Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ruminations

Yesterday was the first official day of my summer vacation. I say first ‘official’ day because we have been on vacation since end of April for all practical purposes. Classes started dwindling since mid April and eventually got dissolved by early May, and after a brief ‘study leave’ our end semester examinations started on the 17th of May. I use the important sounding name – end semester examination – out of habit and to lend some gravitas to the situation. In reality, there were examinations on four days. Yes, just four days, and yet it had to be spread out across nearly three weeks. I have to give this to the private schools across the country, for all their endless problems and shortcomings they do usually manage to get over with examinations within a week or two, and that with nearly a dozen subjects on average. What does this say about our ‘elite’ public universities, and our national psyche in the matter in general? If there was ever a social decision to function according to the very antithesis of the ideal of “do it now”, it is the principle that guides our nation.

Examination days leave me feeling unsettled. I don’t think this has much to do with my level of preparedness. Even when I know that I have worked hard throughout the year and only unforeseen disasters could possibly make me fare badly in the paper, I cannot help feeling jittery and restless. I have a definite point of saturation beyond which I cannot revise, the words bounce off my head without making sense to me any longer. And yet I cannot concentrate on anything else either. Examinations seem to put my life on hold; they make me feel like I am in purgatory. If I ever have to spend any period of my life solely focused on preparing for any examination, I wonder whether I will be able to do it. I seriously fear that I will crack under the strain of preparations and revisions long before the actual tests come up.

As I walked out of the examination hall on the 5th of June, I realized with a jolt that I had officially finished the second year of my undergraduate course. Come July I will be starting on my final year here, the senior year in the Indian scheme of things. I don’t think the thought has sunk in quite properly yet; it seems like yesterday that I was walking in as the confused fresher who lost her way around the campus at least thrice a week. I look back and I realize the true import of the saying “the days are long but the years are short”. All those early classes with the attractive old professor, those initial days of bonding with seniors, that certain idealistic spark that formed our political inclinations and made us feel good about ourselves, the first tastes of the real world and the quick realization that followed about how inept our generation is at ‘adulting’ – the memories that threaten to flood my mind are bittersweet and each an engaging story by itself. The past two years have helped me grow and embark on a journey of self discovery, and I know I have only just started. I have a lifetime of exploration ahead of me, and that is one exhilarating thought.

Jadavpur has been home to me in ways I could not have thought possible. It has given me what I have always craved for – space. In Jadavpur I can be me, I can function within my own tastes and preferences without worrying about any external restrictions. I can be mad or composed, well turned out or bedraggled, a bookworm or a social butterfly, or an alarming mix of them all, and still find a cozy nook for myself there. I may or may not find like minded friends, but chances are I will not be actively shunned or made to conform to the tastes of anyone else. In a world that demands standards and norms and regularity, a short sojourn in this haven of disorderly but generally well-meaning people may well turn out to be soothing memory of a lifetime. I have met so many types of people here, strange and outlandish, starry eyed and optimistic, frivolous and forlorn, often quite eccentric. Some of them I have become close to, others I have only briefly come in touch with. A few I hope will continue to be a part of my life long after we have crossed the boundaries of college and gone on our very different paths. These two years have been wonderful, and I hope to have a terrific final year here, but now I am ready to leave. I can sense a certain loosening of ties, a certain longing for newer pastures, an urge to go out and explore. Just as I know that after the end of school, getting admitted to Jadavpur University had been the best option for me, I also know that I need to move on from here for the next step.

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about what I want to do next, after completing my graduation. I do not want to carry on with History for my Masters, not because my love for the subject has dwindled, not at all, but because I have almost made up my mind not to pursue a career in the academia. I cannot see myself spending years writing theses and teaching reluctant college goers. I did not take up English for graduation, much to the astonishment of many of my peers, because I felt that reading literature as a part of my coursework will kill my love for it. Lately, I have begun to feel the same way about History as well. There is a sense of restriction that I suffer from; in spite of studying the subject I love I am often not able to study according to my own interests. My coursework needs me to focus on economic theories about modes of production when what I really want to read about is the history of modern Israel. I do feel set curricula suffocate academic curiosity; at least they do to me. I have this little personal joke where I think of my love for history or literature or any other academic subject to be like a man’s love for his mistress, which is based on sheer attraction and not social norms and legal expectations, and burns deep for that very reason. Once I am beyond the requirement of coursework, I feel I will be able to continue reading history as a passion for the rest of my life. In the meantime, I am on the lookout for anything interesting and unusual, anything that challenges my intellect and pushes me to learn. I am ready to go into the professional world and try my luck in different fields until I find something that suits my abilities and temperament.


