Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Anjali Paruvu

 I cracked my knuckles out of boredom, even though I didn’t really know how you get the “crack” sound. I looked at Prerna on my left, who was either chanting a mantra or reading off formulas. I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention. The kids in the front were immersed in their books, flipping pages rapidly. The ones in the back seemed to have surrendered to their impending doom and were discussing their family’s reaction to their imminent results.

“She’s going to say, go! Go to movies, go out with friends, and come home late, for what? To get 10 out of 100! Shameless boy, what will I tell your aunt?” said a scrawny boy in the back with an exaggerated imitation of an Indian mother.

“At least it’s just words for you. One fat thappad I am going to get.” said the burly, flat-haired man-boy. Probably from all the thappads.

Nervous chuckles filled the room. They weren’t really feeling the jokes. 

And I, I stayed in my chair and looked at everyone else. The excitement of the day was too much for me to focus on anything. I had studied a bit already, not too much, but I had tried. 

In walked our History teacher, looking particularly scary in a large red bindi. “Good morning, ma’am” broke out an earnest call, almost like a war cry before battle. 

“Good morning, take your seats.” the sounds of twenty students hitting their wooden benches carried across the room. We looked at her warily. We tried to decipher the level of difficulty of the question paper from her face, but she gave us nothing. 

“I hope everyone has prepared for the test, considering that this makes up 20% of your board exam marks. Pens out, please. Right, there you go.” She said as she began to distribute question paper sheets to everyone. 

I glanced downward at the same mundane font I had seen a million times before. I caught fleeting glances of my classmates’ reactions to the paper. Prerna looked relieved and concerned at the same time. He, sitting in the front bench, looked about as calm and collected as he did every single moment of every day. 

The boys in the back looked unsurprised and nodded their heads dejectedly. They might have been deciphering ancient runes by the evident confusion on their faces. I picked up my pen and clicked it.

I wrote my name, my class, the date, the subject. I inhaled as I set out on my journey for the next 45 minutes. Give two reasons why power sharing is desirable in a democracy. I started scribbling out reasons, pulling from my experience of living in a patriarchal family. Like all kids do, right?

Who was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo? Instantly the song buzzed in my head, “At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender “.Thank you ABBA! This question paper was becoming a Slum dog Millionaire situation.

I continued scribbling and scratching for another half an hour, when I heard a familiar clacking of highly polished black shoes. “Done, ma’am” said Prerna. She walked to the front of the class, deposited her paper, picked up her bag and left. I was very confused. Prerna was the type who would vomit the textbook onto the paper for 40 minutes, then edit and strike for 10 minutes. She had never given a paper in on time. Ma’am looked slightly startled as well.

“Well then, 5 minutes or I pull it out of your hands.” The scratching of pen on paper became much faster and the writing turned from calligraphy to an ECG in seconds. I was drawing lines between my answers and when the bell rang, I voluntarily gave my paper to ma’am. She gave me a half nod.

I don’t think the others were as lucky. I heard a piece of paper rip, but was too late in turning back to see whose paper it was. She threatened a few with calls to their parents and subtracting marks, but their disobedience to her direct orders and their determination to “Just Keep Writing” was inspirational. Eventually we were all dismissed and we went home, relieved of this burden until doomsday. I was pretty satisfied with my paper. But then, I didn’t really believe in the curriculum that educational institutions preached. I find it contradictory to the objective of overall growth and health of children that in fact propagates a dislike towards learning. But all in all, I was looking at above 80.


The next week passed much faster than imagined. Soon, we were back in History class and Ma’am was looking passive-aggressively at each of us for three seconds at a time. Some smiled sheepishly, some did not make eye contact, some did not break eye contact.

She pulled a bundle of sheets from her brown, leathery purse and began calling out names.






She went on. I looked at my paper. A bright red circle indicated the looks I was going to get from my parents this evening. A zero. A nine. Ninety! I grinned to myself, then restrained myself from looking into the other papers. I, of course, did not care about this objective way of ranking children. Who cares who got more? I did. But who cares?

