Sunday, 27 March 2011

Exam Blues

The other day, i was sitting on the front verandah of my house in the morning and saw an elderly man riding a bicycle with a girl accompanying him as a pillion-rider. He was pedaling at a medium speed; she was immersed in reading a book. As she was in a school uniform, i guessed she was being taken to appear at an examination and was feverishly refreshing her studies as a last-minute effort. (By the way nowadays, it is very rare to see students being taken to examination-halls on bicycles. It is either a two-wheeler or a four-wheeler. And it is not possible to read if you are sitting on the pillion of a two-wheeler. )

March-April-May is the Examination-season in India.

The next day, i read in the papers that about 1000 students had been booked for cheating on the first day of the School-Board Examination of the State. This news transported me back to the year 1973 when i was conducting the High School Certificate Examination as the Centre Superintendent at an Examination Centre. I had joined as a Lecturer in a Govt. College about 6 months before. As per the rules, only Lecturers who had completed 3 years in service were eligible to be appointed as Centre Superintendents. But that year, the Teaching Staff of the private Colleges of the State had boycotted examination-duty due to non-fulfillment of some of their demands, and so all Lecturers of all the Govt. Colleges, irrespective of the period of their service, were drafted to work as Centre Superintendents. As such i also was roped in although i was still looked upon as a ‘boy’!

I reached the School which was the designated as the Exam Centre, two days ahead. On the first day of the Examination, about an hour before the start, a gentleman accompanied by a young lady, met me. He told me that the lady was a candidate and then requested me to allot a ‘Sick Room'. (As per rules, candidates suffering from serious or infectious diseases were to be put in Sick Rooms as a quarantine-measure) . I stared at the duo with a questioning look as to the reason for their request. The gentleman told me that she had a headache and would like to write her paper in a separate room. “You know ladies have headache every month.”, he said by way of explanation. This innocent and naive ‘boy’, unaware of the ways of the world, particularly about the lives of women, looked up quizzically, said “I do not know.” and rejected their request for a separate room.

As the Examination proceeded, i went around all the halls to ensure that it was being conducted properly and came back to my room. After some time, the Head Master of the School came to me and told me, “Sir, the Professor’s wife is copying from the papers brought by her.” I asked, “Which Professor and which wife?” He replied that the gentleman who had approached me in the morning was a Lecturer of a nearby College and the lady, his wife, was writing the Exam. I went to the hall along with the Head Master. He identified the lady from a distance. She appeared to be of my age. I went near her. She became a little shaky and perturbed. I asked her what she was doing. She kept quiet. I picked up her Answer Book and found between its leaves, a few sheets with some written matter on them. I seized the incriminating papers and asked her to sign on those. She did not respond and kept quiet. I repeated my instruction. She still stood like a beautiful but lifeless statue, her gaze, emanating from an almost half-closed pair of eyes, fixed on the floor. Then i asked the Invigilator of the room to record in full detail, the happenings regarding those papers and sign on them. He did that, i collected the papers and came back to my room. A little while later, i was told that soon after i left the room, she started sobbing, submitted her Answer Book much before time and left the room. Before leaving, she told people outside the hall that i had molested her! I kept my cool and went on with my duties. From the next day onwards, she absented herself from the Examination. There was no further word on the alleged molestation. At the end of the Exam, i reported the matter to the Examination Board.

Her plan became clear to me: she would sit alone in one room and unnoticed by any other candidate, would write the answers copying from the papers brought by her, with connivance of the Invigilator.

(When the examination was over, the middle-aged Clerk who was with me when the man and the lady had approached me, told me that he had suppressed his laughter with a lot of effort when i told them that i did not know about women's periodic headache.)

I was very young at that time. Mentally, I was still a boy. So when i went to any of the halls and the Invigilators (much senior to me in age), stood up as a mark of respect, i felt a little embarrassed inwardly but did not show it!

There were two papers each day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. However on the last day, there was only one paper. After this paper, i called a meeting of the candidates, which was attended also by the teachers of that school and of the other schools, who had worked as Invigilators. Some guardians who had brought their wards to the Centre also attended it. It was a session on Career Counseling. I made the introductory remarks. The Head Master also spoke. This was followed by an Interaction Session in which i, the Head Master and some teachers answered queries from the boys and girls as well as from the guardians. At the end, the students were very happy and relaxed. It has been a memorable event for me.

After working as a Lecturer for about one and a half years, i left the job to join a Bank. The total amount of the remuneration of the Invigilators and others was paid by the Board to me by a cheque after i had joined my Bank. (Yes, in those good old times, everything was done manually and it took almost a year for the Board to settle the remuneration-claims.) I remitted the amounts to each by Money Order. (Yes,at that time Banks were not so well-spread and MO through Post Office was the usual way.) When the MO Receipts came, the number was quite large and they came over a period - in twos and threes daily. As the postman used to deliver all the mail to the Brach Manager of the Bank, seeing so many Receipts, my Manager once asked me whether i was running a Chit Fund!

I have another funny experience about cheating in the Examination. As a student, i had the habit of noting important points on chits of paper, carry it, have a last glance of it at the Exam Centre and tear it off before entering the hall. This particular incident occurred when i was appearing at my Pre-University Exam. in 1965. As usual, i had carried a small bit of paper with important points written on it. I had put it in my breast-pocket. Due to some reason, i did not have time to read it before the Examination and forgot all about it. At the end of the paper, when i was coming out of the hall i folded the Question Paper and put it in my pocket. Then, horror of horrors! I remembered about the bit of paper in my pocket. I almost fainted and sweated profusely. I felt very much afraid. What would have happened had the Invigilator found the paper in my pocket, or even had i suddenly remembered about its existence! I am sure i would not have been able to continue writing anything on the Answer Book or complete the examination!!!

