School system for us Indians has often been a David vs Goliath kind of challenge, with the might of the entire Education Empire thrown against us poor little cornered kids. But we Davids had our slings and stones, and somehow or other we have all exorcised every school Goliath out of our lives.
My memory goes back to a few of the slings and stones of my school times.
One of them was called a ‘key’ book. These were books that were meant to ease the severe brain burden that an Indian school kid carries. A ‘Key-book’ would contain solutions to all questions listed in the ‘state prescribed’ text book. That the solution would be mediocre (or even wrong), and the book itself bulkier than the ‘prescribed’ book is another story. But its utility was beyond doubt. Imagine, for a moment, a grinning teacher throwing a curve ball at an unsuspecting student…a ball of solid iron, something like –
“Prove sin(a) + sin(b) + sin(c)
= sin(a + b + c) + 4sin((b+c)/2) sin((c+a)/2) sin((a+b)/2”
Or Prove that sin(2 arctan(x)) = 2x/(1 + x2)…
Now tell me, how many students would look forward to face this ball? 39 out of 40 students in a class would rather not use their brain power to attack such problems. This was not in the list of our priorities for the day. But we were safe in the knowledge that when ‘push comes to shove’, there is always a ‘key-book’ that has the solution to these kind of paper problems. A book with a name like – ‘Trigonometry without tears’…
A ‘key book’! What a comfort! Who indeed would want to wrestle with questions about asymptotes, axes and foci of a hyperbola without the aid of a book such as “Geometry without Fear” (by, say, Nipat Niranjan, Gold Medalist) ?
So that’s how we did it. Armed with question papers of ‘last five years exams’, and a key book – we successfully overcame many a Goliath.
But then there were some opponents who were far more fierce than the normal Goliath. Take Sanskrit, for example. This was a holy-terror for a large section of the student community. Most would rather worship the Sanskrit book, than open and read it. It was but faith in a benevolent higher power that enabled most kids to enter the battlefield of the examination hall and face an exam in Sanskrit. And for that battle, they had the most ingenious of slings – the Kunji.
The Kunji deserves a post in itself. But I will try and compress it. For that is in the spirit of a Kunji. A kunji was a razor thin book that held the key for the subject in question – shady answers to cosmic questions. The paper that a Kunji was printed in was a precursor to the modern day toilet paper, a cheap paper of the kind a bus ticket of those days was usually made of. The print was so smudgy, you could probably rub it off with your fingers. Facing a Sanskrit exam, many a desperate student would smuggle the kunji into the examination hall. And after that it was a ‘pattern recognition’ challenge. Look at the question. See if any question in the Kunji looks similar. Copy the answer, in ‘Ee adichaan copy’ manner. When in doubt put a ‘halant’ mark at the end of a word or two (‘Halant’ is a symbol that makes Sanskrit look Sanskrit). Draw neat lines after each answer. Write the same answer more than once (not in succession though) – and hope that either one or both may be right and that the teacher would be kind of enough to give you credit for at least one of the attempts, if not both. Done. That’s it. QED.
Oh, the kunji was a masterpiece! It was not a tome like other ‘key books’. It was a designer item, a use-once and dispose kind of thing, of great utility. If by chance you were caught by the ‘invigilators’ in the examination hall with a kunji in your hand, you could always swallow the whole thing. Three bites and gone. The material and size of the kunji was such that it would cause no serious digestion issue either. Eat the evidence!
Sirji! What an idea, Sirji!
(Wondering what is ‘ee adichaan copy’? Hold on for the next post)…