My daughters are having their first-term examinations, and I am all tired out with study-supervision, pencil-sharpening and all that. Thankfully, they are too young to be burdened by any sense of fear or nervousness about exams.
When I was in high school and college, exams always made me high-strung. Especially the big, career-deciding, life-changing ones like the tenth-standard (ICSE), twelfth-standard (Higher Secondary), graduation (B.A) and post-graduation (M.A) exams.
Like most of my friends, this fear and uncertainty made me a prey to all sorts of superstitions and strange practices, which I would follow obsessively.
I was always (and still am) a late sleeper, preferring to study during the night. Often, I would while away the day reading storybooks or newspapers, flipping cursorily through my books, dilly-dallying till after supper, even when the exam was on the next day. Then, when the tension would reach fever-pitch, and time would be running out at the speed of Usain Bolt (or Carl Lewis, the world champion runner of the 1980s-90s), and the rest of the family would be settling down to sleep, I would take out my books to study in earnest. My best and most concentrated study would be done in these final few hours before the exam, when it would be dark and quiet and undisturbed-except-the-ticking-of-the-clock, and I would barely sleep the night before, catching a few winks as the dawn-sun reddened the horizon.
I would sometimes meticulously prepare small chits with important notes minutely handwritten (no micro-xerox for me). I would stuff them into pockets and other hidden places, saying to myself that if I forgot something, I could always go to the washroom and take out the chit to aid my memory. But, funnily enough, the very act of writing the chits would aid my memory so much that I have never needed to take them out and cheat during any exam (as we used to say, God promise, that's the truth!).
Bolstering my confidence with these invisible chits, I would also take along a huge (and very visible) bottle of water mixed with Electral (a rehydrating salt) to the exam hall and sip from time to time, quite in the manner of tennis players who sip re-energising drinks during match-breaks.
Many of my schoolmates came to exams accompanied by their mothers/fathers/both/more. I remember one classmate particularly. During our twelfth-standard exams, she would come with an entourage of two. Her anxious father would be holding her books in front of her at eye-level, while she would hurriedly read aloud from them, swaying her body to-and-fro in rhythm with her sing-song chanting. Why couldn't she hold her books herself? Because her equally-anxious mother would alternately rub and massage her hands with a hot towel (preparing her for the marathon three-hour writing sessions), and would take some home-cooked food from a huge tiffin-box and push them into her mouth (during the pauses in her sing-song memorising). The rest of us would pause in the middle of our own last-minute frantic studying to watch this amazing spectacle. As we grappled alone with Economics, or History, it was fascinating to watch this two-parent-team preparing their daughter like a star-athlete, all three of them swinging like a trio of pendulums.
My poor mother, in an unusual outpouring of maternal concern, had decided to come during the break on the first day of my tenth-standard ICSE exams, lovingly carrying an apple and some hot home-cooked food. Unfortunately, I felt that I had not been able to write that day’s paper as well as I had hoped to (it was English, my favourite subject). And so, being touchy and extremely superstitious, I forthwith banned her from accompanying me to any other exam in future.
I always carried a huge number of surplus pens (fearing that the ink would run out sometime during those two/three/four hours of manic scribbling). But perhaps the oddest quirkiest thing I did was to make my watch go ‘fast’ during the exam. I would start the exam with my watch 10 minutes ahead of the actual time. As the exam progressed, I would randomly keep turning the hands of the watch five minutes ‘faster’ from time to time, till I lost track of how 'fast' it actually was. Often, by the end of the exam, my watch would be over 45 minutes ahead of the actual time (if my exam ended at 1 p.m, my watch would show 1.45 or even later). I don’t really know why I did this. Perhaps I wanted to cheat time, perhaps I wanted the false but reassuring security of feeling that there was still plenty of time left. Because for me, exams were always a race against time.
And another final quirk. After the exam, as we all left the hall exhausted but relieved, friends would inevitably ask, “How was the paper?” Some deep sense of uncertainty and insecurity would never let me say, “Good”. I always, for all my exams, said “So-so”. Because for me, the exam was not over till the results were declared, and I dared not boast about my performance till the proof was in my hands.
WHAT SUPERSTITIONS DID YOU FOLLOW BEFORE/DURING/AFTER EXAMS?