I have no recollection of when Chemistry entered my life. It seemed to have gnawed at me until I simply had to pay attention, and by then, I was in Class 9 and the teachers seemed to be yelling at us to buck up for the 10th standard Board exams. I remember lurking outside the Chemistry lab, desperately trying to avoid the teacher’s eagle eye by looking busy either rummaging in my bag for assorted books & stationery, or bending down to tie my already-tied shoe laces. Most of 9th Standard was spent this way. By the time I reached Class 10, I was a pro at dodging the Chemistry teacher. I would always look harassed, busy, distracted and studious all in quick succession, or I would sidle up to any really good student (most of my friends were ‘good’ students – well academically, anyway) and so, the teacher would think I was earnest and many times, that was enough for her!
Oh, I was earnest alright. Earnest about not getting caught because I understood close to nothing about this subject! Looking back now, I really wonder how I passed the Class 10 feared board exams. The answer is this. God and the Universe (including faraway stars and galaxies) smiled down at me and said ‘thou shalt pass the Class 10 exams and leave Chemistry in peace forever.”
And so, when Chemistry exam morning dawned bright (as it always damn well does on an exam day), I was a nervous bundle of wreck. I was desperate to pass just so I didn’t have to meet with Chemistry ever again. I took my place in the lab quivering like a big jelly fish. I couldn’t meet any one’s eyes in case I broke down in anticipation of not getting my required result of the experiment. I began the experiment without my usual lack of focus and went through the steps as though I was a horse with blinders.
Being such an abysmally poor student of Chemistry, I can only recall this much – that my element for the exam was zinc oxide and I had to get it right by getting green-edged ash on a tissue paper. I only knew the theory of it having studiously steered clear of all experiments, beakers and test tubes until that final moment. For Harry Potter fans, let me share with you, that I was like Neville Longbottom in front of Professor Severus Snape in Potions, designed for disaster and humiliation.
Anyway, as I said, I was smiled upon by the Creator as well as his Creations like the Universe and what not, because I did get the green-edged ash on the edges of my tissue paper. I erupted in glee and (I kid you not here) galloped towards the formidable Chemistry teacher who was lazily lounging on a chair and chatting with the External Examiner looking supremely relaxed. She looked up startled at the galloping gooseberry in front of her as I panted and waved my green edged ash tissue in her face. “Miss, Miss, I got zinc oxide – the correct reaction – green edged ash!” I huffed and I puffed, and showed her most of my teeth as I did this and after a shocked pause, she snapped not unkindly, “Ok. But have you finished writing this out for the exam?” Deflating at once but unable to contain my relief, I quickly turned tail and shuffled back to my spot to write out the experiment knowing I had passed and Chemistry and I were getting an out-of-court hefty divorce settlement on mutual consent and collaboration. It’s what we call a win-win situation.