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A lazy afternoon about ten years back, I was relaxing having finished all my work. I was expecting my junior Martian home any minute. The school year-ending exams were going on. That particular day he had a test in Science. Soon he bounds into the room I was in, as is his habit on his return from school.

“How was your exam?” I inquire, the stock question most moms ask of their children who return after giving an exam.

“It went well” he replies.

“That’s nice!” I smile, relieved.

“I am hungry!!” he says, changing the subject. So what’s new! I get up to go to the kitchen to give him his lunch.

Out of the blue he asks me,

“Amma, what is ‘genitals’?”

Hmm…. That’s an easy one to answer. But what brought on the question out of the blue, I wonder for a second.

Before I can answer him, he quips,

“It’s there in my science question paper…”

In the science question paper?! Now I am confused. I know that they do not have anything about genitals in their syllabus for his grade. So how could it make its appearance in the question paper?

“How many genitals are there…” he reads out from the question paper.

What?? What was that again?! Did I just hear ‘how many genitals’?!!

I snatch the question paper from him to read for myself.

“I did not know the answer to that one question, so I left it unanswered.” he tells me gloomily.

I glance at the paper. There it is,

“How many genitals are there in a metric tonne??”

What the heck!

I am actually somewhat amused, and yet annoyed too. Was this a printing mistake or a deliberate practical joke by the people where the printing of the question paper had been done? Be it either, what were the teachers or the authorities of the school doing? Had they not checked the question paper before distributing them to the children? And finally, why had no teacher come forward to correct the mistake at least on the day the children were giving the exam? Negligence and carelessness are not qualities that should go with teaching or even a school as a whole. This was sheer laxity on their part.

When the L&M comes home, I present the evidence of the screw up. He rules out publicity of any sort and takes away the question paper from me. He would look into it, he says. I tell him I want the paper back as I have plans of writing to the Readers Digest column. This is just the kind of funny bites they include in their magazine. The L&M visits the school and discreetly points out the mistake. But how can you leave it at that, I ask him. You should have taken them to task for their negligence. Couldn’t they have told the kids about the error in time? What were they doing? By the way, did they even know there was one? How many genitals, indeed. Pah!  

Psst. After that outburst, I never got to lay my hands on the question paper. As for the junior son, I promptly apprised him of facts: A metric tonne had no genitals, only quintals. 

Reposted from shail-mohan blogs @ sulekha.com