Paulose took just one look at the lone letter that the postman had brought in as his personal mail, and, crumpling it, tossed it into the waste-bin. Suresh, who was sitting next to him, observed this rather uncharacteristic action on the part of the usually mild-mannered Paulose. Suresh, who too had received an identical missive, knew that it was the monthly newsletter from the film society. It had said that the classic Tamil film, `Veera Pandya Katta Bomman', was to be screened that weekend.
At lunch break, Suresh asked Paulose about going for the Sivaji Ganesan starrer. "I'm not coming," Paulose reacted sharply. They had been colleagues for over a decade and had become close friends. Paulose was a great fan of Sivaji Ganesan and would often wax eloquent on the thespian's histrionics. But the way Paulose was behaving indicated that there was something wrong somewhere. Suresh decided to probe. It was clear that the very mention of the name of the movie irritated him.
Suresh discovered that Paulose hated the movie because of its unpleasant association with his SSLC examination. The generally reticent and modest Paulose opened up.
His father belonged to a poor family and the financial problems facing the family had compelled him to discontinue his college studies and take up a job. His father was a strict disciplinarian, ever so demanding. He had high hopes of his son, and expected nothing less than the best from him. He had nurtured dreams of a prosperous life with the son occupying a high position in the government.
The world of Paulose consisted of school and home on weekdays and church on Sundays. The Martinet of his father allowed him no games or entertainment. "Study hard now. You have all the time in the world for entertainment and fun," he would say. Nobody at home dared challenge his fiat. The punishment for mischief was a good spanking followed by crouching under the cot "till I let you out".
On the day the examination got over, his friends in school had decided, they would go for the matinee show of the movie, `Veera Pandya Katta Bomman' in the nearby Royal Theatre. (Paulose recalled that `The Bible' was the only movie he had seen till then.) Young Paulose had obtained the consent of his father through the proper channel, his mother.
"My father was to work on the morning shift that week, but he exchanged it with a colleague so that when I returned after the examination, he would be there to check how I had performed. So anxious was he about me," said Paulose.
The subject of the examination was Mathematics. The two-hour paper consisted of three parts -- arithmetic, algebra and geometry. The choice was limited. Arithmetic contained questions worth 48 marks, but the maximum one could score was 40. In the other two parts, one could score not more than 30 marks each out of questions worth 36 marks. One could, theoretically, score 120 marks out of 100! Though choice was available, Paulose had done all the sums and he was confident about his answers. As directed by his father, he had noted down the answers against each question on the question paper. Paulose's father snatched the paper and worked out all the sums while the boy was tucking in his lunch.
He was happy with his son's performance: he had attempted all the questions, though choice was offered, and all of them were right. As he was about to return the question paper to Paulose, his father's eyes fell on the answer 242 sq ft scribbled against a question on the volume of a cylinder. It was numerically correct, but the unit of volume being cubic feet, the correct answer, obviously, had to be 242 cft. He asked Paulose, "Did you write cft or sq ft?"
"I think I wrote cft in the answer paper, father, but while copying it on to the question paper, maybe I made a mistake," Paulose answered. His father was not satisfied. "So careless of you! How can you be so reckless?" he asked. Apart from administering corporal punishment for the lapse, he ordered Paulose to forego the movie and crouch under the cot "till I ask you to come out".
When his friends came to take Paulose, he was still awaiting deliverance from under the cot. He never got to see the movie that day. It is a different matter that he came out with flying colours, but the scar the incident had left on the young mind was so deep that the very mention of the movie brought back unpleasant memories; he had sworn never to see the movie.