<Insert Address here>
Dated: May 21, 2014
Subject: Here is something that needed to be said for a long time
It has been a long association and mingling we’ve shared here for the past 5 years. I write this not out of an obligation or a kind of dire longing to reach out to you; to make peace with you. That is all in the past and I am well aware that I’m so close to the end now none of it would make sense. I write this because like everything else I do, this feels important to me and I must catalog this before I forget how strongly I felt. Feelings are transient, it’s scary.
It’s strange that what starts off with a sense of foreboding, unfamiliarity and even fear of acceptance can turn into something that has a definite emotional shape and structure. I have spent days in your corridors and classrooms and felt like I was just another person among those walls. I felt like nothing about you could be made personal for me.
You are one of the most well-reputed and prestigious colleges my city has to offer. You have the brand-name, the University rankers, the brilliant and aesthetic infrastructure, a coveted placement cell and apparently the best faculty that could be asked for…is what I said before I knew you. You have the brand-name, the University rankers, the brilliant and aesthetic infrastructure, a coveted placement cell and apparently the best faculty that could be asked for…is what I still say but none of it feels like I’m praising you. An invisible demarcation was made in my mind the moment I stepped through your gates and got to know you, up close.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here, and for your sake I think I’ll back down a bit. I’ll tell you about my background so that you know where I come from and that I wasn’t always this cynical. That maybe I had wonderful experiences in my past study places and felt like the world could only offer me more and better. I was yearning and I was hungry for so much and you can’t imagine my disappointment when I saw what I was served. I have been starved ever since.
I finished my schooling from an all-girls convent school that was run by nuns and sisters devoted towards achieving the highest morals and principles among their girls. Although primarily a Catholic institution I learnt more about secularism than I ever could, anywhere else. Not even at home. Especially not at home. When you come from a family that makes you blindly believe and adopt certain practices, my school was where my mind was opened up to countless different possibilities and constant questioning. It was here that I developed my love for reading in the age-old library which I am told used to be a dorm back in the 19th century. My school itself is a heritage structure and I say with much pride, nothing short of the modern-day Hogwarts. Every day that I spent among those people and behind those desks helped me learn something new about myself. Intellectually, I was expanding so fast it was overwhelming. So you should understand that I came with some expectations. If not for something better (I doubt there ever can be), but for something good.
When I first heard about the ridiculous attendance norms that only you seem to put into practice, I wondered if that was what was setting you apart and giving you your so-called reputation. I was even a little intrigued as to how you could keep students engaged for 7-8 hours at a stretch. I learnt in the coming years, that it was never about what was actually achieved in those many hours. It was never the quality of education being imparted or anything gainful and productive that required that many hours of undivided attention. It was all about creating a façade; a kind of show for the rest of the world depicting how serious you were about maintaining rules and regulations when others weren’t. What did you achieve from that? The last five years of my life, I have slowly and grudgingly, even subconsciously dropped out things that I used to do on a daily basis. I had hobbies and I did things even when I was preoccupied with study load but because of your attendance criteria, I found myself backing off from everything else that was important, that I now regret ever putting down.
And this is not even the half of it. I’m not complaining that you require us to maintain a statutory level of attendance as high as 75%. In the first two years, I remember the rule which said that our attendance would be marked on a daily basis. So that literally meant that if I missed on an average 3 or 4 working days in a month for whatsoever reason I would be marked as a defaulter. Not just that, if I missed even a single lecture in a day, that would conveniently cross out my attendance for that entire day. Thank you for that, because that’s when I had to take extra care of my health. As you can see, more than any other thing attendance became the centric, most vital part of my college experience. And believe me when I say, I could divert completely and write a whole new blog on just that aspect altogether. But I will contain myself here and tell you that it was easily the most annoying part about you and on many occasions it drove me to a delirious insanity I’m ashamed to write about even to you, whose respect I’ve never demanded anyway.
Now that I’ve got the attendance burden out of the way, let’s pay some attention to what actually goes on in between bells. In the past 5 years, I can say with full conviction that I learnt the power of self-study. I learnt that most of the time it’s the best and only way to go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone who likes being spoon-fed. I never asked for that. But I expected some kind of guidance. Something gainful that your professors could offer me which would make me understand my syllabus better. Every professor that I came across in every semester had a thought process I couldn’t ever grasp completely. They taught when they felt like. They wasted time when they felt like. Secretly even they thought that the attendance norms were completely stupid and wished for the class to be mostly empty so they could relax and put their feet up instead. Some of them were given jobs only because there were vacancies. Some of them were employed on probation basis and we were their test subjects. It’s odd because if there’s a severe dearth in your faculty, DON’T BOAST about it and mislead students who actually came from other parts of the world counting on the huge promises made by you. I spent a month in another college before I got admission in your college for my degree course, I know what I’m saying. There are several other colleges, not so high-ranked on goodness knows what meter, but they make sure that their professors are fairly capable. They ensure that if students are going to come to college, they won’t be wasting their time listening to an idiot yap about something they could gain absolutely nothing from.
Do you realize what such poor faculty has done to the class environment? Not one person is mentally present. As for me? I found a whole new recluse to sit and browse things on my phone. Read articles and important news stories. Text important people who made me feel like I actually have a life beyond this shit-hole. Even completing 483 levels of my guilty pleasure: Candy Crush Saga. My phone became an external organ of my body. Of course, you had a problem with that. You warned me several times about confiscation of cellular devices, but don’t you see it was my bane of survival. I wouldn’t have made it through without that. And for the record, it never got confiscated even once because, you know, I’m better than you.
