I’m at that juncture again, of not knowing where to go next. Most of us believe that we need to be somewhere at the end of it all. When these five years, the end of graduation and then post-graduation, one remains thankful but still thinks, ‘Is this it?’, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’, so you share the ‘Can’t adult’ memes to mask that confusion with a touch of humour.
As I complete my post-graduation in social work at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, it is a good exercise to reflect on the how the spaces that I engaged with during the five years of college life, shaped me, and how the same space may be a place of ‘discovery’ for some while at the same time, it may be a place where some may have faced their demons.
I did my graduation from Lady Shri Ram College. A lot of my friends in LSR, who still thankfully have stuck by me, wrote great things and sad messages while leaving the college and the Department of Journalism. I thought to myself and questioned why is it that I felt no such connect with that place, and that course.
Maybe it was my disillusionment with the way the entire journalism scene was playing out in the country or maybe it was something about the place that seemed off. I would, to a certain extent, blame myself for not taking the plethora of opportunities that LSR had to offer. My sister said, “Always stand by your choices, even if they seem hard or the consequences seem hard at some point.” I had chosen this field and to get through to the next phase of my life, I needed to get through with this course and do whatever it is that I could to make myself happy. On the personal front too, the death of my father made the college/department space and the accompanying academic responsibilities as something that I had to bear with.
Going through the grief of the passing of my father and dealing with it has been a learning process, and I am glad to have seen myself and the people around me trying to say the right words, behave in the right way. People are always told and helped by various pages and forums on how to deal with the grief, the pain and channelise it positively. The society, however, is not equipped to help a loved one to deal with grief or a sudden loss whilst helping them remain on track on the personal and academic front.
One thing that grief and losing a loved one teaches you is that most people care, feel sorry for you, get terrified at the thought of putting themselves in your shoes and believe me, during that time, the one going through this grief does feel at the centre of everybody’s gaze. There is a lot of pressure to be ‘happy’ and ‘not cry’ so that everybody else remains comfortable. It’s never about what ‘you’ are feeling but what everybody else might feel looking at you. There is a pressure to ‘keep it together’. I was termed ‘strong’, ‘brave’, ‘rock solid’. The intent of these adjectives was support, but at the same time, there was a lot of pressure to keep up the façade.
LSR, in general, does not give you much space to be flawed. People have claimed to have been liberated and have ‘found’ themselves here, but everybody differs in their experience, and I credit LSR for a lot of my being, but experiences or aspects that might seem adverse should also be spoken about. From the auditions held for getting into dance/drama/singing societies which ideally should be something that one does for pleasure and should accommodate all those interested and those who bear a passion for it, to have just 4 or 5 people speaking in class – there is a lack of space for those not comfortable with the language or with the standards of perfection that LSR sets. Imperfections, I felt, lack a space there.
Though many might disagree, recreational and creative forums in LSR are not an outlet. You have to ‘qualify’ to participate in that recreational and creative forum which is a system that I have still not been able to wrap my head around. I gave an audition for the dramatics society, but when I couldn’t get through, I pretty much stopped right there because of the thousand other things going on. ‘You’re not perfect’, ‘You don’t match the standards here (to do what you love)’ was not something that I needed in my mindspace. By the end of the third year and the end of my course, some good people, friendly dogs and a good insight on gender issues is what I will thank LSR for.
For my masters, I went to TISS, Mumbai. It was a place where I learnt that flaws are okay, and you don’t need to be ‘perfect’ all the time. TISS was a therapeutic space after my graduation. I found my voice, a language that people around me could understand, a diversity that remained hitherto missing. What we studied in books in LSR, the people we studied had a place in the classrooms in TISS (at least till now), and that changes everything.
My outlook changed. From the stories of atrocities on lower castes to having a discourse on gender-neutral hostels and washrooms, to having 40-year-old women as classmates, I learnt that everybody’s stories mattered. I realised that in grief, we tend to compare ourselves to all those whose lives we think are better, and say things such as, ‘They still have parents’, ‘She has her love life all sorted’, ‘They don’t have to worry about the money for further studies’, ‘He has so many friends while I struggle to make connections’, ‘I don’t look as good as her/him’, and it goes on. I saw, if I had to compare myself, I will compare my story with those who have crawled through worse and are still here fighting and doing something about it.
It helped when my voice was heard, and I saw that there was a space where people could talk about what they were going through, where thoughts were not better or worse, but just different. The timings and assignments were a huge burden and gave a lot of sleepless nights but that’s how poor our education system is, and it is our prerogative to help improve it. Giving people the space to speak up and creating that comfort to enable individuals to talk would surely help.
No experience can be generalised, and my graduate and post-graduate life has taught me to pick and choose and take the best from the spaces I engage with. It has been a journey of mistakes and immense learning. Through the positives and the negatives, what remains constant is the experience that one gains, and for that, I am thankful to both the institutions that I have been a part of.
Spaces are important. They are a melting pot of both your professional as well as personal fronts. One has to make use of what each space has to offer and hope that it becomes a safe haven for all of us who are struggling to hold on and find some meaning in all the chaos. Wherever we are, we are just at different places, finding our way through things that we may be facing for the first time. If you think, someone has it better, also keep in mind that someone also has it worse and they are doing something to keep fighting to reach where you probably are.
Be someone who gives space, who passes the mic, who listens intently and not always to reply, who disagrees respectfully and most importantly who expresses, so that expression and talking about problems is not seen as something which makes one a ‘mess’. We are all messy, let’s normalise that.