Does This Marksheet Make My Brain Look Big?

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.)

Read This Column Now. You Can Enjoy Later.

Dear Students Who Just Got Their Results

First up, I’d just like to say, congratulations on getting done with your board exams. I’m glad I’m not you because I went through formal education once and even today, I get the classic exam nightmare, wherein I’m late for a math exam and I reach the hall only to discover that it’s actually a physics exam and also I’m naked and the invigilators are strangely okay with it. (Based on a true story.)

Now you may hate board exams, but they’re important because they help find new faces to put on the side of a BEST bus. Maybe you are one of those pimply toppers, in which case you should know that six commuters just felicitated your photo with paan juice.

Or maybe you’re at the other end of the spectrum, in which case you’re contemplating a career as the guy who has to wash off that paan juice. Either way, it’s an exciting time to be a student, because with so many non-traditional options open to you — from the liberal arts and humanities to music production, gastronomy and zoology — the only question you need to ask yourself is, “What branch of engineering should I pick?”

You’re probably eager to start college and discover your true self through Old Monk, THC and Snapchats of your nether regions. But before you get there, you still have to deal with cliched advice coming your way from parents, uncles, neighbours, doodhwala, humour columnists and anyone else who is not you. The most common one is, “Beta, if you work hard and study now, you can enjoy for the rest of your life.”

If you’ve ever fallen for this, let me just say HAHAHAHAHA SUCKER. This is pretty much how it goes:

In class X: Work hard now, then later life is full enjoy only.

In class XII: Work hard now, then college will be chill.

In college: Work hard now, and life will be a pantless tequila party.

At your first job: Work hard now, so that you can rise up faster and work even harder. Then enjoyment.

When you start a family: Work hard now, so that these annoying little people who look like you can enjoy their life. You enjoy later.

At retirement: You’ve worked hard all your life. Now put on this adult diaper and wait for death.

(I like how Indians use the word ‘enjoy’ to describe any fun activity. “He was fully enjoying” could mean anything from “He really liked the salad” to “He really liked being asphyxiated by that limber Nordic woman”.)

Then someone will start talking about how you don’t need formal education to be successful because Steve Jobs was a hippie dropout and Bill Gates mooned Harvard on his way out. What they forget is that these people were goddamn geniuses; Gates had been coding and tinkering since he was a kid, back when computers were seen as some sort of voodoo fad. You, on the other hand, spent that time wondering if your special “me-time” activity could cause blindness. Seriously, if you’re a dumbass, please get a formal education. This will not make you any less of a dumbass, but at least you’ll get paid to be one. This is why people get an MBA.

And finally, there’s the cliché that isn’t repeated often enough. It’s something that needs to be hammered into your heads, regardless of result, i.e. these marks, much like a woman’s opinion in India, do not matter. Or rather, they’ll cease to matter soon enough.

You may get into a top college, which is great, except you’ll be competing with the brightest minds in the country, until you graduate and realise that dammit, there are more smart people to contend with, and that nobody cares about your Class XII math score. It’s like playing WWE trump cards and looking to kill with a Shawn Michaels card, except everyone else has a deck full of Andre the Giant.

Or you’ll land up in a college that’s basically an abandoned cargo container in some place like Jabalpur, where the professor and the watchman are the same guy, and the only extra-curricular activity is sweat. You’ll survive that, because honestly, the only way to go from there is up. (You’ll look daft while doing it, all angsty and metal-y and emo, but you’ll do it.)

At the very least, if you can figure out what you absolutely do not want to do in life, you’ll be better off than so many working professionals today. Then you can work hard and “enjoy” hard too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for a math exam and why am I naked… oh wait.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 8th June 2014.)

Cheaters Never Prosper, Unless They’re Really Good

I’ve always held doctors in high regard, simply because of the sheer effort it takes to spend about eighty years in college so that one day, they may contribute to society by easily scoring whatever mind-altering pills their degrees have driven them to.

In keeping with this glorious We-Shall-Overcome tradition, two medical students from Bangalore made the news this week, after they were caught using an electronic cheating vest worth 25,000. This was a huge embarrassment for the concerned institution, i.e. The Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, because it is blasphemous to use that name and the word ‘cheating’ in the same sentence.

Here’s how it went: First, they put on a cheating vest, or as a vendor website puts it, a Bluetooth Banyan. Seriously, that’s what it’s called, thereby leading to awkward statements like, “My nipples will now interface with your dongle.” Over these, they wore shirts with concealed phone pockets. There’s a microphone built into the banyan, and it also comes with a skin-coloured, difficult-to-spot Bluetooth earpiece. The procedure is simple: Relay questions to your friend by muttering into your banyan, get the answers through the earpiece, and voila! A former vegetable walks out of his wheelchair and moons Boman Irani, while Gracy Singh ditches you to do quality cinema like Deshdrohi.

See, we never did this as students. We had to cheat the old-fashioned way, by smuggling in chits full of information written in a font size of ‘May Cause You To Resemble Chinese Person Focusing On Ant’. (No, not because it’s dinner. What’s wrong with you?)

But at my engineering college, people worked hard on cheating, especially in the Department of Leaking Exam Papers. If you had the good sense to take up arts or mass media or other such hippie/socialite courses, then please understand that there was a very good reason for cheating: It’s because no one in engineering college wants to study. Everything’s boring, and while all your non-engineer friends are busy exploring the back of some girl’s throat, you’re stuck there typing ‘80085’ into a calculator, and as exam day draws nearer, you realise that you’re not going to make it because you haven’t even bought the textbooks, so you succumb to temptation and switch on late-night Sun TV.

No, wait. I meant that you go find the college fixer. Every college has at least one such student who claims he can get stuff done, because “apna setting hai re”, with everyone from the peon to Zeus. This guy would offer to sort out your attendance issues by buying professors their favourite booze (not fussy – most will drink phenyl if it’s free) or commit a serious criminal offence simply because he liked your wallet.

I didn’t use their services, because I couldn’t afford it and was too much of a wuss never needed to, but I did tag along with friends for the meetings. The fixer assured you that he had a guy on the inside, which meant that he knew a guy who grew up in the same village as the dog that once peed on a clerk who knew Leo DiCaprio and could hire him to infiltrate the dreams of the paper-setter. Term after term, people paid in advance for leaked copies that never came, after which they called the fixer a cheat and irony took a chainsaw to the face. These engineers have real jobs today, most probably at the BMC.

It’s worse to hear of medical students cheating. I mean at least have the decency to earn your degree before defrauding people. I can imagine these doctors in the OT, wearing a Bluetooth Banyan, consulting a friend about the patient lying in front of them:

Doctor: (whispering into banyan) OK, so I see the tumour. Or maybe it’s a kidney. I’m not sure.

Friend: Describe it.

Doctor: Uh, it’s small and round-ish and – OMG IT MOVED!!

Friend: Dude. That’s a baby.

It’s bad enough that people in life-and-death professions, such as doctors and pilots, are now younger than me. Every time I see a young pilot greet me from behind his Aviators, I automatically assume he’s hungover from a night of chugging liquefied cocaine. So at the very least, I’d like to believe that they got there on merit. If any doctors or pilots are reading this, please don’t cheat. It may cause high scores, which will lead to terrible things like an MBA. If you’re studying engineering, then get in touch because apna setting hai re.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 7th July 2013.)