Sunday, 17 July 2016

College Cogitations

Time, as they say, does fly.

Do you remember the New Year's Eves you celebrated as a child? For a young me, the 31st night was different from the other festivities of the year. As a ritual, as the clock reached midnight I used to devote some time contemplating upon the year gone by. Friends made, books read, birthdays celebrated, holidays enjoyed, and other such innocent enjoyable tidbits from the last twelve months would crowd my mind. This practice of introspection is something I still carry out every New Year's Eve. With the passing of the years and suppression of free spirits, the reflections I encounter now are of quite a different kind, but what hasn't changed a fraction is the childlike astonishment I still derive upon discovering the simple fact, that yet another year has passed. How could it possibly end so quickly!

More than two years back when I was on the brink of starting college, someone had given me a pretty sound piece of advice. Your college changes your life completely, he had said, but for the better or for the worse is a decision up to you. So neatly and concisely put, I appreciate now. Two years and some more into college, during this critical time of the year when yet another fresh batch of students await what lies beyond those coveted doors of admission, a little contemplation and advice seems due. Things are definitely going to differ depending on people and circumstances, but the general sentiments, I hope, will not be overly contrary to anyone's.

Half of my undergraduate days have passed and it seems that I am on a permanent roller-coaster which has no intention of pausing. You learn and you experience, you progress through the motions at breakneck pace, you are thrown up in the air and then you have the bitterest of falls, only to be thrown up again. You are living as if on a persistent and continuous high where your mind is, if nothing else, active. This frenzied state of activity, it is to be noted, is not at all occurring on an academic plane only, and that is where things get so absurdly interesting. School education was a cushioned fortification, the protected andarmahal of palatial residence. The big city outside the palace is a jungle where wolves hunt alone and in packs. Welcome to college, the prep-school for the big transition from secured interiors to an insecure exterior, where girls and boys become women and men.

"You are primarily a student, and whatever other activity you may wish to pursue should come after that", thus spake the concerned parent, solicitous relative and the rest of our well-wishers galore when college started. Overburdened by well-meaning guidance, blissfully incorrect preconceived notions and a few mountain-loads of expectations, we step in through the gates. I would merely be wasting words if I tried to explain how entirely inaccurate I had been in my earlier conceptions about college, and how amazingly novel everything was around me when I stepped in. Savour your freshmen year like anything, our college seniors used to tell us, for nothing else is quite like it later on. To make mistakes and be perfectly acceptable in doing the same, to be a "junior" again after a long long time and have no precursory baggage to carry with it, to look up with awe at hallowed portals you had dreamed of entering and at long last you have obtained the keys to do so: those days were a chance to revisit the simplicity of boyhood but with a formed mind.

And then, as is the norm, life happens. When the initial reverence is broken, the vagaries of college life come to the fore. The law of averages has this irritating habit of catching up. Outstanding professors are balanced by rotten ones; the best of friends are counteracted by the worst of them. Also, the mind gears up for life beyond college, which is one heck of a decision to make. It is then that the true worth of you and your institution is exposed. When the initial glamour is diminished and a rhythm has been established, how are things spanning out?

A riot of confusions
Education takes a new turn and undergoes a complete makeover. Whichever discipline you may be pursuing, the rate at which new things are learned and applied is phenomenal. To a Learner, the ocean of knowledge is at his beckoning. But since in today's day and age the Learners are an endangered species encountered only in Rajkumar Hirani films, let us address the needs of the more practical minded, for whom there are grades. Oh grades, what a conundrum you are... The simplest solution would be to get the best grades and be done with it. But for those of you who appreciate the minor snags in this approach, certain misgivings may prevail! Banal and clich├ęd though it may sound, the grades are not the end itself, but the means to quite a different end, vast in size and more enduring in nature. They provide a depiction of the potential of a student, but a depiction only. But at the same time, the sculpture may be susceptible to slight errors in the hands of the maker in certain cases, but never should it be assumed that a model fashioned out of a well-bred German Shepherd would be made to look like a malnourished street dog. In simpler jargon, grades are very important, but there is life beyond them.

For a lot of people, college is the first time in twelve years that you are among a large group of unknown people and you are about to form a lasting bond with a lot of them. I remember standing in my admission queues, looking around, and wondering who among these strange faces around me are going to become my brothers-in-arms, my associates, my companions, my confidantes. These friendships last more, I had been advised by another senior, in comparison to your school mates. Maybe such generalizations should not be made, but the fact remains that your compatriots from college have met and known you as an adult, and despite each having all the convolutions and complexities of an adult mind, you have gelled along. In other words, you know each other in all your imperfections before you strike a chord. In contrast, I suppose most people are acquainted with the very awkward feeling when childhood friends from school met after a long time turn out to be entirely different people as adults, and old memories (and long silences) become uncomfortable.

Through the inconceivable highs and the gut-wrenching lows that life provides abundantly, your college mates are the people you celebrate and lament with. These times do not simply remain as echos in some sentimental corner of your heart; they fashion and construct your character. That a person is known by the company he keeps is a very old adage, and never is it more appropriate than now. Distractions are not the rarest of occurrences in the life of a young adult, and more often than not they are brought to the fore by a companion. Dabbling with politics and dreams of changing the world crop up. It is perfectly reasonable to dream - where would we be without them - but contact with reality should not be for a second forsaken. Every successful human has undergone this journey of sweeping aside distractions, training the lens on the object of focus, but all the same occasionally stopping by the wayside to pick up a shiny pebble or two.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull
"So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu..." As every month ends, we turn the pages of our calendar. Very soon, sooner than I shall ever anticipate, will come a New Year's Eve when I shall pause and think of my journey through college, and how it ended so abruptly. I shall be soaking in the last bits of sunshine before twilight takes over. Bathing in those slanting rays of the dying sun, I shall be bidding adieu to four years of intense pleasure, testing trials and a collage of unforgettable memories. Imagine a huge maze, which upon entering takes you four years to cross. If I am lucky enough, I'll conquer it in time. I'll look back at the young boy who entered the maze, then at my own reflection upon leaving, and note the difference. But for the moment, I'm stuck right in the middle, fighting and progressing inches at a time, with friends and family at my side, hugely enjoying every moment of it. Let me enjoy the maze while it lasts.

"Not all those who wander are lost" : J.R.R. Tolkien.