The first ‘prize’ I won was actually a ‘Second Prize’ (prize given to somebody who stands second in the annual class examination).
I was in Class IV (fourth standard), and it was 1984. Nowadays, many schools do not award prizes because, apparently, such practices foster unhealthy competition, but back in the cheerfully elitist 1980s, nobody bothered about psychobabble.
At the end of every year, sometime after the annual exam (which ruthlessly tested our knowledge of whatever we had learnt during the entire year – which meant several whole books to mug/memorise/remember and a whole lot of trauma), we would all stand expectantly in the assembly (morning prayer time) and our Head Mistress, the redoubtable Mrs Enid Isaacs (called ‘Izac aunty’ by all Modern School-ers), would be present to hand over the prizes when the names of the students who had ranked Third, Second and First in the exams for each class would be called out. Third, Second and First – in that order.
And, invariably, the prize would be some storybook tied up in red satin ribbon with a label pasted inside stating that so-and-so had won the ---- prize in the Annual Examination for the year ----.
The storybooks themselves were not the attraction (in our school, nobody ever got an Enid Blyton, who was about the only author whose books we eagerly read at that age). It was the slow, careful untying of the satin ribbon, and the gleeful pleasure-pride of looking at your own name written in curly letters on the label pasted bang on the first page, signed and sealed by the school authority.
In my Fourth Standard Annual exams, I ranked second (the First Prize going to a girl called Nandini, who obligingly left school next year, so that I managed to win my first ever First Prize in the Fifth Standard – so my second prize was actually a First Prize, just to confuse things a bit more.). And so, in front of the whole crowd of politely-clapping students, I - flushed, proud, thrilled-to-the-core and expectant - walked up to receive a be-ribboned edition of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, ‘original and unabridged’.
Now, I had never before heard about the author (a famous-if-feckless eighteenth century dabbler in various literary forms, he was well before my time), I did not even know the meaning of the word ‘vicar’ (and when I did look it up in the dictionary, neither the concept of ‘priest’ nor ‘village’ interested me), the old-fashioned language and slow pace of action defeated my enthusiasm after the first few pages, and the lack of pictures did not help.
So, after a lot of smiling and sighing and smoothing my hands over the label and displaying the prize to all and sundry, my prize book gathered dust in it pride of place on my bookshelf, while I went back to my Enid Blytons.
P.S: Much later, as a college student, I have atoned somewhat for my early neglect of the affable Goldsmith (who lived imprudently and died in debt), by reading and enjoying his lively rom-com play She Stoops to Conquer. But I never did manage to make full acquaintance of the simple and pleasant Vicar of Wakefield.
P.P.S : Nowadays, winning virtual prizes do not need all-year studying, serious mugging ('by-hearting', as my students say). Only the graciousness of fellow-bloggers suffice, as proved recently by the mysteriously named Miss_Nobody, who has generously given this blog OneLovely Blog Award, prompting me to write this post. Thank you.
WHAT ARE YOUR FIRST ‘PRIZED’ MEMORIES?