Updated: Aug 2, 2020
Many a times in our lives, we hear people say to us that, “You have been lucky in achieving your dreams” or that, “you have got a good kismet”. We hear it, we even understand the allusion to devalue our struggles, but we don’t react to it because deep inside our hearts we know, how hard we have worked for achieving our dream. I share with you one such story of my struggle about how I got into my college IISER and how that crucial juncture in my life proved to be the turning point of my life.
In 2010, I was doing preparation for the university entrance examination after passing my inter-examination a year before. Due to some estranged rule in the Indian education system, a student has only two attempts to give entrance examination. After squandering my chance in 2009, this was my only attempt remaining to get into a renowned Indian university and give shape to my career. Being studious throughout my life, career was paramount to me hence pressure was at its peak in March 2010, one month before the start of different entrance examinations. In the coming months, I would realize that examination pressure was going to be least of my worries. One day, when I returned from my coaching, I found all my family members gathered in our living room waiting for me to arrive. As soon as I entered, my father roared in a deafening voice “Are you seeing someone?”
Are you seeing someone? In cities like Delhi, Mumbai, this question may be a humble inquiry but from where I am, Agra, Uttar Pradesh and with my family background, this was anything but a humble inquiry. This was more of a proclamation “You cannot see someone!”. What happened in my absence was some malicious friends had broken news to my parents that I was seeing a boy. I tried fruitlessly to explain my side of the story, but mere news by a third person was enough to aggravate my parents and suddenly, my life changed upside-down. Their behavior towards me changed dramatically. In their eyes, by talking to a boy, I had done something so unscrupulous that I needed to be punished. I was forbidden to go to my coaching classes, to my friend’s place. I was put under HOUSE ARREST. All of this came at a time when I was already buried under examination pressure and now to top it, I was denied my coaching. One by one I lost touch with all my friends and sadly they never got to know that it wasn’t by choice. Until this point of time, I used to believe that “Family loves you unconditionally” but now I knew there is no such thing as “unconditional love”. Even your family loves and supports you only if you fit in their code of conduct. The moment you stretch outside their logical moral boundary, there is no love left then.
Liberty is most dear to any teenager and there I was degrading emotionally in search of freedom. Some days were specifically hard when I would try to revolt, and my father would lose temper and say words to his own daughter that he would refrain from saying to a stranger. I would not say a word in return, I would just take in all the hatred and absorb the reality. As a believer of “live and let live”, I never understood the concept of hatred. I just wanted my family members to understand me but what was happening to me was in direct contrast to what I wanted for myself. I wanted to live life to the fullest. I remember, in those gloomy times, I would just go to open verandah of our house, stretch my arms under the blue sky and imagine myself flying.
I stepped outside my house for the first time in almost six weeks for an examination, All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE). I got so emotional that I had a mental breakdown during the examination, tears rolled down my cheeks uncontrollably and I messed up my exam. My next examination was for the state universities called Uttar Pradesh State Entrance Examination (UPSEE). By this time I was more stable and the exam went fine. UPSEE result came soon and I secured a decent position so in my head I was thinking that in a few weeks I will go for counseling, get a college, and then soon, I will move to college, far away from this torture, to regain my career and my freedom. But my dreams were shattered once again when on the day of UPSEE counseling, my parents expressed their disagreement of me studying any further. As a result, I never attended the UPSEE first counseling where I had the maximum chance of getting into a good college. I distinctly remember on that day, I was numb, I did not feel a thing. It seemed like all the hard work, all the dream I ever aspired were for nothing. I could see the end, the end of me. On that day, I just cried, I cried seeing my career getting destroyed, I cried for those mornings when everyone was sleeping in my home and I was studying, I cried for my family who seemed nothing like my family, I cried for my identity getting lost, I cried for my life, the life which I wanted to live that seemed more distant than ever, I cried myself to sleep that night, nothing but only suicidal thoughts were around me and I prayed to God to not show me another sunrise of my life as the whole situation was becoming more than I could handle. My sister, my youngest brother, and my mother comforted me in the next few days; they were most sympathetic to me of all but still, my mother and brother showed no inclination towards me studying any further. In order to keep myself going, during this home “stay” except for studying, I developed an affinity for creative crafting. In colors, I found refuge from my daily troubles. There were a lot of old wedding invitation cards lying around in my home. I would gather these cards and create out of them a beautiful greeting card for myself on which I used to write positive thoughts. On one of the cards I had written, “One day the world will congratulate you!”. At other times, I would simply do Sudoku or Rubik’s cube or read the dictionary to familiarize myself with new English words. Sometimes, sitting alone I will hum lines of a famous song from Bollywood movie, “Koi Mil Gya”, “Dekhte jao tum, esa b ek din, ek din to jarur aayega, humse is duniya me ik din jab har koi hath milayega”. With all these small acts, I was helping myself, I was standing with myself, I was supporting myself.
