It is ‘the’ exam for every school going child in Kerala. Entire life is planned around that exam. The chances of getting admission to college, depends on the marks scored in the SSLC exam.
Maria was home when I was preparing for the exam. I overheard Amma telling Maria
“Go and check her works Maria. Help her to prepare. You have already written the exam, so you know how to write. Teach your sister”
“No Amma, I won’t. She must carry her own cross, like I did. No one helped me when I wrote the exam.”
“You are becoming too selfish Maria” I heard Amma telling her.
I sighed deeply, knowing very well, It was Amma who encouraged Maria to be like this.
I revised and revised all the subjects over and over. I wanted to do well. I wanted to become a Doctor.
On the first day of exam, Amma woke me up in the morning with a cup of Horlicks.
“Children, come, let us pray before Nina leaves for the exam” Amma called out to my sisters.
Liza and Sally came.
“where is Maria?” Amma asked
“She is still sleeping Amma” Sally replied
“Go wake her up”
I watched Sally going to Maria’s room to wake her up.
“Maria, wake up. Amma is calling you” Sally spoke to her
“She wants to pray before Nina goes for her exam”
“So? Tell her to pray. Why should I be there?”
Amma heard it too
“Maria, you better get up and come here. Don’t make me come to your room!”. Amma was screaming
I watched Maria coming to my room angrily.
“Let us pray” Amma closed her eyes. Amma called all the saints and asked for help. The prayer was going on for way too long and I slowly opened my eyes to see What my sisters are up to. Liza and Sally were deep in concentration. Maria was looking at me and for a moment our eyes met. I quickly closed my eyes. I didn’t want to see her cursing me.
I had 12 exams to be written in 6 days. My first exam was Malayalam. When I reached my school, all my friends came to write the exam with their parents. Stress was on everyone’s face. I was worried. In the morning, I was confident that I have prepared well for the test. But now, when I watched how everyone was doing last minute revision, I started to feel doubtful. I found Alice sitting underneath the Cassurina tree. Her mother was with her. When Alice saw me, she looked at me and said
“Nina, I need to revise the poems again. I will speak to you later”.
All of a sudden, I started to feel scared.
‘Did I really study well? What if Maria said is going to be true? What if I fail? Oh God!, I should have studied some more. I shouldn’t have wasted my time watching TV’.
I heard the bell ringing. I walked to my classroom. I could feel my heart beating very fast. I, Nina Thomas, had my entire life to live, ahead of me. If I stumble now, there is no turning back. I prayed to God, that I won’t fail the exam.
12 exams, written in 6 days. It was tough. But I did it. On the last day, I went through all the question papers. I added up the marks of the questions, I knew I wrote well. I got a total score of 380 out of 600 marks. I knew I would get first class.
Maria came to my room in the evening
“Nina, join the tailoring class at the Paikadas college. If you join now, you don’t have to show the SSLC marks card, Later, even if you fail the SSLC exam, because you have already joined their course, they will allow you to continue”
“I am not interested Maria”
“Because I don’t want to”
“So you plan to waste your 2 months holidays?”
“Ofcourse. You did the same, so why can’t I do it?”
“Because, I learned from my mistake, so you don’t have to make the same mistake”
“I am sorry Maria, This is my life, I decide how it goes”
“You are dumb and lazy”
“Yes, I am, and you can’t do anything about it. So accept it”
I knew Maria was mad, but I also knew, there is nothing she can do.
In the evening, when Amma came back from work, I heard Maria trying to convince Amma to send me for tailoring classes.
“I don’t want to go Amma” I yelled
“So what are you going to do during your holidays?” Amma asked
I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to learn english. Pre degree is taught in english and I only knew to speak one sentence in English. ‘My name is Nina Thomas’. I had to learn to speak english.
“I am going to learn English Amma”
I could see Maria closing her mouth and chuckling.
“You learning English? You don’t even know to say your own name in english”
I knew how to say my own name in english, So I ignored Maria. I don’t need her approval for anything anyway.
The next morning, I went to the children’s library to borrow the books. I went to the english section. There were lots of books. I decided to start my reading with picture books. The first book I borrowed was the jungle book.
When I came back from the library, Maria was home. She saw the book in my hand
“You reading jungle book? For heaven’s sake, you are 15 years old Nina. Jungle book is for little kids. You don’t even know what book you want to borrow? bodoh(stupid)!!”
Maria and my younger sisters were laughing at me. I was angry at being mocked, but I had to learn english and there was no other way. I went to my room and closed the door. Word by word I read my first english story book. I didn’t understand anything. I read again, and again. I was angry with myself because I didn’t understand anything in that book. I thought of giving up. Then I remembered how I learned Malayalam. If I could learn Malayalam, I was sure I could learn english. I read the book again, by the 7th attempt I could understand a bit. By the end of one month, I was able to read short stories.
On Saturday, I went for the choir practice. Anju was waiting for me at the entrance
“Did you know?” She asked me
“Biju has been debarred from writing his pre-degree exam”
“What? Why?” I couldn’t believe my ears.
“He tried to copy and was caught by the invigillator. He can’t write the exam for another 3 years. His parents are so mad at him, I heard that, they beat him a lot.”
6 months ago, I waited for this moment, I had hoped that he would suffer. When I asked mother Mary to make him fail the exam, I didn’t think of the consequences. I prayed for someone’s downfall. I should have never done that. Because of me, Biju never managed to do engineering.
I carried this burden for the last 20 years. I am sorry, I prayed that you fail. I never thought it would bring this much misery to you. I was angry at that time, but that just doesn’t justify my actions. I am truly sorry.