IIT, the most powerful three-letter abbreviation in India. It might be an exaggeration, but for many people IIT is an opportunity that can make their golden dream bubbles come true, catapult them to fame, and create many rags-to-riches stories. It could just as well burst bubbles, kill dreams with a cold calculation, destroy lives and delete people off the face of the earth leaving no trace that they ever lived, loved or laughed. Not everyone wins a rat race, or even touches the finish line. This is the story of a someone who never wanted to compete but still ran a twisted path and ended up on an altogether different podium.
I am a Humanities and Social Sciences student in the Indian Institute of Technology and this is my story.
I was a CBSE Science student back in school. Deemed to be a bright student too. I studied in R.S.K Higher Secondary School. Back in Trichy, my hometown, my school was a prestigious institution which admitted students very choosily on exam scores. So like every CBSE Science student from the illustrious R.S.K. Higher Secondary School, I was expected to prepare for and eventually clear the IIT-JEE. Not many from Trichy seemed to make it to IIT but quite a few from my school did. And they went on to study here, boasted of thick jungles, the monkeys, cool insti lingo and Saarangs; they graduated with a job that paid them more per month than what their fathers ever earned in a year, aside from the esteemed IIT tag. The stories generally had fairy-tale endings: ”And then they lived happily ever after!”
All I had to do was to tread their steps, and I could live happily ever after. An alluring opportunity. The safety of the well-trodden path awaited me. Could I miss it? I did and I had no regrets.
I took up Science in my senior secondary because I could either do Science or do Science. Did I really want to study Science? Maybe I did. I still remember getting fascinated by the idea of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, and being enthused over probability theory. Engineering? Again, some part of me was fascinated by engineering and it probably still is. I doubt if there’s anybody who wouldn’t want a fairy-tale ending to their lives anyway. But I had a problem with doing just that. Wasn’t it too early to fix up my life and settle it once and for all? I was only 16. I had so many things I could do.
I loved reading books. And I loved travelling. I hadn’t really travelled much other than those biennial family trips. But the idea of packing up bags and wearing casual clothes and shoes, travelling alone to new places and meeting up with new people was intriguing. It still is. And I loved photography, though the best photos I had taken were many years back at a family function when I had to beg and borrow my uncle’s camera to click a few pictures. Maybe the things one never gets to do makes them want to do it all the more!
I also fancied becoming a journalist. A photo-journalist perhaps… In my naive optimism I figured myself as such a responsible and sensitive journalist that nihilistic people around the world would carry candles and pray for peace, riveted out of apathy by my work. I wanted to become an architect too, changing the aesthetics of buildings around the world.
I could always build such brilliant dreams in the air; there is nothing wrong in dreaming, surely? Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ is one of my favorite books. “When you really want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it”, he says. That is such a reassuring thing to say. I wish my parents would say it. It doesn’t matter. Coelho has said it anyway.
So, while I was preoccupied with a ‘what am I gonna be?’ debate in my head, I somehow found myself enrolled in an IIT-JEE coaching center. In fact, I seemed to have been put along with a group of people who breathed numbers, lived on formulae and dreamed electro-magnetic equations. Assignments of a hundred problems a day was the least I could expect. I had peers who worked out problems in the air and shouted out answers while I was still trying to understand the question. Did I still want to do Engineering? No, not my cup of tea. Thank you very much.
So I trudged along until D -Day arrived, and all 72 students in my CBSE Science class wrote the JEE. My two-year long nightmare came to an end and I successfully did not clear it.
The first blow struck my parents on their face. They revived quickly though. A few emergency measures, last minute applications and a few other entrance exams and I was through into other eminent engineering institutions. So what if it was not IIT? I could still do Engineering (note the capitals). Two weeks into my new techie-college life and I had had enough of it. I came back home to announce I was quitting Engineering for good and pursuing arts.
My family was in mourning. My mother began to cry. My father refused to talk to me. My brother-he was silent; my cousins thought I had cracked up. I had uncles from various parts of the country call to breathe sense into me. I was taken to a psychologist.
But my counselor -he was my first ray of hope. He seconded my decision. And he convinced my parents to let me take up the Humanities and Social Sciences Entrance Examination (HSEE). And my friends-I had brilliant friends; my greatest source of support. I had one opportunity, a sliver of light on the darkest of nights, to escape a robot-life dithering along the trodden path and making pre-programmed decisions. I had one opportunity and I had to make the best of it.
A lot of conviction, a few months of hard work and a little more courage to face the people who thought I was a fool and I was through. I had cleared the HSEE. Not the ultimate achievement, but at least something I wanted. So, here I am, in IIT, somewhere I never wanted to be, boasting about thick jungles, monkeys, horrible insti-lingo and Saarang. But without the security of a fairy-tale ending.
A few days back, when I went home, I was talking to my Do-Whatever-You-Want Father and I-Don’t-Care-What-You-Do Mother. My father asked me,” Do you know at least now what you want to do in life?” “I don’t”, I replied honestly. After a moment’s pause I added, “But I can do anything I want in life”. And I wanted so many things in life.
My father’s narrowed eyes slowly widened as a tiny smile crept into his face. I watched as my Do-Whatever-You-Want Father changed into an I-Trust-My-Daughter Father.