Traveling Insurance Salesman (BH: D302)

June 2, 2012

Few months ago, in an uncharacteristic moment of overzealous enthusiasm, I volunteered to renew the life insurance sales license for my cousin's company. Last month he took some steps to ensure that I delivered. A badly mangled e-version of an English textbook and chapter by chapter pdf files of the Malayalam version showed up in my inbox shortly afterwards. Followed by an excel file of 475 sample questions.

Since the school days I can remember, I am the king of planning to study. Initially, I draw elaborate plans allocating hours for each chapter. Days will pass without any real studying but totally intense reallocation and reoptimization of time to be spent chapter-wise. This will continue till I have only two or three days before the test. Then a paradigm shift happens in the study program. Chapters are thrown out of the picture and new methods like checking out only the chapter summaries and graphics emergy. 

When I received the text message saying I was to take the Life Insurance Corporation's agent testing on June 2 at 4:30pm a brand new plan was hatched to read through only the sample questions. Then my little nephew arrived on the planet and I was left with just today to do any reading up.

Reading through 475 questions with answer key happened in 4-5 hours during the day. By 3:45, I was at the NSEiT testing center three floors above the Indian Coffee House near Spencer Junction. The watchman outside was dozing off. I shouldn't have woken him up.

"Eppazha?" (What time [is your test]) he spat out.
"Athinu ippazhey enthina?" (Why are you so early then?)
"Poyittu naalu pathinu vaa" (Come back at 4:10)

I went downstairs for a coffee. Only a few tables occupied at the IndianCoffee House. The menu outside told me that the most expensive item available is chicken biriyani for Rs. 85. Drank sweet hot coffee. 

When I went back upstairs, the stairs near the corridor were occupied by a bunch of people busy studying for the test. They had notes and tables and charts. They had underlined and highlighted, well thumbed through textbooks. There was more than a tinge of panic in their voices. It was the air outside most high school classrooms just before the final exam. 

Apparently, these folks had been to a coaching center. A representative from the coaching center was giving pep talk. One student appeared to have lost all hope. "Ravile teacheru chodichappo ennikkoru chukkum arinjoodennu manasilayi!" (When teacher quizzed me this morning, I realized that I know nothing!) he said with a jovial disappointment before panicking about having left his calculator downstairs in his scooter. "veendum 350 roopa pokum"(I will lose 350 bucks again!) he summed up his sentiments about the exam fee as he went to fetch the calculator.

Women in the group were busy discussing dates as women tend to do. "Teacher said 1955 was a really important year!" said one. "1938 and 2002 too" chimed another one. 

It occured to me that had this been a ranked test with fixed seats for passing, I shouldn't take it. Here were folks who genuinely needed the job. This was going to be a main part of their livelihood.

The security guy was much friendlier after washing his face. While we were signing in, a young man, presumably from the same coaching center as the bunch outside, came out after clearing the test. "I got only 50%. It is very tough!" he said. 50% is the pass percentage. "If a studious guy like you managed only 50%, we are all doomed!" the confidence level among the ladies nosedived. 

7 of us took the test at 7 of the available 15 terminals. Most of the folks took the exam in Malayalam. 1 hour. 50 questions. I was out on 20 minutes. 90% of the questions were from the question bank I had read. I made 82%.

"Kazhinja?" (finished?) asked the security guard.
"Hmm" I turned my mobile back on.
"Pass aaya?" (Did you pass?)
"Ethra mark kitti?" (How much did  you score?) The man went into the standard Indian parent mode while I waited for the printed certificate.
"enpathi randu percent" (82%)
"anpathi randa" (52?)
"enpathi...ettu randu" (80...8...2)
"appo ethra question kitti?" (So how many questions did you get right?)
"Kollalo...njan ivide jolikku vannittu aarkum naalpathu kittiyila...35, 36 okke ullu" (Good...ever since I had been working here no one has scored above 40, it is usually 35, 36!)

I wasn't feeling so good about the test at all. I had bewildered those panic-stricken ladies even more by walking out in 20 minutes with a high score. If some of them have to pay the exam fees and study harder again, it would be bad. For them the job really matters, Rs. 350 really matters.

But then I had to get out quickly to see my nephew. for me, that really matters!

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