Friday, May 14

Six degrees of inner turbulence

Now that I've settled into my new job and tasted the pickled Mumbai life, assorted well-wishers, noticing my solo social status, have started asking the sensitive question. Right, you guessed correctly.

"When do you plan to go back to the U.S to study ?"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but is it becoming acceptable nay expectable to spend one's life collecting assorted degrees and doctorates ? To avoid generalising, lets just say I have no interest in studying any more. Not even that shady 6-month, correspondence course guaranteeing U.S, U.K, Aus / NZ visa office paperwork filling success. My lack of enthusiasm to once again stroll languidly under the eaves of academe is largely because of my loathing for exams, which has firm roots in history.

Being a South Indian Tamil kid comes with a special burden - your parents hold their breath, waiting for the day you exhibit Ramanujan-like math ability. No other subject holds as much importance and pride of place as arithmetic. If, by some hideous turn of chance, you happen to score great marks in Junior Kg. you are doomed for life. The successful negotiation of 1+1, 2+3 etc. means the die has been cast. Your school reports have to glow with their own inner light. The school authorities must seriously consider putting up a bronze statue of you. Your swagger in the school corridors must be accompanied by a rousing rock music score. No one gives two hoots that staying indoors all the time has given you an anaemic look and a very slow bone growth pattern. "Games? Entertainment? Fun? Play chess. You should be able to beat xyz (neighbouring kid) soon". True story.

What you don't know as you innocently announce your 10 / 10 in math (Jr. kg, 2nd term) is that your IIT life is already being planned in great detail. If not engineering, the family savings are being hoarded for that seat in Vellore Medical College. Not managing either, you could find yourself mysteriously missing from family photo albums (But I'm sure I was in Kanyakumari with you!) and relegated to a dark corner of the hall behind the coffee drum, at family functions. To make matters worse, your relatives are either top rankers or have IIT degrees. This is where yours truly is a bit of a spectacular evolutionary hiccup.

From Senior Kg. onward, I can clearly remember having a nauseating dread of the math exams. It was the one paper where I was sternly told to do well, make sure I ticked all attempted questions AND wrote the answer next to the question, so that it could be dissected at home. I did okay as long as I was at Abu Dhabi Indian School for 4 years. After that, the wheels came off the bus. Moving to Dubai and almost immediately to India, I was a little unnerved. I had enough headaches learning Arabic, Marathi and Hindi, so math suffered. Invariably, I'd have got something wrong and/or completely skipped the question. The Gestapo could probably take notes on the interrogation that followed, I tell you.

To compound the folks' chagrin, I could rattle off pages of information on English and History without breaking a sweat. To this day, I wonder where I'd be if things had gone my way and I'd been allowed to pursue archaeology. When I suggested this out loud at the time, I heard some very hollow laughs, followed by the inevitable "Have you considered Environmental Science? It's the next big thing".

It was only when I began to flunk Chemistry, Physics and Math in the 12th std. (yes, I was 'advised' to take science after 10th. In true, gentle, Michael Corleone style.) and did so with a resignation that unnerved even my parents, that the writing on the wall became clear. Not even the glorious Tam-Bram heritage could provide succour.

Of course, they got their revenge by ensuring that I completed 2 Masters degrees. And not in English or History either. In return, my math skills have regressed to a point where I am confident only about the basic stuff. I mean BODMAS level expertise. If you've followed this blog or read the archives, you'll know that my U.S sojourn wasn't all fun and games. So, yes. When someone asks me when I'm going to try for the Ph.D, I stay diplomatic. Silent. Like Bruce Banner.

Song for the moment: Peacetime Resistance - Kings of Convenience

3 comments:

Piggy Little said...

god distributed the same gene i think ;-) my math is still more elementary..like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. bas. :D

bhumika said...

writing the answer next to the question so that they could be dissected at home - tell me abt it :P

girish said...

@ bhumika - looks like there's a sizeable exam-traumatised generation out there.