Monday, June 22, 2009


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.



ZiLliOnBiG said...

I give you one more award "most well written blog that i have read so far".

Hey, you won first prices in your fifth?A belated congrats!!!!!

I am sure you still have the copy of the book(the vicar of.....).

I grew up on Enid blyton, though my first Novel was The Animal farm-Orwell, when i was in my 5th or 6th.
My favorite was Noddy and Famous five. Famous five was like Harry potter during those times.

I never was a class topper, but i topped in few subjects. I was class topper in Social studies(geography) from 1st- 6th, Chemistry from 7th-9th, Physics from 9th-12th.I was almost a Wizkid, who never studied but managed to get 70s(out of 100) in most subjects.

Nice post:))))))))

Sharmila said...

We all have memories ... but I have hardly seen any put into words so well. :-) I could relate to a lot of things in your posts .. am so glad I came across.
I too have grown up on Enid Blyton .. once upon a time I dreamt of joining the circus. :-)

Priya said...

My first ever prize was the first-prize for a 100m sprint. the prize was a biggg "water-bottle" and then i was in kindergarten ...

Swaram said...

Nice one Sucharita. Hats off to how many things from the past u get us to recollect. The first book I received as a prize was 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'. I read it only years later :P

Mampi said...

Wow, congrats on your prize mentioned at the end.
I still have my books that I got as prizes in my school and college days. I guess that was the best incentive to stand first/second/third in class. My kids have been getting mementoes in the forms of trophies and I know how they hate them.

lopamudra said...

My first prize was a golden medal with a red ribbon for standing first in the 1st grade in annual examination along with individual 'merit cards' for every subject that fetched 80% or more.I wish we got books too!

sujata said...

What a lovely post..My first prize ever was for an extempore speech that competition held when I was in class 2. The prize was and remains one of my favourite books,'The adventures of Huckleberryfin' Since then have continued winning prizes only in debates and elocutions..but am so glad all the prizes have been certificates plus books!!

Koel said...

Beautiful always managing to tug heart strings, bringing out treasured memories...
I tried remembering what my first "prize" was, but could not...what a pity :-( But most of my prizes in growing up years were books, which as you rightly mentioned - were treasured not too much for the content but the fact thay they were "won", in front of a appreciative audience as "prizes"!!! And then mementoes followed, which gathered dust and rust over the years...

Rajesh said...

On those days we were eager to win such prizes. The prize that I never wanted to win was "100% Attendance". We would do everything possible not to win it.

Anonymous said...

Great Post!!! Brought back a lot of memories..

My first ever noted Prize from School was for Topping the grade 4 exams. Came as a shock to me. I am not the studying type..I got to wear a tiny little yellow merit badge for a whole year....

Nona said...

Good post! This is my first reading which is actually my second reading. :)

seanag said...

Well, the American system isn't hugely into school prizes, but here's one I remember. I did some sort of science experiment in fourth grade. You planted radish seeds in a jar, and put some sort of cloth or something--it's hazy--over the lip of the jar and sealed it. I wrote up my hypothesis--the plants would die, but I was wrong, they lived, due to whatever oxygen got in through the cloth or whatever it was. So I wrote up that. Much to my surprise, I got the first place fourth grade school district science prize. Apparently it had to do with writing it up right, not with guessing correctly. Oddly, I think this prize jaded me for life. Or maybe I should say that my whole life seems to have been about winning prizes I feel were undeserved, and not getting recognition where I would have hoped to find some. That's not a complaint, by the way--it's more a way of saying that life is curious.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Or, Seana, maybe you should say that science prize honored good writing -- and yes, you may consider this a plea for the rejoining of science and the humanities (Charles Darwin, for one, was an entertaining, thought-provoking, reflective writer.)

But I make this comment to repeat my surprise at how many of my fellow bloggers and crime-fiction fans fell under Enid Blyton's sway in their youth. Authors, too.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

seanag said...

Well, Peter, I expect that coherent writing had something to do with it. But I do hope that we haven't bought into the theory of evolution for the same rather wispy reason.

Although I read a lot of British children's stories in my childhood, Enid Blyton is one who seems not to have made the voyage here. I just looked on wikipedia, and was stunned to find how prolific she was. Seems as though she brought pleasure to a lot of people.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I suppose it helps that Darwin was right.

In re Enid Blyton, one of Declan Burke's hard-edged interview subjects read her. And I think maybe Declan did, too. All I know is that her name comes up all the time. Perhaps Donna Moore read her, too, and maybe Martin Edwards as well. She may have been the spark got a thousand authors writing.

