In Andhra Pradesh, the seventh grade board exams are the first milestone in a student's life. In my case, they turned out to be a particularly memorable event, teeming with high drama. A few days before the exams, much to my horror, the Principal of the school notified my family that if they did not pay the arrears of school fees for the entire year, I would not be allowed to sit for the board exam. It was a nightmare! While the rest of the class was putting in long hours of study I was anxiously pacing the floor, waiting to hear if my parents, through some miracle, had been able to raise or borrow the money to pay the fees.
All too soon it was the first day of the exams … and the fees had still not been paid. While I was getting ready to go to school I wondered what I would do if the authorities barred me from entering the classroom. My future looked bleak and uncertain, but I tagged along with my parents while they made a last-ditch attempt to rustle up the money. We knocked on the doors of some relatives and friends, but in vain. They either couldn't or wouldn't give us the money; and my desperate pleas for help went unanswered. I started crying, and curious onlookers looked askance at me. They were probably wondering why a big boy was walking along with his parents, sobbing uncontrollably, when there were no other schoolchildren anywhere in sight.
It was unthinkable that I would not be able to write the exams. It meant that I'd have to repeat the seventh grade with my juniors, or drop out of school altogether. I had always been among the top five students in class, and was all set to write the exams. Why was I being punished for something that was no fault of mine? Eventually, my parents decided to take a chance, plead our case in school, and beg the Sisters for a reprieve.
Unknown to me, a different drama was unfolding in school. That year, ours was the first school on the list of roll numbers. So there was a distinct likelihood of officials from the Education Department coming to inspect the arrangements that had been made there. Also, there was the possibility of the Education Inspectors quizzing the school authorities about the conspicuous absence of a student in the very first row of the very first class in the very first school that they visited. (My roll no, 5E, was somewhere at the top of the list, which meant that my seat would have been in the first row.)