My favourite thing about the CBSE board exams is that they took place fifteen years ago. But as it turns out, they’re still a thing, with millions of students taking the plunge this week, one and only one question on their minds: How much do I need to score to make aunties and relatives shut up about my future? (Ans: Move to Siberia.)
So first up, best of luck to all you students and/or the impersonators you’ve paid to take the exam for you. Chances are that by now, you’ve heard tons of friendly advice from older people, because giving gyan makes us feel good about ourselves. The advice usually ranges from “Don’t worry, I also scored 23% and I’m rich enough to go to Phuket for honeymoon now” to “If you mess up that six mark math question, you’ll end up wiping windshields for heroin money.”
I have no clue how you’ll do in life but statistically speaking, if you’re a girl, you stand to do better than the boys in your class. I know this because every year, every newspaper in the country will announce the results with the headline ‘GIRLS OUTSHINE BOYS NYAHNYAHNYAHNYAH BOYS SUCK’.
It has been this way for as long as I can remember. In school, the tongue-in-cheek explanation was that girls got extra marks for neat handwriting. Now this sounds like a typical sexist reaction by boys who can’t stand a girl scoring higher than them, but honestly, as hard as I try, I cannot recall a girl having bad handwriting.
When you say ‘girls’ handwriting’, it conjures up an image of perfectly spaced words perched on the line like elegant tightrope walkers, whereas a guy’s handwriting looks like those tightrope walkers fell eighteen stories and splattered across the page. And then there are those girls who take notes with six differently-coloured pens, highlighting and underlining keywords as they go, while the boys are using their chewed-up 045 to draw breasts and horns on historical figures.
Another headline you’ll always see on result day will be along the lines of ‘POOR KID OVERCOMES ALL ODDS TO TOP THE EXAM; MAKES REGULAR KIDS LOOK BAD’. People of privilege – myself included – cannot even begin to imagine the tenacity it takes to be that person, and we have nothing but respect for such people, but it’s also the kind of thing that makes you feel like Deepak Tijori at the end of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I mean does your 90 percent even count if you didn’t spend months studying under the streetlamp outside your employer’s sweatshop? My parents always tried to inspire me with examples like these and said things like “If you don’t work hard, that poor kid will grow up to be your boss.” Because if your ingrained class bias isn’t motivation enough to study, I don’t know what is.
I imagine it’s tougher for students to study now, what with a million distractions fighting for their attention. If I’d had a cellphone and broadband in school then, well, I would never have gotten out of school. I’d still be living off my parents, scrolling through six different social media feeds while they tried to get me to mark “Top three coal mines” on the Indian map. (Hint: When in doubt, mark things in the general vicinity of Bihar.)
In fact, teachers today should use the internet to teach boring subjects in a manner that students will understand. They should get rid of those dreary post-lunch history lectures and just send students links that say ‘A British Trading Company Came To India. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next’. The flipside is that you’d get to see exam answers like, “so like Simon was this guy who came here and wuz all up in mah bizness and peeps were like Y U NO GO BACK and he was like no u lol.”
But on a serious note, good luck once again to everyone taking on the biggest challenge of their lives that will totally determine their self-worth for years to come. Here’s hoping you do well so you can move on to the next challenge, and the next one, and the one after that until you wonder why you were even worried about your boards in the first place. In any case, you always have the Windshield Wiping industry to fall back on.
(Note: This is my HT column dated 8th March 2015.)