‘I’ve Helped Hundreds with Disabilities Write Exams’: How To Become a Scribe in India
Bengaluru resident Pushpa N M is a scribe and has helped hundreds of people with disabilities complete their examinations. She shares what led her down this path, and how others can explore scribing to help people pursue their dreams.
Fate, with its enigmatic workings, often leads people to unexpected destinations. It intertwines a complex web of circumstances and choices that determine where one ultimately ends up.
Pushpa NM, a Bengaluru resident, believes in the mysterious workings of fate. In 2007, she deviated from her usual habit of walking and decided to take a bus. Little did she know that this seemingly small choice would have significant consequences, shaping her life in unforeseen ways.
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On that bus ride, she met a visually impaired person and the two started to chat. While chatting, he made a request that changed Pushpa’s life forever.
“The man was a student and asked me if I could be his scribe for his exam. I was overwhelmed by the hardships he has been facing and politely agreed to his request,” recalls Pushpa.
Presently, Pushpa has dedicated a good 16 years of her life to writing exams for those who cannot for free. The scribe has written 1,086 exams including civil service exams, school exams, and undergraduate, graduate and PhD examinations.
She sits down with The Better India to narrate her life story and discuss how one can become a scribe.
A fateful bus ride
Throughout the majority of her existence, Pushpa NM has been acquainted with hardship and suffering. Her family, too, has not been fortunate as life hasn’t consistently shown them kindness. When she was an infant, her family relocated from Doddaballapura to Bengaluru in search of work and a better life. Pushpa’s father started working as a contract worker and for a while, life started to look better.
Things changed, however, when in 1978, he met with an accident that rendered him bedridden. “My mother had mouths to feed and rent to pay, but no source of income. I remember her sitting alone and asking ‘Why me?’. My brother and I were too young to help her out,” she says.
“She worked in different households to make ends meet and gave us the best education that she could,” she says.
Growing up, Pushpa recalls that she never understood her purpose in life. Always worried about basic survival due to acute financial problems, she never had the time to think of a career. “One thing I was sure about was that I wanted to do something for others. The hardships of my life had made me kind and generous towards those who suffer,” she says.
“So, when I met that blind man on the bus, I found the perfect opportunity to do something for someone else. I immediately said ‘yes’,” she says.
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Pushpa has pursued this profession full time since 2021, but has since taken a job at a research and development company in the city. “My employer is a wonderful person who knows that I write exams for people with disabilities and has been very accommodating. He gives me leaves and time off whenever I have an exam to write,” she says.
The ins and outs of being a scribe
So far, Pushpa has written over 1,000 exams for people with disabilities in languages such as Hindi, English, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. She also received recognition for her work in 2019, when she was awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar.
Talking about the challenges that come with her work, she says, “When I wrote my first exam, I was nervous and overwhelmed. I wanted to run away from the exam, to be honest. The candidate kept asking me to repeat the question. Also, I feared that if I did something wrong, it would cost the candidate his marks.”
She adds, “But the one thing that kept me going was what he had previously said — ‘If you come forward for us, we will move forward in life’.”
So what does it take to become a scribe?
- Be patient
Patience is the key to becoming a good scribe. One would need to have a lot of patience to write exams for someone else, opines Pushpa.
“You will have to spend hours sitting in an examination hall and being monitored. Sometimes the pace at which the candidate speaks might be too slow or fast, they might ask you to repeat the questions over and over again. These things are bound to make you agitated and tired,” she says.
- Good listening skills
The prerequisite of being a scribe is to be a good listener and not get easily distracted.
“The entire act of writing an exam depends on your listening skills. If you have a tendency to get distracted, you have to increase your attention. In most cases, the candidate is nervous and if you keep asking him to repeat the answer, he might get even more nervous,” she says.
- Remember your responsibility
Being a scribe is a very rewarding job, but it requires a sense of responsibility.
“The entire career of the person you are scribing for depends on you. While this might be a lot of pressure to take, you have to be very responsible and attentive while attempting the paper,” she says.
- Concentration and sensitivity
“The candidates you work with will have disabilities that they might be sensitive about. You have to respect them and see them as equals,” she says, adding that one needs to concentrate on the exam as they won’t be aware of the right answers.
“The answers they will give are all Greek to me. Since I have zero knowledge of the subject I am writing about, I have to pay attention to each and every word and write exactly what they are saying,” she says.
Pushpa says that the scribe is given a booklet of rules before every exam to read. “We are monitored at all times so that there isn’t any misconduct in the exam,” she says.
Pushpa has written exams for students all over Karnataka and will be writing her 1087th exam on Sunday this week.
“There are times in life when you don’t have any other option but to be strong. When I look at my childhood, where we used to wonder if we will eat dinner or not, I used to think this is as bad as it gets. However, working for people with disabilities has made me understand that there are so many people suffering. I cannot help anyone financially but in this way, by writing their exams, I feel like I have contributed a small amount to making someone’s life better. That is my biggest motivation,” she says, adding that all the examination halls have become her second home.
Edited by Divya Sethu
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