My Cousin (part 1)

The earliest memories of vacations are from my 4th or 5th grade days. This was 70’s India with no TV, one station radio and floral print shirts.  We had our vacations in May and June. At this time I was in Jaipur which was considered a big city. But I always had to spend this vacation time in my home town. This was a two train a day town where pretty much nothing happened. My parents felt that it would allow me to spend time with my grandparents and extended family. Apparently it would enrich me with values that I couldn’t get in a city.  We were also somewhere on the lower ladders of middle class which simply meant staying home for holidays. In our town most of the people did not even know what a vacation was. You only left your town if you were too sick to be cared for by the local hospital or you died.

The days in summer were long and hot. The heat could be oppressive and the boredom suffocating. During this time my company was one of my cousins who was 4-5 years older than me. He had already failed twice in 10th grade yet somehow it never seemed to bother him. He wore it as a badge of honor. At some point my father had encouraged him to be a doctor and as a token of respect to him he took this advice to heart. He would not quit science until his last breath. He clearly was not cut out for science and frankly education itself if you believed his teachers. They would drop non subtle hints such as “farming can be very good for certain people”. I don’t think he ever realized that they meant him. He would wholeheartedly agree with his teachers that indeed education was not for everyone. Multiple family members from our extended family advised him to change to subjects such as art that were considered easy. However he looked down upon art types and as per him he would rather become a Bengali than an arts graduate.

In his opinion his results were not a lack of hard work but simply bad luck. He felt that he failed first time because he got a “bad” exam center where cheating was not allowed.”What can you do? It is all in god’s hand”. He failed the second time because apparently someone put a curse on him, which even his favorite god Hanuman could not reverse. He was hoping to be lucky the 3rd time and did not want anything to be left to chance. He had a foolproof plan this time. He was worshipping everyday. He also filled in his application for board exams on a particularly auspicious day. In fact he wanted to take his application personally to the state board in Ajmer. But  the school begged him not to do any such thing.

He also did not believe in text books and instead preferred a very brief summary of probable questions called kunji (key). The key was simply a series of questions and answers. There was no context, no references or even the name of a publisher.  It was based on such assumptions that since a particular question was asked last year, it was not going to be asked this year and other such theories. This was Casino Royale for the educationally challenged. He also believed that too much studying could make one go mad and crazy. He always spoke of students who had gone crazy because they studied from text books. In fact anything that required any mental exertion was likely to cause incurable “craziness”.  Chess caused so much craziness in some guy in some village that he had to be tied with iron chains 24/7. He had found perfect solace in the fact that though he was going to fail at least he was not going to go crazy.

He bought the key from a local bookstore. The bookseller was son of the owner and had himself failed multiple times. My cousin demonstrated the stupidity of those studying from a text-book by comparing it and the key side by side. The key was 1/10th the size of text-book. He would point that key was not only thinner but cheaper as well. This particular key though was not thin enough. He asked the bookseller to show him an even thinner key. The bookseller told him that he did have a thinner one but he couldn’t guarantee that my cousin would pass the exam. This one was so thin that it barely had any content. My cousin got very angry and asked him what kind of bookseller did not guarantee a pass. He wanted a full refund in case he failed after studying from this key. My cousin apparently had been robbed by this dude before. When he took exam the first time, he thought he would pass and sold his books even before the results. He tried to buy same books for the same price but the shopkeeper wouldn’t sell. This escalated real fast. My cousin called him a cheating baniya and bookseller called him dumb. What self-respecting science student would take this insult! So he started to beat him up. The shopkeepers gathered to support the bookseller and beat my cousin. But the town was full of these “failed and cheated by baniya” types who pretty much  loitered around in the bazaar. They came to help their failed comrade. This turned into a full-blown caste war. The students accused the baniya of being a cheater baniya and shopkeepers accused them of being jat (which automatically meant not being bright). There were cops around drinking tea but they would not break the fight because “no one has filed a complaint”. In the end good sense prevailed. The students needed the bookseller and he needed them for his business. A deal was reached. The bookseller would buy back books for 50% of the price. A success was claimed by both parties as these worthy scholars felt that they were only losing 50% of their money (losing a whole year apparently was not much of a concern) and the baniya felt he could always keep on selling returned books to next group of failures.

..to be continued

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