Hitting the mark for less

Maj Gen SPS Narang (retd)

Post superannuation, after serving glorious 38 years in the Army, I got the job of a professor in a domain-specific university in Dehradun. I was assigned to teach MBA (Aviation Management) students. It took them about a fortnight to accept me as their well-wisher, though it took me only a week to like my 56 students. To me, they were like my own children, deserving of care, respect and understanding. I knew that with each passing day, the guru-shishya relationship would blossom.

As part of mandatory internal evaluation, I was required to conduct surprise tests, quizzes, classroom presentations and so on. After almost six weeks of interaction, I announced the surprise test. Understandably, there were mild protests. But there was no going back. The paper was for 50 marks, and duration 30 minutes. The test commenced and after about 10 minutes I was called by the Dean. I left, announcing that I would return shortly. I added, ‘Those who finish can leave their answer scripts on my table. Please ensure that this is your own effort.’ The meeting finished in about 10 minutes and I walked back to the class. The door, with translucent glass, was closed. To my disbelief, I found most of them indulging in verbal and non-verbal communication.

On entering, I did not say a word, and collected the papers. The next day, I returned the evaluated scripts, and showed them the register in which their marks were recorded. I told them that these marks could not be altered, and would be submitted to the HoD, as was the practice. However, I followed it up saying, ‘My friends, you can keep these answer scripts with you, but before sleeping today, replay what you did during the test, and tomorrow morning return the same, having endorsed in hand how many marks you did not deserve.’ I added, ‘Most of you have eroded my hopes to transform you into outstanding humans.’ I walked off. They knew they had betrayed my trust.

The next day — the one I rate the best of my teaching profession — almost all students with deducted marks, ranging from two to 15, returned the sheets. Seeing what they had done, I knew the guru-shishya relationship was at its best. However, one student wrote, ‘No change, Sir’. I believed her because she was actually capable of getting full marks. But the following day, before I could open my cabin, I found her, all teary-eyed. ‘Sir, I have not been able to sleep. I am guilty of not deducting four marks. Please forgive me.’ I blessed her, telling her that she would excel in life. Lest it remains unstated, she finished her doctorate in Australia and is doing extremely well.

In fact, all my students are doing well because they are fantastic humans. They overcame temptation.

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A leaf out of cheat sheet

Col DS Cheema (Retd)

Every year before March, students and their parents start preparing for oncoming examinations. I recall my days when I was forced by my parents and siblings to concentrate only on studies. Most students of my generation burnt the midnight oil, but there was a miniscule minority for whom preparation meant finding out names of the superintendent of the exam centre and invigilators and develop contacts with them; and writing parchis.

Temptation to cheat, which is as old as examination itself, is one to which many have fallen. New technologies have thrown up many new options and cheaters of today are smarter and sharper. Some cheats of my generation were very innovative. One I knew used a novel technique to get through an engineering examination.

The Emergency Commission in the Army after the 1962 War, opened floodgates for some who became Emergency Commissioned Officers. Most of them were past 25 years of age and were already earning their livelihood. Only a few were still in college or studying in a professional institution. Though all aspirants had to go through preliminary weaning and two Service Selection Boards, many candidates resorted to cheating and were granted Permanent Commission.

A particular cheat was over 26 years old when he underwent the mandatory three-year engineering course. He soon realised that the course was too much for his mental faculties. Every student was putting in his best effort on the night before the external examination we all dreaded. But not him.

A friend and I were studying when the man hurriedly parked his scooter with a screech in front of my room. He was puffing with excitement and bolted the door immediately after entering. For obvious reasons, we wanted to get rid of him as early as possible. He told us in a hushed tone that he had something very important to share with us and he started removing his shirt. We could hardly expect the midnight spectacle. He removed his vest and spread it on the table in front of us. It was smeared with ink all over. He asked us to decipher the smudged impression and construct the questions. Since we knew the subject well, we were able to understand four of eight questions. He asked us to mark the answers of those four questions in the thick book he was carrying. When we asked him how he could get the print of the question paper on his vest, he revealed that he had tied up with the peon whose duty was to get the question paper cyclostyled. He bribed the peon to put the wet paper on his vest and walked out of the basement where the confidential work was being carried out at night. Needless to say, he passed the tough examination.

