My family has always been quite serious about mine and my sibling’s education. Ironically, my education was one of the worst experiences of my life.
When I was in the third standard, my mother and my siblings went to Arunachal Pradesh for a summer vacation with my father, who worked there as a civil engineer in the Public Works Department. He was posted in a small village called Rumgong, which barely had any access to electricity and other amenities. That year a massive flood paralysed the West Siang District. We got stuck there, because landslides hampered road connectivity in the district.
Around that time, my mother found out my father had a drinking problem, and leaving him alone wasn’t an option. She decided to stay back, sealing my fate as a student from an upscale private school to a local government school in Rumgong. The new school was a crumbling building with indifferent teachers and erratic classes – a stark contrast to the disciplined education I was used to. My parents were worried, and hired a private tutor for me – “Sharma Sir”.
An all-rounder, he taught me every subject, was himself the subject of my parents’ reverence and often took on the additional role of a counsellor for my family. To my parents, he was a saviour, the only person who could ensure my bright future. His favorite subject was Mathematics.
Mathematics still gives me jitters. When I was around four, my father once chided me for my inability to learn a type of sum. As a mere preschooler, this experience stuck with me. My mother still fondly recalls the high fever that gripped me post this incident. Six years later, I was put through the same fear with Sharma Sir.
My inability to excel in his favourite subject gave him an excuse to constantly humiliate me. Sharma Sir’s favourite catchphrase became “Tu na sakegi (you won’t be able to do it).” That was the beginning of many years of self-doubt and low self-esteem.
I always had a penchant for reading, but Sharma Sir said it was a bad habit because it distracted me from Mathematics. I was even prohibited from reading English and Hindi textbooks! Books were snatched from my hands, and I started feeling miserable and worthless, because I couldn’t control my urge to read. Sharma Sir went a step further, and used to demean me in front of other kids and adults for being weak in his favourite subject. Every belittling word or phrase that he uttered pushed me closer to a meek and recluse version of myself.
My weaknesses became my identity. The fear of maths overpowered me, and I grew up believing that I am good for nothing. My parents might have paid a tuition teacher for my future, but I ended up paying a therapist later to fix what he broke.
I looked different from my classmates, a quality that made me a victim of constant bullying. Whenever I went to school, for activities and exams, other children used to body shame me.
After school, yet again I fell prey to the art versus science nightmare and despite a lack of passion, got admitted to an engineering college.
I survived college by the skin of my teeth. Following that, I needed to wash away the past ‘sins’ so I took the UPSC line for my parents. Truth is, I was completely clueless about other opportunities, and government exams seemed the only way out of this quagmire. For four years, I was confined to four walls of my room in a dusty corner of Old Rajinder Nagar in Delhi.
Constant self-loathing, insecurity and under-confidence paved the way for severe anxiety and paranoia. I experienced vigorous mood swings and uncontrollable anger. The very idea of stepping out of my room and being among people started freaking me out. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and clinical depression. In addition to medication, my therapist began imparting life skills to me, which proved to be the first step towards healing the scars of my past. I underwent Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and was taught how to take charge of my situation by being more mindful of my thoughts and feelings.
The best advice that my therapist gave me was to take control of my own life. In 2018, against the wishes of my family, I decided to quit UPSC and pursue my true calling. And a few months later, I got selected for an internship programme at a media platform, after which I landed a full-time job within the same organisation.
I’ve learned a lot about our society and education system since then. The main drawback is that education focusses only on marks. I come from a privileged background, and fortunately, my parents were able to afford a home tutor for me (although that came with its own set of problems). I shudder to think of other girls, who lack this option. Added to that is the gender biases – making everything so much worse.
Every child deserves the best quality of education, and certainly more help in the form of counsellors training them to deal with such curveballs in life. I can only imagine how my life would have been if, in school, someone actually paid attention to my interests and made my parents understand my strengths and weaknesses in a constructive manner.