|Illustration: Shruti Yatam|
“Did you study in the ICSE board,” a colleague once asked me while we were engaged in conversation for half an hour and fast running out of small talk. “No no, SSC board,” I replied back softly, with mild resignation. “Oh, your English is pretty good. I thought you must be from the ICSE board,” he said, with that arrogant confidence I had become too familiar with.
The various boards that constitute the educational system in India are like the caste system. IB board students are the Brahmins. ICSE and CBSE students are Kshatriyas and Vaishyas respectively, and we State board students are treated like the lowest rung in the social hierarchy. Students from other boards look down upon us, the same way the internet looks down upon netizens who typ lik dis. SSC board students become Monisha Sarabhais to the posh and sophisticated Maya Sarabhais of the country. Our emotions were aptly captured by Shilpa Shukla in Chak De India when she asked Shah Rukh Khan, “Aisa kya hai usme, jo mujh mein nahi hai?”
Some people are born with an inferiority complex, some acquire it. And some have an inferiority complex thrust upon them. You see, children don’t give a fuck about your diction, syllabus, or your clothes – all they ever want to know is whether you have cream biscuits in your tiffin box. We didn’t even know what ICSE, CBSE, and IB was all about because everyone you knew in your little world was studying the same subjects as you. Children are innocent, they don’t distinguish people on the basis of intellect or language; they mock kids for being fat or thin, stupid or clumsy.
But as we grew into teenagers, murmurs about these kids who belonged to a different breed started to do the rounds. The things we were told about them almost made us think of them as mythical creatures. We were told these kids went to schools that boasted of huge grounds and swimming pools. When the hell did schools start coming with swimming pools? We SSC folks didn’t even have a decent computer lab. We were told they would have overnight picnics outside the city. We were taken to a garden in the next ’burb. We were told they had subjects like French and German. We were struggling with the Marathi barakhadi. We were told they were studying literature while we were still giggling over sex education diagrams in the Science-II textbook.
Everything about the other boards seemed better, even their books. Yes, the ICSE/CBSE books were frighteningly thicker, but they had colourful pictures. Our books… they were just plain black and white printed in the world’s lousiest font.
Their uniforms were smart, their shoes were perfectly polished. Our uniforms were shoddy, our shoes dusty. When they spoke in English, it seemed like they had been blessed by the Queen herself. We, we spoke, mostly in Bambaiyya Hindi.
They had hobbies – they rode horses and solved sudoku. We had hobbies too, they were lagori and saakli. They were veer bahadur Rajput boys, we were Model ke pyjama chaaps.
If you had friends who attended ICSE or CBSE schools, you were doomed. If they started discussing As You Like It, it was best to keep mum and sneak away from that conversation. Because while they were studying Shakespeare, you were busy watching Sridevi movies.
ICSE students had weekly tests and seemed to be studying all the time. They never came to play in the building and help puncture everyone’s cycles just for a laugh. When the results came out, everyone you knew had managed to score over 90 per cent in their board exams. Were they superhumans? Not quite, as you later found out that scoring 90 per cent was a bit like delivering a TED Talk – every third person was suddenly doing it.
As school got over, the impossible forces met the immovable objects as students from all boards got together in junior college. It was the first taste of the brazen educational classism that state board students had to confront. During introductions, when you let your classmates know that you were from the SSC board, they wouldn’t showcase it openly but you could sense the dismissive undercurrent in their reaction, the subtext of which was “fucking losers”.
It wasn’t just some kids from the ICSE board hating on us poor souls from the SSC board; the dynamic was a lot more complex than that. Junior college also had a niche brand of students from the IB board, who would not only look down upon us, but also the ICSE and CBSE board kids. That was quite heartening, to be honest. The initial grudge, however, soon disappeared as people bonded over the timeline of their course, and everyone indulged in subtle jabs every now and then, but playfully.
One would think your educational board wouldn’t matter as you enter corporate life. And for the most part, it has no consequence, apart from the dreaded reaction you get when you tell someone you studied at the SSC board and they go…
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