Now, whenever I see the man who is still in harness, I feel ashamed that I could not resist the temptation, took advantage of the situation and was part of the shameful episode.

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Lessons learnt by fluke

DC Sharma

SEEING politicians using gimmicks and jumlas today, I get nostalgic. During my youth, only a few people would make use of tukka, tikdam and ghugi. Tukka or guesswork may work, or may land you in trouble. Tikdam is a cunning scheme which some people use to grind their own axe. And ghugi is simply putting your initials instead of taking the trouble of putting your full signatures. I have had a bitter experience with all three.

I was in BA-I, when my teacher of economics, a learned professor, naively told us how to get good marks. ‘Answers on Indian economy, particularly about why farming is backward, could bring good marks when you pack in more points….’ ‘But, Sir, if I forget to put more points, is there some other remedy?’ I humbly enquired. ‘Yes, you may easily make use of tukka! While writing points up to 15, you may miss a point here and there — writing up to five and then eight, nine, and then 11, 12… Examiners generally take evaluation work like the harvesting of a crop. They rarely go through all points. They only note the number of points and award marks.’ When the results were declared, I was expecting 80 per cent, but could barely reach 60. The use of tukka had dealt me a hard blow.

After completing MA in English, I tried to make use of tikdam. The job of a lecturer in English was vacant at a college in a border town of Punjab. A friend took me to a politician who promised to help me, provided I taught his daughter grammar. I took a room on rent there, and started coaching her. Thank God, the girl who basically knew nothing was brought on track. I was hopeful the tikdam would click in my favour. As per the interview date, I approached the politician, who at once lifted his phone, and rang up: “Hello, principal… he must be put on probation… mind it….’ And he put the receiver with a thud.

Elated, I tried to impress upon the principal just before the interview was to start: ‘Sir, I am the one about whom you had received the telephone call this morning!’ ‘What? I have just returned from Delhi and you talk of a call in the morning!’ he rebuffed me.

I had heard a lot about the lure of ghugi. When I brought the subject of Communicative English for the first time in Himachal from the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, in 1995, I had to work more hard as students had to be prepared for practical exams in English too.

Being awfully busy, I had little time to even sign their practical notebooks. Finding it convenient, I had started applying the rule of ghugi, simply putting my initials instead of my full signatures. While conducting the exams, I observed that a student had himself put my initials in his notebook. Though the initials seemed exactly like mine, he had erred to note that I would only use a fountain pen.

That day onward, forget about tukka or tikdam, I never even used ghugi; thanks to the lessons I learnt at a price!

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Enter the dragon

Sandeep Sinha

The only time I had heard of Punjab’s China connection was when I came across the term Sino-Ludhianvi dishes. The term described the Punjabified Chinese food in India like the triple Schezwan rice and was a take on how all food that goes as Chinese in India is not authentic. My first brush with a Sino-Ludhianvi dish was not in Macau, but in Moga, where famished after a day’s work, I gorged on a noodle-burger.

It came as a surprise therefore when I read about the recent announcement by CM Amarinder Singh that Mandarin will be offered as an optional subject in senior secondary classes in Punjab schools. The language will initially be offered in one school in each district and students will have to appear in an annual exam.

The Make in India and Smart City initiatives of the Modi government have Chinese companies, strong in infrastructure development, eyeing business prospects. With a number of cities in Punjab vying for the ‘smart’ tag, the prospect appears to be sound. Already, the Banawali thermal power plant near Talwandi Sabo has been built with Chinese assistance in terms of engineering, procurement and construction.

The timing of the move is also significant for a paramilitary force like the ITBP, which is teaching its recruits Chinese. Home Minister Rajnath Singh, addressing ITBP personnel on their 56th Raising Day, asked them to learn Mandarin to communicate better with the Chinese. With border skirmishes like in Doklam, the advice is sound. The Punjabi movie Subedar Joginder Singh, released recently, is about a hero who attained martyrdom in the 1962 China war.

