Posted by Manjulika Pramod
Published at ‘Under The Banyan Tree’
When I was in the fourth standard, Sudha Aunty asked casually one day, ‘Which is your favorite subject, dear?’
Caught unawares, I uttered spontaneously, ‘Englishhh!’
I considered my answer for a few days. It had to be English. This language of ‘lingua franca’ came easily to me unlike the numbers or statistics. I could spend an entire day just scribbling alphabets and words.
Twenty years have gone by but to this day English remains a favourite. Many others, who get confused with the English grammar, would never understand my admiration. For me, English language is dynamic and it continues to blossom from time to time with addition of new words.
I remember when I was at the high school, I was praying Goddess Saraswati’s intellectual prowess to be bestowed on me during the crucial tenth exams. I prayed three times a day. I kept myself away from all possible distractions. My parents were worried and teachers never stopped us from reminding the significance of the board exams.
Being a good student has its downside – everyone expects better performance. People around me were convinced that I had the caliber to outperform the previous batches. As the date of the exams drew close, I began working harder. As per the schedule, English was the first examination.
I was happy with my preparations but the pressure was very much there – after all, it was the board exam. The pressure to answer everything right gave me goose-bumps. I was anxious and jittery as was everyone around me in the house.
The D-day arrived and I remember it was hot and creepy. My mother had been praying all morning and my Dad was a constant advisor, like a coach before the final tournament. I silently watched and heard them. I was confident about English. After all, it had been my favorite subject for years.
My friends had been teasing me. They said English would be a cake-walk for me. At times, I felt too sure of myself.
After reaching the examination center that day, I spent the first few minutes locating my seat. English paper was never lengthy. I loved the concept of keeping things under a word limit and brevity was my forte.
The invigilator announced that there were no extra sheets. The 28 page test booklet comprised of everything from language and comprehension, to letter-writing and grammar. All answers had to be written in the booklet itself. As instructed by my dad, in the first ten minutes, I studied the paper from start to end. This helped me prepare my strategy and plan a methodology before attempting the paper. When I was done with the first look, I felt confident and began writing.
The first bell sounded distant. But it was distinct – the final ten minute warning. I had almost finished my paper. At that time I remembered Dad’s second instruction. He had insisted on revising the paper after completing it. I began revising it from the last page. I was halfway through my revision when I heard a loud cry, ‘Ouch.’
Before I could do anything, the desk I was writing on, fell on me. It happened because the chair in front of it, along with the girl who was sitting on, toppled over my desk. The invigilator rushed towards us to help. I set the table right and helped her with some water.
The incident led to commotion and thus almost eight minutes were lost in trying to bring back order in the examination hall. I was yet to finish the revision but I was more worried about the girl. The last few minutes were not enough to revise the entire paper. The final bell rang and the time for the first examination was over. All of us walked out of the exam hall after carefully handing over the answer booklets, ensuring that it contained our names and roll numbers.
There were noises of all kinds outside. Students were cheering and laughing, randomly heading towards the exit.
The last three hours in the examination hall had been strenuous. It had made us realize the worth of every minute. But now it was over. The plaguing question however, was ‘How was the paper?’
Friends stood in groups to breathe fresh air. The teachers reminded us that they had taught everything. And the anxious parents tried their best to read our faces.
Each one of us had so much to talk about our first experience. After every question of the English paper had been discussed and dissected piece by piece, the din gradually subsided.
At home my Mum put her question simple and straight, ‘How was the paper? How did you fare along? Did you complete in time?’
As I answered her questions the anxiousness on my Mum’s face dissipated. She was smiling and it was a big relief for me. My happy and cheerful state of mind assured her that I was satisfied with my attempt. None of my parents was keen on estimating my final scores and neither was I. One down, four more examinations to go. I had just begun to shift my focus on the next one – Science – when Ruchi, the topper from another section, dropped in. The pretense was discussing the questions, but I knew her real motive was to check if she had done the English paper better than me. She had annoyed me all through the years with such visits.
Yet I could not ignore her. Our mothers were kitty- party friends and her mother was a lady I admired. As we had answered in the booklet, there was no question paper with us. There was hardly anything to discuss in the essays, letter writing or post card writing. It was more about imagination, presentation and the right form and had to be answered as per the individual’s capability. That left us only the comprehension and a bit of grammar to discuss.
The board question paper had four passages followed by four questions which were tricky. Ruchi had a sharp memory and she remembered the questions in order. We proceeded one by one, discussed and moved on to the next. I was content and happy that we agreed on most of the answers and in fact I had got a few more ‘rights’ than her.
But when she mentioned the passage about the ‘child and the cherry tree’, I gave her a surprised look. I had never attempted this passage. I went blank for some time but I soon realized my blunder. The fact was that I had attempted three comprehensions and missed one.
It never occurred to me that I had skipped an important question that was worth twelve marks. I thought Ruchi was happy with this though she chose not to show.
After she left, I cried my heart out. I could not believe my bad luck. I had not taken my Dad’s advice seriously enough. Revision was never my priority. I knew that it was my own fault.
I confided in my Mom and Dad and they stood by me. They cheered me and advised to focus on the other subjects. I moved on and left no stone unturned in making efforts that would minimise the damage. I still had four more papers to go.
I prayed. I requested God to intervene. It might sound silly but this is what I said in my prayers:
Please God! Please, Please, Please let the examiner skip the fourth comprehension. Please do a miracle. Please don’t let this happen to me. My dear God, I know it is a small request. Please God! I want to score above nineties in my favorite subject. Please! Please do something.
It was the most sincere prayer of my life.
I had learnt my lesson. I became extremely careful for the remaining papers.
After all the papers were over I cried in the nights blaming myself because I could not see myself scoring less in my favorite subject. I was emotionally shattered but I never gave up my prayers. For the next two months, till the results were declared, there was not a single day when I did not think about my English examination.
13th of June, it was! The scorching sun refused to take rest. In fact, with each progressing day of the season, days were getting hotter. I knew the results were already ready and any moment they would be declared. I kept my fingers crossed.
The phone rang on that bright, sunny summer day. It was Ruchi. She announced that she had scored 92 percent overall and congratulated me for scoring 93.8 percent. Unlike other times I was not curious to know my marks in English.
But Ruchi did not stop and complained about her low marks. Then she said something that made me jump with joy, ‘How did you manage to score a ninety four in English when you had missed an entire passage of 12 marks?’You know yours is the highest score that I have heard till now.
I did not want to answer her. I had been blessed. My prayers had been answered.