CONFESSION: How I passed my maths exam

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: An owl hooted in the darkness just outside my third-floor bedroom. I imagined the precursor of doom to be hovering around in the stillness of the night, its feathered head whirring like a top. The clouds looked sinister, dark and quite demonic. Not a single star twinkled anywhere in the horizon.

There was an air of malevolence about the night. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead. My hands trembled as I tried picking up the glass of water that lay on the side table. My throat was dry. And my normally booming voice, I sensed, had died down to a sad squeak.

I wanted to cry out aloud. But a lump inside my throat made me splutter like a 1955 Morris Minor engine that had long been abandoned.

The next morning the results of the SSLC exam were to be announced. And what if I had failed in mathematics? What a shame. What unbearable ignominy. What an indelible blot on my famous school. And what of my own future. A million questions haunted my mind.

And then I awoke! The teak paneled clock on the wall in front of me showed 1.35 am. A dastardly nightmare.

A regular occurrence in my life; a kind of fortnightly visitation from an unseen, undecipherable force that seemingly breaks into devilish laughter pointing a finger at me and my discomfiture, my pathetic helplessness. And then life slowly gets back to normal.

I went to a boarding school in Mysore. A school with the reputation of being one of the best in the country. The discipline, the emphasis on values, on spirituality, on the rounding of one’s personality, the multifarious games, physical exercise, swimming, the debates, the bonhomie, lip smacking food and the very joy of living together with friends on a 120 acre campus that looked like one large, beautifully crafted carpet of green!

But amidst paradise lurked evil, personally speaking. A subject that went by the name of mathematics.

Simply unsolvable, it scared the living day lights out of me every time our heavily built teacher walked into class, his frame swaying sideways like a sailboat that had damaged its stern.

The numbers he wrote on the board in class looked like weird hieroglyphic jottings in some dark, dank cave dating back to the era when ‘astrolophythecus’ roamed the earth. His rapid-fire postulations went over my teen aged head like jets that fly past India Gate on the morning of the Republic Day parade, streaming and leaving behind a multitude of vibrant colours, except in this case they were all foggy!

And then the day I dreaded the most arrived. The day when I had to actually ‘write’ the mathematics exam.

Our teachers repeatedly told us that it was terribly important to do well in SSLC. After all it was the ‘stepping stone’ for greater things in life.

As was the practice, the school that you went to was not the school in which you actually wrote these ‘public’ exams. There was always another centre allocated to you in the name of fairness and all that. So I found myself in the ancient looking Matrumandali school in Jayalakshmipuram. This was our ‘centre’.

Day One was a breeze. The language exam. In my case it was Hindi.

Day Two: Social Studies. I always fancied myself as a budding historian. So no problem.

Day Three was English. The one thing that had never been an issue in life. After all, my friends always considered me as the one guy who most resembled Shakespeare in class! Juvenile contemplations! Abjectly foolhardy calculations. But the image had stuck.

In the flurry of writing these exams I had smiled at a girl who sat next to me in the examination hall. She obviously came from a different school. But had been allocated a seat next to me for the reason that her name too, like mine, started with ‘S’.

An alphabetical unavoidability that saved my life, my honour and the reputation of my school!

The girl’s name was Sujatha. A thin girl with two neat plaits, a tiny red flower in her hair and a crumpled frock that was like any other school girl’s. My smile had been reciprocated by an even bigger one from her end.

On Day Two I had asked her the usual question, the very definition of predictable behaviour for a boy. “How have you written the exams so far?”

“Oh, not too bad. But…but the biggest worry is tomorrow’s exam,” she said.

“You mean English? I can’t believe it,” I laughed. And then I played the one roll of dice that should go down in my life as the single most vital move I’ve ever made on the face of this earth! I began rather conspiratorially.

“Listen, I shall take ‘care’ of you during the English exam. Just don’t worry. But how about ‘helping’ me in maths?”

Sujatha was a bold girl for her age. She readily agreed. English went by without much fuss. While I wrote with the confidence of a seasoned master, she hurriedly made her own answers even as I placed my answer sheets on the desk at an angle which was most beneficial to her!

Next day was D-Day. The day of the mathematics exam.

The question paper was passed around. My hands quivered like an arrow in the hands of an unsure marksman. My legs shook like they were made, not of flesh and bones, but pure jelly. My heart beat a steady drum. Like at a funeral dirge.

My mind had long gone blank like an old television set. There was this feeling of helplessness. Of being marooned on an island some 3000 miles away from land. Without food and water. And strength. With the sun blazing down on me.

I looked at Sujatha with the yearning of a pauper, the longing of a beggar for some succour, some help, some intervention in bettering my fate. For deliverance from the morass of unreasonableness that was looming in front of me.

And then she began to write. Which she did with the speed of a train gone crazy. And I just followed her on the tracks!

Two months passed by. For me, every single day began with a long prayer to Lord Anjaneya. Finally the results of the SSLC exam came. And I had P-A-S-S-E-D!

Sunaad Raghuram: Mathematics–67. Never mind the name of my school. Let it be!

Join the fun: Yes, we know you were a child prodigy, but how did you sneak through school and college? Is there a Sujatha in your life who you still haven’t thanked? Now is the time to make amends. Leave a comment.