Thursday, July 9, 2009


(Published: The Sunday Midday - 4 Jan 2009

under the heading: Tera number kab aayega?)

Triumph is a relative thing.

I had an old adversary in school. His name was Mathematics. He was the first one to put a blemish onto my otherwise untainted report card. He was the one who walked into the sight screen, while I played cricket in the evenings with my friends and distracted me from my game, when exams were on the horizon. He compelled me to think about him, to engage in a losing battle with him. I lost a unit test to him for the first time in std. VII. The next three years I just managed to keep him at bay…without letting him draw the blood-red line in my report card.
But junior college was a different ball game….It wasn’t even a ball game. It was a war.
A war my enemy looked set to trounce me in. Integration, double integration, mental disintegration…..I don’t even remember all the weapons he used. The battle field was the answer sheet; which mostly remained blank, one particular school exam in std. XII.

Mr. Shankarnarayan was our class teacher. Shanky we called him. Shanky taught us Maths. He was the referee in the boxing ring. The man who decided if you won the bout or not. That evening, most of us stood like battered boxers at the end of the match, waiting for the result with resignation. Shanky was a fair referee. It wasn’t like he took sadistic pleasure in watching Maths beat the hell out of us and then counting to ten to signal a K.O. Shanky looked like a guy who genuinely wanted the underdogs to win. He stood in front of us in the last period for the day with the checked answer sheets in his hands. He really was a fair referee. But what can even the referee do when Tyson bites Holyfield’s ear off!?
“Ahem” Shanky said. “You have all done very badly m’n….wonly ten boysa have passed.”
We looked around to see who that 1/6th part of us was. There were about seven or eight faces that looked sure of belonging to that category. For some reason these bunch of guys always seemed oblivious to the evil might of Maths and there was a rumour they studied even when there wasn’t an exam around the corner. The rest of us were left to face the inevitable. Ironically though, Shanky’s announcement that most of us had flunked almost had a soothing effect. If the hanging grounds are unavoidable, you might as well have company going there. Every kid who failed today would have a whopping 49 others for company. Whatever the burden of failure, divided by 50, it suddenly seemed to become bearable…laughable almost.
What really jolted us was Shanky’s next line- “And 7 or 8 boysa…have scored a zeeerro!”
This was bad. My heart froze. I’d been regularly beaten by Maths of late…but not this badly! I loved eggs, but I didn’t want one served on my answer sheet…I was too scared to even look around now. A zero would mean a permanent scar. A complete deflation of whatever fight I may have had left in me. The final surrender. It would signal the end of the war. The blank answer sheet of my next exam would be the whit flag I surrendered with. Shanky started calling out the names and handing out the answer sheets roll number wise. Amidst a deathly silence. Zero hour was approaching….”What do you like about Maths?” People used to ask me. “Nothing”, I used reply. There was a good chance I was going to score what I liked about Maths- absolutely nothing!

About twenty minutes later, I bumped into David at the small gate on the way out of school. David was the Goliath when it came to Maths. He’d been one of the few least bothered when Shanky had made those horrifying revelations before distributing the answer sheets. He had had as serene an expression then as the one he had on now. But I was different.
I was smiling from ear to ear; walking like I would break into a dance any second; wondering if St. Vincents street should officially be renamed ‘Cloud Nine’.
“You’re in a bright mood!” David said.
“Yes”, I answered noticing how lovely the birds looked though they were only crows.
“What did you score?” I asked David. He’d scored 33 out of 40 he told me plainly.
“And what about you?” he asked.
“Looking at the way you’re dancing and all…you must have got 37 or 38 or something.” David said.
“Ten.” I told him.
The smile on his face faded into a question. “Oh” he said without asking it and went away looking at me oddly. It wasn’t something David would understand. His proficiency in Maths had numbed him to the joys of seeing an evening become so lyrical when you’ve scored 10 marks out of 40. He could never realise that a smaller failure than the impending absolute one, was still a victory. His 33 could never give him the bliss my 10 could.
For David had merely passed in Maths. But I had triumphed despite having failed.


  1. Dude,
    which exam was this man.
    You making stuff up? Because you do it pretty damn well...

  2. not making stuff up at all....
    this was in the 12th i think...
    one of the internal out-of-forty-mark-ers :)
    (you can ask david :) )

  3. I so know this feeling!!!
    reminded me of my 12th! :D
    i wanted to dance with joy after my board results were in my hand! 35 on 100! it was MY day!:D
    keep writing..u write super nice! (m happy u aint into hard news as such..would have lefta lot of us jobless!)