Longish post over a small report I read today morning….bear with me (click to read on…)
Long time ago in a galaxy far away
….Back in the school days in Kolkata, there would be certain mornings when I’d wake up overwhelmed by thoughts of the task ahead of me. I am talking about days of the annual (or half-yearly or pre-selections, selections, board etc.) exams (or Tests/Quiz as the Americans would describe it) – particularly if it happened to involve remembering the dates of the Panipat battles and comparative notes about the art and culture of the Gupta and Maurya dynasties. Contrary to a lot of people, Mathematics was not the dreaded Exam – not that I was any good at it – but it involved very little memorization, which I was and still am pretty bad at. Additionally, anybody who has attended that directionally named ‘reputed’ school in Kolkata with its huddled mass of white-and-navy blue will tell you that our Mathematics teachers (especially for the 9-12 standards and while I am at it, lets include the Physics and Chemistry teachers) were certified sadists. They’d throw you a few bones here and there in form of problems worked out in class or ones that more or less adhered to straightforward application of theorems and corollaries – for the rest you would squirm in your seat, look at the problems from all angles scribble a few things on paper and finally give up. Later the teachers would return the paper, strewn with big red circles (nobody in India told teachers about the soothing effects of purple on the student’s psyche
) with delight and unconcealed glee.
You knew you would get slaughtered at these exams and had nothing to lose – you would read up on the concepts and give it your best (on an immodest note, I have to admit that I never did that badly as dramatized here in the science related subjects, which is probably why I ended up where I am now).
History, on the other hand, would bring about much consternation. It’s not that I hated History – in fact, I loved reading about it and adding to the vast base of trivial knowledge osmosing into my brain and helping out in quiz sessions (a note to those who might find a contradiction in my uselessness at memorizing and remembering stuff for quizzes – the latter would happen quite automatically ie I would read a piece in the newspaper about how Coca Cola was the new sponsor for the Australian cricket team replacing Benson and Hedges and that would just stick to my mind without having to put in any effort. However, I had to force myself to remember dates when Humanyun was defeated and driven out of Delhi and the date he came back).
The main problem was that our School Board (West Bengal Board of Secondary Education) did not believe in brevity. For History and other ‘social science’ topics, we were expected to write volumes and by volumes I mean quite a lot. I used to hate writing too much, specially if I had to do it fast and especially with a pen. We would have several short notes (recommended 1/2 to 1 page), notes (recommended 1 to 2 pages) and finally a big essay (recommended 5 pages !) to write – all in 3 hours time and preferably in handwriting legible to the examiner (Remember the opening examiner scene from Jana Aranya
– you wouldn’t want that to happen – would you ?). According to some people, however, legibility was not the big issue – rumor goes that some examiners would simply look at quantity and not quality, even suggesting that some kept a weighting scale and your mark would be proportional to the mass of written work .
Unless you are pretty prolific and language gushes out of your pen ‘like the Ganges flowing out from Gangotri’ at the exam hall, you had little choice but to pre-prepare all these essays and notes, learn them by rote and (figuratively) puke it all out on the exam paper. I hated doing that – used to take all the joy I would find in actually knowing about history.
The main reason for the sense of discomfort, however, was the fact that I would almost never be able to completely study the required syllabi for History. I mean, by the time the final board exams came around – we were covering Indian history from Mohenjodaro-Harappa (3000 BC) to 1947 – Independance and partition. I remember having about ten 96-page notebooks containing all the notes. No way was I going to cover all of it. So I had to resort to a screening procedure based partly on inspired guesses, partly on going through questions set over the last few years, sometimes even gauging the political climate ! (The INA and Netaji was a hot ‘sure-shot’ topic that we know would be a topic of questions in the exams).
In spite of all that, I would wake up sweaty in the morning of the exam feeling queasy, having had nightmares of a question paper full of topics I had triaged earlier. As a last resort, knowing that I was woefully underprepared, I would seek divine intervention. Even though I realized it would be too late for Him (or Her, whoever He/She is) to do anything – the question papers having been printed already – I would pray that the essay/notes question would be from within those portions of Indian History I had feebly managed to cover.
Whether or not due to the prayers, I thankfully survived these ordeals and other than having to forego answering few questions on a couple of instances, I emerged relatively unscatched through my 10th standard board exams – choose the science stream for +2 and lived happily ever after and all that.
The reason or the inspiration behind this post ? This little cricket-related incident
that happened on the other side of the Atlantic earlier today.
Glenn McGrath was ruled out of the second Test shortly before the start of play on Thursday, after suffering a freak injury during Australia’s pre-match warm-up. He is now a major doubt for next week’s third Test at OId Trafford as well, having sustained a grade two tear to the lateral ligaments of his right ankle.
McGrath, 35, trod on a stray cricket ball during a game of touch-rugby and had to be helped into a groundsman’s buggy by his team-mates.
Having been soundly beaten and thrashed in the first test, being particularly tormented by Glenn McGrath, the English side saw very little hope for the second test starting today. English batsmen must have said that little prayer in the morning. And maybe Someone listening to them placed that stray cricket ball! And boy did they make merry in the pre-lunch session in McGrath’s absence.
Update – Of course, this being the English team we are talking about by the time I finished writing this post, they had managed to lose three quick wickets in the post lunch session! Another disappointing performance from Vaughn.