From very early on in our lives we are exposed (or subjected) to this word called TEST. As we enter the higher grades, the role that TESTS play or are supposed to play in our lives steadily increases. If we look back, for most of us, tests have always been part of a trinity, they have always been concomitant with two other things — fear and prayer.
At some point of time all of us, when faced with a test (including yours truly), have felt at the least a sliver of fear running through our bodies prior to a test and even the most unbelieving of us has muttered a tiny, little, prayer under our breaths.
What a TEST has come to mean
For most Indians, given the supply-demand asymmetry, the word TEST has come to signify something larger than a set of questions, it has become
- a marker of where one stands in society or rather how one is evaluated (our Xth marks have the potential to become the first chip on our shoulder or the first albatross around our neck)
- a marker of how far one can go in life (if one gets into an IIT or an institution of great national repute, it is assumed that one would go very far in life)
- a door that opens opportunities that might otherwise remain closed forever
A TEST thus becomes something external to itself; the things that clearing a test can give us become more important than what a test actually is and thus from a very early age we carry a very distorted view of what it is.
Our fears and prayers were always centred around the same thing — may the paper have only what I have learnt. I still remember crying into a plate of food after the Physics paper when my X board exam threw up questions worth more than 10 marks from exactly the one page that I omitted in my prep.
So, when as children we were asked how the test went, our reply would be — I did well, it was very easy!
What a TEST really means
The word itself means an examination or being called to give an account of oneself when faced with certain problems that can be related to academics, that can be posed in any format or related to real-life itself.
When we came back home happily after a paper and said the test was easy, the fact is that we were not tested!
Why the word TEST before the 5-day format of cricket? It signifies a test of skill and strength to perform over 5 days not over a few hours or even a day but over 5 days. Why the hesitation over granting TEST status to associate countries or weaker teams? Apart from commercial considerations, the fact remains that it will be a test only for the minnows and not for the established teams.
Why do we so eagerly await a clash between two great teams? We know that the players will have to play at their best, we know that their ability and their attitude will be tested to the fullest.
So before we go any further, we need to accept and embrace the fact the test is supposed to challenge you and one of the pre-requisites of triumphing in a challenge is to first enjoy or relish the prospect of a challenge.
One of the reasons that VK and MSD perform(ed) so well in pressure situations is that they know that that is where the crux of a contest lies, the real test of competing is when you are in a pressure cooker situation, that the game has been building up to this point, the real stage is the biggest stage and all of the greatest players are measured against their ability to deliver on the biggest stage, be it the World Cups or the Grand Slams.
So wanting an easy test is wanting to not be tested at all!
CAT will not be the last big test you will take
Given the inordinate amount of importance we place on tests, we tend of think of tests as phenomena that stand apart from life, as interludes that have an outsized impact on life but are not really a part of life.
In reality though, whether we like it or not we are going to be continuously tested. It will start right from the moment you enter into an IIM or any b-school with the summer placements. The placement interview will be a test, your summer project will be a test, your first job will be a test, love is always a test, bringing up children will be a test, managing your post-retirement life will be a test, and dealing with your mortality will be a test.
Unfortunately, we see only some aspects of life as tests and not others, we might actually fail miserably at them and might not even notice until is too late.
So CAT will not be the last test you will take and it might not be the toughest test of your life; your biggest hurdles still await you.
This does not mean that we have to live in fear but rather it means that we are constantly being summoned to give a good account of ourselves as individuals, we might succeed at some and fail at some but we need to be aware and view things in the right perspective at all times.
What is life without a TEST
I have always been guided by the light of the myths, be it Indian, Greek or Christian, there is a learning from them that can hold us in good stead.
All the great demons or anti-heroes from the myths be it a Ravana, a Medusa or the Minotaur are complete in themselves even before the God or the hero arrives on the scene — superhuman strength or powers accompanied by an evil act or an oppressed people. Even a contemporary demon, like Hitler, was complete in himself.
The hero though needs the demon, needs the anti-hero, needs the villain. The slaying of the demon is what makes a goddess, a goddess; a hero, a hero — Lord Rama, Perseus or Theseus. The centrepiece of the story of their lives will always be the slaying of the demon.
Even America today takes on the role of the righteous saviour waging the just war only because it played a crucial role in overthrowing Hitler; only because of Hitler it can go on creating newer evils with imaginary WMDs that need to be vanquished.
To use an example from contemporary sport — Roger Federer is maybe the greatest but what would his career have been had he not faced a Nadal or a Djokovic? Would his legacy have been the same if his career only showed slam victories over Lleyton Hewitt and an Andy Roddick at best? Would he even have the motivation to play for this long?
The demons we need to slay to become the heroes of our lives are not always outside of us, they can be the fears residing in our heads, the unique circumstances that each of our lives will throw up in front of us.
Those who succeed in life are those who are willing to embrace the tests life that throws up.
It does not mean that fear and prayer need to be banished. We will always have a bit of fear, the proverbial butterflies in the tummy but we should also know that it is natural, we should relish the uncertainty and should not let it overwhelm us.
One should pray but not for an easy test or for there to be no struggle but for the emotional fortitude to handle all the hurdles and challenges that we will encounter on the way knowing that they are inevitable and form the very warp and weft of life.