Well, you wanted English exams in India

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Comprehension passage question: How do the old and young consumers differ in buying goods? What I want to write: Older Indian consumers, true to their traditions, only buy materials when their predecessor has been broken beyond repair. They buy materials for their utility, not for their novelty. Younger consumers buy goods as much for the ‘shopping frenzy’ as for the possible use of the goods in question themselves. Guess what response that answer will get? A zero. Here’s what I’ve been instructed to write in my English exam, over and over, and why I “practice” English at all: People of old age who buy things do not waste them. They only buy what they need and not for show. Youngsters, however, buy because they think that new things will make them happy and often do not need what they buy.

Ladies, and gentlemen, let me present the GREAT CIRCUS that is CBSE Board Examinations of India!

Let me tell you what kind of words are a big no-no to be used in your ENGLISH LANGUAGE EXAM, just for example: ecstatic, cosmopolitan, counterpart, flippant, extensive, painstaking, blunder …It pains me to write these examples! In fact, I’ve been told not to write the word ‘gratitude’. “Stick to ‘feeling thankful’, Ruchika”, the teacher said. Now I googled some of these words and I am definitely not happy to tell you that many of these appear on the “tough words” list for eleven year olds. And we’re eighteen, months away from college. At this point, I should put my Word Power Made Easy under my bed, forget what equestrienne or plebian mean and stop watching tv shows that are in English. God forbid I learn a new word. My problems with this whole set up is that it DEMANDS for me to be regressive and if I should improve, it would actually go against me. (Let’s not go into how much I freak out about being limited.) It eventually boils down to this: the English exam, the one exam that can be filled with expression and promise becomes a dull scrap of a words fitted to a dry, calculated equation.

Sure, I’ve tried holding my tongue for the duration of the examination, but that’s when things get confusing. The question paper freely uses the words “wanton” and “callous”…. and then they tell me I can’t use the word ‘GRATITUDE’??!! Do tell me, CBSE, who pushed you down symbolic stairs that you fell and banged your figurative head. For those who have absolutely no context, I’ll give you the reason we put up with this nonsense. You see, in the great show of being objective and just, CBSE takes our answer sheets, bundles them up and then flies them off to some hush hush school, the senior teachers of which then mark our papers and hand us a few numbers that eventually become our marks to define everything. Teachers in my school openly say the CBSE result can NOT be predicted. Why? Because it simply is not about what you write, at least not after a point. Because if my paper flies out to a school in rural India in a region that didn’t even want to speak English in the first place and may or may not have protested the use of the “British coloniser’s tongue, you traitors to all that is Indian”, what we slang-call “government school” in short, my marks will depend on how much the person reading my answers understands of English. Or how much they like my handwriting. Or how many papers they have to mark that day. Or how their coffee is. And who’s going to challenge them? Who will ensure each answer sheet gets its due consideration. Well, as you can imagine, when Indian students prepare for board exams, especially those in the Arts and Humanities, their instructions for battle are something as follows: 1. Write 3 paragraphs for 5 markers. Nobody cares about the first or the last paragraph, it just has to be there. 2. Longer questions must occupy 2 sides of the answer sheet, shorter must not go beyond half a page. Eff the word limit. 3. If they ask about the disarmament treaties between the USA and the USSR, you start your answer at the bloody Cuban Missile Crisis and then describe the Cold War. 4. Put all math solutions in a BOX, failing which, the examiner might not find it, getting you a zero. 5. Draw a line after each answer. Secure 10% marks. 6. Unless absolutely impossible, draw! Tables, charts, star shaped bullet points, just draw. Finally: everybody knows I make loads of mistakes, I do, but the best part about my exam throes is when I find shamelessly too many grammatical mistakes in my English language question paper. I bring them back to my mother, concerned, am I getting cocky, to have her confirm there’s an error, and that I wasn’t out eating hay on the day they reinvented grammar.



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Manuel was having a hard time creating his second vamp. She only needed to live a dozen pages but she had to be good- sultry and mystical, she was the character who would create his hero’s first obstacle. And it needed to be splendid because that was going to be the root event of the entire book. He already had the perfect set up. All he needed was the perfect girl.

Diaz watched his father crumble yet another ball of paper and and throw at an invisible target at the opposite wall. Diaz giggled, just as he had done after each misdirected shot- seventeen till now. He didn’t understand what daddy was doing, all he cared was to see him frown funnily over and over again, and mutter inaudible ramblings and write furiously and throw the paper away again. Diaz would later collect all that paper and straighten it out, and keep it in daddy’s desk again. Daddy had taught him never to waste paper. As the eighteenth cannonball striked the wall, Diaz giggled louder and rolled over on the floor.

