THE VALUE OF NOTHING

I almost did not write this piece. I avoided it for a long time as I thought that it might hurt the sentiments of some of my close friends and relatives. But finally the bug in me that makes me put my thoughts into words could not resist penning this down. A few weeks back, the ICSE Board results were declared, and as it happens every year, all hell broke loose. Every year indifferent schools, arduous parents, and above all ubiquitously unscrupulous coaching classes, indulge in an abominable gamboling of one-upmanship, in which children as students are the unfortunate puppets. Were this dance not in such bad taste, it would easily qualify as a rib-tickling comedy.

Though our daughter still has four full years to go before it’s her turn to get thoroughly confused by this madness, my wife and I do partake in miniaturized versions of this frenzy every time her school results are announced! This is something that we are consciously trying to avoid, and have been successful only to a certain extent. Unfortunately, some family members and close friends continue to indulge in this charade. These family members and friends will not like me saying this, but it is time we put an end to this inanity. All of us have gone through this superfluous endeavor while we were growing up, with the SSC / ICSE / CBSE Board Exams being touted as the penultimate test of our educational competencies (the HSC Board two years later being the ultimate). I cannot speak for others, but I personally was traumatized every time my marks were distributed in class, and comparisons made with my other more “intelligent” contemporaries. After the ordeal in the classroom, the dreadful feeling that I had scored a few marks lesser than the class topper would stalk me even as I headed home – and my parents never disappointed me. By reiterating the fact that had I studied a bit “harder” I could have topped the class they dexterously conveyed the fact that I had “let them down”. All through my school life I did reasonably well in class, except for the much-feared Board exams, where I did not. When I cleared my Board exams, the “going rate” was between 90% and 95% – this was the minimum required to get admission to a “good” college. Now it has reached the ludicrous proportions of 95% to 99%. I am sure by the time my daughter gives her Board exams it would be somewhere in the region of 110% to 115%! Am I sounding preposterous? Well, the way things are going this would very soon come true.

Let’s bust some myths about this whole farce. The most common excuse trotted out by parents to justify this sham is that the competition in today’s world is very tough. I ask you, what is this so-called competition? Is this not that imaginary group created by parents themselves to put pressure on their children to perform better. If they do score high in their exams, it becomes a chest-thumping point for conversations in their family and social circles. In simple terms, this is just an ego-boosting exercise for parents.

Getting admissions into a “good” college is the next most common excuse. I can cite innumerable examples of geniuses who have graduated from some back-of-the-beyond, not-so-popular colleges, and an even greater number of dunces who have studied in some of India’s elite colleges. If you think about it, you may be able to spot many such examples from within your family. Once upon a time, engineering and medicine were the only two streams acceptable to parents. But even in this day and age, when career choices have expanded to encompass heterogeneously global professions, I personally know many parents who are adamant to get their wards admitted to either of these two “honourable” streams. To such parents I can only say – grow up and move on.

My father used to tell me that if I have to “progress” in life then I need to score high in class, especially the Board exams. Well, I did not do well in my Board exams and barely managed to scrape through engineering with great difficulty. After seeing me struggle all through my engineering, he would often warn me that no one in their right mind would employ me, even as a peon (I am sure all my friends have heard variants of this from their parents too). But here I am today, doing reasonably well for myself. Sorry to disappoint you Dad, but I “progressed” well in life despite scoring low, and am definitely not employed as a peon. So this excuse is just another myth propagated by parents to keep their children in line with their thinking.

I have said this before in many of my earlier blogs and am reiterating it again. Times are changing rapidly, and dramatically from when we were growing up. Today’s children are much better equipped than we were at their age to cope with this ever changing life-style. Please do not curb their inquisitiveness and hidden talents. Why do some of us still keep pushing our children to run this tenuous and interminable marks-scoring race? Why not instead ask them to step aside and enjoy the view along the path? Why do we insist on driving like cattle them along the path at a punishing pace determined by us, and not let them stroll along at their own pace? Why do we continue to teach them the cost of everything and value of nothing? It is time for us parents to clear the cobwebs of our mind…

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