making me type the same comment thrice before accepting it!

bellur said...

wonderful post. reminded me of those horrendous days.

i have always dreaded the word EXAM, let alone the EXAM itself!

i was always just an average student. and as you have mentioned, i would finish the paper first. naturally, odhirthirlilla.

in my sixth or seventh class, i wrote at the end of the maths answer paper:

bellur said...

and how did i study next year?

neela said...

Exams gave us what-if thrills like-
I forget everything that I have managed to learn..
I forget the admit-card..
I don't tie the supplements prpoerly..
I reach the exam hall late..