Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken)
After 15 years of tilling farms, eight of those as a vegetable farmer in Italy, Manpreet Singh, now 33, finds himself at a critical juncture in life — he has decided to reappear for the Class 12 ‘General English’ paper that he failed to clear in 2004.
As he tries to wrap his head round Robert Frost’s 1916 poem, The Road Not Taken, he laughs, “I don’t remember if this poem was part of our syllabus in 2004, but it is apparently part of the new syllabus. Had I taken English seriously then, I would have cleared my Class 12.”
Scattered on his cot at his home in Jhorran village in Ludhiana are a pile of Class 12 English books and guides — ‘English Guide’, ‘Fully Solved Board Question Papers’, ‘Sure-Shot Questions Examination Master’ and, “the most important one”, ‘General English to Punjabi Translation Guide’.
On August 16, the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) issued a public notice, saying those who had got ‘Re-Appear/Compartment’ results in their Class 10 and 12 exams from 2004 to 2018 and had failed to clear the papers, could sit for a ‘Supplementary Golden Chance Exam’ — that is, they could take a final shot at cracking the exam.
Saying the offer was part of celebrations to mark Sikhism founder Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary, the notice further said that even those students who hoped to improve their results can take up the ‘Golden Chance’.
According to PSEB rules, Class 10 students are given a chance to ‘reappear’ if they fail in less than three subjects. For Class 12, students are given a chance to ‘re-appear’ if they fail in one subject. Students of both the classes are given two chances, valid for a year, to clear their ‘re-appear’ or compartment exam. Now, under the Golden Chance Exam, all students – those who failed their ‘re-appear’ exams or those who did not attempt ‘re-appear exams’ at all — can apply after paying a fee of Rs 15,000.
As of September 11, the PSEB had received more than 4,000 applications, with the estimated revenue from the fee expected to touch Rs 6 crore. Encouraged by the applications, the PSEB has extended the deadline to apply online to September 19.
Manpreet is hopeful of cracking the English paper this time — he will have to score at least 22 marks out of 65.
Fifteen years ago, Manpreet, then a student of Jhorran government school, had scored 15 marks out of 75 in the Class 12 English paper. He sat for the ‘reappear’ exam, but fared worse, scoring only 10 marks. “But if you look at my marks-sheet, you will know I wasn’t that dull a student,” says Manpreet. Indeed, he scored 53 in General Punjabi, 67 in History and 53 in Punjabi Elective — it was only English that did him in.
Manpreet then decided not to take the second ‘re-appear’ exam; instead, he did a plumbing course at the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Ludhiana. Then he spent two years working as a plumber and later tilling his father’s fields.
In 2010, like many others from his village, he moved to Italy, where he worked as an agricultural worker, watering vegetable farms and earning Rs 70,000 to Rs 90,000 a month. But last year, he returned home, determined to clear his Class 12.
“In Italy, I earned more than what some highly qualified people in India earn, but the fact remains that I am not even a baarhnvi (Class 12) pass. It’s disappointing and demotivating when you see that almost everyone around you has a Class 12 certificate. I have nothing to show on paper. It started sinking in when my younger sister also cleared her Class 12,” says Manpreet, adding, “I had made up my mind to appear for all the Class 12 papers this year, when news of this ‘Golden Chance’ came. It was a big relief. Now I only have to prepare for one subject.”
“I never really paid much attention to English while in Class 12… Those days, I had already made up my mind that I would clear the paper in the ‘re-appear’ exam. But when I failed the ‘re-appear’ exam, I gave up,” says Manpreet, who, after eight years in Italy, speaks and writes Italian better than English.
Now, he spends five-six hours a day preparing for the exam, depending heavily on YouTube and the translation guidebook. “I don’t go for tuitions. I am focusing on some sure-shot questions like application writing, e-mail writing, and grammar. Grammar is still the same, he says, but the problem is literature. “I have to go through all the chapters again. It is all-new,” he says.
“Application writing has also become very difficult now. When we were in school, they usually asked us to write an application to the principal seeking leave, but now the sample papers say, ‘Write an application to a newspaper editor seeking a job’. Since it’s a six-mark question, I have been preparing for this,” he adds.
Manpreet complains that the exam fee of Rs 15,000 is “too high”. “I had my savings, so I could manage. But the fee is certainly very high. I paid because I could afford. Not everyone can,” he says.
Bringing him a glass of lemon juice, Manpreet’s mother Charanjit Kaur says, “Main ehnu baithe de saara kuchch de denin haan, ki bas tu padhi chal (I bring everything he needs here, tell him he should just focus on his studies). I was very happy when he said he would clear Class 12… Once that happens, maybe he will get a good job in India, stay with us and won’t return to Italy again,” she says.
Manpreet cuts in to say that for him, passing the exam is worth more than the certificate it is printed on. “Main zindagi che ikk step agge ho jaun (It will be a step ahead in life for me). A step that I failed to clear then and got stuck at 10. After this, I want to do my graduation and then return to Italy.”
Manpreet’s mother has another vested interest. “We are also looking for a match for him. Hopefully, he will get a better match if he is baarhnvi pass,” she whispers.