My friends used to carry books and put them either outside the hall or near the table of the Invigilator and then proceed to their seats. They said carrying books to the examination-hall enhanced their confidence to face the dreaded thing – the examination. And sometimes these books got stolen!

At that time Pre-University Course was equivalent to the present Plus Two Course. Talking of Plus Two, is it a correct expression? The word ‘plus’ is used between two other words meaning ‘something plus two’. Here the full expression is Class Ten plus Two (years). Why not say simply “Higher Secondary”?

A few years ago, the Government of U P passed a law providing for criminal proceedings against students cheating in Board and University Examinations. As such, a lot of cases were filed against the erring students. However this had an unforeseen fallout. Pending cases affected marriage-prospects of these persons, particularly the girls. No parent was agreeable to bring in a daughter-in-law who was to be summoned to appear before Courts in Cheating Cases. So the parents of girls in marriageable age protested. As a populist measure, the next Govt. (perhaps the one headed by Mayavati) repealed this law!


Saturday, 26 March 2011

On Being Alone

The wife is away and for the last 3 weeks with Daughter II. i am alone in this fairly big house, which now appears to be full of emptiness.

The most important aspect of being alone is that a lot of time is spent in silence. Although silence is said to be golden, after a certain point, it becomes a little taxing. Ancient sages used to spend long periods in silence. Gandhiji used to observe a day in silence at fixed intervals. But for ordinary mortals like me, remaining silent for a considerable time becomes a little unbearable. Then silence becomes deafening!

When alone, people pine for the presence of others: yet when with others, they start fighting and each one wants to be left alone! It is an irony of life that man cannot live without others; it is equally true that man cannot live with others! How many times we have heard one person telling another, "Will you please leave me alone?"!

We may sometimes yearn for aloneness but no one ever seeks to be lonely.

Valentine's Day was observed on 14th February. Next day i read a news-report that a husband and wife, who had a love-marriage, were living separately. The husband had filed a divorce-petition. On Valentine's Day, he called her to his office and told her that he wanted them to go for a long drive and talk things over. The ever hopeful and credulous lady agreed. They went for the drive. On the way, they had an argument. He slapped her, hit her on the head and left her high and dry by the roadside, injured and bleeding!

In my College days i had read a poem titled Solitude of Alexander Selkirk by William Cooper. It narrates the experience of Alexander Selkirk who is involved in a shipwreck and is stranded in an uninhabited island all alone. The poem is reproduced below:


The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk

by William Cowper

I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute,
From the center all round to the sea,
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
O Solitude! where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms
Than reign in this horrible place.

I am out of humanity's reach,
I must finish my journey alone,
Never hear the sweet music of speech,--
I start at the sound of my own.
The beasts that roam over the plain
My form with indifference see;
They are so unacquainted with man,
Their tameness is shocking to me.

Society, Friendship, and Love,
Divinely bestow'd upon man,
Oh, had I the wings of a dove,
How soon would I taste you again!
My sorrows I then might assuage
In the ways of religion and truth,
Might learn from the wisdom of age,
And be cheer'd by the sallies of youth.

Ye winds that have made me your sport,
Convey to this desolate shore
Some cordial endearing report
Of a land I shall visit no more!

My friends--do they now and then send
A wish or a thought after me?
Oh, tell me I yet have a friend,
Though a friend I am never to see.

How fleet is a glance of the mind!
Compared with the speed of its flight,
The tempest itself lags behind,
And the swift-wing├Ęd arrows of light.
When I think of my own native land,
In a moment I seem to be there;
But alas! recollection at hand
Soon hurries me back to despair.

But the seafowl is gone to her nest,
The beast is laid down in his lair,
Even here is a season of rest,
And I to my cabin repair.
There's mercy in every place,
And mercy, encouraging thought!
Gives even affliction a grace,
And reconciles man to his lot


Retrieved from http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Solitude_of_Alexander_Selkirk

Loneliness is not the same thing as being alone; it is a state of mind. Loneliness is not the same thing as solitude. Sometimes, a person seeks solitude, to be with his/her thoughts. To seek solitude is not undesirable. Sometimes, a person feels lonely amidst a crowd. It is said that in a hierarchical organisation, it is always lonely at the top.

Time seats heavy on the lonely person.Peanuts are sometimes called 'Time Pass' and are sold as such. A lonely person, having nothing else to do, pops up these into her/his mouth to 'kill' time. Time is so precious. Should we kill it?

I read this somewhere: Do not suffer loneliness; whenever you feel lonely, convert the feeling into solitude and enjoy it!

As the French philosopher-writer Jean-Paul Satre said, "If you're lonely when you are alone, you're in bad company."


ADDENDA

The lady of the house (LOH) has since returned. Am I happy? Nah! No such luck. She is repacking her baggage. To fly to Daughter I. :(((((((((((((

2. Whoever said: Do not succumb to marriage just because it seems the easiest solution to lust, laundry and loneliness!!!

TAIL PIECE

Till today, i did not realise how happy I was yesterday!