The Importance of Exams

In the 1970s Tarapda Ray, a well known Bengali humorist, created two characters Dodo and Tatai. The writer used these two eight year old boys to document the growing up of his own son. The friends who were also neighbours called each other Dodo Babu and Tatai Babu and saluted each other with “Apni” just like two honourable Bengali gentleman would do. And why shouldn’t they?

One day Tatai Babu found Dodo Babu rather depressed and on enquiry all was revealed. Dodo Babu had not fared well in the geography exams for no fault of his own. He was asked to name five animals found in the forests of Africa and he had diligently listed – lion, zebra, elephant, giraffe and another lion. The teacher unfairly (according to Dodo Babu) was not happy with this second lion and marked him down. Dodo Babu was surprised when Tatai Babu sided with the teacher.

As a little girl I giggled at the nativity of Dodo Babu. Now after a life in the real world I am not so sure.

In school examinations essays were used to evaluate our ability to think creatively and write coherently. Or so we were made to believe. Faced with the question “A cow is a a man’s best friend. Discuss.” we sweated our brains and applied our language prowess to formulate the usefulness of the cow to get the right rewards. But a child who let the imagination run a little further, and transported a wandering cow to the crematorium ground and wrote eloquently about the futility of human existence as observed by the creature, would probably have to leave school without the certificate of graduation.

As a teenager I was worried about the future of this child.

Not any more.

Because the world of political leadership is for her to conquer. And when quizzed about the availability of PPE in hospitals ( if I am being topical) she will talk passionately about why PPE is so important, how expensive it is, how it ought to be used, what may or may not happen if not used correctly, how expensive it is, where it is manufactured, what kind of industries could and should manufacture and why the PPE manufactured in this country is better than anywhere else. And all of us who wrote about the usefulness of cows are left wondering “Do our doctors and nurses have PPE? “

The same is true for corporations. We are not awarded for answering questions but for evading them. As one of my savvy colleagues advised me – the less you say the less they can hold anything against you. It is the sport of constructive ambiguity and when CEOs of tech giants face government enquiries the politicians are beaten in their home turf. “Do you or do you not agree that it is your responsibility to stop the proliferation of fake news. A simple Yes or No would do” – the politicians plead. The executives, university drop outs or MBAs, are clever enough to know that huge salaries cannot be justified for answering questions with a objective Yes or No. Only fools are good at the True or False questions that are so prevalent in school examinations. People with important jobs know it all depends.

The current dilemma about “to sit” or “not to sit” for board exams made me ponder about what did I really learn from these rituals. The answer is quite a lot and, as it happens, most of which I had to unlearn to hold on to my job.

Dodo Babu, I suppose, must be exemplary in an important job because he had shown a natural knack for repeating irrelevant answers and being totally oblivious to the absurdity or wrongness of it all.

As for Tatai Babu I hope he is instrumental in making the world a better place though admittedly I am a bit worried about his sanity.