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     Volume 4 Issue 75 | December 16, 2005 |

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Slice of Life

And They Say Exams Should Be Abolished!

Richa Jha

I love the feel of the examination
I remember the feel of the evening prior to the examination
Of the 'such is life/ life is unfair' philosophising while sharpening the pencils and filling up ink in our fountain pens. Of the hysterics, and of the nervousness at opening chapters upon chapters for the very first time since the days they were taught in class! Of the complete loss of appetite at dinner; of the irritation at seeing the rest of the household behaving as if it is preparing for a picnic (younger siblings were the prime candidates for attempted throttling on such days!); of the struggle to keep awake all night; of setting, re-setting, and re-resetting the alarm; and of the pledge to never land in such soup ever again.

I remember the feel of an examination morning
Of the fleeting moments of despair at realising it was dawn so soon; of the dazed sleepy eyes and beating temples the next morning; of the seemingly concerned parents complaining that they saw the lights of the room switched on throughout the night; of skipping breakfast; of wearing the lucky band, or packing the lucky pen; of racing through the pages on the way to school.

I remember the feel of the examination hall
The sight of the unoccupied furniture; of the frantic leafing through the book and the last minute cramming; the disconcerting sight of certain self-assured blokes who went around spreading neurosis among those last minute crammers like me! Of that overwhelming secret desire of planting a chit in the toilet, or of scribbling that impossibly absurd formula on the palm! I remember lining my bag neatly against the wall; and having the satisfaction of seeing other bags too leaning against the wall; the big sigh as one stepped inside the hall to get butchered; of spying the clean answer scripts and brown papered packets containing the question papers lying on the teacher's desk. I remember the feeling of stepping inside a veritable black hole for the next couple of hours!

I remember the feel inside the examination hall
The way the ones own classroom looked and felt alien on the examination days; Of the smell of the question paper, which in our days, unlike the present day photocopied pages, wore a distinctive smell of cyclostyling ink and of coarse paper. I remember digging my pen nib into the fresh paper to see the inkblot, but I also remember the pledge not to sully the question paper with any other pen or pencil mark. I have clear memories of asking the teacher just before the bell about whether the paper was easy; of arranging the stationery neatly on the desk in some special way that made supreme sense to me alone; the kissing of the pen to stand by me; the pride, and the painstaking aesthetics behind a calligraphic rendition of my name on the top sheet (and the scrawl of a name on the subsequent ones!); the thumping of the heart when the papers started getting distributed; of the mind going blank seconds before the question paper was handed over. And the first feel of the question paper in the hands, and of the faint nausea at glancing at the questions without the words registering!

I remember the single-minded focus inside the examination hall, and the thrill of answering the questions I would be sure of. But also, the feeling of wonder and envy at the others who were the first to ask for extra sheets. The chewing on the pen for inspiration; of cursing oneself for having skipped studying a certain section; of the disturbing footsteps of the teachers on duty, of her distracting beauty, of the deliciously distracting perfume she was wearing! And the moments spent on recalling whether she used to wear the same perfume to class regularly. The distraction also from the undistilled ambient noise which would seep in from everywhere, and the realisation of how they had gone unnoticed earlier during the regular classes; the intrusive manner in which even the fan and the wall clocks made their presence felt! And of course, the annoyance at seeing the teachers on duty stand at the doors discussing their domestic problems!

I remember the way time raced me by during each paper, and the sense of challenge that each paper would throw at me, the greater sense of challenge at cracking the questions that teased me; the regurgitating of memorised notes; the frustration of not recalling a 'known' answer; an even greater frustration at recalling the exact colour of the outfit worn by the teacher the day she taught that particular topic, but not remembering the words that came out of her mouth! And thereon, the urge to rehash the little one thought one knew in those questions!

I remember the strong frequent urge to visit the toilet, the frequent sips of lemonade from the water-bottle; but also the mad rush to finish the paper on time. The sensation of the aching knuckles, knitted brows, or of the warmth of the pen between the fingers will never leave me. And unforgettable are those final flashes of triumph after handing back the answer script, and of mentally calculating what the final scores would look like!

Can one ever forget the moments of extreme suspense before discussing the answers with friends; and the shattering anguish at learning of those 'silly mistakes'!

And now, sitting pretty on the other side of the fence, I still love the feel inside the examination hall, perhaps, even more!

I enjoy the students running out of ink midway through the paper, and the sudden realisation that their spare pen vaporised on the way to school! The mini-diversion this mini-crisis creates in the room with every one trying to bail out this friend in need! The constant need for the subject teacher to be called for some 'problem' and 'out of syllabus' questions! Sitting there, walking about, I see through their yawns, their coughs, their coded signals, their aimless doodles on the question papers; the need for two friends to rush to the washroom around the same time! And see through the 'camaraderie' in the same protractor or ruler circulating among thirty classmates. Funny, they forget it is the geometry paper they have come prepared for that day!

I love it all. If only for the sake of these examinations, I want to go back to my studies all over again!

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