A lot of people won’t forget this day. People of Mansi Niketan certainly would not. I remember it as vividly as Americans remember national tragedies. It was our national tragedy, in the shape of a question paper, with the word MATHEMATICS printed at the top, in bold and capital.
The eve was spent in a frenzy, the night in maddening revisions and discussions, and also buttering up the Hindu deities who had even remotely scholarly outlook. People were going nuts as every tick of the clock made its presence felt. We felt like prisoners of war trapped in a Pakistani jail, waiting to be hanged naked at the dawn.
The evening was fine. Lord Evans had just routed me in chess, because he was bored of all the Maths they were making him solve. He was so smug, that geeky godzilla! We had a little walk, after which it was the time to pick up those horrible books for one last time.
I knew some differential equations, a bit of probability, inverse trigonometry, basic calculus, and the first chapter whatever it was. I could clearly see my relatives’ faces, scrunched up in disgust and pity, warning their kids to never become someone like me.
“That guy doesn’t even know Rolle’s theorem! “I imagined my uncles talking behind my back.
“Did you see his score? I’d get more if I write blindfolded! “One would say.
“Sharma ji’s son scored 99. He would never know what’s a 99, he’s so poor at Maths. “Other would add, and they’d have a good laugh about it.
I imagined myself offering tea to them. They’d stare me right in the eyes and one would ask me if I knew what tan 90 was. I’d fumble and forget, and then they won’t accept the tea because I’m so bad at Maths. Kids would sing tables at my face, Aunties would ask me to calculate cost prices of twelve Sarees, and I would scratch my scalp and the world would dissolve into malicious laughter. I would contemplate suicide and try to hang myself, but I’d fail because there’s a lot of Maths involved in hanging yourself.
I opened the book and practised like the world was ending tomorrow. Everybody was doing the same. Everybody was fucked up as a rat. Everybody except Lord Evans. Lord Evans is never fucked up as a rat. This guy solved NCERT appendix questions for fun. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.
Nobody slept that night. (I had a nap for a few hours, after 2 am, because well fuck maths!) The morning was dewy. The sky was vulture grey. The breeze gave the skin goosebumps at every brush. It was a cold morning, a silent cold morning.
It was the D-DAY. We nailed our eyes to the books. Nature’s calls went unanswered. Well, till they could. People made chits, wrote on palms in microscopic fonts, chanted confusing formulas pauselessly, solved questions after questions till there was no time left. We prayed for earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, anything that gets the exam cancelled. But even the rain, that day, was a fizzle. And Osama Bin Laden was already dead.
The road was glistening. The greenery was lush as a fairytale. It was a beautiful morning awaiting an ugly mishap. We reached the center, our clothes damp from the drizzle.
The papers were distributed and as it was pretty clear, the youth of India was fucked, yet again. I gave full fifteen minutes to the Linear Programming Problem, used scale and shading and everything, and got it wrong in the end. The question about curves, I got that right after three attempts. I drew metrices after matrices, but that fucked up thing won’t unjumble anyway. My answersheet looked like Pablo Picasso’s artwork. Maths teachers did not have the intellect to understand it.
Once back to the lodge, things became pretty normal. We went out, a bit relieved, pretending there wasn’t a time bomb ticking inside our heads, waiting to blow up some day in May.