‘College had no place for the ‘good’ marks I’d painstakingly scored’

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Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

I have never been much of a writer. Never been a topper either. Ah, that exalted word. The emotions it evokes in the psyche of the quintessential Indian student. Average just doesn’t cut it. If you are average, you are as good as that guy next door who works at some average place, dines on average food, and aspires to average goals. Doomed to averageness and living out mediocrity on a daily basis.

But I hadn’t cared much about this entire arrangement that society had agreed upon in some kind of implicit contract. Almost all my life had passed securing just that wee bit more than the average marks. Just enough to ensure that society doesn’t breathe down my back. I took part in various competitions, in the spirit of conforming to the well-substantiated stereotype of the typical middle-class Indian student. Holistic development of the personality was important, they said. Except for putting on weight and maintaining that perfect circle of fat around the belly with remarkable consistency, I was never exceptional at anything. But that status too changed for the worse when I barely pulled through in the Class XI exams. The Class XII board exams were better. I was in the just-above-average zone again.

College was a rude surprise. There was no place for the really ‘good’ percentage I had so painstakingly secured. Now, one might wonder why I, a member of the average club, would aspire to make it to the top colleges of the country? Because my parents wanted me to, of course. It wasn’t because they were ashamed of me. They worried about my future, like all parents do. And I had begun to think seriously about college too. Not to widen my intellectual pursuits, but to ensure that the degree I would get from such a college would in turn, ensure a really nice, comfortable job. However, deliberately steeping myself in mediocrity, I learnt the hard way, has its consequences.

I had aspired to join the defence forces when in school. So I decided to try my hand at it now. But then there was the ssb interview. I enrolled in a coaching class for, well, the interview. Sadly, even the SSB interview never came to pass. I failed the entrance. My resolve was falling rapidly now. My parents were on the verge of giving up on me. I decided to drop a year. My actions, my complacency had consequences not just for me, but for the persons who had raised me this far and pinned their hopes on me. I couldn’t just give up. That’s when I chanced upon law. A last shot. It was perfect. No rigorous testing of my fledgling skills in math. But I had to cover a humongous syllabus within a very short span of time. I discovered that panic propelled me on to perform better.

I studied for the entrance exam with a sincerity that almost scared me. Somewhere along the line, I abandoned the contemplation of failure. This wasn’t just about my parents anymore. I was doing this for me, to escape from the mould of complacency I had been in, all my life. I was actually greedy now. For tapping the potential in me.

In the law entrance exam, I secured an all-India rank of 27. The joy was there, yes; my parents were happy, yes; society applauded me (wow) but I didn’t find it exhilarating now. I had discovered a hunger in me that was surprisingly resilient to short-term success. Now, I wanted to learn, to aspire to something better; to not be average.

I realise now that the greatest lessons that life can teach you can materialise out of the most mundane of events. The desire to change for the better and to imbibe the necessary impetus can come from incidents less dramatic.

But then again, despite achieving some semblance of academic success I haven’t gotten around to getting rid of my bad habit of typing in clipped sentences. Yet. Dammit.

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