Punjab has been hosting Chinese students, who come here to study subjects ranging from yoga to English and information technology to biotechnology. Less distance between the two countries and cost-effective education prompts them to opt for India. In fact, a place like Bathinda has students from Thailand studying in schools there.

The Chinese, curious about the country of Buddha, have been visiting this part of the country since the days of King Kanishka and his Kushan successors who controlled parts of Punjab. Only now, they visit the state for educational and business purposes. The love for foreign shores among the Punjabis is well-known. If they can buy land in distant Georgia, why not explore Guangzhou?

The silver lining is that a state that takes pride in its language and culture — sadda Punjab, saddi shaan —is willing to promote learning of a foreign language. Harkishan Singh Surjit might have served as an ideological link to communist China, but it has been mostly Westward Ho for Punjabis and not a Look East policy. Amarinder himself is known more to head for Dubai than Beijing. The development, hence, is interesting.

Did I hear someone say, ‘Ni Hao, Captain saheb!’

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The parting kick

Vikramdeep Johal

Hope you won’t dispose it of as scrap,” I asked him pleadingly. “No, no, I’ll use it myself. Need it to transport all kinds of material,” the scrap dealer replied. We were talking about my 17-year-old scooter, which I had finally decided to sell — with a heavy heart.

Despite his assurance, I couldn’t help imagining him tearing it apart as if it was just another aged machine. Only I knew it had a heart that kept beating in rhythm with my own for years, until the allure of the automobile made me cold-shoulder an old companion. And only I knew how it had sulked over being cruelly ignored by its master.

The buyer tried to kick-start the vehicle, but it refused to cooperate. Was that a sign for me? Did it want to stay on for old times’ sake? No matter what was on its “mind”, I couldn’t afford to be in a dilemma now. There was just too much traffic on the city roads. Driving a two-wheeler amid the rampaging MUVs and SUVs was like going out for a walk in a minefield. You never knew which “terrorist on wheels” would knock the living daylights out of you. No wonder my father had shunned the scooter like the plague after a close shave in a hit-and-run.

I volunteered to make my Chetak get going, but my kicks, too, didn’t work. I was well aware of its tantrums. Having suffered neglect in recent times, it had developed a nasty habit of testing my patience to the hilt. Sensing my exasperation, the man wiped sweat off his brow and made a fresh attempt. This time, the engine sputtered to life as if a dormant volcano had become active again, unleashing a fiery jet of smoke in my direction. I couldn’t suppress a pang of jealousy at this change of loyalties. Perhaps this was its way of getting back at me for switching over to the four-wheeler, which was safer but by no means invincible.

As the vehicle’s new owner got ready to depart, I felt a lump in my throat. A flood of memories inundated my mindscape. I’d purchased it soon after bagging a full-time job with a princely four-figure salary. Work or leisure, this once-prized possession had dutifully taken me to my destination — with or without partners — and often on a near-empty fuel tank. The deceptively inanimate thing had been privy to my most intimate thoughts, thoughts that were too outrageous to be shared with any person. Riding it was like writing a personal diary in motion.

“Take good care of it,” I felt like telling him, but quickly reminded myself that he wasn’t my son-in-law and this wasn’t my daughter’s doli moment. And as it went out of sight, a piece of me was taken away forever, leaving me richer by a few thousand bucks but infinitely poorer.

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How old is old?

Satjit Singh

IT was a meeting that I anticipated would be unsavoury, but not for the reasons I thought. A senior executive — quite young — was sitting in front of me, flanked by his junior and an engineer from my office. After an exchange of pleasantries, he began with the justifications for non-performance of his company and vague assurances, on expected lines. I was stern and without making any effort to hide my displeasure, indicated the possibility of escalating the issue — to his embarrassment — unless he came up with a specific action plan.

‘Sir, I have great respect for you,’ he said. ‘That’s not necessary, we are meeting for the first time,’ I responded. He folded his hands and smiled: ‘Sir, I have been taught to respect elders. Aap to humare buzurg ho….

