Board Exams

The board exam, three words that are the bane of every student’s existence. Once upon a time, 150 students were appearing for this dreaded SSC board exam and you’d almost miss Farha* in this sea of students if it weren’t for her sitting on the first bench. You know the one that is conjoined with the teacher’s table? Yes, that, partly because she was vertically challenged and mainly because that was her comfort zone. You see, Farha was shy and barely spoke beyond the required word count for the day. And yet, she was my nemesis when it came to English elocution. When she was on that stage, her 4 ft plus frame just seemed to shapeshift into this vociferous being that commanded your attention and how. Hands behind her back, her taut body propelling that perfect diction even as her brown eyes blazed on a fair face framed by that well-combed hair culminating into a single ponytail plait. Her gold remained undefeated since grade 5 while I juggled between the silver and bronze, albeit not too happily, I’ll admit. So, as payback, I got her to sit on the third bench with me.

Farha was an outstanding student. It wasn’t just her high scores that put her right there; it was her determination. I remember in grade 8 we had the option to choose French over Marathi. Farha stuck to familiar territory, and the inevitable happened in the First Unit Test. Most of us scored north of 45 on 50 while the best she could manage was the south of 20. Her overall grade took a massive hit. That’s when she changed the course of our school history. She covered all the French portion and requested the principal to test her knowledge with the condition of sticking to Marathi if she did not score above 90%. No marks for guessing that Farha appeared for the French exam in Term One.

The board exams were around the corner.

And the usual suspects were being bet upon to make the cut. Folks who had consistently hit the high notes during the crucial grade 10 exams, particularly the prelims. And our batch had quite a few of those. I was one such aspirant, too.

“So, who do you think will top our batch?”, she asked me one day.

“I think it will be Sandy without a doubt. He is such a brain,” I answered without missing a beat.

“Hmmm. Maybe,” she replied.

94.63% was what Farha scored in the 1992 SSC board exams, beating everyone hollow and getting her name engraved on the meritorious students’ list at St. Joseph’s. Yes, that girl had done it again. It was evident that she was destined for greater things.

We graduated school and life took over. We lost touch until some years later my family relocated to her residential area. I bumped into Farha one evening and was ecstatic to meet her. I let her know I had shifted closer to her, but she seemed distant while talking. But that was just her, you know. I was the talkative one. She only beat me on stage. I didn’t read much into it. That was the last I saw her. A few years later, at work, a colleague joined in from the same residential area. We got to talking, and I realised she stayed in the same building as Farha.

“You do know about her, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“She committed suicide a few years ago….”

That afternoon’s conversation remains etched in my memory like a bad dream that refuses to go away. I’ll never know what drove Farha to take that step, but I think it’s unfair how the world lost out to all that potential. All the high percentages could not come to the rescue of her determination that went awry. I can only speculate but my why’s don’t get any answers. Even as this has been gnawing at me over the years, I earnestly hope Farha is resting in peace, wherever she is.

Why I chose to write this today? It’s because my daughter appears for her Grade 10 IGCSE exams in less than two weeks. My nieces, too, are giving their board exams this same month. And my constant reminder to them is that you are beyond your exam mark sheet. No piece of paper can map out who you are and where you are destined to be. It’s the journey that will shape you for when you hit a roadblock, you’ll perhaps make your own road or trace back your steps to an alternative path. Whatever it is, your board exam report card won’t be your GPS. So, take a bet on yourself. Be You, always, because no one else can do that good a job of it. Good luck and God Bless.

No piece of paper can map out who you are and where you are destined to be. It's the journey that will shape you for when you hit a roadblock, you'll perhaps make your own road or trace back your steps to an alternative path. Click To Tweet

*Name changed to protect identity.

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