Moving on to non-academic related topics, here’s where I thought I found my saving grace. For a short while at least. Many years later when I finally decided I wanted to interact with people and be pro-active in extracurricular activities, I figured why so many students couldn’t be bothered less about it even though it could make a good contribution to their overall personality (ahem, résumé). Ask anyone to define extracurriculars and they’ll most likely give you an elaborate explanation that comes down to things you do outside of the classroom, metaphorically and quite literally. Activities that require you to put your concentration in an area that most of the time you’re not going to be graded on but you indulge in all the same to meet like-minded people and expand your social clout. Also, competitions and various events that ultimately bring recognition to yourself and your college. Probably not in that order.
But here was the catch, doing anything other than sitting in your classrooms where the Attendance Sheet was lying passively on the desk meant I would be marked absent. The dreaded A in red ink across my roll number that couldn’t be undone. Now you would like to argue that attendance was always compensated to persons engaging in such clubs and activities. I’ll tell you what. Lies. That’s what it was most of the time. I was in the defaulters for the reason that I represented you at another college and we won a few events that we painstakingly worked for 10 hours straight for two whole weeks. Even the professor was a little confused about that when she met my parents and didn’t have anything to say to them at the defaulters meet knowing very well there was nothing to complain to them about because I wasn’t bunking class to indulge in other shenanigans.
Later, however, I heard about other ways in which attendance could actually be compensated after events so I and some other students took it upon ourselves to work it out. You went ahead and made another unsaid rule that only if we were winning and gaining recognition would our money and attendance be compensated. So either we put that on risk or much rather sit in class and do nothing. This was so pathetic it makes me laugh out loud now.
Most of the time, nothing we did felt like it was being appreciated. There was no motivation for anything. No wonder some of the brightest people I knew preferred fading in the background instead of putting in their time and sweat when they weren’t going to get even a little bit of convenience for seeing their efforts through.
I have often heard that it’s not a place that must be blamed but the people who comprise it, but sometimes it’s not easy to channel your love or hate towards so many people at once. It’s tedious and there are a few souls that are undeserving of your hate and are stuck in the system just like you. I met too many people and my feelings would be all over the place if I looked at you through the kind of people I met. There were the ones I couldn’t keep up with, the ones that disappointed me more than once, the ones I disappointed, the ones who were seething with deep-rooted insecurities that they couldn’t quite seem to hide, the ones that said they loved me but never knew how much I wanted to believe them, the ones that promised to stay, the ones that made no promises but stayed anyway, the ones who gave me memories that I couldn’t forget even if I wanted to, the ones who I met for brief instances and I wished I had known better, the ones I could’ve completely passed on meeting at all, the ones whom I learned from and looked up to, the ones I had shared interests with, the ones who struggled just like me.
I met so many people over the years but I realized that just like you, they, too were clearly maintaining a façade. I’m pretty sure that under different circumstances and surroundings everything could’ve played out differently. I had the most trying time understanding why it was so difficult to coexist with certain people and why my existence was such a bother to some others. I came to the conclusion that a place with double standards can only breed people with double standards and it made perfect sense. I may have met some wonderful people here but the experience played out in such an ugly, morose setting with you there in the background that I’m sometimes afraid even these good people might not last.
Many times, I will admit, that I was even driven to moments where I hated you so much it felt like a physical thing. I didn’t care that subconsciously or not I was almost eager to indulge in acts of vandalism. You took me in, changed me and spat me out as someone with razor-sharp edges and no room for redemption in my soul for anyone ever again.
I said this to my friend on graduation day as we stood aloof, watching the pink and blue strobe lights, the overly dressed crowd swaying to mainstream trance music, trying to make a celebration out of an experience I honestly wouldn’t mind passing up on, “I felt more emotion when I was promoted from primary section to the secondary section which was the adjacent building. This is apparently one of the most important days of my life. Am I supposed to feel something? Because I feel nothing.”
Looking back, I may have lied. I may have confused what I felt and also what I meant. After managing to get through something that had such a negative impact on me, there was no weighing it with the little good that I also somehow gained. In no better words, I felt deflated. I experienced a loss that I couldn’t understand, a loss I somehow refused to admit even to myself. I felt like I had developed a strong opponent over the years that I constantly stood up and battled against. I felt empowered every time I criticized you. When people agreed with me, it was the right kind of encouragement to continue my hate-relationship with you. You were an opponent I could never defeat and I secretly loved the wrestle.
Suddenly, I looked around and I knew that it was actually, finally, really…over. I would never be able to bring you up in conversations with the same intensity, same anger-glazed words again. I could, if I wanted to but like I said at the start of this letter, would it be as strongly emoted as it was back then? This dawned on me so suddenly that I couldn’t bear to stick around on that ground any longer. It was so strange that I was essentially expecting to feel appropriately nostalgic in my future about something I had disliked all along. This feeling made me mad and confused and I asked my friend if we could leave already and so we did.
Amidst all of this hate and venting of my anger, I will admit to you that I learned one important lesson. I learnt that hope can be found if you’re willing to lift the curtain and peep under, instead of staring at its dark, velvety surface and cursing the lack of things that could actually just be a step away. Maybe you’ve taught me how to be self-assured and self-dependent and that’s supposed to be a good thing, I guess. Although you have presented me with several setbacks, I found a few kindred souls who helped me through. They, just like me, were aiming to survive this ordeal. I’m glad that even in the worst of places, I wasn’t completely alone. Nothing, I must stress that a bit more, NOTHING will ever be as horrible and thoroughly exhausting as the things you put me through. I know that henceforth whatever I face in my future, I will be mentally armoured.
Thanking you in advance.