This story is set in the late 1950's in the Malabar region. Hindi, touted by Mahatma Gandhi as the token of nationalism and promoted by the centre as the national language, was an emotive issue, as its 'imposition' was resisted by a majority of the Tamil-speaking public.
Pursuant to the national policy, it was prescribed to be studied as the third language in schools. However, in deference to the sentiments of the detractors, no pass mark had been prescribed: irrespective of the marks you scored in Hindi, you passed. It had no role in determining whether you passed with distinction, or in the 'class' you were placed in or the rank you secured. Small surprise that Hindi, like the teachers of the language, commanded lower esteem than, say, Mathematics, Science or English.
I still remember the frail frame of Ramachandra Menon Master in his white full-sleeved khadi shirt. He used to like me a lot, I think, because I used to give equal prominence to the subject he used to teach. (Little did he know that it was out of fear for my father who taught us that what is worth doing is worth doing well!)
In the half-yearly examination in Standard X, I secured 78% in Hindi. What surprised me was the marks scored by the back-benchers Jabbar, Devassy and Rajappan. Being members of the school football team, they had to miss the Hindi classes which were mostly in the afternoons from Monday to Thursday when they had to go for the practice matches. On Fridays, there would be a new movie in the matinee show at the nearby Star Theatre. The trio could just not miss the 'first day first show'. It was not a secret that they barely knew the Devanagari script. And still they scored 'high' marks!
On our way back home from school one evening, Rajappan confided to me that he had written the answers to the questions in Malayalam. One could not fault Ramachandra Menon Master on his generosity: Rajappan could read Hindi and needed to be rewarded.
My investigation revealed that Devassy had copied the question paper in Devanagari script. Obviously, Ramachandra Menon Master was fair: Devassy had established that he knew how to write the script, and he did deserve more marks than Rajappan.
But that Jabbar who knew no Hindi scored 35 baffled me. One morning, in exchange of allowing him to copy my homework, he let me into the dark secret: in his answer sheet, he had just written down the words of the lyric of the title song of the 'Chaudvin ka Chand', the Waheeda Rehman-Guru Dutt starrer box-office hit.
Why do I recall this story today?
Kerala SSLC results are due tomorrow. A recent press report based on the information gathered from the Education Department says that the pass percentage this year is 92%. I believe the pass percentage just five years back was 60-65%. This quantum leap was made possible, thanks to the grace marks and the moderation system.
Will our Education Department confirm or deny the suspicion lurking in my mind that my respected Ramachandra Menon Master is one of their advisors?