On Monday afternoon, I lost the remote control for the TV. I’d had it for eighteen whole days, exercised total control over it, and watched all that I wanted, when I wanted.
But that afternoon, the son’s exams finished, and his life resumed its round of Harry Potters, 1.5 litre bottles of Coke, bottomless bags of Kurkure – and unlimited STAR Movies. The school’s conspiring with him – it’s given him three weeks off and I can see that remote is going to remain out of my hands for the rest of the month. That’s why I like exam time. Not only is the TV wholly mine, but the son is in marked contrast to his normal, cheeky self for a whole two weeks.
It wasn’t always like that. Of course, that first year in Class 5, when he encountered exams for the first time, he was nervous, but once the first paper was over, he was whistling once again. ‘Is that all there is to it?’ he demanded when he got back home.
The next three rounds of exams were equally uneventful. ‘I’ve done it all, Mum. Don’t nag. It only makes me feel even less like studying,’ he’d say. He’d got that straight out of his father’s mouth, and it made my lips curl. But the report cards, when they came, were more than satisfactory, and my pride in him usually snuffed out the desire to box his smug little face.
But between last year and this, the son has been spending more time with the husband. The result has been requests for after-shave, a before-its-time avuncular attitude towards me (he even patted my head and murmured ‘It will be all right’ when I’d had had a particularly bad spat with the boss!!), and a maniacal fetish for the newspapers in the morning. (I am now convinced about my theory that reaching out for the newspapers is a male–female thing.)
The first two exams passed uneventfully. Computer Science ‘doesn’t count’. And German? ‘I know it backwards,’ boasted the son, over-confident as ever.
Then the newspapers started writing about exam trauma, the stress inflicted on children. The son read it all, storing away every word printed on exams and schools in a memory that we’ve often compared to a 2 TB disk.
I started noticing the change in him before the Science exam. He was actually cramming from his books from day one, though there was a gap of three days. That wasn’t like my son, I thought. He began shadowing the husband for help. He even asked me to teach him to draw the evolution of a butterfly. Most Science exam eves, he scoffs at me, ‘How can anyone who never learnt any chemical formulae say they’ve learnt Science?’ This was a turnaround.
The day before the exam, the son’s adrenalin levels had peaked and all his primeval aggressive instincts were boosting his hysteria levels to fighting pitch. When Amma refused him a second kebab, he burst into tears and rushed into the loo. For once, the family was struck dumb. Nobody had anything to say till Amma came up with the understatement of the year, ‘I think he’s tense.’
After that, nobody talked to the son about exams. He spent the nights before each paper in close conference with the husband, even over Social Science. The husband displayed amazing patience, I must say, much more than the sum total he has shown towards me in the last fourteen years. Amma and I also showed a lot of patience. We let the son’s droning about temperate climate regions drown out our favourite TV serials without even glaring at him. I personally kept his lifeline of Coke flowing twenty-four hours a day.
Well, that was last week. This week, all the hysteria is gone, so is the submissive little boy we’ve never seen before. He’ll be back, I know, unless his school continues with its wise policy of setting some of its exams at least before other schools. Now it’s back to ‘Yes, Mum, I know my room’s in a mess. I’ve just finished my exams, for God’s sake. I’ll do it!’ before he slams out of the house.
As an aside, the boy must get his genes from sources other than me. I have never thought either the Science or Maths book ever worthy of more attention than writing my name on it the day I got it. For that matter, how does one read aloud from a Maths book?
First published in The Financial Express.