July was here. I had already missed UPSEE first counseling and honestly, I was doubtful that my family will allow me to attend second counseling. From AIEEE, I already knew that chances are minimal but still I continued applying online for colleges. For students, it is a blessing to have wi-fi and a computer, so I was “blessed” in this regard. Time was running out, soon August would come, a month where new sessions for students starts in India and it haunted me to think that then I would never be able to get into a Science college. On a fortunate day, while reading the newspaper, an advertisement caught my attention. It was an admission invite for deserved candidates for the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER). I quickly googled the institute and found it to be a quality government institution inaugurated in 2007. As per the admission process, I had to submit an application and a demand draft of 270 INR. I decided to apply for it without informing my parents. I broke open my piggy-bank and luckily found enough money in small coins and currency notes for the application process. I requested my youngest brother to make a demand draft and handed him the money. He has always been quite supportive of me and also, helped me in this time. So, at the time of application, only my sister and my youngest brother knew about it. A week later, I checked the IISER website and found my name in the list of candidates that were called for counseling in Chandigarh, Punjab. It was a conditional admission invitation letter, which meant on the day of counseling another exam (IAT: IISER Aptitude Test) will be taken and if cleared, admission was guaranteed. I felt joyous for the first time in so many months but quickly realized now, laid in front of me the mammoth task of convincing my family to allow me to go to Chandigarh to attend the counseling.
I informed about my admission invitation to my sister and my youngest brother and requested my brother to talk to our father on my behalf. I was right there to see my father’s reaction to the news. My father never showed a sign of happiness or sadness on hearing the news, he simply was indifferent, like it didn’t even matter to him. But, to me, it meant a world. I decided to intervene and tried to explain to him, this college is a premier Indian institute where the government pays a scholarship to students plus the education fee is minuscule and accommodation is free. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want to take it. And then I had the most courageous conversation of my life:
Father: What if I don’t allow you to go?
Me (without thinking for a moment): I will run away.
(Immediately, my brother interrupted)
Brother: Do you even know what you are saying?
Father: So, you will run away?
Me: Yes, I will run away. I have worked hard; I cannot destroy my career. I want to become something. I am not asking for your money; I am getting a scholarship. I want to study; I have been a good student all my life and I can't just let it happen to my career.
Father: Is this what I have taught you? Is this how you talk to your father?
(After momentary silence)
Me: Papa, I really want to study and this college is a very few of its type. I will even get a scholarship. Please let me go.
Father: What will I tell your mother and brothers. You know they are very hurt, for what you did.
(Then came to a discussion about morals, ethics, dos, and don’ts. I listened to it all.)
