My heart is racing, I am crying, sniffing and panting and repeatedly asking my mother, “Ma, I can still do this right? What do you think?” I am going through my syllabus and studying as hard as I could in the yellow dim light of the kerosene lamp, looking at the clock every now and then. Soothing and assuring as my mother’s reply is, but with every beat of heart and passing seconds, I know that I can’t pull it off and practically this is impossible. Completing the syllabus of 12th standard in a week… are you kidding me? But there is something in that lamp. “FOCUS!” came the inner voice. But HOW? I will score less marks, may be the least of all my friends and then how will I show my face again? Even worse, what face will my parents have to show for themselves?
The lamp starts shining brighter and I am drawn to it almost hypnotically. I feel dizzy as if phasing out, eyes suddenly feel so heavy that I can barely keep them open but I have to study, complete & compete. But they close…
“NOOO…” and with a jerk I opened my eyes, it was dark everywhere. There was something; sorry someone besides me. With head still spinning and out of breathe as I was, I randomly searched for some light kicking and throwing arms. Aah there was some. After a few minutes and with reality back to myself, I looked at the time; its 2:41 am. My husband was still asleep besides me. I am no more in 12th standard, I don’t have a syllabus to complete and compete on.
It’s been 13th years of me being in 12th standard. Since then, not only me but the whole world has moved on. I completed my engineering; I have been working since more than 8 years, I travelled to wonderful parts of the word, made new friends, unforgettable memories, I lost touch with precious friends, I got married, I switched my dearest job, left the place I once called my 2nd home but I still have this nightmare with me. It follows me everywhere in all possible forms and set up. Was there a chance of me actually failing in 12th standard?
I come from a small town, Agartala, in the north eastern part of India. When I joined engineering in Pune, less than half of the people including professors had ever heard of this place. People there are progressive in thoughts and ideas in many respects but in many more we felt short of broadening ourselves. The only career or life options we knew were either medical or engineering and there was not a single medical college and only 1 not-so-reputed engineering college. To pursue either of these careers meant studying outside Tripura. Given the background of a middle class service oriented family, supporting education outside only meant on merit for me. I didn’t have the luxury of imagining getting admissions without merit basis. Also my entire family had an unbeatable academic background and continues.
Merit, as we knew & as is known in many small towns, is mostly the marks we score – starting from 1st standard till 12th, and then in entrance exams. With all gratitude to all the Gods & Goddesses, I was a fairly bright, smart kid and had bagged ranks in most of my school years but it didn’t end how I had started and imagined it.
I had no idea of what competition is or heard of ranks. I still remember the day we got our 1st mark sheet – of the half yearly examination of 1st standard. One of my friends, Diyaali, suddenly squeaked and exclaimed that she came 2nd in class. I had no clue what that meant but what followed intrigued me and changed me – for good or bad I don’t know. The teacher congratulated her. On asking what I got, came the reply “Sorry, nothing” with of course a caring smile. Seeing the report card with fairly good marks parents were quite happy and contended. But it was not the same in school!
The next day, parents started congratulating my friend’s (the one who came 2nd) mother every time she was seen dropping her off to school. And my mother was just another mother. That lack of special treatment to my mother led me secure 1st rank in the following annual exam and on I went ahead with ranks and competition.
When the days continued to be of 24hrs, syllabus continued to grow with time and so did the competition. After all, I was not the only good student in my class. That a life and happiness exist without ranks was not something I knew; that I would still be knowledgeable and meritorious without ranks was not comprehensible. One thing, of course, I knew. With every year I had less energy and enthusiasm for ranks and it started weighing on me.
Having invested all energy in scoring in the lower standards, I barely had enough left when it actually mattered e.g. 10th & 12th. More than this I lost interest. It got all monotonous for me. Nothing in life can be achieved and maintained without interest and effort. Pressure started building up – it was no more only about maintaining the reputation but also for a bright future ahead. The marks of 10th & 12th need to be good, we needed to prepare for n no. of tests and entrance exams. In addition to school, we had tuitions! I can vouch now, that nowhere else in India do people have so many tuitions as we did or still do, not sure, in Agartala. There are 7 days a week and believe it or not, me and my group of friends had more than 15 in a week. Attendance in school was not mandatory in 12th back then. So attending only the lab sessions, our rest of the day, except dinner, was filled in going from one tuition to another.
I started losing track of syllabus. I studied without interest. I understood all concepts, may be better than the most but it was not enough for the competition. It was like juicing a very sweet orange too much. Not that the orange is not one of the best, it could be one of its kind but all the sweetness & freshness are already gone and you are getting only the bitter out of it. People & their parents who had once looked up to me didn’t even consider me anything on many occasions. I was the last in the eyes of the many. But all I wanted was just a little breathe and peace to regenerate.
I remember the days, especially the ones before my literature exams. All my friends would complete everything and start revising when I was not even on the verge of completing even a single time. Every second was like quicksand and I was slipping into it. Most part of the syllabus would look completely new to me a day before the exams. No matter how sanely I tried, I fell short off in every aspect. Though I knew may be most of the friends could be mugging up but that didn’t reflect in the results which repeated every time. I only kept asking my mother if I could do it or not. Will I fail? I have never failed before!
I did well in 12th of course but not up to my reputation. The only results left on which my fate resided were those of entrance exams. And they also turned out quite disappointing for me and my family. People started categorizing in the last layer of students which actually have no hopes in life. Each morning was a prayer to God to have it all ended. Either get me through this to the other end of the tunnel or just end it now.
As luck would have it, most of the students that year opted for medical and my rank in PCE i.e. engineering shifted ahead to no. 5 and I got a good place of my choice in MIT Engineering College in Pune. Pune gave me a 2nd life!
The first feel I got in Pune was there is so much more to the world than I had ever known in Agartala. Of course, Pune too was intimidating. I thought my knowledge would be nothing compared to others.
But with efforts, and constant comparison amongst parents of my friends and also mine on who is doing what and how well gone behind my back, I kept myself on track. Being away from the constant pressure and nagging was finally paying off. Not only was I doing great but also I had my mental peace. I knew what to do, how much and when. People around me had sane perspective of life and balance. While it’s next to impossible to score in University of Pune, I scored a boom in my first semester and that was it. A good start was half of the work done. And there was no turning back!
Not that I excelled in life or in job but I was able to shut many unwanted mouths and lower down those eyes for whom the puny score of 10th & 12th in Agartala are the only units of measurement. There was a time when my parents would think that I can’t do as well as others so let’s just settle down on something mediocre. There was a time when someone would narrate the success story of some distant relative’s kids to me and tell me sarcastically that these are things out of my reach. But as God would have it, I did all those.
But those last 4 years of me in Agartala left a permanent scar in me. I can’t get over it. I have this constant urge of taking everything as competition. Even after all these, there is always a constant fear of failure unconsciously. Every now & then, I would have the same nightmare. I would dream of failing to cover the syllabus. Sometimes, I dream of opening books for the first time before exams. At times, of actually holding a mark sheet saying I have 3 backlogs to appear for the next year. And these are so real that even after waking up, I would keep shivering for hours in panic. But these just 1-2 nights every couple of months. I have everything in life to be thankful for – both the bad and the good. May be because all these happened, I now have a good life.
I might have failed failure in Agartala, but the nightmare continues…