On Saturday, Vijay and Lakshi got their “results.”

“What are results?” Lakshi asked.

“How you did on your papers,” her Mom explained.

“I didn’t do any papers,” Lakshi insisted. “Ma’am did them.”

Nonetheless, off they trotted that morning, their parents in tow.

Vijay – no surprise – was first in his class and his teacher’s darling. “Such a smart boy,” she said enthusiastically. “He knows all the answers.”

Absolutely true. Vijay is a brilliant boy – sharp, observant, curious.

Young boy looking shy yet pleased

But Lakshi is no less, in spite of having all zeroes. FAIL! Lakshi failed PKG.

Yet the other night, just for an example, Ravi went upstairs to close the door to the balcony. It’s all swollen because of the rains and he had to slam it with a loud bang to get it to shut. Following the bang, there was a brief silence, then Lakshi’s voice rang out from their flat in accusing tones: “Who’s breaking our door down?”

When she comes in in the evening, wanting to help and I ask her to set the table, she knows exactly where everything is in our kitchen and exactly how it should all be laid out on the table (plates in the center, forks on the left, knives on the right, spoons to the right of the knives, glass positioned just over the tip of the knife).

She knows when I’ve made a cake and exactly how many slices are left and whose was bigger the last time it was served. She can pour, she can divide, she can measure and subtract.

Yesterday she ran to me in great consternation. “Mom!” she said (she calls me Mom). “It’s a disaster! There are two worms in our house.”

Lakshi is three.

But the school she attends seems unable to assess her bright, sparkling little mind because Lakshi can neither read nor write. How can they test her? The copy books she dutifully carries back and forth each day and fills with scribbles and x’s and straight and slanted lines are meaningless to her. She humors her parents (if she’s in the mood) by doing as she’s been told, but in fact, she’s simply too busy doing what a three year old should be doing to bother with nonsense like sitting still and making marks on a piece of paper.

Little girl on a woman's back, waving happily

Lakshi is three. At the moment, thank God, she has no interest in or use for our categories and judgments. Failing PKG is as irrelevant to her as flying to the moon.

If we all play our cards right, this child might yet grow up to discover a cure for cancer or to paint a masterpiece or to develop a new way to distribute water. But if we continue to be as stupid as we have been so far – even whispering the word FAIL anywhere in her vicinity is criminal malpractice – there’s no saying what we will miss.

The promise, the expectation, the new dawn just over the next mountain peak: that’s all hers. The failure, the downward spiral, the lost and irretrievable hopes – those are ours.


Lakshi is looking at us expectantly.

Have we got anything new, anything beyond false measurements and labels like “FAILURE” to offer her?





  • Siddharth Sharma

    This industrial model of education is meant to make a professor out of everyone.
    And to those who don’t want to be( thought they could easily be ) it doesn’t care neither does it understand.
    Mark Twain saw it coming a long time back -“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Leave a Comment