In my tenth standard board exams, I got a 100/100 in Sanskrit. I was the only one in my class who did. I was on cloud nine. For years to come, I would proudly announce this fact to anyone I meet. “Wow, you got a 100/100 in your boards, that is great”, they would gush. I would beam with pride. Now, getting a 100/100 does sound like an achievement, what now is the problem? Just that I didn’t know any Sanskrit, I memorized everything (including the essays), as did everyone else in my class, and my 100/100 was a certificate in memorisation, not of learning. 

Speaking of essays, the essay I memorized was called Satsangatih. This translates to “Keeping Good Company”. In retrospect, what a wonderful topic! If I had learned the meaning of the essay at that time, internalized it, and gone on make sure that the company I kept consisted of rich, uplifting people, I can’t imaging the compound effects of those choices! 

In the last few years, I have developed a desire to learn Sanskrit so that I can read the scriptures in their original form. I have been learning Sanskrit from scratch, and am enjoying the journey. 

Are marks completely useless, then? Not quite. Marks are a good indicator of the progress being made. A 80/100 indicates a high level of proficiency, a 100/100 indicates Mastery, a 40/100 indicates the need for improvement. These are not absolute in themselves, and as in my case with the Sanskrit
marks, could be wrong from time to time. Another relevant question is what do the marks indicate. It may not be obvious. In my case, the 100/100 indicated a mastery of my memorizations skills and not a master of the subject.

The worst part is, when I went to the US to study, I carried my marks mindset along with me, and a good grade was my goal in each class, not the knowledge that I could be gaining. I am sure I lost a lot of opportunities with this mindset.

In one episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Ross’s comic book character Science Boy’s super power was an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Though that seemed funny, I do believe that an insatiable thirst for knowledge is indeed a super power, people who possess this end up changing the world. (Then again, it might just mean that I am a nerd).

Swami Vivekananda said that if He could do His education all over again, He would learn how to concentrate, so that He could learn anything that He wished to. If I could do my education all over again, I would approach it with a thirst for learning, with marks merely being an indicator of progress.

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Prahalad Rajkumar

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