‘Cut it short,’ I was annoyed. ‘Come to the point and don’t bother about personal respect.’
After the meeting, I told my engineer how unprofessional the man had been to call me buzurg (old). ‘But, Sir, you addressed him as beta twice in the beginning.’ ‘Oh, that must be spontaneous, out of habit, but that gives him no freedom to call me buzurg,’ I stood firm. The young engineer, whom I often call beta, was trying not to smile. I knew I was on the back foot.

That incident set me thinking: what was wrong in being called buzurg and at what age did ‘elderly-hood’ begin?

I referred to a dictionary, but it gave no clue to the exact age at which a man is called ‘old’. Among several meanings of the word were: ‘having lived for a long time’; ‘no longer young’; ‘having the characteristics or showing the signs of ageing’.

I spoke to a doctor-friend, but it did not leave me any wiser. Some diseases are said to be the diseases of the elderly, but there is no set age at which patients may be under the care of a geriatrician — a physician who specialises in the care of the elderly.

A friend known for his funny take on any philosophical question had this to say: ‘Anybody who is 10 years elder to me is old.’ He has been consistent in his opinion for the past 20 years and sticks to this equation.

Brainstorming with youngsters at home enlightened me about some traits of ‘the old’ from the viewpoint of the next generation: They are often seen in community parks, participating in guided laughter; they wear clothes not according to the latest trend and every jacket or shirt has a story behind it; they are generally talking about their ailments, unmindful of whether the listener is interested or not; they read the newspaper end to end, often more than once; they tell stories of ‘their times’, repeating the same story to some poor listener; they quarrel with their spouse for no reason and when children come home worried about the morning fight, they find the couple laughing over a cup of tea, discussing the pakoras they savoured at Tarn Taran. The mention of Tarn Taran, my Malgudi, was a sarcastic attack directed towards me. Everyone laughed, but I now know what not to say and do to avoid being called old.

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The DC office that was

Padma Jha

It was the glory of Solan — the huge building which housed thee administrative greats but not that huge that one had to ask one’s way about or get lost in the maze of verandas and rooms or use a lift. Some friendly face would always be there to inform if ‘saheb’ or ‘madam’ was in office. It was right on the middle of the Mall Road and so became a strong destination/address. The home or the institution could be ‘near DC office’, ‘behind DC office’, ‘in front of DC office’ or ‘five minutes from DC office’, and there would be no problem in locating the place.

What a meeting place it was! ‘Come near DC office’ or ‘wait near DC office gate’ was quite usual. There were two benches near the entrance, not only for seekers of ‘audience’ but also for tired limbs carrying kilos of groceries. Also, for those wanting to soak in the ambience of a small town trying to mimic a city. Often a grey-haired septuagenarian would be seen resting before he/she continued the evening walk. What a welcoming place.

The pedestrian path which skirted around it was a boon. After crossing innumerable cars, trucks, two-wheelers, carts, etc., when one would reach this walk, one would heave a sigh of relief for that iron stretch of security.

And then, we heard it was shifting! How could that be? Can the Taj Mahal be shifted to a more ‘convenient’ place? Can Jantar Mantar be shifted to Noida? Can Race Course Road be shifted elsewhere? We were indignant. The access to mandarins would now be denied to senior citizens. Taking an auto-rickshaw and facing the ordeal of a bone-shattering ride to the new DC office, where we suspected we would not see a single familiar face… and then, using a lift. A lift! So, this was the change! Yes, it was imposing, it was chic, it had class, but the familiarity was missing. It would come back in due course, we sighed, accepting the inevitable.

But what of the majestic building? There were pictures in local newspapers of some elderly reclining in easy chairs — a new place for senior citizens. Other pictures showed some students studying diligently — a reading room! Fine, let people benefit from this benevolent place.

The wall outside the complex was brought down; a jarring feature. Now, vehicles could go right inside the parking of the old DC office; endangering the life and limbs of pedestrians waiting to cross the road. The old, side entrance is locked; such stench rises from it that one has to rush past it.

There was a game we played in our childhood, which ended so: ‘Purane ghar gire, naye ghar uthe’. This is what it meant.

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