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A monster called examinations

chandigarh Updated: Mar 11, 2013 14:56 IST

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Recently someone posted a note on my Facebook wall asking about our welfare. Great. But just to give you an idea, it’s exam time for the children, I replied. Oops, replied my friend, getting a full hint of our plight.

So what is this monster called examination that has traumatised generations and sucked the blood of zillions of parents and yet wants more, its appetite not seeming to get satiated?

In other words, almost the entire human race has had to suffer at least one-third of their lives, first as children and then as parents ever since this monster came into being. For some folks, the distress doesn’t stop even at the grandparent stage. ‘Putt thoda padh lai’.

And if the grandparent is slightly educated and the grandchild, bit of a dud like me – the latter has had it.

I am told that other than inventing umpteen trashy gadgets, the examination product also carries a ‘Made in China’ stamp. Yes, it is the Chinese who are responsible for unleashing this demon on society. According to the Time magazine, “The earliest record of standardised testing came from China, where hopefuls for government jobs had to fill out examinations testing their knowledge of Confucian philosophy and poetry.” Called the Imperial Examination, it was established by the Sui Dynasty in 605 AD and was later abolished by the Qing Dynasty 1,300 years later in 1905, says Wikipedia.

Commenting on its advent in the western world, the Time magazine writes, “In the Western world, examiners usually favoured giving essays, a tradition stemming from the ancient Greeks’ affinity for the Socratic method. But as the Industrial Revolution (and the progressive movement of the early 1800s that followed) took school-age kids out of the farms and factories and put them behind desks, standardised examinations emerged as an easy way to test large numbers of students quickly.”

The English, as per Wikipedia, adopted the Chinese model in 1806 to select specific candidates for positions in Her Majesty’s Civil Service.

So, we know that it was the British who gave further fangs to this demon, which now appears month after month in avatars such as unit tests, monthly tests, half-yearlys, finals and finally the competitive exams.

Controllable only through the medium of unlimited cramming, this monster has never affected the guys with an ability to cram. To students like me, whose brain functioned a tad less, it caused severe medical, chemical and mental problems — asthma, headache, attention deficiency, panic attack, palpitations and nausea. All of them, attacking me from time to time, whenever I dared to ignore Mr Monster. And, not to forget the physical battering – mom’s slippers and foot-ruler on the knuckles for failing to understand as simple a thing as Pythagoras’ theorem.

Or the caning on the butt after I remarked that Ides of March in Julius Caesar meant final exams of March!

‘Duffer’ is the tag I passed out with from school, which I did try to wash away by adopting a few malpractices.

‘Parchi’, paying the office peon, etc etc. Not to forget the innumerable visits to temples and gurdwaras and playing ball to superstitions and the tashans such as not showering before the exam since shower could cause brain-drain; not ogling at girls on exam days for they could ‘bhrasht’ your brain; or unlimited kissing of the steel bangle (kara) thinking that all gyaan lay in this piece of metal.

But, this monster is one heck of a stubborn chap. No way can you tick it off if you are not ready to sacrifice five hours of your young life everyday to books and tuition babas.

I am all for admonishing this monster permanently, as it has played havoc with millions of lives and killed the concept of a ‘happy home’. If you look around your backyard, you’ll find The Ides of March looming large.

The columnist is a Punjab-based author and journalist.