We rely on our brain for everything – opinions, decisions, perception, vision, trust, love are all coming from your brain. We use our sensory organs to learn our environment and people around us. Learning impacts our character. We form opinions about people from our personal experience with them as well as hearsay. But how often do you confirm the accuracy of the information you have! Your opinions about a person can change when a different information about them reach you. This is what happened in case of Ram, a village boy from South India.
Ram’s village was a close knit society with every one knowing each other by their name and their whole family. The elders of that village hung out at a coffee shop right next to Ram’s home every morning. They shared stories and opinions on current topics. This coffee shop was also known among villagers as “origin of rumors”. People at coffee shop could easily overhear every loud conversation at Ram’s home. They often heard Ram’s mom scolding Ram. News about Ram’s frequent scolding spread in the village in no time. Consequently, an ill opinion formed in that village about Ram. They started questioning every aspect of Ram. Whenever they saw him roaming around with his friends, they thought he was up to something bad. However, that opinion didn’t last long as they came to know about who Ram really was and how he helped his classmate to pass 10th grade exam. This story happens in a different part of the world. For that same reason, I need to tell you first, about India and the small state in India where this story happened.
In India, 10th grade exam is one of the main deciding factors of a kid’s future. This is the first time in their school life where teachers outside their school evaluate answer-sheets. This is to avoid any favoritism. This is also a time for schools to prove their value when they compete with each other to have better results. Schools open early to cover the syllabus and prepare students for the 10th final exam. For a state-sponsored school, the evaluation will be within the state. For other schools that follow the Central Board of Secondary Education syllabus (CBSE) or Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) syllabus, answer sheets are evaluated outside the state. Parents send their kids to CBSE and ICSE schools to give their kids a better future overlooking the high cost. When a state-sponsored school costs less than a couple of bucks for an entire year, these schools cost a fortune every month. Competition is relatively more in CBSE and ICSE schools, and often they stop low performing students from taking the final exam to improve the schools’ pass rate. Kids undergo tremendous pressure from society, school and family during this time.
In a village in Kerala, one of the southernmost states in India, there was a school that followed CBSE syllabus. With more amenities and dedicated teachers, the school attracted many students from that society. Over time, the school moved from a small building to multistory campus. One year after another school strived in having all their students pass the 10th final exam. In 2005, a new batch of students entered their first “test of life” in that school. That bunch of students had a mix of characters – poor and rich, naughty and obedient, quiet and loud, troublemaker and peacemaker. For 10th class students, school reduces the play time with more focus on studies. Teachers covered the syllabus at twice the pace than usual. Time went by so fast there were only a couple of months left for the final exams. During this time, the school disperses the class to let the students revise the lessons themselves. The only thing that stands between the students and the final exam at this point are the mock exams; the school conducts them to give a taste of what’s coming. Remo Mathew and Ram Ridwani were attending their finals from that school that year.
Remo was a single child to his parents and was a bookworm. He liked fictional novels and Harry Potter was his favorite. He carried around his favorite novel in his small, red school bag. Ram lived with his mom who was a homemaker and his father was abroad. He commuted to school on school bus. He managed to score good marks in all subjects except Mathematics. Ram used to say: “It was not my cup of tea” about it and often failed in that subject.
Ram lived near to the school. He was from a middle-class family. Ram’s father worked for the Indian government and often got deputed to different parts of the country. During Ram’s 9th class, his father was working in a neighboring state of Kerala. His father was an entrepreneur and created a small business in home town. Ram’s mom was an undergraduate in Mathematics. She wanted to become a school teacher, but Ram’s father didn’t let her. It was considered shameful for the family to let women work at that time. By the time Ram’s father realized his mistake they had two kids to take care. So he made her manager of his small business. She managed the business when Ram’s father was out of town. Ram didn’t like to help his mom with the shop. He would rather play games on his computer or watch movies. But when the time calls, Ram had no other choice but to attend to customers. He didn’t get any special allowance for his time. Ram described it as “child labor” while his father’s reply was: “You are having free living space, free food, free education! If I start charging you for that, you will owe me five times of the allowance you are asking for”. Ram couldn’t beat his dad on this argument. So he worked in the shop unwillingly. The shop had a telephone booth in the corner and was the only one for that entire locality. People waited in line to talk to their dear ones and paid in cash.
One day, Ram’s classmate Arjun brought an expensive bicycle to school. It had gears unlike any other bicycle Ram had ever seen. Ram went home and asked for a similar bike. The reply from his mom was no different from the one she usually gives to any of Ram’s similar asks. Ram had no other choice other than convincing his dad. He went to the shop and dialed his father. Dad scolded him for making an expensive call for such an “impossible” ask. Ram cried over the phone, and soon dad played his card. He asked Ram to wait until dad’s next visit. Ram’s dad used to come home once a month at that time. During his next visit, Ram got a gearless bicycle. Ram was happy that he got at least a bike although he wished for one with gear. Ram roamed around on his bike and explored roads he couldn’t go before. He often skipped school to ride to lakes and visit places. During such a ride, Ram bumped into one of his dad’s friends. The news reached Ram’s home in no time and restrictions were put in place for Ram and his bicycle.
