Through a tightly woven story line, Saptajit Sen offers an intriguing insight into the psyche of an anxiety-ridden student on the eve of examination and an equally nervous official responsible for holding the exam smoothly. The story focusing on two opposing sides of a situation makes us learn and unlearn a few important things
Illustration by Sid Ghosh
It was a night before Sarthak’s NEET examination. The four block letters stand for National Eligibility cum Entrance Test. The ‘Eligibility’ here translates to eligibility for a bachelor’s degree in medical science. For any dedicated aspirant like Sarthak, these four letters in this sequence had been stamped into his brain for the last two years, as to become eligible for becoming a doctor, one has to get a firm grip on the entire physics, chemistry and biology syllabus of classes 11th and 12th. After a thorough and sincere preparation of two years, with nearly 5-6 hours of sleep a day, heavy mock tests and notes scattered all around the room, he was only some hours away to his final test. Sarthak’s heartbeats had attained an acceleration. He couldn’t study anything anymore. The more he looked at his notes, the more vulnerable he felt to a panic attack. He was confident about his preparation and somehow wanted to wrap this up quick. Listening to his mother’s advice, he had left his study room and had a small talk with his best friend over the phone, with a cup of warm coffee in the other hand, only to refresh himself. However, there was someone else outside of the student community who was on the verge of having a panic attack.
Two buildings away from Sarthak lived Mr. Aniruddho Kar, a teacher at Saraswati Vidya Niketan, one of the examination centres for the NEET exam. He had to make all arrangements for the exam, as the Principal Mrs. Prerana was on sick leave. Behind the three peaceful hours in which the students struggled with the questions, there was a tyrannous amount of unsung efforts from the teachers. Aniruddho had to make lunch arrangements for all the invigilators of the exam, before which he had to call an entire quintal of people who’d be interested to spend three hours in a school room, ensuring no cheating from students only for some money. The exam conducting agency was imperative that the in-charge of the school should collect the question papers with utmost security on the day of the exam at 5:00 AM for safety measures. A single case of carelessness could put a pause to the dreams of almost 16 lakhs of children in the country.
Aniruddho had just come home after putting a final check on everything at the school. It was 8:00 PM as per the clock on his living room. He was stressed out, sweated and needed some good rest. Aniruddho was about to ask his wife for some tea when suddenly his phone rang. It was Mithila, a fellow colleague who would also be an invigilator for the next day’s exam.
‘Yes Mithila’, spoke.
‘Sir’, I’m absolutely sorry, but my husband had a sudden fall in his blood sugar level and fainted on his way home. I had to take him to the doctor immediately. He’s better now but I’m afraid he needs rest, so I’ll have to stay with him. Will it be okay if I don’t come tomorrow?’
Aniruddho breathed heavily. Mithila had no choice but to attend to her ailing husband. And most importantly, she wasn’t in an urgent need of the money, so it wouldn’t make any big difference to her. But she was casual enough to ask about not coming the next day, and yet not try to give Aniruddho a solution. It wasn’t an ordinary school internal assessment after all, and the names of all the invigilators had already been provided to the conductors, and more importantly all of the invigilators had to go through some training to be able to do their job. But Mithila was not to blame at all. Aniruddho quietly agreed to her request and hung up.
Our panic radar now however beeped louder near our starting point, Sarthak’s house. He was chilling out in fear. Adrenaline was bathing his interiors and the one thing he could not do was to keep calm. Meditation is known to prepare you to stay peaceful during any threatening circumstances but if you aren’t a regular meditator like Sarthak, trying to meditate in such a situation can lead to a positive feedback to all your stress. It was near about dinner time when suddenly Sarthak felt confident that he was unprepared for his exam. He was sure that he would fail to answer every single question the very next day. The taunts of his relatives and the gloomy faces of his parents flew in his mind. He was having a terrifying panic attack. Talking to his best friend Pritam was helpful, but for some time. His hands were shaking and he felt like he was about to blackout. He was gulping glasses full of water and emptying his urinary bladder within minutes. His mother was observing the anxiety visible on his face and knew what he needed the most. She quietly walked into his room.
‘Sarth’, she called him close to her as she sat on the bed. Sarthak lay down quietly keeping his head in her lap. She soothingly brushed her fingers through his hair and talked to him in the sweetest tone. ‘Sarth, didn’t you study well in these two years?’
—’Yes. But I don’t feel confident enough to face tomorrow. I think I’ve forgotten everything.’
His mother smiled. ‘The problem is that you think you’ve forgotten everything you studied. At least you know now that you’ve studied something, unlike most others. The good thing is that it happens to everyone before an exam. This sudden panic attack. You just want those three hours to come immediately.’
—’ut what if I black out tomorrow after seeing the question paper?’
‘Well right now stop worrying about your question paper. Nobody will ask you for a prescription for diabetes tomorrow. It’ll all be what’s already stored in your mind. Currently, there’s a hindrance to all that information and your conscious brain in the form of this anxiety. You see your questions tomorrow and you’ll find all the knowledge flowing into your conscious self immediately.’
Returning back to Aniruddho’s house, we find him sitting on his sofa with a cup of tea in front of him. He had taken a shower and was in a vest and boxers, thinking repeatedly about a solution. He had to think of someone quick, someone who’d readily agree to. But that won’t be where it would stop; Aniruddho would have to train that person about the process which would require at least two hours. He also had to wake up the next day before 5:00 AM to fetch the question papers and deliver them to his school. Every thing was calculated and no extra invigilators were present. He needed an able and quick to access homosapien urgently. Someone who might’ve some experience or may have known at least something about how the exam went, only to make things easier for him.
He was beginning to have a headache. Miss Prerana had blindly been relying upon him and this could make things worse for both him as well as Mithila. It was sudden when his nerves reunited to make him realise that the person he was looking for was right in front of him.
‘Priya’, he called his wife standing right in front of him, picking up his empty tea cup. ‘How much do you know about invigilating the NEET exam?’
‘Well’, she scoffed. ‘I’ve heard it from you a couple of times…. Like when you explain it to people over the phone. But why are you asking this to me? Do you want me to take Mithila Madam’s place tomorrow?’
—-’I’d be really grateful if you do.’
And there followed a brief nod of Priya’s head , an hour of brief training along with a small text to the Conducting agency about the changes made in the list. All this was happening on one side of the lane, while on the other Sarthak’s mother looked at his dreamy face on her lap, as she recollected his hard work and dedication all through the two years. There were nights she had to drag him to the bed to sleep, days where he would attend his coaching classes wrestling a high fever, the notebooks he would scribble all along, the family gatherings he had refused to go to…all cluttered in her head. She prayed and prayed to God to make his hard work count as she herself battled her own stress about his result. She just couldn’t make it visible to him. She quietly massaged his head and decided to wake him up for dinner.
An exam might seem exclusive to only the student community, as well as its results. But on the night before it, a lot of other people struggle only for the peace of the students and get their sleep stolen.
Also read: Exams At The Time Of Bohaag Bihu!
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Saptajit is a teenager who enjoys creative writing from a very early age. Though he's an aspiring doctor but has a great passion for literature and writes short, romance touched poetry mostly in free verse. He also takes great interest in painting and understanding the depths of human psychology.