I was studying in the tenth class in Vandematharam High School, Veliyannoor (now Vandematharam Vocational Higher Secondary School). Tenth was the highest class in school those days (1960s). The present day eleventh and twelfth were attached to college and were called pre-degree course. Plus two was in college, not school. Tenth was supposed to be the most crucial class. During those days if you get a first class (60 per cent marks), you would be a hero not only in the school but even in the whole village. Terms like distinction were mostly unheard of.
By chance I happened to be one of the students who was expected to bring laurels to the school and to the village by obtaining a first class. So, one day Sivaraman Nair Sir, our Maths teacher, called me to the staff room. He asked me about my daily routine, how much time I used for studies, what my study time table was, and so on and so forth. In fact there had been no time table for me as such. My parents left the responsibility of studies completely to me. That was the case in most houses then. Tuitions were unthinkable and extremely uncommon. Tutorials were, however, popular. Tutorials were those ‘colleges’ which admitted those students who failed in tenth class and prepared them for the next examinations. Examinations were conducted twice, in March (the regular ones) and in September (for those who appeared in compartments).
There were no regular PTAs (parents–teachers associations) or meetings then. In fact the only time when any parent visited school, if at all, was to attend the anniversary (annual day function). There was no diary through which teachers used to communicate with parents, and there were no mobile (or even landline) phones. Even to this day e-mail and Internet remains a rarity in village homes. To cut the long description short, there was nearly no communication between the teachers and parents at all. This was the norm in every school and with every home.
It was under these circumstances that Sivaraman Nair Sir called me to the staff room. I told him, by way of routine, that I did pooja (worship) in our family temple, which takes about an hour every morning. I also told him about how I go about my studies, which was actually not much. He asked me to send my father to meet him.
Father went and met him the next day or the day after that. I was also called in during the meeting. Sir told father that I should be left free in the mornings to study and do not send me to perform pooja in the temple. Father said it took only about half an hour.
Sir said, ‘Oh, half an hour in the morning is too much. Mornings are the best time for studies and if possible, please release him from the pooja responsibilities till his examinations are over’.
After all, I was one who was expected to obtain a first class in the tenth public examinations and to bring laurels to the village! Well, this was not possible, because father himself had to perform pooja in another temple about five kilometres away (for a salary) for which he needed to go every morning and evening.
Father told me, ‘Well, I shall do the initial half and then you can go and finish the rest of the pooja’.
I agreed. And from that day till my examinations were over, this routine was followed. But I did not do justice to my parents, to my teachers, to the school, or to myself. I did not obtain a first class. I actually got one mark less than even a second class. Though nobody got a first class from the whole school that year, a few students got higher marks than mine.
I later analysed the reasons for my poor performance. I realized that it was my over-confidence that ditched me. Since I was given to understand that I was the best student in the class I took everything for granted. Maybe the teachers too did the mistake of pampering me. In fact I cheated everybody, including myself.