The day results of annual examinations are announced in schools is important not only for students but for parents as well. It is a day of tense waiting when hopes are realised for some and dashed for others, when minds of the young confront a range of feelings from elation to despondency, disappointment to pleasant surprise.

The day was faced in a far more relaxed manner in our times. Our parents were not in such a fit of nerves. The aspirations of our parents were modest in comparison to today’s parents. This matched the principles of our teachers for whom 60 per cent marks in a subject other than mathematics was good enough for the best while dullards were expected to score 10 or 15 out of 100.

Several incidents come to mind. Let me begin with the account narrated to me by my father about his much older friend Kali Charan. He was initially four classes ahead of my father but Kali Charan remained in Class VIII for four years enabling my father to catch up with him. Kali Charan was a jolly, care-free and open-minded fellow. After his fourth failure, he was called by the Head Master.

“Kali,” said the HM, “does your father not say anything to you? Does he not take any notice of your performance in school year after year?”

“Of course he does, Sir,” replied Kali. “Every year when I take my result home, he asks me – ‘ Kali, what happened this time?’ When I say I have failed again, father tells me – ‘Don’t worry, you may have failed but your father has not. So, carry on!’”

One day a young teacher who had joined the school recently spoke rather harshly to Kali.

“Don’t you feel ashamed to sit with boys almost half your age? Why don’t you leave school and try your luck in some other field? Education is not for you.”

Although greatly insulted, Kali Charan calmly replied, “Sir, is it proper for you to talk to me so rudely? Keep one thing in mind. Had Kali Charan passed all examinations regularly, he could have been a teacher of this school by now and be your colleague. You should have some respect for seniority also and not give value to merit alone.”

The teacher reported the incident to the Head Master and asked for strong action. The Head Master, after careful consideration, found Kali’s logic irrefutable and dropped the matter. Kali Charan ultimately passed the Matriculation examination and joined government service.

Sanat of our neighbourhood would blame others for his failure whom he accused of joining in a conspiracy to keep him down. He would stop talking to us and keep indoors for a prolonged period after results were declared. The time would be used to write poems about his resolve to vanquish enemies one day and establish a fair and equitable world order. Our seniors who had the privilege of reading his poems found in them proof that even failures could possess a spark.

One of my cousins got a ‘not so satisfactory’ report card in a lower class for her weakness in arithmetic and came home weeping. The ladies in the family swung into action to convince her that arithmetic was a nasty invention which they too had thoroughly disliked when in school. She should not, therefore, be either sad or sorry for the fault did not lie with her but mostly with the subject and the rest with the teacher. Sufficiently consoled, she regained her composure.

My friend Somnath too suffered failure in school once, primarily for spending more hours on the playground than on his studies. After coming home with his report card, Somnath shut himself up in a room and bolted it from within. His mother and aunts panicked, fearing he would do something rash. His cousins kept knocking on the door. An elderly relative soon arrived and recounted in a loud voice instances of people who failed in school but became great afterwards. A little later, the bolt was lowered. The cousins rushed in and brought Somnath out on their shoulders. He was then showered with such love and treated to such dainty food as the boy who came first could not have expected.