Monday, July 19, 2010

#36. A Page from My Young Days

WHEN I FAILED

In my own mofussil town, I was considered to be a brilliant student, bordering on genius. I completed schooling (10+2), and throughout I topped the class, with good ranks in the State in both High School and Intermediate exams. So when I landed in the University for the undergraduate degree course, I had a pretty high opinion of myself.

2. Throughout the summer vacation, I was of two minds whether to go for science stream, or change over to arts stream which attracted me because of my love for literature. Then I had started hating Physics, as I considered it a little boring and too taxing. In some topics, due to lack of guidance, my weakness was apparent. As in numericals. The teachers never taught it, and once my Chemistry teacher advised me that I should do the numericals on my own, which I did only as a formality, as the advice I got was at the fag end of the session when the final exams were near. Similarly for Physics, I hardly practised the numericals which was necessary to get a modicum of confidence to solve any type of questions in the final exam. Here probably one can say something in favour of the coaching classes. In my time about half a century ago, there were no coaching classes or tutorials. Some students did go for private tuitions – but it was expensive, and good students looked down upon the practice. Yes, sometimes one did go to some favourite teacher for sorting out some difficult topics, but as I remember, it was more so upto 10th class. After that one was largely on one’s own.

3. But in retrospect I find that the level of teaching those days was fairly high. Teachers came to the class, and did justice to the allotted forty five minutes. I still remember having rainy days in 11th class for a full week, and after that the Maths teacher (Ram Bali Pande) took extra class one Sunday in the month of July itself. Coming to Science vs. Arts, I had almost decided to go for the arts stream, but at the eleventh hour, I changed my mind due to the advice of a teacher who expressed his concern that getting first division was difficult in Arts, and that way Science stream would be better. Those days in the Arts stream, in the entire University there were only a few first class in the final exam, and the number rarely exceeded single digit.

4, The saga of my admission in the Allahabad University is also an interesting story. I was staying at Ghazipur, and Allahabad was a mere 123 miles away. The admission form of the University used to cost one rupee only, and was easily available from the University counter. My Uncle gave me just twelve rupees to go to Allahabad, stay with his uncle (and therefore my grandfather), fill up the form at the university, and come back. The railway ticket was 3 or 4 rupees, and I was supposed to use bus for going to the university. My grandfather’s abode was at Daryaganj, not very far from the destination station of Allahabad City. But in any case the money was much less than was required. The train was in the night, an my Grandmother realizing that I will run short of money gave me a few one rupee coins which she had kept in her Puja room. And so ‘the Chhora Ganga kinare wala’ started his journey. There was a minor mishap at the destination station of Allahabad City. I had a friend traveling with me, so keeping the luggage in the waiting room where I intended to take bath before I went to my Grandfather’s place, I went out of the gate to see him off surrendering the railway ticket. When ultimately I came to the gate bag and baggage, the TC at the gate insisted for the ticket which I had already surrendered. I tried to explain, but in vain, and he wanted to collect fine and fare charges which would have been devastating looking to my financial reserve. We argued back and forth and ultimately I was rescued by another colleague of the TC who persuaded his colleague not to take any action. Anyway, I reached my grandfather’s place, and from their to the University to fill up the form for admission to B.Sc. (PCM). But I still had my doubts, and so on the next day went and filled up another form for Arts stream. I had to get a hostel also, and I did not have a clue as to which hostel I should apply to. In the sultry July heat of Allahabad, I suddenly saw the gate of Muir Hostel with a discreet marble plate at the gate mentioning the name. Well, I went to the office. The clerk asked me about my marks, and assured me that I would have no problem in finding a seat in the hostel. I filled up the form . My comedown from the high pedestal started from there itself. I casually asked the clerk as to what was the highest marks obtained among the applicants to the hostel. He informed that it was 440 (out of 500), and that boy (Anil Kumar) was expected to top. I had secured a measly 376 in comparison. Anyway mission accomplished, I came back to Ghazipur to wait for the admission card, which did come in due course by ordinary post both for Science and Arts streams. However, for Arts stream, they had given me some stupid combination which had Geography as one of the subjects. That resolved all my doubts about sticking to the Science stream. In the meantime, the hostel admission also came, and I was probably asked to report there on 15 July. I started by the morning train on the 14th, and reached Allahabad by the afternoon. For the train journey I thought that shorts would be more comfortable, and I landed at the hostel in long khaki shorts and white shirt (typical RSS style). I got down from the rickshaw and was looking for the hostel attendant to take my luggage to the allotted room (Room 54, a double seated room—a fresher got only a double-seated room in Muir Hostel). Right at the entry to hostel building, I met another fresher student who had come a day earlier. He was horrified to see me in shorts, and asked me to change over to trousers immediately. I did not like his curt tone but did change over as told.

5. Next day there was the formality of an interview in which both the Warden and the Superintendent of the Hostel asked you questions before you were asked to deposit the fees.

