Not Just an OMR

The road is long and one needs to start early, as early as two years. There are formulae to be understood, kilometers long wordlists to be mugged up and illogical logic to be followed. My preparation for CAT came down to the last minute. I wake up at 7 in the morning which is a task as I usually don’t see the light of the day till much later. Groggily I go about my morning business and get dressed for the ‘BIG’ day. I am in such a hurry that all the furious searching for the admit card and banging of doors wakes up all my roommates. As I run out to get an auto, cab, whatever I can get, I am munching on my breakfast. In the auto rickshaw which I could get after being on the road for about 25 minutes and thus allowed myself to get insultingly overcharged, I look for my admit pass, check, pens and stationary, check, water bottle, check and chocolate bars(so I wouldn’t pass out)- check check check! Finally I reach my center which is easily recognized by the swarm of anxious students and more anxious than them parents. I get off and try to one last time haggle for the fare but the man was adamant. I reluctantly shell out 120 bucks. Then I jostle my way up to the notice board by elbowing people heavens knows where and find out my room.

And then I wait to get in, occupy my designated seat, the bell to ring, papers to be distributed and the signal to start. For two hours in that intimidating hall around 75 heads would buzz and pens scribble to find right answers. The tension in the air is heavy but my mind is elsewhere. A grave thought disturbs me. The tall guy in the red parka, the petit girl chewing her pen, me, have ceased to be people now. We are what is in front of us, The OMR sheet.

Yes, the pink and bubbly Optical Mark Reader which lay on the table waiting to be filled with the right answers. That is us, all of us aspiring for an MBA from one of the hallowed institutions of the country. The person behind me could just land up at IIM-A tomorrow. But only I will know that he rapped under his breath all through the paper. Nor would anybody be interested that one of us nearly fainted while taking the test. I am secretly chewing my chocolate bar because my blood pressure is playing games with me as I nervously work my way through the test. All this while I am constantly wondering how I will come across as an OMR. Feasibly good at English, sadly irrational at logic and let’s not talk about the math. Will the assessing people ever know the real me?
I cannot write a poem or draw a painting on the sheet as it is strictly prohibited to make ‘stray’ marks. The circles are what you can colour and everything else is just plain wrong. It is all about the numbers, the correct options. The circles I colour form a very random design, like something askew. That’s me, skewed out of real self and forced to be just a piece of paper.
I wish I could free myself, be me and not the fictitious roll number. How will it be if I tore up my answer sheet into little pieces and shower them on somebody or simply run out of the door? I will not get my MBA but they will know about the eccentric candidate who fancied her OMR more as the cherry blossoms rather than the future. But my courage abandons me at the brink as I settle back to complete the test and be the OMR I have been marked out to be.

Purva Bhatnagar

*This piece has been selected as the Winning Entry of the Day for the ‘Viewspaper Express Yourself Writing Competition’*