Through The Goggles Of A Graduate: Keerthi Purushothaman

In the lovely opening for this year’s Through the Goggles of a Graduate, Keerthi paints an unorthodox view of insti and its snails – real and otherwise. Keerthi graduated in 2017 with an MA in Development Studies and is currently on a gap year before going for a PhD next Fall. An unapologetic millennial, she is awkward in person and sociable online. You can find her on Instagram, Goodreads, and Twitter as @brokenfreezer. 

The ones who have written this column before me have had illustrious insti lives – the ‘studs’. They’re the ones who tried everything once and yet managed to excel. They’re still the ones with the best fundaes on anything you might encounter at the campus or beyond. If you’re looking for that kind of adventure, to learn how to pack ten years’ worth of life experiences in five, you have to look elsewhere. My goggles are quite myopic, so this is a personal growth tale. So, let me spare you the midnight tea and the workflow-that-never-works-when-you-want and the monkeys and the 8 AM grogginess, and instead take you through a route that has fist-sized snails in the Academic Zone – ones that come out only when there is a heavy enough shower.¹

If you have stayed on the campus for a while, you’d have probably already noticed a curious phenomenon: the ones who photograph everyday mundane scenes like Gajendra Circle and the deer are mostly freshies or ones in their final year. I cannot find a better visual expression of FOMO hitting you hard. You probably remember your first week quite vividly, and as hard as you try, it will mostly remain unparalleled, save for your last week on the campus. The middle is always a muddle. It is tempting to drop all of our messy memories, which are already not very reliable (“which semester was course X in?”), into a giant cardboard box and mark it off as ‘College’. It is tempting to compare the person who entered this campus for the first time to who I am now and simply make a list of the differences. (I rely heavily on lists, outlines, and spreadsheets now and manage my time and tasks much better than I had five years ago.) It is also tempting to not write about some things. Like, that constant nagging feeling that I was, somehow, lagging while others seemed to do everything simultaneously and effortlessly. It is still unclear to me whether this is a shared fear, but this loneliness was a significant part in my campus experience. It is tempting to exclude the times when things didn’t go quite as planned, but at the end turned out to be just fine. This series is interesting because the goggles of a fresh graduate are clouded by cute nostalgia, and only when you’re a graduate yourself, you see the actual struggles behind a neatly wrapped concluding sentence.

I think, on some level, we all set impossibly high standards in our first week, about who we wanted to be at the end of our term here. (Mine were academic.) After all, our interactions with the ones who got here before us, were riddled with should’ve-would’ve-could’ve. The possibility was endless on who we wanted to be, and time simply ran out while we were finally learning how to juggle everything. We panic and give this knowledge to the ones who still have some time left, so they don’t lose out, and end up passing down a different shade of should’ve-would’ve-could’ve. That Siddhirbhavathi Karmaja and the feeling that anything we failed to do was only for want of effort. This leaves us sour and clouds all the achievements we have in our bag. So, when the seniors tell you that there has been no one who has spent all of the 24 hours x 30 days x 12 months x 5 years building their CV, expanding their networks, and becoming a “well-rounded individual”, it is not meant to be taken as a challenge. The key lesson from my experience was that the infinite possibility to build a life doesn’t really go away, at any point, because time does not simply stop after graduation, and that soothes my recently severed self from the campus.

Literally packing your bags after graduation also lets you look at what you’ve done, as things we have accumulated over our term lie on the hostel room floor together. I did several things I found interesting, including a terracotta jewellery making class, which is so out of my un-accessorising Self, I found it hard to explain to my friends. All I learnt from that class was that I persevered through rains and quizzes for four months, only to find out I wasn’t really good at moulding perfect clay spheres. I won’t lie that all Dots will connect perfectly in the future, or if they will connect at all. What we can do in the meantime, is to have fun and take risks to test if this “infinite possibility” is really infinite.

Five years is a long time to take these risks and pick a personal battle of choice. Our battles can be purely selfish – to get the best placement offer or an admit in the dream grad-school – but I only hope we find a little time for others, apart from the friendship and the camaraderie, for those who aren’t in our tight social circles. For instance, I knew first-hand how alienating the campus can be, and instead of demanding kindness I decided to offer some, quite late – in the middle of my fourth year. This meant, working against my crippling introversion and ask semi-strangers if they need help or just a listener, all while trying to convince myself that it wasn’t “too awkward”. (What was the worst that could happen to me anyway?) After the shock of this sudden gesture has subsided, I’ve had quite a few confide in me. (I once had a faculty member asking me if I could talk to a junior who seemed depressed, and remember thinking “HEY, when did I become the person in-charge here?”) Personally, it made me feel that if I could work against my awkwardness, I could do anything. That is also when I learnt that we’re all together in this loneliness and when multiple people told me that these efforts were valuable and had to be preserved in some form, I decided to work on a short mental health workbook – so that we don’t have to duct-tape when things fall apart, but instead try and maintain a good routine like we do for physical health.

Now, in retrospect, for that is the task I’ve been given in order to write for this series: did I predict this person I’ve become, five years ago? No, and that’s okay. We’re only told about the deer and the monkeys when we enter and not the giant snails that lie beneath our feet.² I’d have never seen them if I hadn’t walked in the middle of a rainy night, in one of those five even semesters (I forget which one) and my friends will tell you how much I hate the rain and the cold.

¹ The snails are not a metaphor. They are very real and a magnificent sight to behold.

² These snails may be a metaphor.

Disclaimer: The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras.
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