6. The evening I landed in the hostel, I got the second jolt to my ego. I met another fresher, one Kamla Prasad Pande from Jaunpur I think. I asked him about the marks obtained by him. 396, twenty more than I had secured. Then I thought that at least in Mathematics I would score over him as I had got 98%. He said 100. I was completely deflated, like a balloon pricked.

7. Hostel ragging started the next day, and it continued for the entire session. I was told that after the students came back from the Dashera holidays, things would become normal. Hardly. Farshi (accosting in the typical Mogul style), and asking humiliating questions were the norm. The freshers got dirty or amusing titles. One of the freshers who had stood 3rd in the Arts stream was given the title ‘Ramu ki Chuhia’. He had a thin voice, with strong Western UP accent, and many a time he was asked to repeat his title in his shrill voice, to the amusement of everybody. There was no ‘Dada’ among the freshers in ‘3 idiots’ style. A question asked from almost every fresher was ‘Are you a boy or a girl’. Many kept mum. When I was asked this question, I undid the top few buttons of my trousers, and my punishment for this cheekiness was fifty ‘faarshis’. The incident gave me quite a notoriety, although I had no intention of going all the way in stripping. However, everyday for 2-3 days some hefty senior used to come and give me a shout. I was a weak, thin boy, having a severe case of acne during those days. Anyway, telling you about the college ragging is not the objective of this blog. But those days, physical violence was a no-no. The worst and the extreme was pillowing, where some of the nastier seniors hit the fresher with pillows. On the academic front what had happened to me was that suddenly I was a nobody from being a top student. It was bad for the ego, but worse, it took away the will to do well, to excel. On top of that, I started taking things easy.

8. Maths was OK, but the significant point was that the entire morning was used up in solving the sums of algebra, integral and differential calculus, and I hardly could get time in the morning to attend to other subjects.

9. Chemistry again was OK, but it was Physics which really got my goat. Heat was taught by Prof. Rajendra Singh (of RSS fame). He was a good teacher. Murli Manohar Joshi was also on the staff of Physics dept. but he did not teach us. Even those days (1958) they kept themselves busy in RSS activities. Some students were attracted to the organization, but to the credit of the two, there never was any attempt on their part to their proselytize any of their students. Things, however, were very different in Optics and practicals. Optics teacher had only a few months to go before retirement, and he used his own formulae to explain the topics. This was not found in any book. He was not a bad teacher but if you missed a few steps of the analysis or you missed a class, damage was permanent. Photocopied handouts were absent then, they came only a few decades later. But the worst part was yet to come. After his retirement, the subject was entrusted to a fresh M.Sc., and he made a complete mess of the subject. He had poor command over the language, and his knowledge of the subject was at best mediocre. The result was an unintelligible torture of 45 minutes. After a couple of weeks students used to leave the class after attendance, and I was often one of them. I should have normally read the subject from a book, and in worst case scenario mugged the portion which I did not understand, but I did not do that. The only book available in the market on the subject explained the concept cursorily followed by long formulae which had to be mastered. My classmates did that, but I don’t know how I gave up completely. One of my classmates of school days Arun was bad in Mathematics, and much later in life he admitted to me that one of the three papers of Maths he left completely blank in the final exam (12th). Arun changed over too Arts and joined Lucknow University from where he joined the Air Force. Something similar to what happened to Arun in Maths happened to me in Optics paper when the final exam came. I had studied the subject all through the night, and when I went to the examination hall, got the question paper and got down to attempt the few questions that I knew from the previous night’s study, I found that my mind was complete blank. I was so confused that I could hardly attempt any of the questions, and left them after writing the introduction, without analyzing any of them.

10. Physics practical was another story. There were a few prescribed experiments, and for each experiment, there was only one set of equipments in the lab. Thus most of the students did the practicals of the subject they had not studied in the theory class and so what done was only mechanical, without understanding fully the essence and objective of practical exercise. I don’t think that the situation is any different now in our colleges. Theory and practical subjects do not go simultaneously at the undergraduate level, and I don’t think that for any practical, large number of sets would be available so that the students do the experiment of the subject they have already been taught in the theory classes. Again it needed application on the part of the student, in the sense that before doing the practical the theory chapter has to be studied and understood in a general way so that what you do in the practical class does not go over your head, and you are generally aware of the principles behind that experiment. But as I mentioned, I had already given up, and did not bother to work hard. I whiled away my time in gossiping, roaming about, seeing movies and generally kept myself away from one of the three subjects which were the components of course.

