By Tamoghna Ghosh:
Recently, it was in the news that a girl from Kota had committed suicide after her failure in the JEE. The incident stirred up a whole lot of suppressed memories inside me. So I wanted to share the story of a girl, who almost met the same fate as her. Well, almost.
There’s a sarcastic remark that does the rounds in the engineering circles, “First do B. Tech. Then follow your actual passion.”
Yeah, right. Only that some people have to go through hell to do precisely that.
I had always been the topper of my class since I started schooling, much to the resentment of my classmates, and the pride of my parents and teachers. But I was never a model student. Quite the contrary. My grade sheet at the end of each academic year would be stained by a simple ‘B’ in bold letters in front of ‘DISCIPLINE & CONDUCT’. It was a matter of great concern to my mother, who’d been a quiet child, that her daughter would grow up to be a ‘lyaj-kata-bandor’ (a tailless monkey, for you). I was mortally afraid of her and her punishments. But in spite of all that, I continued to perform well in academics.
As with any good student in India, I was brainwashed into believing that ‘Science’ is the best thing out there. That being a bright student, I was ear-marked to be a student of science. Nobody, however, cared to scrutinise my mark sheet and discover that my best marks were always inevitably in English. Nobody looked through my notebooks to find sweet little poems scribbled in the last pages. Nobody cared that I had a badge for being a cub reporter in TTIS (the student’s magazine in vogue back then).
By the time I was in Class IX and X, I already knew there were only two career choices in front of me – be a doctor or an engineer. Coming from a family background of doctor and engineer ‘mama’, ‘mami’, ‘mausi’, ‘mama-ki-beti’, ‘mausi-ki-beti’… I knew there was hardly a way out without being engulfed in the family circle, churning out doctors and engineers every year. Adding to that was my parent’s cliched idea of maintaining their ‘standing-in-society’, which would get an immense boost if they manage to produce a doctor beti or an IITian beti. Yeah, you heard me right. Not just any engineering college. That would be too mainstream. That would be lesser than that ‘IITian-cousin-you-have-got-in-your-family’. That would make them ‘lose their nose’, or whatever part of their face, in front of a gang of bloodthirsty relatives and society.
So, all my dreams of being a writer, or a journalist, or a fashion designer, or an interior decorator flushed down the gutter. I was plucked from my cosy life in Bengal and shipped off to the Mecca of IIT coaching: Kota.
In all my 22 years of life, I prefer to block out every memory of the two years of my exile to Kota. The struggle and hardships I went through broke me down to such a level that it took me all the years of my college life to ease back to my old style. I am still recovering.
Kota seemed to me a place from a different galaxy. The environment was so different from the nourished, caring way I was brought up back in Bengal. I got enrolled in a proxy school. I went for classes daily at the coaching institute I had joined and tried my best to cope with the piling pressure. Needless to say, I failed. The coaching institutes had a system of segregating students on the basis of marks in the monthly exams, into different batches.
The top-most elite batches would get the elite teachers, the best of everything, and be fuelled (or brainwashed, I should say) more and more to crack the JEE with flying colours. As we descend down the levels of the hierarchy, we find the competence diminishing, the skills of teachers lessening and the pressure of reaching the elite batches increasing. It was a circus, those coaching institutes. Once you fall, you’re lost for life. The competition is so damn high, that it’ll take you ages to climb back to your previous rung in the ladder, and that too if Lady Luck was benign enough.
Apart from academic pressure, life in Kota, in general, was excruciatingly painful. Being away from your parents, coping with your daily life all by yourself is not an easy thing. On top of it, you have no real friends. The friends are your competitors and it becomes hard to find a person to trust. You become all alone in this mad circus. I did too. I lost my capacity to make friends. I became quiet and introverted. I stuck out like a sore thumb. The girl who’d get a B in Conduct for being an incorrigible chatterbox had lost all zeal in life. She was just another face in the sea of countless students, struggling to reach the top for air and preventing the forces of nature from dragging her down.
By the time I was done with Kota, I was hardly recognisable. I had lost my creative enthusiasm. I couldn’t write a single good poem. That was coming from a girl who’d write poems by the dozen, every other week. I hadn’t read a good book in years. My ability to reason and logic, in short, my IQ, for which I had received many an accolade in life, had reached an all-time low. I was just a robot who’d been programmed with the essential commands to crack IIT-JEE and think no more.
A part of me dealt with all the academic information, which I must remember till the last second of the exam. The other part of me, which was still human, dealt with the pressure put on me by my family. Every second of my life, my dad would remind me the lakhs they were spending on my education, and how I must reimburse them by getting into IIT and getting a well-paying job. My mom would never stop to remind me of her sacrifices, and how I would ‘rub their faces in the mud’ if I didn’t crack JEE. It was a lot to take in. I was overwhelmed to say the very least.
And then the D-Day came. And I couldn’t crack JEE. Speculations and blame games started in my family. Mom and dad took it upon themselves, that it was their fault I couldn’t crack JEE. That they should have spent more money, they should have given more time, they should have fed me nutritious food to make my brain function, they should have changed coaching centres and all that crap. It never occurred to them that the real blame lay in forcing me into something I was disinterested in. Relatives tut-tutted and sighed in mock concern and gave advice that hardly seemed sincere enough. My grandparents snidely commented, “Not all people have the same IQ. There could be just one IITian in the family.” In short, my parent’s ‘standing-in-society’ plummeted to the depths because of their demented daughter. *Slow clap for the Indian society and education system*
It was a terrible thing to be caught in the crossfire that ensued my not getting into IIT. First of all, there was the burden of my failure. Then my low self-esteem, which sank even lower hearing those comments from my relatives, people I had always counted on. Then the stricken look on the faces of my parents and their incessant moaning about how much money they’d invested in me. The academic, financial and psychological loss was too much for me. I contemplated suicide many times. I started smoking stealthily. I had a nervous breakdown. And my parents knew nothing of that. They were busy licking their own wounds, the wounds inflicted on them by their own daughter, apparently.
Now, after three years, I don’t remember exactly how I managed to climb out of the pit of depression, if there was a turning point or not. I quit smoking, grew bolder and started nursing myself back to good health, figuratively. Then one fine day, after my admission to my college and only a fortnight away from joining college, I finally snapped and lashed out at my parents in the midst of a family argument. A few relatives were present too. They were stunned into silence. Something had broken inside me, that urged me to shout at my own parents and mouth things (the truth, obviously) that I would never have had the courage to say. The pent-up frustration of all those years was out in a matter of seconds. That incident is to go down in the history of my life as the day I stopped fearing my parents and what society would say and started concentrating on what I want, for a change.
I am now in my fourth year of civil engineering. Again it was a stream I wasn’t too keen on at first, but slowly with time I’ve grown to love it. My philosophy towards life has changed a lot and the meek submissive girl of high-school is no more. On that note, I stand vehemently against the whole system of education in Kota, where coaching centres have sprouted like mushrooms and against the orthodox practice of parents imposing their ambitious dreams on the naive shoulders of their children.
Like Tamoghna, lakhs of students in India face intense pressure because of a system that’s obsessed with marks over learning. This need to change. Tweet to the Education Minister and demand action now:
Why must students in India undergo so much pressure? Edu. Minister @PrakashJavdekar, #DoYourJob
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