Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Grandpa’s Matriculation

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on May 8, 2009

Grandpa belonged to a generation whose extinction is near complete. He had grown into a young man when India was awakening from centuries of slumber to the idea of nationhood. His was a time when the demands for Indian independence were becoming more strident, confident and the birth pangs of a nation had just commenced. It was by any measure a momentous period. I would give anything to be a part of such extraordinary times.  Yet from what he told me and what I remember of what he told me, he was vaguely aware and relatively uninvolved with this emerging political climate in the country. At best he was on the fringes of the flux. Looking back, I now understand why he was on the periphery of the situation: Our ancestors belonged to the Telangana region of India which was ruled by Nizam -an autocratic vassal of the British. The Nizam entertained and the British encouraged the belief that he was independent and had nothing to do with the emergent India. The British ruled the region indirectly through the Nizam and were never seen in a direct role. As a consequence, the fervour of demand for freedom in our region appears to have remained relatively muted in comparison to other parts of the country. The goods and the bads that the Nizam’s delivered (or did not deliver) was more than sufficient for his subjects to cope and be preoccupied with. Unless one belonged to educated and aware families, one never entered politics and fighting for Indian Independence was seen as politics. For Grandpa and his family reaching a point where having a certainty around making a living assumed a special importance and preceded everything. So liberation of the country and its transition into a newer era were perforce kept where they had to. The route to this economic assurance lay in an education good enough to give a steady job with the Government. In India – definitely then and to a certain extent even now – a job in Govt sector meant/s a life time of safety with a steady salary and a pension there after

Class X or matriculation in India was and continues to be viewed as critical milestone in the life of a child. It represents many things — a beginning of child’s independence, the hesitant arrival on the doorstep to a long and arduous journey into a future with uncertain outcomes, the start of a less supervised engagement with one’s fate, an occasion for familial fracas on the direction to be adopted by the child and above all the judgment on your academic orientation in terms of your fitment to biological or physical sciences, maths, commerce or art. In a way it is the the first significant step towards ones educational silo. Consequently, matriculation exams are treated with a trepidation by both children and parents alike. Only in the last decade or so have things started to relax a bit especially in urban areas. In semi urban and rural areas the aura of a “public” exam continues unabated

Regress in time by seven decades and one can imagine the importance that got attached to these exams in Gandpa’s time. I remember him telling me that not all students could sit for the finals of matriculate exam. One had to clear the preliminaries set in the school to be eligible for the finals and the prelims usually were tougher than the finals. What created an air of haloed reverence for these exams was the process associated with it. There was one identified school for a couple of districts and all the students who cleared prelims from various schools within these districts went to this school to appear for their finals. The answer scripts were marked in this designated school and the fate of the students decided. Students traveling from other districts typically ended up staying at a relative or friend’s place. If you did not have a relative or friend’s place to stay, you ended up staying with your friend’s relatives or friend’s friends. There was no need for setting up appointments or informing in advance. You just turned up at the door and were welcomed with no qualms. Staying at hotels was a taboo of sorts. Grandpa told me that people treated it as a matter of honour to host visiting students only to remark very causally later ” Oh! by the way that boy stayed inour house and studied”. Matchmakers used this an opportunity to assay potential bridegrooms

A wondrous thing about Grandpa’s time was how low the bar was in terms of the academic qualifications to get a meaningful job. One could get a job immediately after completing class 10 or class 12. The income that came along with these jobs allowed sustenance of families without losing dignity. My guess is that in India of those times this was an aspirational state. Grandpa was a matriculate and navigating through the vicissitudes of life ended up being naib tehsildar. By definition a naib tehsildar had  responsibilities revolving around collection of land revenues, settling land disputes and straightening land records. It was an important position with a potential for impact and corruption. He made name for himself as being a sincere and impactful naib tehsildar. Academically Grandpa was not bright but he was worldy wise with a superbly refined sense of earthy humour. This wisdom came from a sharp and careful observation of life and people around him. He could display a kind of leadership that would naturally gravitate his teachers to nominate him to be the monitor of his class. Grandpa’s matriculation and his monitorship are closely linked and here is how it happened….

As part of his exam plans, Grandpa had to sit for five papers viz. Urdu – the language imposed by the Nizam, Science which was an amalgamation of biological and physical sciences, Social studies which included geography, history and civics, Maths and English. He was terribly weak in maths and good at all others. Day one was Urdu. No issues at all. The exam ends and Grandpa being the monitor collects all the answer sheets of all the students in his class, tallies the numbers, seals them in an envelope and hands them over to the invigilator.  Day 2, English – passes manageably. Grandpa hands over the sealed enevelope to the teacher. Day 3 Science — was an uneventful day and Grandpa was dutiful. Day 4 Social Studies – Grandpa’s favourite subject. The day could not have been better. There was a lightness in his step and discharge of duties. The impending doom of the maths exam was spillling poison into what could have been a spectacular day. The sealed envelope reached into the relevant hands in time

The evening and the night that followed was a torture – all attempts of being brave and being sincere could not restore any peace. His mind was in a churn. Then came the brilliant brainwave. Grandpa immediately worked the pros and cons and everything looked reassuring. The sleep that followed was relatively peaceful although not sound. Day 5  and bright as a button but tinged with anxiety Grandpa reaches the hall takes his question paper, walks to his desk and makes a sincere attempt at answering the questions. The first two and half hours were like an eternity. The final bell rings. Grandpa dutifully rises to collect the answer sheets of all others. He promptly tallies all of them, puts them in a envelope, seals and signs on it. The only catch being the number of answer papers in the packet were one short of what has been written on top. He deliberately avoids inserting his own answer paper. It was only much later the examiners discovered that Grandpa’s maths paper was missing. The fact that all his other answer papers were not missing and that he scored well in all of them was taken as a proof enough to declare him as worthy of passing matriculation. After much deliberation the school decided to issue a pass certificate to Grandpa.

Grandpa was now a matriculate ready to take on the challenges of life and that I think he did admirably


3 Responses to “Grandpa’s Matriculation”

  1. kiran4189 said

    my class ten exam was a nightmare.my parents and teachers made those days hell.as i sat through the exam the things that echoed inside me were ‘first public exam’,’evaluation by teachers from other schools’,’90 percent’,’honor of my family’,’turning point in my life’ and so on.looking back to those days it wasn’t worth that much as twelfth and entrance were to follow.but it was nice to secure 92% in my first public exam.

  2. Harsha said

    good one…. how i wish things remained same.. mathematics was and is still a nemesis for me 🙂

  3. Godhuli said

    I wish it were that simple for us… But what he did was total awe-inspiring. Don’t know whether I could have pulled it off, if it were possible….

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