When I was thirteen, I entered this completely nightmarish frenzy called Ninth Standard. Not like I didn’t have my share of fun back then, but that was when the pressure really began. Some of my friends on the verge of a nervous breakdown went and asked our teachers what sadistic pleasure the CBSE Board got in setting such huge portions, and what wicked kick they got from enforcing the portions to the last word apart from adding extra bits here and there. The reply we got seemed comforting enough – the Board wanted us to score well in class 10, hence portions weren’t all that difficult, but then, they needed to put in all the required portions somewhere, and hence we had monstrous portions that year. But we needn’t worry, next year would be a breeze comparitively.
Well, we grit our teeth and went through the year, more than one of us coming close to a nervous breakdown, but not quite. End of the year was wrought with tensions; everyone and his brother were queuing up for 10th Tuitions, mainly for Maths and Science. When the year did finally end, all we had for a break was two weeks, after which we started with tuitions. Which weren’t exactly a walk in the park [save for a couple who… well… never mind] what with regular tests and all that that comes with it. As the year progressed, we found that the portions were actually lighter than the previous year. But uh, who was that who talked of a breeze? It was more of a gale, and the only thing that kept me sane and light at heart was the advent of Radiocity and Suresh Venkat’s voice on Hot Air every evening, and Priya Ganapathy on the Late Show. The only consolation was what we heard from everyone else: “Study well, and get into a good school/PU college, and you can enjoy the rest of your life.”.
Which holds only if “enjoy” means zone out. Who ever thought of the JEE? And the whole concept of competitive exams for which people take off three, four, maybe even five or more years so that they can get their life made? Well, they didn’t do me a favour. Nor did the large number of deluded teens who considered it their life’s ambition to crack the exam. Voices from all over told me that the only thing that could get your life made was getting a decent rank in JEE. That these two years were a holiday to all your holidays. And the rest of your life would be good, with you raking in the big bucks with enormous ease.
Well, I followed all those dicta with much resistance at the beginning, but then got inured to the lifestyle after I saw a dozen others succumb and go silently. Again, radio came to my rescue during long hours of mowing through GuptaGupta, Irodov, Berman, Macomber and a dozen other names the cultural range of all of which you would come across only at the UN, or another IIT-aspirant’s bookshelf. Again, it was Rohit Barker, Darius Sunawalla, Sunaina Lal, Gita Modgil, Jonzie Kurien and Anjaan who were the only other voices in the room for those two years.
At the end of which I’d amassed considerable knowledge on Hard Rock, Alternative Rock, Hip-Hop and RnB, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and the patterns on Rohit Barker’s favourite innerwear.
Anyway, I didn’t quite hit paydirt with the JEE, but its poorer cousin called the AIEEE [also called IE, IEEE among other names] favoured me. The exam itself was a rotten piece of luck. It started with my center being NPS-Rajajinagar, which is too many godforsaken miles away from home. Tucked in an obscure corner of Rajajinagar, with no dashing name board over the entrance [ I heard from NPS-ites later that their school was scared of being targeted during riots, and hence decided to make it harder for miscreants to find], housed in a nondescript compound [I was too used to the impressive stone exteriors of The Oxford Senior Secondary School (CBSE), and the unruly crowd of students around it, apart from the huge lettering declaring its name], I found the place just in time. And after the Physics-Chemistry paper, they for some reason locked us all in the classrooms after a two-minute loo break. Lunchless, it didn’t take very long for my brains to fry. A nap during the Math paper [with a wake-up call from the invigilator (“One more time you lean downwards, I’ll TEAR your OMR Sheet and throw it in the dustbin”) who seemed to think that this was a new cheating mechanism] rejuvenated me. Back with friends, I heard that they were in amazing centers where their exams started a whole hour later as everyone had been let out for lunch, and apparently the restaurants around their centers were close to amazing.
Anyway, I was just preparing myself to put my feet up and relax when the results came out, due to which I had to spend the whole of the next month running from pillar to post. After which I joined NITK, and the rest as they say they say is history. It isn’t as lie-back-and-rest as I’d hoped it would be. And it isn’t a life-is-made position ensured, either. There’s always more to do, more to study, more sleepless nights coming up. And I’m talking about life post-NITK here. It doesn’t quite seem like what I was told five years ago. And no, it doesn’t mean I’m disillusioned, or want to be somewhere other than where I am now.
It’s just that it’s mighty frustrating to be told again and again of taking up a step that’ll ensure you a worry-free life, and later finding out that it’s not true, not entirely anyway. And I was too naive that I believed that such a band-aid solution was possible, that just a single step could ensure that the rest of your life stayed made. The truth is, it’s never over till it’s over. The reward for hard work is only more hard work, and anything else you get can only be a by-product, or a side-effect. So don’t put in hard work unless you are not afraid of seeing more of it, unless working is really what you enjoy. Your life will be “made” the same way if you do a Commerce degree, crack the CA exam, do an articleship for a while after which you do an MBA from IIMX. It’ll also be “made” when you do a degree in psychology, turn homemaker for a good many years, try your hand at various different enterprises, and finally when your kids are grown and gone, discover your true calling lies in a teaching career, which you then start actively pursuing. It isn’t a much differently “made” life you have when you are passionate about the written and spoken word since your childhood, take up science at Pre-University due to parental pressure, deliberately mess up your math scores so as to prevent the onset of a possible Engineering career, take up Arts and a career in journalism.
And my past few weeks seem to just reaffirm all that I just said. All I can hope is that I’ll have a peaceful, worry-free retirement where I can dedicate the rest of my life trying to teach coherent, intelligent speech to a Congo African Grey Parrot who I’ll call Jabberwockie, and an Indian crow I’ll call His Royal Highness, Edmund Blackadder [Indians are possibly the worst Anglophiles] , and possibly a mynah I’ll choose to call Woodstock.