The memories of the state board chemistry public exam of March 1986 and the period from when the results were announced till the time I stepped into college, are still fresh in my mind. My daughter has just finished with her 12th CBSE board exams and it’s interesting to see, how so many patterns still remain the same, when we see the situation that students are into, across the years. In the month of September in 1985, when the quarterly exams results were being declared by the teachers for the 12th standard, each student was called up and a feedback was given on his or her performance in front of the whole class. We were just 70 students and this was a batch that had been picked up after a lot of weaning out of the non performers in the 9th standard. The state board scores were out of 200 and the toppers reached a maximum of 175 in the main subjects like maths, physics, chemistry and biology. It was not that scoring much higher was difficult but I think the best students were yet to get into the preparations with a killer mode, as the final public examination was still a good 6 months away.
Our chemistry teacher was distributing the answer sheets and giving her feedback while my heart kept pounding. I wanted to remain calm but marks were everything for me and I just waited without being able to thinking about anything else. The top students in the class collected their papers and the maximum score stood at 174 so far. And then I heard my name being called. “I just kept this paper for the last. Can anyone imagine how much Roy has scored?” asked my teacher. There was pin drop silence and my heart kept beating faster. “He has scored 193. I am really happy with his performance. Give him a big hand. Please maintain this momentum Roy, keep scoring higher and finish with a centum”, she said with a warm smile. It took time for this to sink in as I just could not hear the sustained claps and thumping on the desks from my classmates, while I walked back and sat at my place. I felt very special that day. Many classmates had just joined the 11th standard from other schools and in their eyes I created an impression. I was already a serial first ranker right through most of the years at school and my old mates knew that, but this was something special. And so, in addition to the topping the class and a centum in maths, there came in another expectation to score a centum in chemistry too. Each expectation grew every day in me like within a huge pressure vessel, slowly building the pressure inside, every day.
In the days that went by, I developed special strategies for attacking the chemistry question paper. There was a ten marks organic chemistry question right at the end and I always cracked that first and then with the huge momentum that I gained out of it, I raced through the entire paper and finished in pretty well each time. I was getting a rhythm and success was smiling at me each time in chemistry. I really felt that I would get the centum that I was so keen to. But then, on the day of the public exam, my plans did not fall in place. The ten marks question just did not give in and I had to skip it and finish the rest of the paper and then get back and try it again. It never came through. I could not enjoy the examination and I was not relaxed right through. When the results came, my score was again just 193. On the whole my scores were pretty good and it got me a mechanical engineering seat at the College of Engineering, Guindy, the top college in the Anna University that day, but still I was crest fallen that I had not got a centum in chemistry. What hurt me more was when I faced the questions that my classmates, my chemistry teacher and other teachers asked me as they had huge expectations from me. My Dad’s friends and our relatives had expected me to top the state. It was an irony that I carried this pain inside me for several years although I had admission offers from six engineering colleges and three medical colleges that year. The root to this pain was in my trying to satisfy what others were expecting from me. It was more to do with questions such as “How will I face them?”, “What will I answer them?” that was running inside me.
Our society and our external world is still the same and they are always keen when it comes to 10th or 12th standard results. On the day the results were announced for my daughter, I had a large number of calls and messages on my phone. A few of these were from those who were genuinely interested in the progress of my child, but the rest I believe were just those who wanted to quench their inquisitiveness and gather some news to talk about it elsewhere. I responded to a few and left the rest as I could not at that point in time. I responded to them later. There were a variety of questions like “Any centums?”, “What is her MPC score?”, “Has she got into Anna University?”, “Why did she take Computer Science when the computer industry is in doldrums?”, “What is her total and percentage?” and “Why is she not going for medicine. It’s evergreen?” and so on. At one point I thought it would be sensible to hire an exclusive person for a month to handle public relations. A week before the results were announced, I noticed a number of people calling my daughter while at church to ask her about the results. It was an intimidating experience for her and it was very similar to what I had gone through. This has become like some kind of malignancy that has affected our society. From my experience, I have seen how communication skills, presentation skills, monitoring skills and other soft skills have really helped individuals move up the ladder. The marks scored just becomes one minuscule element in our career journey.
Now, let me place some interesting statistics in front of you. An MPC score of 197.85 that I had scored in 1986 is a pretty high score. But I have several friends who scored much lesser than me and who had to study in colleges which were not as highly rated as the one where I had studied, but have raced to very high positions in their career. Three of them are vice presidents in multinational companies. A lot of my classmates and school mates, who could never score the marks that I could, have made a lot more money than what I could and have lot more assets in their possession than what I could buy. So if it’s just money, assets and position, even then only a few in the circle enquire about it. In the twenty four years that I have been out of college, this society who has been after me on my marks has hardly asked me anything on what I am doing in my job. They will probably surface again with their questions if I sit at home without a job and as long as I pick up my office bag and leave every day morning and go somewhere and come back in the evening, they are fine. I have not had one person in this circle who has asked me “What did you do with the engineering you studied?” or something like “Did you develop anything new that relieves the common man from the suffering he is going through every day?” These are questions that really ponder around making a mark in the field and not just the number game and rat race. The best that you could get from a few would be “What is your salary there?” or “What is your position there?” It does not really matter to them about what you do in that position or job.
In 2005, I was into an assignment as a contractor with a leading aircraft manufacturer in the USA. A elder relative of mine derived a lot of pride in sharing the news with a lot of his friends that I was in the USA and that too with this leading company, the name of which was known to every common man. In 2007, I told him that I preferred to take a change in my assignment as there was nothing new that I was learning or doing. I could sit there and continue but that would be a vegetating exercise. “Be there itself. That brand is known to people here. I don’t know anything about the new company where you are heading for.”, was the advice I got from him.