A significant part of my education was in catholic institutions, where they took Moral-Science seriously. I didn’t. I thought it was vague and boring; I mindlessly ‘mugged-up’ the text book to pass class tests. My catholic classmates attended Catechism classes instead of Moral-Science. This was not vague but had specific FAQs from the Bible: to be mastered perfectly, or else! I thought they had a worse deal than me.
That is, until I met my old friend who had studied in similar institutions. He told me the story of what he called competitive catechism in his class! I found it truly funny, so here it is. (Names changed to protect the juvenile delinquents who may not have grown up).
Rev.Fr.Machado ran a strict catholic school, where Moral-Science/ Catechism tests were also reckoned for monthly academic rankings of students. Moral-Science being a ‘vague’ subject, the highest mark was in the 70s, whereas Catechism being more focused, an odd student could even score 97 or 98 – like Maths. Did this put some catholic students at an advantage? No! The star pupil was one Abdul, who was miles ahead of everyone in every subject; he was the topper in Moral-Science too (mid- 70s) and the fact that an odd catechism student scored in the 90s mattered little to his rankings. Month after month Abdul’s stranglehold on the top position was unchallenged; by now everyone accepted his supremacy.
Everyone, except Albert. A sincere student, Albert lacked Abdul’s academic flair. He was also a devout catholic who scored high 80s in the catechism class, but Abdul trounced him in every other department. He hoped to dethrone Abdul at least once, but was not even close to this goal. Albert was always a distant 2nd or 3rd to Abdul’s 1st rank. The more he prayed and persevered, the more impenetrable the ceiling became. How Albert yearned for a break!
The break came when Anbu joined the school. Anbu came from a small town school; he lacked sophistication, but had a photographic memory. He used this gift to secure high marks in every subject save Moral-Science (which was not a ‘scoring’ subject and not Anbu’s focus). What if Anbu could be galvanised to become the David to defeat Abdul-the-Goliath?
Albert approached Anbu conspiratorially. “If you can take up Catechism instead of Moral-Science, you could score more marks and unsettle the best student!” By now, Anbu had found his niche in the 5th rank and had no desire to move up: “Nonsense! As a non-catholic, how can I attend Catechism?” “But”, Albert persevered, “that can be managed; we only need to prepare you first”.
Albert took Anbu to Fr. James of his parish and said “Father! Anbu has great interest in Catholicism, can you help him?” Fr. James felt happy to help such zealous teenagers — he gave Anbu an excellent primer in Bible studies. Anbu mastered all the lessons (remember his photographic memory?). Fr. James was so impressed at the end of 2 weeks, he baptised Anbu. Anbu least expected this (it was surely part of Albert’s master-plan) but it was too late to withdraw. He was careful enough to completely hide the chain of events from his parents. (They simply thought Anbu and Albert were helping each other in studies.)
Thus armed, Albert submitted the Baptism Certificate to Fr. Machado and arranged for Anbu to migrate to Catechism from Moral-Science. Academic results in the first month were…. shocking! Anbu crossed 90% in Catechism, was trailing Abdul by just 2 marks and convincingly displaced Albert as Number 2. Strangely, Albert was not upset: after all, this was the first step to dethrone Abdul (though Abdul suspected nothing). Anbu was strangely elated to be freed of the limitations of Moral-Science. In the second month he made that extra leap and surpassed Abdul by 2 marks. He was the Numero Uno!
Albert had won by proxy and he distributed chocolates to everyone in class. Abdul accepted the chocolate from Albert without even knowing why Albert, instead of Anbu, was celebrating! He went into a tail-spin and performed badly for the next 2 months; he even fell behind Albert once. The war of competitive Catechism had been won decisively!
In the 3rd month Abdul figured out the math. If he could raise his performance by 3 marks in Moral-Science and maintain standards in other subjects, the first rank was his. With one superlative effort, he touched 79 in Moral-Science and regained the first rank. Too late— Albert had already won the proxy war and removed Abdul’s halo!
How did our protagonists fare in later life?
Abdul topped the Matriculation and all the University exams. He got an officious accounting job in a large corporation and remained happily bored all his life.
Till the end, Anbu’s parents knew nothing about his baptism; to be fair, Anbu never really changed his Faith, either. He joined an MNC in Dubai and retired rich. He still maintains his Baptism Certificate for sentimental reasons.
After his post-graduate degree, Albert became a priest and rose high in the Roman Catholic Church. Do not ask him about this story–you would embarrass a respected priest in front of his parish!
Moral of the story: This is not a lament about the oh-so-political-issue of religious conversion. It is a funny story of how any academic system can be beaten even by a couple of mischievous boys.
PS: You might have guessed already, Anbu is my old friend. He never narrated this story while his parents were alive; now he had a hearty laugh about it.