There was a verbal volley with a definitive purpose that the ear was used to. When the marks didn’t turn up as well as they perhaps should have. When they were a marathon of a distance away from the swagger with which an extra hour with TinTin was devoured claiming that the math exam had gone off ‘beyond expectations’ .
This verbal tranche of insults and such else, were delivered all ofcourse, with the intention of somehow getting me more focused and ‘into’ the subject !
The assortment of words that made the sentence was remarkable for the sentence could masquerade as sarcasm, retort, insult, insinuation, motivation, display of anger. An extravagant paraphernalia of diverse meanings that I don’t have the patience to recount.
For that wide an array of interpretations, the sentence and its constituents were ( and still are ) remarkably pithy : “I’ll get you a few cows”
It was supposed to be the ultimate insult to an average young mind. It meant, that the new depths the maths marks touched could fit the grand occupation of herding cows and goats. It was a singularly frightening thought. Completely inappropriate by a grotesque proportion to what caused this : the math paper !
For the math question paper would have had a question like ‘ A has five apples. Of which he gave one-fifth to B and another one-third to C……’ . Finally ending with some vague question like ‘So how many apples was A left with’ or something to that effect.
For the record, I have always believed that the impact of apples are best felt on the tongue. The teeth biting into fresh fruit, and the tongue swarming with tasty juice was all that mattered.
If you had five apples, you ate five apples. Obviously, Mr.B and Mr.C were non-entities once the apples were sighted. Even if the apples happened to be theirs.
To me, people featured in the question paper like Mr.A, were beyond comprehension. To subject something as tasty as a simple apple, to such a fractious assault was downright unnecessary, completely impractical and cruel to an imaginative test taking kid!
These and such thoughts would play in the mind. Before I knew, test would be over and the mark statement would have touched a new nadir.
Oftentimes holding the report card in hand with the math marks settling in a new marina trench, would send me on a imagination frenzy to see myself herding an assortment of cows and goats. Which obviously lead to serious palpitations to form on my forehead. And other parts too, but that’s besides the point.
No no. Dont get me wrong. Not for me the insult. Not for me the insinuation. At that age, I didn’t give goats horn about what people would think of me being a cowherd. Nor do I care much now. It was not that. The problem was something else.
It was keeping count of those goats and cows.
Beads of sweat transformed into enormous water streams just thinking of the proposition of losing two goats for no fault of mine. As a matter of addition and subtraction we were taught to ‘borrow’ ‘from the next digit’. Or in case of addition, ‘carry over’ to the next column was important.
After dutifully ‘carrying over’ or ‘borrowing from’ I would ofcourse gloriously forget that act of generosity and move on with life and other numbers. Until such a time, the math teacher made me write such ‘carry overs’ and ‘borrowing froms’ in such gigantic font size to enable recall.
If that was the case with random numbers, to keep track of cows and goats was a different ask, to my fertile imagination. To keep counting them and finding I was two short ( or three short, for that matter) would have had some serious explanation, I figured.
I fretted that I would lose count for no fault of mine. It would be comprehensively unfair if, say, the goats wanted to scratch themselves against a specific tree, or stayed back at the local pond, or sighted a far attractive mate and decide to have a good time!
I would be reduced to taking the blame on myself and my math skills.
Grotesquely unfair. Isnt it ?
Ofcourse this attempt at fear laced motivation, stopped getting uttered one day. One fine day, one of those ‘uncles’ was home to launch into moms cooking. Such genial uncles back then ( and these days too) have a set of questions which were simple to figure out.
Usually starting with ‘Which school do you go to and somewhere along the line leading to ‘what do you want to become when you grow up’. ( At a younger age, ‘what is your teacher name’ used to be one persistent such, which in hindsight, rises an eyebrow. Actually both my eyebrows. )
Just as he was finishing the question of ‘what do you want to become’, in a flash, my mind streamed an image of a proud me, managing an array of goats and cows without losing count of any.
Without losing a breath, I announced with a singular flourish that I wanted to become a ‘Cowherd’. Much to the blasphemous horror of all around, evidenced by the stellar silence that followed an intemperate bout of laughter from the genial uncle.
After that, the subject of ‘grazing cows’ as a default occupational choice, in case the math marks didn’t move north, made a quiet exit. I must say, the cows and goats haven’t been ever so thankful as then.
Do you have such recollections of your childhood ? Or were you the Mr.A type ?