One year and four months ago, I wrote my last board exam.
Euphoria dominated my psyche because all the stress associated with examinations had come to an end. Little did I know, or the whole student community for that matter, that in a few days a nationwide lockdown would be imposed and the trajectory of our lives would change forever.
Most of us in our preparatory leave before the board exams were actively following updates of Covid-19 cases and the news of the tragic deaths worldwide. I remember being particularly worried when I read about the first Covid-19 case in India. There was an atmosphere of tension due to the upcoming exams that were heightened by the news of exponentially increasing cases worldwide.
However, Delhi (where I live) was free from the clutches of this virus so it seemed that everything would be normal soon. But things were about to change, for the worse.
My exams started on February 27 of 2020. I had English and when I entered the examination centre, everything seemed to be moving the regular way. No one had any masks on and there wasn’t anything pushing us to even consider the thought of social distancing.
For us, Covid-19 was a faraway phenomenon. But with subsequent exams, I started noticing the change in the attitude of my batchmates. The environment around me transformed from “no one wearing masks, no one having sanitisers, no one observing social distancing” to “everyone wearing masks, everyone carrying sanitisers, and most observing social distancing.”
In fact, on the day of my last exam, we were allotted alternate seats and a row in between was left empty. I remember looking at these empty seats and having poignant thoughts about the impending isolation. However, I was never able to anticipate that such a long period of loneliness was about to follow.
Life seemed to proceed dully and a general lassitude prevailed for four months. On July 13, when our Board results were announced, the monotony was disrupted. I was happy to have done well, but now I had to wait with bated breath for the Delhi University cut-offs to be announced. There was deep anxiety because the good overall performance of the students would push the cutoffs higher. The stress finally ended when I met the cut-off for my preferred course in a reputed Delhi University college.
With the end of anxiety, a new desire to reconnect with my school friends emerged. I became closer to some more than I had been before and this bonding gave a strong boost to my mental health. Finally, when my college started on November 18, I was in a placid and content state.
It was a refreshing experience to meet (virtually, of course) a diverse set of young, bright girls from all over India. At first, I was hesitant to open up because the days of “confinement” had transformed me into a somewhat reserved person, which was completely antithetical to my former extroverted self. However, I pushed myself to embrace this “new normal” and the changing environment.
For the first time, I experienced online learning with all its pros and cons.
The best aspect of learning new topics in school (in the physical mode) had been the ease with which we could engage in conversations and debates with our teachers and classmates, but the nature of the online mode has transformed the whole learning process into a monologue of sorts. Cross-interactions have become limited and the effectiveness of learning has been adversely affected.
The online mode necessitates the adoption of innovative modes of teaching and evaluation; however, in most cases, the traditional modes of assessment are being followed. This, in turn, creates a huge gap between what is being taught by the professors and what is being retained by the students.
Nevertheless, after eight months into college, I can positively say that the professors have started exploring new ways of teaching and made the learning process more comfortable for the students.
The times have not been easy, however.
When the second wave of Covid-19 hit India, most of us went through severe physical and mental trauma. Many of the students and teachers tested positive and had to deal with the loss of loved ones. I personally saw my father suffer from intense physical and emotional pain when he was diagnosed with Guillain Barre syndrome as a post-Covid effect.
All these factors took a toll on me and I am sure many others have experienced worse. Given this context, it was a prudent decision of Delhi University to cancel our second-semester exams and evaluate us based on our internal assignments.
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Now that the second wave has subsided and the vaccination rate is showing a positive trend, we are optimistic that our college may reopen in a few months. Yet, it is an unfortunate fact that our hopes have been shattered multiple times owing to the uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation.
Many of us are missing out on the independence and the “newfound sense of adulthood” that comes with college life. With mass restrictions on social gatherings, hanging out with friends has become a virtual phenomenon. The only way left for most of us to relish our college life is to imagine how our college life “could have been” under normal circumstances.
Personally, I often picture myself touching the red brick walls of Gargi, savouring Italian food at ‘Diggin Cafe,’ and looking at my professors’ facial expressions when we blurt out wrong answers for easy questions.
Considering the obscurity of the times ahead, my only hope, for now, is that I get to enter my college campus before I graduate.