Aditya Sinha: Exam warriors, you can skip this book

Feb 26, 2018, 06:28 IST | Aditya Sinha

Modi could have helped students with his book, Exam Warriors, but he evades the issue of exam anxiety and offers only poorly written cliches

Students who look up to Modi will find nothing but tired clichés in his book. Pic/AFP
Students who look up to Modi will find nothing but tired clichés in his book. Pic/AFP

Aditya SinhaAt the airport on my way back to Delhi from Mumbai, I saw piles of Narendra Modi's book, Exam Warriors. I wouldn't have ordinarily bought it, as my children are grown up. Eventually, however, I lightened my wallet by R100 and bought a copy, to review it for mid-day. The things we do in the name of investigative journalism.

Philosophy, be it Western or Indian, has had two ways of looking at knowledge. John Locke and other empiricists believed in the bucket model of the mind: that it was a tabula rasa, into which we fill experience and knowledge. The Indian schools of Nyaya-Vaisheshika and of Buddhism saw mind as a torch, that was directed into the darkness upon reality, which was then perceived and processed into knowledge. Exam Warriors, however, is like a bucket filled with gaumutra that toppled over and smashed the torch, making a general stink.

I have read all 192 pages of Exam Warriors, and if philosophy is known for paradoxes, only one exists in this book. On the one hand, Modi says, "[O]ne particular test or exam cannot define a person. Life is so much more than that" (page 9). On the other hand, this book is focussed solely on helping students pass exams. It is as relevant to knowledge as it is to that other private, solitary thing that boys are obsessed with.

The final one-third of the book is all yoga and pictograms of asanas. The only thing missing is a photo of Amit Shah jogging alongside Baba Ramdev, as if to escape Sonepur ka mela. Frankly, I am sceptical that yoga can distract students from the pressure they face during exams. Of the remaining 130-odd pages, every third page comprises the wise sayings of the Great Leader; the rest are left blank for the student for her own exercises, much like the Stalinist workbooks of yore.

Even these pearls of wisdom are poorly written and clichéd. Young Adult fiction is the rage across the planet because it does not talk down to young adults. Modi is paternalistic towards his readers, unsurprisingly, since his authoritarian ideology champions discipline and obeisance, over intellectual inquiry and critical thinking.

Worse, Exam Warriors is flippant. Chapters like 'Be a Warrior, not a Worrier', and 'Sleep is a Great Weapon - Sharpen it' may show off Modi's love for vacuously witty sayings, but they evade the issue of exam anxiety. This is a shame. Exams are taken too seriously in our country; parents bring such pressure upon their children - to top the very exams they themselves were incapable of passing - that newspaper headlines about suicide by students has become commonplace. This was Modi's moment to do something meaningful.

Modi is apparently motivated by two figures of modern Indian history who were popular with children - former President APJ Abdul Kalam, and our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Kalam was a physicist and an aerospace engineer who was in charge of several sensitive strategic programs for India before he took over at Rashtrapati Bhavan; he used his learning and experience to write India 2020 and Igniting Minds, in which he spoke of making India a "knowledge superpower" and listed the areas that our youngsters ought to pursue. Nehru was imprisoned by the colonial British for many years (unlike Modi's ideological forefathers, who in writing pledged allegiance to the empire rather than spend time in jail), and during that time wrote some of the finest books India has known, including Discovery of India. If it were a just world, he would have won the Nobel Prize for literature in place of the odious Winston Churchill in 1953.

Modi is not a patch on either Kalam or Nehru, not just because he is anti-intellectual and makes dubious claims about his formal education (no one has been able to trace his alleged university degree), but also because he has an inferiority complex, and is therefore a bully. A bully is not interested in shifting perspective, and any historian or philosopher of science will tell you that the breakthroughs in human understanding have come when a thinker has effected a paradigm shift.

Exam Warriors is a terrible waste of Rs 100. Instead of this gimmick, Modi would have better served the country by thinking of a way out of the paradigm of soul-crushing exams; even a book on the value of vocational education would have been better (considering how job generation is the need of the hour). But then, nearly four years of Modi have shown us that he's not much more than the sum of his theatrics. This book merely confirms that his is a cynical view of power, and that he is less interested in building the \nation than reshaping it in his own image.

Aditya Sinha's crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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