Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Scared of an F

The weather was very cold that morning. Kanpur is so cold in winters and the IIT is always colder than the city. The answer sheets for the 5th sememster were to be shown that day. Mechanical Engineering had been proving very difficult for me, especially the 3rd year. I was always worried about the academics and I could see the grades slipping by. I knew that I had spent most of the semester in watching movies on my newly bought desktop or writing new poems in Hindi. I had also spent a lot of time editing the college magazine and zillion other such things that took my time away from academics.

Theory of Machines was a very critical course for Mechanical Engineers. It must have been something to do with machines, but I didn't understand much of it. The course was taught by Dr. A. K. Mallik. Only few months ago, on the occasion of Teacher's day he was awarded the Best Teacher. As luck would have it, I was then the Acting Convener of the Students's Senate, and thus I was party to the meeting in which the Best Teacher was decided. I personally respected Dr. Mallik a lot. He was one of the most learned and distinguished teachers at IIT Kanpur. But that did not help me understand the Theory of Machines. I still struggled to understand how does a cam or a gear box work.

In the end sems, the exam was for 130 marks and as far as possible, I had attempted all questions. But I was scared on the day when answer sheets were to be shown. We were called to the TA lab where we were handed over our answer sheets. In most of the answers I had got 1 or 2 marks and the total was 13 out of 130. Within minutes I knew that I had the second lowest marks in a batch of 70 students. In IITK, there was no passing marks as such and it was left to the Prof to decide on what marks would he pass a student. 10% was not a score on which I could be hopeful. It was one of my lowest scores ever. And if Prof Mallik decided to fail even two students, I would get an F. I tried approaching Dr. Mallik and ask on what marks would he pass us. He said that it could not be disclosed. Only when the list of students who have been awarded F is pasted outside the DOAA office would I know whether I had passed the course or got an F.

I came back to my room and was sitting scared. Back home in Bokaro, parents were busy preparing for my brother's marriage to be held in two weeks. I did not have the courage to call up home and tell them what had happened. I was reminded of how I was the topper of my class in school for six years. But I had performed miserably in Mechanical Engineering. Was I actually an idiot? Did I not have even the average intelligence to understand Mechanics? Various thoughts kept coming to my mind and I felt like crying, but I couldn't. I was petrified to think what would my parents think when I would fail. Our entire extended family would be there at my brother's wedding and everyone would laugh at me and my parents. I went up to the roof of the Hostel and kept thinking of jumping off it. But couldn't sum up the courage. I should jump, I thought. But I just couldn't. My friends had advised me to go and meet Dr. Mallik in his office. I decided to give it one more try.

I went up to Dr. Mallik's chamber next day but he did not recognize me. I told him that I was in the Theory of Machines course and had got the second lowest score in the endsems. I asked him again if I would get a F in the course or will pass it. He politely declined to divulge anything about it. I was adamant. I told him a lot of things. How my brother is getting married in two weeks and how my parents have high hopes of me and how I have always been a good student and how I would work hard from the next semester. But Dr. Mallik smiled and asked me, "Chandra Mohan, why are you so scared of failing in this exam? What would go wrong if you got an F?"

I was shattered. I thought that he had already failed me and hence was trying to convince me to accept the grade. I persisted and said that I cannot accept an F and that last evening I had contemplated jumping from the roof of my hostel. To my surprise, he was not perturbed. My eyes were already wet and I could not believe that even the threat of suicide couldn't convince him to pass me. He was more consistent than me. He asked me again, "Why are you so scared of failing?"

He continued, "Today it does appear to you that you want to pass this course any which way. But think about me, I feel like a failure that I could not teach you well enough so that you could do well in this exam. If it was because you didn't come to classes, then too it was my fault that I could not generate enough interest in you for this subject. Chandra Mohan, I have been teaching for a very long time and I always feel bad when I have to fail a student. But let me tell you, I would fail a student only if there is no other choice left. And I feel bad that you are so worried about getting an F in a course. Trust me, ten years from now, you will think about today and feel ashamed of yourself that you were begging and crying in front of me to pass a course. Life is very long son, and a grade here and there does not make or break your life. Do not think of jumping off a roof just because you failed an exam. And don't worry about what people would call you. If deep inside you know that you are a good man, you will have a good life. Go home, and enjoy your brother's wedding and do not worry too much about this grade. You will know it when the list is out. All the best. You may go now." I left his office and was very confused as to what he had said. It did not make sense to me. All I understood of the the conversation was that he must have failed me and is just being too idealistic about not telling it to me now. Next day, I caught the train and reached home. 

A week later, Piyush called from IITK and told me that the list of F's was out and my name was not there in the list. I had passed the course with a D grade. I was too happy to have saved the embarrassment. I do not remember anything about the Theory of Machines but those words of Dr. Mallik are still quite clear in my head and roughly eight and half years later, I think about that day and feel glad that did not jump off the roof.