‘It’s a False-Glory’: Topper’s Tale of Disgust in Grades
“I was also among the local “toppers” whose mothers would go on boasting about their child’s grades and medals, unstoppably. But it was never worth it.”
She remembers walking with her brother to the tuition centre when a group of men, shouting on the roadside carried the pale body of her neighbour with a nylon noose around his neck saying, “Eim ha moar paan” (He killed himself).
Fifteen years later, with many beatings in a culture, invested in a façade of capitalistic competition, validation and glorification of the mundane most, she would go back to the men and ask them, “Did he kill himself or was he killed?”
Once a topper in the J&K state board exams, Anisa pinpoints a “blindfold game” in a system perpetuating mediocrity and trauma.
“I lost the thread of this conversation with my friend when it became about the bar of grades going up every year in the board exams,” Anisa says, as we meet following the Class 12th annual result recently.
“It’s not about the bar getting higher with each year, my problem is with the bar itself!”
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As the din of percentages and numbers has risen again in the news, “500/500, 99 per cent, 96…” and so on, Anisa recollects her disgust with numerals, mathematics of numbers and everything based on a certain “scientificity”- devoid of emotion, and much.
The topper, 12 years ago, wasn’t so alien to this din but also relished the praise showered on her as she was hailed for securing a position in her 10th board exams.
Pitying the kids in news for their marks now, she equally pities herself for having fallen into the trap of what she calls a “false-glory”, and missed much of the “original” learning in the process.
“I question my own legitimacy and discretion, speaking from a perspective opposed to the idea of celebrating numbers and toppers,” she says.
“I was also among the local ‘toppers’ whose mothers would go on boasting about their child’s grades and medals, unstoppably. I always wanted to do something good with my life, working hard in my studies, being in the good books of teachers, securing good marks and finally getting validations from parents, family and teachers was the only way I thought I could fit in, secure a place and would make me feel good about life, this was the only acknowledgement I knew genuinely.”
But today, Anisa seizes to take pride in what she now thinks is a “scam” of the system, created to perpetuate mediocrity and a capitalist competition in a culture invested too much in a class facade.
“You either fit or perish from the high-culture canon in the educational system,” she argues, “much like in the other divisions of class here.”
Having tried her hands on many things academic and professional after passing her Class 12th board, Anisa continued to top all her exams, one after another and calls her gold-medal minting a “mediocre madness”.
She hasn’t found her learning places good enough to satisfy her intellectual and creative quests as she pursues her PhD from one of the universities in Kashmir.
“It’s a mundane necessity, that you have to continue to stay relevant in a class-based need,” she says. “Besides I need to score some extra points for getting a wealthy-classy husband.”
On being asked if she was concessioning her success, the topper cautioned of sounding like a conspiracy theorist: “My goal was creative learning, the grading system in Kashmir is based on pure rote-learning. I have missed some really important texts and basic books that every student of social sciences or humanities should know, just because the syllabus based texts waited to be crammed. I feel this contrasting choice of creative/original thinking and rote learning is systemic because the system doesn’t want generations of creative-thinkers but pure status-quoists, who are never able to see beyond the superstructure of a culture so alienated from original thinking and value-based knowledge production, we rather are creating a generation of confused people who eventually don’t have many options of basic employment with their grades and medals here.
“Thank God, Kashmir University doesn’t have a department of philosophy, I am okay with science students being apolitical and keeping it all about numbers and scientificity,” Anisa laughs at her “generalization”.
With a pessimistic outlook of life, she sees herself struggling to no end at the centre of many “concentric circles” each representing her individual and collective realities trivialized by the broader politics and culture in her time.
“It makes me anxious to see people use education to secure a status and rob their children of the most tender time of their youth in so much pressure, breeding generations of traumatic children, who are almost socially dysfunctional in the binaries of toppers and losers, because competition is all they know right from their schooling years.”
The fancy bubble breaks in retrospect every day, as Anisa recount her years and grades with no sight of sustained employment in her late twenties. She calls her grandmother more self-reliant than herself.
“My grandmother’s generation could at least navigate from the clutches of poverty through their basic skills like knitting, tailoring, spinning and much. Even if they wouldn’t, they were more functional than this generation who don’t have much to rely upon, in a redefined class oppression.”
The venture of this glorification isn’t just hollow but also dangerous to the entire generation, Anisa believes as the demands of the market, idealized and accepted, also aren’t met by the mere grades. She believes that the “success” of one group is pitted against the other- creating misplaced sensibilities among both, apart from inducing a lifetime of trauma.
Having witnessed the direct assault of the system Anisa isn’t able to forget the image of her neighbour who died of suicide because he failed in his board exams, 15 years ago.
“Many lost in this din of glory, who can’t fight back the systems, lose everyday…or rather the world loses them, while those who fit in, also lose, in a different way though.”
In life, Anisa asserts, she has learned much not from those who secured the “topper” spots but those who stood on the fringes- the never celebrated “grinches” of this world.
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Sadaf is a Mass Communication graduate from the University of Kashmir. Chronicling events in narrative writing interests her.