Remo and Ram were classmates. The school decided to split the whole class into two divisions – A and B, as Remo and Ram moved to 10th. Remo and Ram went to division B. Anna Mary was another student who ended up in division B. Anna was Remo’s family friend, and their families knew each other. During the division, Shafeeq and Minnu who were more than friends to each other ended up in separate classrooms. That started conflicts in their relationship and soon began to fall off. Anna was Minnu’s close friend, and Anna approached Ram for help. Although they couldn’t save their relation, it soon resulted in something new. Ram and Anna became friends. When they were spending time together Anna told him “I am going for extra Mathematics and Science lessons from tomorrow. I wish you could join me”. Ram couldn’t give her a reply at that time. He went to his mom that evening and convinced her that his 10th final exam is at stake. That poor soul wanted the best for her kid and sent Ram for lessons. Little did she know at that point what Ram was up to! Ram had to bicycle around 3 miles every day after school for his new adventure. Ram was good in Mathematics like his mom and used this time to be with Anna. Anna was “a beautiful cute angel” to Ram.
Remo was taking the same lessons too. Ram saw Remo’s struggle with Mathematics and offered him help. But Ram had to give up one of his tutoring for this. Ram decided to give up his science lessons as the tutor was strict and didn’t allow talking to Anna. Soon Ram started going to Remo’s home instead of Science tutoring. Remo’s mom, Mary, made snacks and juice for Ram every time. Ram didn’t disclose this arrangement to his mom. Days went by without any problem. One day, when Ram reached home, Ram’s mom asked about the lessons he learned from his Science tutor that day. Ram started giving a long list of areas he “learned”. Soon Ram’s uncle came by and burst into laughter overhearing this conversation. Ram got nervous but decided to stick with his story. Ram’s uncle revealed the phone call from the Science tutor. Ram had no choice but to disclose his arrangement with Remo. Ram had been in so many troubles in the past; his mom and uncle didn’t believe his new revelation. “It was too good to be true” for them. Ram’s mom called Remo’s home and confirmed the story. She was still angry for bunking classes that Ram mentioned as a necessity for the final exam. She was also happy for Ram’s good deed, but she successfully hid it from Ram. Ram was allowed to continue helping Remo during weekends from then on the condition that Ram will focus on his lessons too.
After the mock exams, the school decided not to let Remo attend the final exam based on his results. The school was not confident in Remo. Remo’s mom begged to let him take the finals. At last the school gave up. The final exams happen in designated schools, and the students from the rest of the nearby schools attend their exams in the selected school. Ram’s and Remo’s school was the chosen one for the 2005 final exam. On his first day of the exams, Ram’s parents took him to temple and prayed for him. Ram’s dad dropped him at the school after that. For the remaining days, Ram bicycled to school. On the final day of exams, Ram came out of the exam hall with relief that he can play with his friends. He didn’t want to think about the results. Ram didn’t see Remo during the exams or the following days.
Will he pass? It was the day before the results come out. Ram’s mom was worried. She was more concerned about what her relatives would say about her son if he fails. She could eat well and has a migraine. Ram’s father kept calling home every other hour to check on Ram and mother. Results are published on CBSE website. Ram’s father has noted down Ram’s exam ID during one of those calls to check the results from his office. To everyone’s surprise, Ram passed with flying colors. He scored more than many class toppers. Ram’s mom was happy and called every one of her relatives to share this news. Ram’s relatives came by to congratulate him. He became a “brilliant kid” from “naughty one” in a day. Ram could feel a sense of respect from everyone at that point.
Two days later, it was a Sunday morning. Ram was watching TV with his legs on top of coffee table, TV remote in his right hand and a cup of tea in his other hand. Ram’s mother was in the backyard taking care of her kitchen garden. They were not expecting anyone at that time. The house was disorganized – dried clothes on a couch in the living room, chairs not in their proper place, newspaper on the floor. Ram felt like he heard a knock on the front door. He muted the TV and waited for a second knock before he got up. He peeped through the window to see the person. It was Remo’s mother, Mary. Ram rushed to his room to change clothes and ran back to open the door. He welcomed her with a smile. They exchanged pleasantries. Ram shouted to his mom to come see who came to their house. Ram left out the details to surprise his mom. Ram’s mother came to the living room after washing her hands. She was surprised to see Mary. She enquired about Remo. “Remo is out of town and he would have been here otherwise” told Mary. Ram’s mom made tea for everyone and had a long chat with Mary. They sat together on the couch after moving the clothes to bedroom and relived the last one year. They exchanged stories one after another and laughed at all tense moments they went through for their kids. Ram carried on with his program on TV while they lost themselves in each other. As the sun set, Remo’s mom realized how late it was. She wished she could stay longer and talked but she had to take two buses to reach home. As she was about to leave, Ram stood up and said “Bye aunty. Tell Remo that I asked about him”. Mary walked to Ram, held him close and looked at his eyes like she had something to say. But instead of saying anything, she hugged him. Mary told Ram: “I wish you were my son. You have a good heart. God bless you my kid.” while she held him tightly. As she turned around to leave, Ram saw on Mary’s face the same happiness his mom had when his 10th grade results came out. Ram and his mom stood there, in front of the house watching Mary walk away.