11. Thus in the final exam, failure was looming large but still I went through the motion of appearing in all the papers. The last paper was Physics practical. The experiment was allotted to the candidate by a lottery system, there were two or three experiments written on top of the answer books kept face down on the table, and the student had to draw one. I was allotted an experiment which I had not done in the class, though it was not very difficult and I could have attempted it. I thought over it. This would bring me only marginal marks. And Optics I was going to fail, so there was no point in continuing with the practical exam. As for Maths and Chemistry, I had done tolerably well, but not brillantly. I informed the incharge teacher. He was sympathetic and tried to persuade me to complete, But I had made up my mind that there was no point in continuing, and leaving this paper was an escape route, in the sense that I could always say that I ‘dropped’, instead of failing.

12. Much later in life I was doing a post-graduate course in Development Economics in a British university. It was a regular course, and they believed in teaching economics through mathematics. I was much wiser then, not a teenager. I had a limited background in Maths, having dome only 10+2 in the subject. Some subjects where a lot of Mathematics was used were beyond me. I could manage to find a way out. On the subject I found some books in the library where it was explained and analysed in not so difficult (read mathematical) way. I did not have any difficulty in passing the exam, though I had to put in a lot of labour.

13. What happened after my drop could be anticipated. Humiliation for me, and consternation on the part of teachers and erstwhile classmates who had gone to colleges and universities elsewhere. My father who was in the village was positively nasty in letter he wrote to my uncle (I was staying in our ancestral home with my uncle). I was at a point in my life when it was difficult to take a decision as to the future course of action. My scholarship was going to be frozen, and for highter studies at least a minimum of resources were required. My father would have been too happy if I had joined a bank in Calcutta which was an easy proposition because of a relation who worked there. Banks were nationalized much later. He wanted me to support him for a few years, which meant putting my ambitions in cold storage for a few years, which would have completely broken me. One of my uncles had the tasteless suggestion of my seeking a job as a primary school teacher..

14. Ultimately I realized that it was only I who had to take a decision. I also realized that some sort of compromise would have to be made. I went to one of my old teachers Mr Subedar Mishra who had a soft corner for me and requested him to arrange a tuition for me. I decided that I would join the local Degree College which had started functioning only a couple of years back, and which had only arts stream. I informed my Uncle who was happy to see that I could reach a decision which under the circumstances was the best ppppossible. That I had to work hard what with a tuition to do was expected. I did well in the new College, got back my scholarship, and went again to the same University proved mainly to myself that I had not lost my basic touch.

15. The year’s experience was traumatic and it left a permanent mark on my psyche. Even now after more than half a century, I sometimes dream that the exams are near, I have hardly read anything in Physics, and am thinking of going to the market and getting help books on the subject which would allow me to get through. Thank god this experience of a blank mind in the examination hall happened at a relatively early stage in life so that later in life I was more cautious. I remember with sadness and disgust the remark of my younger uncle that I should seek a primary teacher’s job. And I also remember the quiet understanding and support I got from my Uncle and my old teacher who helped me get over the temporary setback.

16. Another incident which I still remember is related to my father. After that vituperative letter after my failure, we were not in touch with each other. When in B.A. Part I, I had a good result, I thought that I would inform my him. I wrote a postcard in handwritten italics without mentioning my name. My father thought that the letter was written by one of my cousins who was at Calcutta and who was a dullard. In reality he had failed that year, and when he got the congratulatory letter from my father, he politely informed him of his result and guessed that it must be me who had informed him. Net result was that he was wild and wrote me a postcard using the choicest abuses. It was sent on my home address, and was a matter of amusement to everybody. I also took it lightly, thank God!

17. One lesson I got, though I fully realised it much later that you cannot be at the top always. At some point in life, you find people who are smarter and more intelligent than you and most importantly are willing to work for more hours than you are used to. They could be more successful than you are, and you have to accept the place you deserve, it could be one in the crowd.

18. Why this childish account of something which is significant only for me? Maybe somebody who is passing through the same stage and upheaval as I did learns something!

2 comments:

Galav said...

Dear Sir,

I belong to Ghazipur. Working as HR Executive in Software Comapny in Noida.
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I came to know your name first time from one of my uncle RAMASHRY SINGH (Me be he is your classmate in Govt city college). hope you remember him. He was told us about communcation between your and Mr Nagaich debate during english class.

He told me that you joined allahabad university as economics lecturer and then you joined gorakhpur university and again back to Ghazipur and joined PG college and after that appered for IAS Examination.

Even today you are known as one of sagasious student of Ghazipur City.

I was intersting to read your blog "A page from my young days"
came to know about you more than what i heared from my uncle

Regards,
Pranawanand Singh
0548-2230562 //9650248412
galavsinghgmail.com

Anand Kumar Bhatt said...

Thank you Pranawanand. Nice to hear from somebody from my native place.
Some corrections. I first joined Degree College Ghazipur as Lecturer, and then moved to Gorakhpur University to work in the same capacity for more than 2 years. It was after that that I got into IAS.
Much later I went to England to complete M.A. In Deveopment Economics from the University of Sussex on a British Govt. Scholarship.
Life as a student was tough and stressful