I once won a gift certificate to a bookstore as the prize in a school public-speaking contest. I applied the certificate toward purchase of a book about baseball.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

seanag said...

Yes, I see Blyton mentioned everywhere as well, but she is not on my own inner map.

Someone I respected once predicted that the great Western gods of the 2oth century, Freud, Darwin and someone else--Einstein?--would all turn out to have been taking us down blind alleys. Being me, I sort of hope they were right.

I don't recall my prize being anything more than a ribbon, more's the pity.

♥ Braja said...

I love the sound of the book wrapped with a red ribbon as a prize.....and like ZilionBig, I also grew up on Enid blyton....

Ankit said...

Nice one. How do you remember everything with so many details or may be you already had plans of writing it in a blog one day.

starting from writing 1 to 50 and forgetting the shape of 3, those electrical swittches, those power outs. Your blog makes me think that may be I don't look around that much.

I won my first prize in a essay writing competition at my dad's work. I think I was in 5th standard. I wrote an essay on Jawahar Lal Nehru and got a second prize for the first time (but didn't get a first prize second time...unlucky me).

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Hey, thanks for sharing your prized memories.
And a special thanks to Peter and Seana for that enlivening debate about Blyton. You see, Blyton is 'prized' among Indians, and most bookshops have special shelves dedicated to her books.

Peter Rozovsky said...

You're quite welcome. If I should ever come across Enid Blyton on a bookshelf, I'll take a look.

Seana, if your skeptical friend meant that subsequent discoveries and thinking may build upon Freud, Einstein and Darwin and, in some cases, move past them, well, that's hardly a bold statement. If your friend cared to expand on his or her thoughts, I'd be happy to hear them. I'd say Freud is more vulnerable than the other two, but that's hardly a bold statement.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

seanag said...

I'm realizing that the third person was probably Marx. So you begin to see what my friend was driving at. My friend isn't around to expound further on this, but I suppose what she was really saying was that the twentieth century was ushered in with these enormous theories that hypnotized and became the lens through which we see everything. Darwin may hold up, though I doubt she would say he will forever. But the other two have a lot of explaining to do. And whether she is right or wrong, I think it's good to be reminded that evolution is still only a theory. I mean, a theory is only a theory--i.e., our best explanation so far. It's not always the case that a theory is simply revised or built upon. Sometimes it is simply shattered. It doesn't matter how long people have been comfortable with it as a working model of reality. The earth-centric idea of the universe would be an example of this. And of course I cannot posit a a post-Darwinian hypothesis, because that would mean that I had somehow been able to step outside the paradigm. I don't have a particular ax to grind against evolution, by the way--though social Darwinism I could have done without.

Sucharita, I'll keep an eye peeled for Enid Blyton.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, the professor of whom you have spoken so highly? And yes, Marx's star does not shine as brightly as it once did. In any case, yes, a theory — the best framework we have been able to construct so far. A good scientist will acknowledge this. It’s the faith crowd that’s certain the other side is wrong.

Social Darwinism we all could have done without, just as we could do without the critics who say Darwin was a racist.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

seanag said...

Yes, Mary Holmes, you got it, Peter. And as even her friends said, she was someone that you have to take with a few grains of salt. She would make 'pronouncements', and the rationalists among us would sputter in disbelief. What always bugged me was that it was because they assumed that she hadn't thought about the matter at hand as much as they had, when in fact she had probably thought more and read more. But of course she was a provocateur--she didn't really mind when they thought her outrageous.

I don't think the theory of evolution precludes faith, by the way. Nor did the Copernican Revolution. Another way of looking at it is that new information is a challenge from God, or the gods, to explode your own mindset. And like I said, personally, I love stuff like that. But not everyone finds it a comfortable experience.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm sorry to have forgotten her name. I, who am far too naively optimistic about my fellow humans, like to think she was just prodding people to reach logical conclusions themselves, without simply taking them on, er, faith -- in the casual sense of that word.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

Anonymous said...

excellent post again didi!! your second prize (OR your first "first prize") - was the book called "The Narayanpur Incident" - about some indian freedom struggle, if i am not wrong.. Incidentally my first prize was also a second prize like yours, and the book started with a war description of how "craters of earth" were falling from all directions or something.. never cared for prizes, They were always novels i hardly read any of those..- why couldn't they give a cricket bat, OR a football OR some cash, so I could buy my own stuff!!