Lea lost the grip on her pen when Diaz laughed again. She had been tense all evening. She was often lost so deep in thought that she would zap back to reality with such a jerk that she felt disorientated and dizzy when she did. Lea knew the things troubling her were serious. She was not doing well in school. In fact, she wasn’t doing good in anything but writing, but then that had been her natural flair. Having an author for a father has it’s benefits.

Diaz was troubling her. She was having a hard time concentrating on the lesson anyway and Diaz’ sudden bursts and gasps and giggles were pinching her more so. Lea had noticed that daddy wasn’t disturbed by Diaz. It made her even more determined to focus better. She was doing an assignment on Figures of Speech. It was, honestly, very lousy. Lea could use whatever figure of speech required in her writing, she just couldn’t work with the technicals…
“Irony, Metaphor, Simile, Hyperbole…” Lea was reading the list again.

Diaz laughed again. This time it was a high pitched squeal because daddy had hit the paper ball right on top of the fan and there it lay, resting on top of a blade.

Manuel saw his flicked ball and smiled at his son. He motioned Diaz to turn the fan on so that the ball may drop. Diaz ran for the switch and when the fan moved, the ball dropped down and landed on Lea’s head.

Diaz rolled on the floor, clutching his sides. Lea frowned at him and threw the ball amidst daddy’s pile. Manuel got back to writing.

‘He was walking along the pavement, stepping into each pool he passed, but not caring. He had too much on his mind.’

Lea read the example given in her text. ‘It’s ironic that she posted a video of how futile Facebook was on Facebook and is sitting there tracking Likes.’ Lea didn’t understand that. What was the difference between irony and mockery? She would have asked daddy but he was obviously very busy.

Manuel was still writing.

‘He thought about her. How she had picked him up easily, at the bar. How he had shown no resistance. How he had been wishing she leave her phone number. How he had liked it, he had really liked it, when she did.”

Diaz had been waiting for too long. He was getting impatient. Daddy had got an idea at last. How boring. Diaz picked up a paper ball from the mounting heaps, and tossed it in the air. He tried to catch it on the tip of his nose but it fell off. He played with more balls… dropped some… rolled some far across the room… and he kept playing till the entire room was littered with crunched papers. But the game was really off when one ball went and hit Lea in the face.

“A large dog called Tiny is an- OWWW!” shrieked Lea, as she caught the ball in her eye.

It was war.

“Diazzzzz! What do you think you are doing hitting people with paper balls in their faces when they are doing their work and minding their business!!!” Diaz stood still. Manuel looked up. He didn’t want a fight now.

“You don’t suppose any one has anything to do, do they?! Just because you can sit around and do nothing and laugh and play doesn’t mean everyone can! Have you ever thought about studying?! Or letting others? Of course not! You are just a lazy boy, who knows nothing! And here I have to sit and learn the most useless of things like Simile and Irony and what not-”

Diaz smiled, all of a sudden.

Lea stopped, shocked. Then she burst out- “WHAT?”

Diaz giggled. “I-run-eeee?” He giggled more.

Lea looked on, quiet. Was he really giggling? Manuel was just as silent.

“Iruneeeeiiii! What a funny name daddy!” Diaz giggled.

Manuel looked at his son. Irony. I-run-eee. Ironie. Ironee. Irounie? No… Ironee… yes, he could make her Russian probably. Or just tacky. Yes… she would be his own personal joke. His hero’s joke! Her own joke! And then, the name he would laugh at and call his own would turn out so alien and the joke… it would be on him… yes… his second vamp… Ironee.

But was it a winner name?

Diaz danced. “Ironeeeeeee….. Ohh Ironeeee….. funny name! Ironeeee!”

It was. Manuel could make it as sultry as he wanted, even as much as Hell. She could be so much. So powerful. So evil.

Manuel threw up his arms in joy. “Yes!” he shouted and scrawled his pen across the blank sheets with a maddening rage.

Diaz joined in his father’s elation, and did a little jig to a tune that comprised majorly of variations of Ironee’s name.

Lea looked on, awestruck.

What irony, she thought.

Her eyes widened. Irony! I know irony!

The brother she had been scolding had come to her poor father’s rescue, and he knew nothing what so ever of writing! Ad he had explained Irony to her!

Figures Of Speech 101. Surprise. Specially when you have a darling brother.