Spice of life: Gaffe season, pick your candidate

  • Dr Mridula Sharma, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 01, 2015 16:19 IST

The election season is over and the winds of examinations have started blowing. They say that a country gets the government it deserves. By that logic, are the slips of political tongues a reflection on the people? I have no doubt, since as teacher, I find bloopers even in the general-English-test answer books.

For many students, handling the language of our former aggressors is as much pain as checking their papers is going to be for their teachers. A college-level student wrote this in an examination letter: "In these days, street begging become so problem for the common people. You can find small children, old and young aunties, aunties with a children begging in the street. Most of them are thifes (sic)." To laugh or to cry is the question before teachers who spot this kind of an answer.

Do I find fault with the word "aunties", just mark the grammatical errors, or put an angry red circle around "thifes"? It becomes difficult for me to judge whether the examinee is a socialist or a bourgeois by temperament. A similar lack of clarity exists in the case of politicians, too. But, let's not take it further.

Just as baffling is the paper where the overconfident candidate has simplified for the examiner the complicated philosophy of RK Narayan: "The whole novel The Guide moves around the Rosy and the raju. But the circumstances which the raju face in his life is only because of the rosy only. So rosy is a character by whom the novel got an end and the last raju died because of fast (sic)."
The strong grip that another candidate has on practical matters of life is reflected in his summing up of the compulsions of a Victorian marriage in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice": "Charlotte Lucas agrees to marry Collins as she knows he is an insufferable ass." The examiner wonders where the gem came from. The entire lot of answer books is strewn with philosophising of this nature. One candidate writes: "One has to die when death comes"; conversely, another, tangled in the mundane world, scribbles: "'Can Life Be a Blessing?' is a beautiful poem by John Dryclean."

It doesn't mean there is no room for original expression. On what grounds do you question the sentence: "He was ill and out of order?" The sheer poetry of "The shade of the leaves are loitering about" makes you pull out you hair in envy. Finally, one goes beyond the student's call of duty, of explaining a poem. It adds layers of meaning to what the poet meant originally: "Coleridge loved the nature and they are planning to go for a walk in an autumn season." The examiner can be relieved at least that the concept of personification in literature is clear to the candidate. After all, like the Indian voter, it is just the question of temporary suspension of disbelief.


The writer is an assistant professor in a Chandigarh-based college.

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