I heard a couple sniffles from the front bench and a few “Tcch, tcch, tcchs” from the back. I looked at him, same stoic, plain face. I looked to Prerna. She seemed as though all the colour in her face had finished. Like someone had pulled a carpet out from under her.

“Ey” I poked her shoulder with my pen.

She didn’t look. She looked down and then at Ma’am, then started crying hysterically.

“Come, Prerna.” said Ma’am gravely. Prerna might not have heard her over the noise of her tears.

“Get yourself together Prerna, follow me to the principal’s office.” Prerna rose. She didn’t make eye contact with any of the nineteen pairs of eyes staring at her. She walked out of the classroom.

“Niveditha, monitor the class till I return. Write down the names of any troublemakers on the board.” said Ma’am and then walked out the door.

I got up and stood with boredom in front of the greenboard. I didn’t enjoy monitoring. I didn’t really like telling people bad news. I spaced out while standing there and everyone in class took the hint. They began talking and laughing and playing. I didn’t really care, I was thinking about Prerna. What in the world could have made her cry? Probably the size of Ma’am’s bindi. I chuckled to myself.

Soon, period ended and so did my tenure as monitor. I sat down, now very worried. It was lunch when I finally saw Prerna.

She was sitting under the neem tree, looking sick.

“Hey, what -”

“I’ll tell you, just give me a minute”

I sat down next to her, looking at my knees. We sat like that for a while, I kept looking up for a microsecond at a time to see if she was showing signs of talking.

“I cheated.” Her eyes had stains from crying.

I looked up. She looked at her knees. I took the hint and looked at mine.

“Whaddya mean?” I said.

“Do you not know what cheating means?” she said.

“I do. But I know you couldn’t cheat if you tried to.” I said. There was no way.

“I take offense to that.” I smiled.

“How did you cheat?” I decided to indulge her.

“It was quite clever, actually. I went to the computer lab three days before the exam. I asked the technician, very sweetly, if I could just check my email for a second since I was getting my Olympiad results. He let me and I copied the paper to my pen drive. Unfortunately, I cut it, instead of copying it, and ma’am noticed.”

“But why cheat?”

“I don’t know. I thought I was going to fail.”

“You think that every time. And then you cry over getting a 98”

“That’s it, isn’t it? It’s just expected. ‘Please, it’s Prerna. Don’t worry. She’ll figure it out. Our Prerna is a smart girl’ Well, you know what, I don’t want to be this stereotype. This law-abiding goody two shoes. Sure, I’m smarter than most”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Okay, I’m smart. But I want to live a life outside the rules my parents have made for me.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I decided not to study for the test.”

“And then you panicked three days before the exam, because you couldn’t possibly flunk a test?” I guessed.


I laughed. “What?” said Prerna.

“What did your parents say?”

“Oh. They said that they didn’t expect this of me. They are going to start tuitions. I’m going to ruin my life and shatter their dreams if I continue like this.”

“Because you cheated once? Your parents are hilarious” I broke out into laughter.

Prerna stared at me for two seconds. She started laughing too.

“They are quite stupid. As if anyone cares that a random 15-year-old in Hyderabad cheated in a unit test.”

We laughed some more about how insignificant we were. When we finally stopped laughing, Prerna said “I don’t regret it you know. I think now I have a story to tell my grandchildren. Your ammamma! Oh she was a riot!

The prospect of Prerna’s grandchildren almost sent me into fits, but I didn’t laugh. She seemed serious. “I don’t think you should. Live life, ey?”


“So which test are you cheating on next? Chits? Copying? Graffiti in the bathroom?”

“Shut up.”


  1. Thanks for sharing!
    This made me laugh out loud several times!
    And “I started scribbling out reasons, pulling from my experience of living in a patriarchal family. Like all kids do, right?” hit me unexpectedly harder!
    Very vivid! Took me back to my school days too!

  2. Brilliant! Are you sure you didn’t cheat like Prerna?😁
    Seriously though, I couldn’t keep a straight face reading through. It is hilarious, and so many laugh out loud moments. My favourite is “man-boy” – probably from all those thappafs!🤣🤣

    Well done, girl. So proud of you ❤️

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