The Exam of Life
If someone, out of genuine concern, reminds us that life is an exam that will determine our prospects in the eternal world to come in the life after death—how quickly we want to shut him down! We tell him to stop being ‘morose and boring and a fun-spoiler’,
By Suresh Shah
At last, the day you were so dreading has dawned! The Class 12 exams start today. Your performance in the exams will play a crucial role in shaping the rest of your life, or so you are made to believe. If you get good marks, you can take admission in a ‘good college’ to study Science and become a doctor or an engineer and earn ‘name and fame’ for yourself. If your performance is just about average, you can buy a seat in a mediocre college (if your parents are rich enough) and study History or Sociology and become a school teacher, for want of anything ‘better’. And if you fail, you think you’d rather the earth gobble you up!
You enter the exam hall and occupy the chair assigned to you. The attendant comes around, distributing the exam papers and answer sheets. At exactly 9 am, a shrill bell rings, and everyone begins writing frantically. They have no time to lose. So many words to spew out before the bell rings again, this time to announce that your time is up!
While everyone else is busy scribbling in their answer sheets, imagine if you comfortably relax in your chair instead and doze off. It’s a wonderful swivel chair, with a very cozy seat. You close your eyes as you sink into the seat and dream that you are relaxing in the sun on a beach! You lift your pen—but not to write, but, instead, to playfully nibble at, imagining that it’s a giant ice-cream! Then, after a while, you start doodling with your pen on your answer sheet. You draw cartoons of funny faces—of your relatives and friends, people you love to ‘hang around’ with, as well as people you love to hate. You draw pictures of many things that you love fantasizing about—a giant house, a racing car, a mountain scene, and of you sprawled out in the sun on a beach, licking a giant ice-cream!
And before you know it, the bell rings again, this time to announce the end of the exam! You are rudely jolted awake from your wonderful reverie. You simply can’t believe that time rushed past so quickly. You think you are just imagining. ‘It simply can’t be! The exam has started when it’s already over!’ you exclaim to yourself.
How you curse yourself for being so callous! How terrible you feel! How you hate yourself! You tear at your hair and scream in terror, but that’s not going to change anything a whit, and you know it. You know what your behaviour is going to fetch you in the exam: a giant zero! Your whole future is in an utter shambles now! No ‘good’ college for you! The terrible prospect of being jobless for the rest of your life drives you mad! You have chosen to bring about your own destruction, when you had the choice of passing the exam with flying colours instead. You have no one to blame, but yourself.
This is precisely what life is—a slightly extended version, in terms of time-span, of your 12thgrade exam. This world is like a giant exam hall, where, at every moment of our lives, from cradle to grave, we are being tested. How we perform in this exam will determine our eternal future, in the life after death, just as how we perform in our Class 12 exam may crucially determine our career-paths for the rest of our lives. Our careers will, of course, one day come to an end—with the onset of old age, retirement, and, finally, death. But the ‘career’ of the life after death will never cease, carrying on forever.
That’s what eternal life in the Hereafter means. If you pass the exam of life, you’ll be admitted into eternal heaven, just as if you perform outstandingly in your class 12 exams, you’ll get admission in a ‘good’ course in a ‘good’ college. And if you fail in the exam of life, you will be hurled into eternal hell, just as if you fail in the class 12 exam, no college will admit you and you might be unemployable and unemployed for as long as you live.
Strange, isn’t it, that we take our ‘class 12 exams’ all so seriously (some even commit suicide when they fail) but yet are so utterly callous about the exam of life that we do not even want to be told that this is precisely what life is all about! If someone, out of genuine concern, reminds us that life is just that—an exam that will determine our prospects in the eternal world to come in the life after death—how quickly we want to shut him down! We tell him to stop being ‘morose and boring and a fun-spoiler’, that life after death may be ‘just a fanciful tale or silly religious superstition’ or that it is ‘unscientific, old-fashioned and unproven’. Or else, we just shut our ears and flee from his presence! Or, worse still, we may think that he’s mentally disturbed and insist that he take psychiatric treatment!
We simply can’t bear to confront the truth—that life is an examination, and not an excuse for unrelenting fun and frolic! How we’d rather sit in our own ‘exam halls’ day-dreaming about relaxing on a beach licking a giant ice-cream and using our pens to doodle all those many things that we’d do anything to possess rather than fill in our answer sheets! And, then, before we know it, the bell of Death rings, announcing that the exam time is over!
When that happens, how we’ll rue and curse ourselves for having caused ourselves to miserably fail the exam of life, terror-struck at the fate that awaits us thereafter!