During my ten years of schooling, the board exam was considered an important milestone that would help us choose our careers. Obtaining a good percentage would allow admission to the best colleges in the city. I was an average student. My favorite subjects were languages and science, but I had less preference for math. My family background was grounded, and the older generation was very mindful of the career choices that their children/ grandchildren would make.
The thriving coaching classes capitalized on the importance placed on board exams and selectively admitted their students. Additionally, there was a division between the vacation batch and regular batch. The Vacation batch conducted during the summer break, catered to students who could keep up with the fast pace of tutoring. Nearly half of the syllabus would be covered during this time, and the top performers proudly belonged to the vacation batch. Their class was unparalleled. Joining such classes meant entering a realm of serious competition, pressure to excel, and continuous evaluation of the students.
In my tenth grade, I also chose to join the vacation batch of tutoring for Math and Science. These classes were conducted at the teacher’s house and the class size was strictly limited to ten students. I despised the idea of attending group tuitions, but I didn’t want to feel guilty about being inadequately prepared for my board exams. I found myself surrounded by brilliant top-performers from all the schools in our locality. A strange feeling of not being as intelligent as these exceptionally bright minds started to develop within me.
Our tuition teacher had a strict demeanor. Just one look from her would instill a sense of intimidation, leaving us suddenly speechless and expressionless. The colony where she resided was lush, with mango trees heavily laden with mangoes arching over the colony and lining the approach road. It was the perfect environment to grasp the fundamentals of math and science.
The ambiance of the class was serious, everyone focused and determined to make the most of the three hours. As for me? I found myself completely captivated by the sound of a cuckoo cooing on the mango tree outside. The large French window conveniently sat next to my seat, allowing me to steal glances at the beautiful bird. My friend would nudge me every time to pay attention, but I was always wanted to be a true pupil of Columbus, yearning to explore the mesmerizing bird perched on the branch. Unfortunately, my restlessness did not go unnoticed by the teacher, who frequently singled me out for not paying attention. Among the elite crowd, I felt like the odd student. To her, I was like a misfit to her ‘Super 10’.”
My fellow students would engage in intense problem – solving and brainstorming sessions, each one trying their best to outshine the others. Meanwhile, I would often find myself daydreaming as our teacher explained vital concepts to us. The aroma of freshly brewing Rasam and the gentle hissing of the cooker cooking soft rice would fill the living room, capturing my wandering thoughts. It was during these moments that I began to realize the consequences of my lack of concentration, focus, and time management. The fear of performing poorly in the board exams compelled me to make an effort to rein in my wandering mind during the tuition sessions
The entire year was filled with tests, mid-term exams, and submissions. Our coaching classes also had a chemistry test scheduled. By that point, I had come to realize that neither the cuckoo nor the Rasam would come to my rescue during the board exams. I knew that regardless of the circumstances, I had to achieve a good score. My aspiration was to become an alumnus of one of the city’s best colleges and attaining a remarkable score was crucial for admission to that college – it served as my driving force.
Our astute teacher decided to set a very tough test paper. All of us were stumped by the complexity of the test questions. Personally, I found the test to be manageable, but I couldn’t help feeling insecure due to the discontent among my fellow students. I contemplated two possibilities: either my preparation was below average because if my intelligent friends found it tough, then it should have been tough for me as well. The second possibility was that I was very well prepared, and perhaps, I could have cracked the paper. However, I thought the first premise was more plausible. The scores were set to be announced during the next tuition class, which was scheduled five days later.
In the next class, our teacher announced the scores, and to my surprise, I discovered that I was the second-highest scorer among the “Super 10”. For once, I witnessed that sweet smile on my teacher’s face as she announced my name. It felt like receiving an accolade in itself. The others stared at me with their mouths wide open, curious to see my answer sheet. For once, I felt confident and realized that I had truly earned this achievement.
The board exam was like a roller coaster ride. I was completely traumatized during the exam, consumed by thoughts of silly possibilities like missing the number 9 in my seat number or forgetting to mention the number of supplements. The anxiety seemed endless. On the day of the board exam results, my tension and anxiety reached their peak. My heart was pounding, and my feet felt cold and shaky. As I received my mark sheet, I was amazed and elated to see my score. I had achieved an excellent overall score, securing my admission to the college. However, the irony was that while I had scored well in all the other subjects, my performance in math and science was average. The scores of the other subjects pulled my percentage and taught me a valuable life lesson.
I arrived home and called my tuition teacher with great excitement, ‘Hello ma’am! I have scored really well, but unfortunately, I didn’t achieve an excellent score in the subjects you tutored me in. You were and still are the best. You did everything to help me reach where I am, but I struggled a bit in those particular subjects. Please accept my apologies.’ I hesitantly expressed to her.
There was an unusual silence from the other end, and I could hear her scribbling something, perhaps making a note of my marks. I started feeling nervous, anticipating a torrent of words and her disappointment with my performance. Then, I heard her smile. I felt a bit relieved. She softly said, ‘No problem at all. I can understand. Let me tell you, in the subjects you excel at, you will always do well. It’s important to recognize your own potential. Once you know your strengths, nothing can stop you from excelling. Don’t rush to climb fast. Take your time to evaluate, but give it your best shot every time
Her words of wisdom are etched in my mind, and for once, I heard her smile while speaking. That day, I learned one of life’s greatest lessons: to know my limitations as well as my strong points.
Today, as I think about the vacation batch, I wonder where the other nine will be. Will they still be achievers, or perhaps happy and content like I am? I ponder whether their scores have shaped their paths or shattered their spirits in the race of life.