Kitne Attempts Huye? What Failing CA Exams 8 Times Taught Me About Life
Illustration: Sushant Ahire
I’ve been an average student throughout school and college. The guy not nerdy enough to be in the front bench but not naughty enough to rule the back bench either. I was strictly mediocre, like Akshay Kumar, of whom not a lot was expected but he just seemed to keep doing fine. I scored just enough which ensured that my parents had to never visit college but not enough to avoid comparisons with Sharmaji ka ladka. I never ever failed. And then I enrolled for the chartered accountancy course.
My dad’s a chartered accountant and a lot of my uncles are CAs, and naturally I was going to be a CA. That’s just how Gujarati and Marwari CA families roll. Dad, of course, didn’t tell me that. He told me that if you like math, you should pursue the CA course. This bullshit sales pitch was right up there with the time he convinced me to have paracetamol because it looked just like Polo.
I cleared the entrance exam (CPT) in my first attempt and felt that I could conquer the world. Like Narendra Modi after the 2014 elections. Then came my demonetisation moment: I failed for the first time in my life; I could not clear the IPCC, the second-level exam. And then I failed seven more times while attempting IPCC and the final exam over a torturous period of six years.
As brutal a course CA is, it helps people prepare for and deal with failure in a way that very few things in life do. I will never forget the first time I checked my IPCC result online. My hands were shivering when I had to feed in my roll number and click on the submit button on the ICAI website. And there it was, the cruellest word in the English dictionary – “FAIL”, in all caps. The scores on my marksheet resembled India’s batting scorecard from the fourth innings of the Cape Town Test match. Too many 20s and 30s, not enough 40s and 50s.
Mind you, I had given it all. This was after a year of attending coaching classes for seven hours a day, followed by four months of study at home for 12 hours a day. My schedule was the educational equivalent of Milind Soman’s gym routine. The only other people who follow a timetable so rigorously are cyclists doping at the Tour de France. While I was engrossed in studies, my friends were living the Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara life and posting pictures of Northern Lights from Iceland. After all that sacrifice, I had managed to score 19 out of 100 in the paper on costing.
Failure is a bit like watching porn, the first time is the hardest. It feels awful, and you are ashamed of yourself. You wish you could borrow that invisibility cloak from Harry Potter and hide from this frightful world. When someone would ask me my marks, I would exaggerate them a bit the same way the government exaggerates GDP figures. I couldn’t believe this was possible, it was like watching a Scorpio blow up in a Golmaal movie. I suspected something was fishy and even sent the papers for rechecking. There were no counting mistakes, and no, the Russians didn’t hack anything.
CA may not teach you costing, but it teaches you a lesson in acceptance. You have to pick yourself up and just get on with it. Reflect on your mistakes, and look forward to correcting them with the same syllabus, same routine, same number of hours, all over again from scratch. When you take out the books (thinking you were done with them) and sit down again for the first time, you realise how soul-crushing the cycle is. I solved many additional papers and got specialised coaching on my weak subjects, the same way Sanjay Leela Bhansali had historians to help him onPadmavaat. I would conquer costing if that’s the last thing I did. When the results were announced I was stumped. I scored 17 on 100.
When you fail a couple of times, the dynamic changes. Many friends who were studying with you have already cleared and by now your juniors have become your peers. There is a deep fear at some level that they might clear and go past you as well, the very people who were asking you for advice just a year back. It’s a bit like being Parthiv Patel, and watching eight other wicketkeepers debut after him while he still struggles to cement his place. Self-doubt starts to creep in and you think perhaps you’re just not cut out for this course. Maybe you’re the Shraddha Kapoor of the CA course and you will only star in movies called OK Jaanu. This is the point at which the course becomes a test in character.
As failures continue, you can now count marks on your fingers but need a calculator to count the number of attempts. The pressure starts to mount. Your family starts questioning your hard work and effort, everyone doesn’t have the luxury to be Rahul Gandhi. Most friends have cleared their CA exam and are out of touch, you are bruised and alone like James Franco in 127 Hours. Your battered ego doesn’t allow you to celebrate the success of friends and relatives who have cleared the exam. At times, you become petty and wonder, “How the fuck has that guy cleared the exam and I have not?” The three words that are asked at every family function and social gathering start to haunt you: “Kitne attempts huye?”
I take heart in the fact that CA is one of those exams that most of us fail, and some even go on to attempt the exam for over a decade, well after they are married and in their 30s and 40s. These guys have to manage their job and also prepare for an examination that demands long hours. The sensible thing is to quit, but some diehards continue their endless pursuit of that esteemed degree.
These people may never clear the exam but all of them have learnt how to deal with something as important as failure right from their young student days. An argument could be made that the syllabus is a bit outdated or the exam encourages mugging up, but what’s beyond doubt, is that CA is a course that prepares you for life.
There is an old adage that students live by that is as true for life as it for CA: “If you fail, do not fear. After May, there is always November.”