Board Exam Results: Class War In The Classroom

If you’re third class, you’re finished.

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How Bengali boys are marksists. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

Now that Board exams (and the ensuing Board exam results stress) have rolled around again, The Quint is republishing this article from its archives. Originally published on 8 May 2016.

I coulda had class. I coulda been somebody. Instead of a bum, which is what I am
Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront

ICSE results came out on Friday, and along with came many calls from back home.

Test scores in Calcutta seem to be indexed to property rates in Mumbai – simply unattainable for most of mankind. Nobody seemed to have gotten less than 93.17 (yes, I was told the decimal, hence assume it makes a quantum difference). Like Occupy Wall Street protested high wages, Cal should have Occupy College Street, protesting high marks, which can also breed a lot of social disquiet.

And then I remembered…

… Like cordite, chalkdust hung heavy in that Calcutta classroom. Fascist pedagogues shouted out the prescribed line – be it math, history or literature – devoid of any sex or magic, priming the bourgeois for the Class War (First Class with Distinction only. Anything less is deserving of denunciation and deportation to a social Siberia).

No wonder, good Bengali boys are all marksists.

Karl Marx would not be too proud of all the first class distinction only, good Bengali boys. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Karl Marx would not be too proud of all the first class distinction only, good Bengali boys. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Some of us though, had an illicit, furtive relationship with Saraswati. It was an affair that avoided the spotlight of beaming teachers and parents. Instead, we hungrily lunged for the little missives she would drop from her window, and sought her hand in darkling alleys that ran past textbooks. And like it happens with such hopeless liaisons, where somebody else gets the girl – somebody else got IIM, IIT, etc.

Kids are prepped from Kindergarten to study hard, get a good job – and then take it easy. Like lambs to the slaughter, children fatten behind closed doors, cramming and eating and cramming sixteen hours a day. As a result, Bong kids hit middle age about the same time they hit puberty.

Parents, nonetheless, go about bemoaning: `Arre what do I say, Bultu doesn’t study at a-l-l. He’s not like your Gablu’. Implicit in that is an insurance and an insult. Insult, because in case Bultu gets more, it will be because he is so intelligent that he gets 98% simply by scratching his balls.

Insurance because if Gablu – God forbid – scores two marks more, it’s because while Bultu scratched away his balls Gablu studied very hard. Imagine what he would have scored if he had studied even a wee bit. Ergo, my Bultu is more intelligent than your Gablu.

Bengali boys and the festival of exams. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Bengali boys and the festival of exams. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Come exam day, hell breaks loose. It’s like a festive call to arms, when the brave and the young step out to redeem the Motherland. Special `exam’ pujas are done. Conch shells are blown. Dahi and sandalwood paste tika is put on the young warriors’ forehead. Tears are shed. And the whole family stands and waves as the future pride of Bengal enters the fearsome maw of the Exam Hall.

When the student steps out squinting at the sunlight at the end of the morning paper, a collective roar and applause goes up from the hordes of parents pressed against the school gates.

As he nears, one parent shoves a fish head in his mouth (fish brains quickly spike human IQ, kind of like Viagra, but for board exams). Another parent snatches the question paper to check if he’s aswered right – `x/4 Integration root sine theta / cos theta – dy/dx = tan pi/dy… you got this right na, baba?’, the parent asks, turning a shade pale, seeking reassurance more than truth. A younger sibling holds up the pages of the text book for the next exam, which the examinee wildly scans by way of last minute revision that may fetch the additional half-mark that could mean the difference between Presidency College and hell.

An uncle genuflects with water from a freshly slaughtered coconut. Some mothers set the benchmark by making puri-aloo for their children right outside the school gates, and they are duly canonised by the local press.

Then one day, the results come out and the fatal final act of the show opens with a death knell – your doorbell. You ask not for whom the bell tolls – because it tolls for thee. Somebody whose kid has done somewhat better is darkening your threshold, clay pot of rasgullas in one hand, his pride and joy in the other, malicious glee in both their eyes.

“Bultu has got 98.8%. Alas, what do I say – he does not study at a-l-l”. Your parents smile weakly. Tragic violins strike up in the background. They turn to look at you. All of Bengal turns to look at you. You’re the dirt that will clog the engine of India’s growth. You’ve committed patricide and matricide in one clean shot. You’re roadkill. You’re less than roadkill – you’re third class. You’re finished…

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