“Are you ready?”, the voice on the phone asked Subbu. Subbu didn’t feel remotely ready. But his response didn’t matter either way. It was 7.30 AM – time to leave for school. The dreaded exam week was to commence that day. He mumbled something incoherently and placed the receiver on the telephone. “Subbuuuuu, late aachu da. Breakfast saapdu!” [Subbuu, it’s late already. Finish your breakfast!]. He wasn’t hungry. In fact his stomach felt like they were full of polymers of isoprene. Why was he thinking about rubber now though? He should be mentally wading through the rivers of the world and jogging through the various farms of India. Geography had never been Subbu’s strong suit and yet, that was the mountain he had to scale that day. He sat at the table obediently though and looked at his plate. Rice and Chapati.. Rice and wheat.. Bihar? Chattisgarh? No no.. The maximum production of rice was in West Bengal and wheat, in Uttar Pradesh. He tried to come up with mnemonics to avoid forgetting that as he poked at a chapati. His mum yelled at him again and he hastened to finish it. His mind was still buzzing with random keywords he had associated with lengthy paragraphs as he tied his shoe laces and noticed that he had worn mismatched socks. Well, it was too late to do anything about that now. He prayed that the class monitor would accept his offering of one Yummies packet and overlook this error during routine assembly checks. The school bus arrived and the driver honked rhythmically as usual. Subbu got on and waved absently to his mum. Was K2 the tallest mountain in the world or did that honor belong to Everest? What was Kanchenjunga then? Wait, were K2 and Kanchenjunga synonymous? Aaah! He didn’t know anything! He moved to the back of the bus and squeezed in between two bulkier boys. Then he picked out a textbook with a slightly worn out cover and opened it to a page at random. Anything was worth revising. Itanagar was the capital of Arunchal Pradesh. “Itanagar – AP, Itanagar – AP , Itanagar – AP”, he chanted in a low voice. He remembered talking about capitals with his dad the previous evening. He had asked the old man what the capital of Telengana was, confident that he wouldn’t know what it was. Subbu’s dad had disappointed him by not only telling him the correct answer, but supplementing it with more historical information – “When we were studying, Andhra Pradesh was one state. Ippo daan kanna pinna nu state mela state pannindirrukange” [“It’s only now that they’re creating new states left, right and center”]. Subbu didn’t care for this new bit of information. Actually, he felt cheated that he was having to consume more nonsensical facts than his dad. He resumed memorizing the rest of the capitals of states and moved on to a chapter titled “Weather – seasons and their importance”. Subbu groaned. In Bangalore, it was summer but it had just rained heavily the previous evening. This completely contradicted what this – he flipped to the first page – this Veena Bhargava was telling him about Karnataka’s weather. She would have him believe that climate change was periodic and that there were months beyond which Summer would not last or months in which there would be no rain. He made a note to word a strong box-format letter to her after he got home. Maybe she would discard it though. He wasn’t sure if adults were in the habit of receiving letters from 14 year olds. He shook his head and continued reading about how Cherrapunji had the highest amount of rainfall in the country. What was the capital of Cherrapunji again? Wait. Cherrapunji wasn’t a state. He gave the page a distasteful stare and looked around at everyone else. Their peaceful expressions agitated him even further and he started flipping pages at random. He shook his head and decided he wouldn’t let this faze him any further. He leaned further into the book in an act of increased focus and started reading about soils and their significance in the plantation of different types of crops, about earthquakes and tsunamis and their places of likely occurrence. Mental images of everything he had read blazed through in his mind, and at that point, he seemed unstoppable, when the bus came to a slow halt. They had reached school. He hurriedly closed his book, suddenly feeling more unprepared than ever and got down from the bus following the long file of students ahead of him. He walked into the classroom and saw huddled groups of students everywhere, no doubt trying to cram in one last satellite’s name before the call for assembly. He wasn’t going to try anymore though. He quietly sat at a desk closest to the door and waited with his head on the desk, trying to recall any fact he could.
After what seemed like an eternity, he heard swift footsteps enter the door and instead of his P.E teacher’s voice, he heard his class teacher call out, “Children!”. Subbu looked up, confused. “I have an announcement. We’ve just had news that a low-intensity earthquake is about to strike parts of Bangalore. The Geography exam has been postponed to tomorrow. We will be arranging for the school buses to drop you back home. “.
“Dei…”, Subbu thought..”Bangalore was not listed in that chapter only no da!”.