Nepali Times
Third division


His exam results were out and as usual he had passed in third division. When he was found hiding at his friend's place, his father dragged him home and flogged him. That night he sat on a motorcycle and zoomed off god knows where. That's how it is with him-the more he is beaten the farther he goes.

I have known this boy since childhood. I sometimes help him with his homework and realise he is a slow learner. Not even slow and diligent, just slow. He is by nature disinclined to dogged learning. He has no mathematical brain and his aptitude for language is clearly limited. Either his learning environment is not right for him or he is simply dull. But that's just the way he is, this boy who is essentially good-natured and has a way of putting others ahead of himself almost instinctively. He may not rank high as a student but anyone who cares to look will recognise his exceptional human qualities.

However, for the pair that brought him to the world, he is the shame they must bear, the ignominy that marks them everywhere. Like most educated middle class parents in town, they believe that his academic performance ultimately measures his worth. Whenever friends and relatives inquire about their son's progress, the two faces flush. They mutter something irrelevant before meekly muttering: "The idiot didn't do well." Immediately afterwards, the boy is summoned and assaulted with an ancient tirade: how you disgrace us you moron, you black sheep, good-for-nothing. What will you ever do in life? Then they spit out a flurry of names against whom he ought to gauge himself and realise once again that he is a loser fit for the gutter.

It is very exasperating when you realise how deeply entrenched this attitude is in our society. How our parents, teachers and neighbours hold aloft these narrow standards of merit. True, we live in an age that honours raw ambition and quantified achievements but deep down we all agree that humanity goes far beyond personal victory. We know that the educated are not always wise. That even the highest degree does not teach compassion. And the men who are waging the bloodiest wars on earth also attended the most prestigious universities.

We can name a hundred things they could learn from this boy, who may never win a trophy but who is intrinsically valuable in the world.

But his parents are hardheaded folks. They dismiss anything that does not echo the herd as romantic. In the real world, they repeat, people look for tangible success. Being nice does not get you anywhere. The supremacy of the academic achievement holds. Where will our son go with his third division?

I have no answers. But their attitude has helped neither them nor the child. After swallowing years of hurt and humiliation, the boy has lost his self-esteem. He has grown quieter over the years as though the desperate, demeaning cries around him drowned out his voice. Everyday they drill into his head that he is a failure and he is learning to present himself as one.

If I ever worried about his future, then it is with this thought: what if he grows into a cynical man who resents the world for his unhappiness?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)