This year has been a difficult one so far, and I can sense that there are more troubles lying in wait in the coming months. But there have also been many happy days and peaceful days. As time passes I get more and more convinced that life is nothing if not a mixed bag. It is on every individual to make the most of what they have, without worrying too much about all that they don’t. Tragedies will have to be faced, sadness will have to be dealt with, but it really does no good dwelling too much on them. Worrying just makes you suffer twice. And so I have decided to take each day at a time and make a conscious effort to enjoy myself as best as my situation allows. It was with that spirit that I began my vacation, taking myself out to a movie after the examination ended – the last movie of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is a fun watch by the way, a fitting end to a successful series – and enrolling on an interesting online course about the ancient Egyptian civilization. I am looking forward to a fulfilling month, a refreshing break before starting out on the final leg of college life. 

3 comments:

Shilpi said...

Pupu,

First of all – I’ll wish your blog a very happy (but sadly belated) birthday. I’m sorry.

This blogpost made me chuckle every now and then and it made me wander a bit in the labyrinths of memories – some recent and some from more than two decades ago. I thought you did a very good job of dealing with those ridiculous exams spread out over a whole month. I think I was more flustered every now and then when you told me you had yet another day of exam writing. If I’m not badly mistaken – the end-of-sem’ exams for all the undergraduates took place over one week at Purdue. And since, as you mention, private colleges here do the same – it can’t be something that the public universities cannot put into place if they wanted to. As far as I remember, twenty years ago when I was a student – the main exams (we didn’t have end-semester-exams back then) were over within a space of two weeks – so I’m not sure why they changed this system.

I’m surprised to hear that you feel jittery before examinations. I wouldn’t have known this at all because you sound and seem perfectly calm and composed. I have to say, I was horrible about preparing for examinations but then strangely enough I used to feel quite jubilant if I got questions where I actually knew the answers and could write reams and reams. In the days leading to examination time during my college years, my time would be spent on pouring over material and in praying to God for very petty favours and in asking very philosophical questions. I guess I shouldn’t say too much about this topic here – more than anything else, at this age, I feel like laughing when I am reminded of the whole exam taking thing which lasted for a very, very long time in my case.

I feel strange to think that you are now over with your second year. But I am truly glad that you found an environment at Jadavpur University where you have been able to have an enriching experience on the whole; that you have made a few good friends, that you have been able to engage in a journey of self-discovery, have had some fun and found what you describe as a ‘cozy nook’. Your description about the kind of people you have found there and your self-description of the ‘alarming mix’ of how you are is delightful. I’ll pray you ride the waves gloriously through the last leg of your college life and collect more and more memories you cherish.

Shilpi said...

I know what you mean when you say that you can already feel the need to move on – and away from Jadavpur even though I know I was absolutely glad that you chose History and chose to study at JU for your undergrad years. The thing about higher studies in a specific discipline is that you do get to have significantly wider choices the further on you progress. By the time one is a professor – one can decide never to study, teach or conduct research in an area that one isn’t truly interested in and loves, and stick to that decision. However, it is true that along the way there is a lot of stuff that one would have to study and/or engage in – and not because one loves or enjoys it or is even good at it but then again that is true for probably all professions. I know you still find history fascinating and that your love for the discipline has not diminished but I know too and from experience that it is terribly annoying to have to study parts of a subject which one finds mildly interesting or even just very useful, leave alone boring – if even one can acknowledge the importance of those segments in an objective way and if even one can write the required papers for a course! I had to let out a big chuckle about your analogy. Since you’re sure you do not want to stick on in academia as an Historian/History professor as a long-term career prospect – I don’t think there is any point in pursuing the specific subject academically beyond this point. In any case, as you mention, it indeed makes sense to look at what you’ll be doing next in terms of your abilities, interests and with an eye to making progress in terms of your career and professional prospects even if you do shift and change directions as and when better prospects come along and you find your own niche. I’ll wish you happy times doing your on-line course about ancient Egyptian civilization. I’m reminded of how you were waiting to watch a program on TV about Queen Nefertiti some 9 years ago!

This comment now has become as long as a letter and I did try to edit it through the last few weeks since your blogpost. So I’ll end this one for now with my best wishes and prayers for you as you walk and run along this year.

Take care and keep writing.
Shilpidi

Swaggie Basak said...

The mark of a good writing is making one experience thoughts which never crossed their minds before. I can honestly say that life hasn't given me a chance to bask in the sunshine of a warm college life, But atleast I got one shimmering look at through someone's eyes.

And The end gives rise to that unknown dread in my heart of the unknown, what to do after studying. Till now in life it's always been something that has to be done, and now when the question is put "What do you want to do?" Or the more severe "What CAN you do?".

Rarely read writings which have invoked both fond memories and stirred deep fears.
10/10 would read again.