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On exam scripts & eid cards

11.30 pm, the bedroom clock says. Papers lie scattered on the desk, each stamped with a purple 'Utsho Bidyaniketon' on top, with writing penciled on them, and, a few, interspersed with red ink. The red pen is lying on these and you sit with your head on the table, cheek pressed against the wood. I can see you are weary.

It was interesting for you at first, wasn't it? The delight when Champa apa handed over half the Class III papers to check “try your hand at it”; the thrill at being entrusted with that All Powerful Red Pen, whose ink has decided the fates of students for decades. The children, of course, were highly amused. Obviously, as a novice, Risa apu would have to be very careful with how she wielded her power. Indeed, a few went so far as to drop hints on how to check their papers. So, after getting the day's work out of the way, you sat down at your desk with the intentions of checking these scripts in all earnestness.

And it was simple. Much too simple to be satisfying. Identical essays, identical sentences, identical answers: “A cow is a domestic animal. It has 4 leg.” Make a sentence with 'student': “He is a student.” Variety only in the order of the questions answered, spelling mistakes and the extent to which they remembered each drilled response. And the handwriting, ranging from neat print to indecipherable scrawls. Nothing that you hadn't known. But there is a difference between knowing and realizing.

So, six papers later, you lay down the pen and question the whole point of joining Utsho in the first place. Have I been of any use in the past few months? Their methods, however unappealing, may have taught them little; but mine have done nothing. How could I have expected, in a matter of months, to encourage even a little inventive thought when, obviously, the students think that it is memorization that gets them the grades? One after another, those dreaded waves of comprehension roll over defeated rose-tinted ideals.

I don't quite feel like checking papers anymore, you say.

There are cards on your shelf. Eid cards, along with a paper snake and bird. They gave them to you themselves last week. Put the exam papers aside for a moment, I suggest, and take those down instead.

I see you smile as you take up Pinky's card. I knew you would. That one is my favorite as well. Who would have thought that he little troublemaker had such talent? I doubt that you could draw birds so well at ten, or ever, for that matter. There is more in that child than you appreciate, or understand, I think; we both saw as much when you hugged her. Maybe I ought to be a little less hard on her once class resumes, you tell me. I think so too.

I love the butterfly-shaped one too. I know, it's hard to pick favourites when each of them is so intricate, so pretty. You think the little ones might've had just a bit of help from one of the older students in making it? Brishti perhaps, the butterfly in her card and this one are quite alike. What do you expect, they're five years old! And really, I don't see how that matters. Yes, you're right, it doesn't matter. And anyway, only five-year-olds could write, 'I love you, apu' with no inhibitions whatsoever.

“Look, Apu. Doesn't this look rather like a cobra?”

Why, yes, you smile. So it does.

“Take it, Apu. It's for you.”

Who else but Al-Ameen would have given you a paper snake, of all animals, as a token of sincere affection? And you say they don't have creative thought?

It is a little hard to believe that the hands that mechanically wrote those exam papers are the same that made these unique Eid cards. Doesn't say much about education, when you think about it, does it? No, it doesn't. It seems hardly fair to suppress their imaginations like this, to grade them on unoriginality, on a lack of comprehension. But right now, trying to break the system they've already had ingrained into them will just be confusing and harmful. Maybe later, with a younger, more receptive group. But not just yet. You know that now. Besides, they aren't going to let their creativity die so easily; the cards say that eloquently enough. You know that too. Yes, I do.

You know, perhaps you could take the children's advice on checking their papers. A little benefit of the doubt in the case of dubious spelling, points for neat handwriting, that sort of thing. After all, you are a novice. And, really, what right do you have to judge them according to exam scripts? Exam scripts that will be lie irrelevant and forgotten in a few years time? Help them with their Eid cards and paper snakes instead. Right now though, what you have to do is take up that red pen just for a few more minutes and a few more papers. For them.

And don't worry. This time, I'll help you.

By Risana Nahreen Malik

Book Review

Shopaholic takes Manhattan

YEARS of fielding phone calls at the RS Desk has pretty much taught yours truly one thing about the relationship between bad writers and their 'concerned' guardians. The frequency of phone calls put in by father/uncle/grandfather of said writer, trying to muscle the editors into printing work by the young writer, is often inversely proportional to the standard of the writing. The reasoning behind the repeated pressuring? “Children need encouragement to write, and seeing their name in print will give them the confidence to write more.” Whatever happened to failure being the pillar of success? What does this have to do with this week's review? Well, the sequel to Sophie Kinsella's wildly successful “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is a good case in point for what happens when someone with a bad habit gets a bailout instead of retribution.

This book opens with the irrepressible Becky Bloomwood having bounced back from a terrible financial crisis in the previous novel, despite really having done anything to earn the reprieve. As a result, she's just as irresponsible with her money, and just as petty and manipulative. She's still spending way over her budget, lying to her best friend and boyfriend, and running circles around her bank manager.

When the boyfriend receives a deal in New York, she packs her bags and tags along. At first, everything's peachy. There are loads of stores to explore, job offers pouring in, and just the excitement of being in a new place. Becky is truly in her element. The first sign of dark clouds appear when she meets Elinor, her boyfriend's mother, and the woman turns out to be something of a frigid witch with a capital B. Elinor has a peculiar relationship with her son, which Becky finds hard to digest, and doesn't quite know how to deal with it. Then the cacky really hits the fan when the press back home somehow discovers the truth about Becky's finances, and runs riot with the story, with disastrous results. Homeless, jobless, her relationship on the rocks, where will Becky turn? More importantly, will she finally get what she deserves? You'll have to read the book to find out.

As with the previous book, Kinsella does an admirable job of portraying the shopping addiction. The introduction of Elinor into the cast adds a touch of gravity and depth that was lacking in the prequel, and the author really does have an admirable control over her comic elements. Add to that, all the fashion you could get from a week of window shopping, and you have the perfect chicklit combination. This is a book that you want to relax with, and read for the sake of feeling smugly superior to Ms Bloomwood, even as you secretly envy her.

By Sabrina F Ahmad



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