It was the autumn of 1986 in Joka, the hallowed campus of IIM Calcutta. On the night before the mid-term exam of Accounting 101, the common hall was abuzz with chatter. Some were playing TT while others listened to an old LP of M S Subbulakshmi. Professor Ramu had announced an open book exam. Imagine the joy of a child with free reign in a candy shop. My notes were popular in my hostel wing and got photocopied many times. The diligent ones invaded the library to get more books. Fortified with a good breakfast, we ambled along to the exam hall.
Srini and Ravi, part of the commerce cartel, walked briskly with just a pen. All others had varying loads of books. We placed the books and notes on the table. I even kept specific pages open to avoid wasting time.
We opened the question booklet. It was a 45-minute exam. I would usually give a quick look from the start to the end. I tried locating the booklet’s end, but couldn’t even after five minutes. Realising the folly of my trusted approach, I ran back to the first page and attempted the first question.
They tested our knowledge of concepts and urged us to solve the financial difficulties of imaginary companies. For the first question, I tried to see which book would help. The first book, perhaps? No, the second. After going through all five, I realised I wouldn’t be able to locate the answer at all. Srini and Ravi however were scribbling vigorously. I could see a sense of panic amongst others with the scrambling of books and rustling noises made. We were nowhere close to solving even a few by the end.
The walk back to the hostel was mellowed. My friend Kulkarni abused the authors of the books he carried. Others couldn’t even open their mouths. That mid-term exposed us to various such tests, for which no book would come to our rescue. Profs Sarkar and Basu tested us in statistics and asked us to come out with an estimate of the number of fish in any of IIMC’s lakes.
They were gracious enough to let us choose the lake, not that it soothed our nerves. Prof Ghosh, who taught us economics and political history, asked us to analyse the Bengal Partition and compare it with any other event in world history. Again the authors we trusted didn’t anticipate Ghosh.In the end-term exam, we became wiser. We tried to cajole the teachers into conducting normal exams. When that failed, we tried to study hard and prayed.