The question paper was placed rather ceremoniously on my unworthy desk. It was a Mathematics paper. Before teenage love and midlife obesity hit me, Maths was the Anti-Christ to my Jesus Christ.
With trepidation, I let my eyes rove over the printed sheet. Just a quick run over. Nothing looked remotely familiar. As I picked up the paper bomb, I was struck by the weight of it. Not just metaphorically, but literally too. It was three pages long, printed both sides. I felt bogged down by the sheer weight of it. I didn’t know if my answer sheet could even match the length leave alone the substance of this. “Phew”, I sighed heavily.
“Quiet!”, barked Dayalu Miss.
“What, for just a sigh”, I thought soundlessly. Christ, this was going to be a forgettable hour.
Dayalu Miss, we all thought, was aptly named. Deyam was the Telugu word for a demon. She was short-statured but possessed a long, notorious reputation of driving mediocre students to suicidal thoughts and on giving up on the fruits of education altogether. She barked, growled and stormed her way through legions of insecure, frightened students to occupy the pedestal of a Bonafide Deyam.
Therefore, it was no surprise that presently my wits and my balls were in a torrid tangle.
She breathed down my neck as she passed by my starkly raw, virgin and yet untouched answer sheet. I felt streams of disapproval radiate the uncomfortably close space between us, bouncing off my quizzical expression onto the indecipherable Calculus on the question sheet. I breathed a sigh of relief as I felt her presence ebb away, the pallu of her sari sweeping the floor beside me, almost grudgingly.
“Right, let’s get down to it”, I thought to myself. I opened my fountain pen, checked for the ink and proceeded to peruse Dayalu Miss’s challenge to us.
The numbers, figures and shapes rose up from the sheet, almost apparitions themselves and played around in front of me. I willed them into submission but to no avail. The geometry seemed to contain a shape I knew nothing of. The x’s and y’s could not be related as far as I could tell, linearly or otherwise. I flipped over the three-pronged Death Sentence once again only to stare into more incomprehension.
“Jesus Christ”, I muttered to myself. I wrote my full name clearly down as if that would entertain some marks, clearly elucidating the class I was in and the section. And, then I waited for divine intervention.
The ink on my exposed nib dried in exasperation. I dipped it in again, and held it over the answer sheet, suspended in mid-air, not knowing where to start. On an impulse, I drew a neat straight line to the right of the page, proclaiming to whomever it concerned that it was to be the margin for rough work.
“Entraaaa, you seem to be trying something”, a voice drawled.
I looked at the source. Srikar, he who had grown two sizes too tall for our school shorts. I gave a slight nod.
He turned his thunder thighs like a giant airborne crane and crept into a stance from where he could whisper to me.
“Listen to me, don’t try anything”.
“What do you mean”, I hissed back.
“There is no point in doing something half-half. Either go full all in, or don’t try at all”.
I gulped down his pearls of wisdom, thinking he did have a point. Damn, why couldn’t this be English! Maths, it is so accurate, so definite! With English it was left to your discretion. You were at liberty to comprehend Shakespeare and Chekhov any way you like, drawing your own conclusions.
I looked at Srikar again. His eyes gleamed with profound understanding.
For the next hour or so, the nib and paper never came together. A couple of times I flirted with the decision to try something but Srikar’s wisdom came in the way. Until finally, it was time to give in our efforts. That was when panic paid a surprise visit.
Christ, I can’t turn in an empty sheet, what was I thinking!
I quickly joined pen and paper, haphazardly scripting delirious calculations, half-baked theorems and far-fetched hypothesis. Srikar looked on as I timidly handed in my sheet.
Two days later, Judgment Day. The class sat in stunned silence in anticipation of the short-statured demon.
She walked in slowly, each step of hers sounding like a death knell. A couple of students sniffled; a few others held hands. A pin dropped somewhere and shook the stunned students out of their terrified reverie.
I looked askance at Srikar. He was the picture of composure and calm. She then started with the sentencing. 7/50. 11/50. 6.5/50. 15.5/50. Whole budding careers were broken down, dreams shattered in the space of minutes as every student who walked up to her table walked back with a piece of them broken and thrown away.
She barked out my name. I stood up, a puddle of nerves, sweat starting to form at my temples. I gingerly stepped forward.
“Half-mark”, she screamed at me.
As I started walking up to her, the sight in front of me stopped me in my shorts. She was fondling the huge boil that sat atop her head. She had had the unmistakable boil ever since she stepped into our class. When in thought over an LHS=RHS sum, or when terribly angry at a student, she was known to caress the boil atop her head in slow strokes, striking terror in every student’s heart.
“Don’t laugh”, she growled at me, her boil red and glowing in the light of my embarrassment.
“Shameless fellow! Half mark you got, out of fifty”, she reiterated.
I picked up my sheet and turned to face a sea of students concealing laughter. I grinned widely. I thrived on humorous moments like these. I continued grinning foolishly as I walked back to my seat until I heard her shout “Srikar! 26.5 out of 50!”
Write Club Hyderabad – LOL, March 2018.