The next day my father announced to the family that he and I were going to Chandigarh for the counseling. Hearing this, my brothers and mother expressed their disagreement. They questioned to my father's decision. My father overruled anyone who denied his decision. I just went to my room and packed myself bare necessities, a top, a towel, a Mathematics book for the journey, a notebook, my small Ganesha idol that I used to keep with me all the time. I wore jeans and t-shirt, and just like that I and my father were off to Chandigarh. It was 31st of July, I remember the date specifically as the next day, on 1st August 2010 I had my counseling in IISER. During our journey to Chandigarh, and I and my father barely spoke to each other but somehow this silence among us was more comfortable than words. We reached Chandigarh early in the morning at around 4 AM, well before the counseling starting time at 9 AM. That wait time is embedded in my memory. I can recall every minute of it. We waited near a dimly lit streetlight outside the IISER gate in otherwise dark surroundings, the street was all wet due to downpour that night before. I held the gate of IISER and peeked inside which looked calm and peaceful. In that moment I fell in love with the IISER campus and I just did not want to go back. There was a light inside the campus that was flickering, I stared at it for a long time as if at that moment I shared a connection with it of being broken inside. Never in my life had I wanted something so much as at that time all I wanted was to get into this college. In a couple of hours, the sun rose on us and I heard bells ringing in a temple which was just 10 steps away. Ironically, in order to get into a science degree program, I decided to take help from God Shiva.
Soon, a lot of students started coming to the IISER gate, which was open now. After completing documents verification and adhering to other formalities, all students were sent to the examination hall.
What if I don't get selected, will I have to go back home? what will I do there? Is my career over? With these questions clouding my mind, I entered the examination hall. The examination had forty questions, ten from each of the science subjects namely Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Biology. Biology questions were French to me so I attempted only two questions but in remaining subjects, I attempted well. My uncle lived in Chandigarh at that time and my father had informed him about our arrival so while I was in the examination hall, he came there to pick us up and they both were waiting for me when I exited after finishing the exam. We reached his house at around 5 PM in the evening and I had not eaten anything since morning, no breakfast, no lunch. That is typical of me when I have something big on someday, I get so anxious that I can't eat, and this day was the biggest day for me. While I was lost in my thoughts, I heard my father calling me out. My father handed me the phone; it was from my youngest brother. He said, “YOU GOT ADMISSION IN IISER!” For a moment I could not comprehend and then I replied “ap Mazak to nahi kar rahe ho?” (are you kidding?). he said, “No, you crazy, your college called me and informed me this”, I was puzzled why he got the call but then I remembered that during application I only told my youngest brother about it and I gave his phone number in the application so they called him to inform. It took me two minutes to absorb the news or to realize that it is not a dream, it is reality. When I realized that I have gotten into such a premier institute like IISER, I cried and cried so much, and this time, it was because of “Happiness”. In months, for the first, something good had happened to me and at that moment my father hugged me and blessed me. My father and I rushed to IISER to know more about any pending admission formalities, but it was already late, and the gate was closed but outside the gate, they posted a list of candidates that got selected. On top of that list was my name! On seeing my name on that list my happiness knew no bounds. I have never been happier in my life than at that moment. It was like a new life for me.
The next day, we went early in the morning to the college where they told us that classes start today only and I cannot go back home. It might sound strange, but I felt happy hearing about not going back home, even though I was not prepared to stay in the hostel as I had just two tops, one pair of jeans, and a towel but somehow I managed. It actually felt strange to see that how other parents were dropping their kids with bags full of clothes, sweets, and gifts, and with their expressions, it was clear that they were very proud of him/her. This moment/ this feeling, I just never experienced. But I felt blessed for what I had just received from universe. Millions of times, I have played this day in my life and I wonder if it would not have happened, the way it happened, what I'd be doing today. What if I had not seen that advertisement on that day, what if I had decided not to act on that advertisement,...but instead of finding answers, I feel deeply thankful to God and the universe, I feel grateful and blessed.
The next day, all the new students got hostels allotted to them, and I realized this was my new home for the coming years. I think I was the only one among all the students who were rather happy leaving her house because my roommate who is now my best friend was always crying and missing her home so much which I can’t even explain. And there was I, feeling like if I have come to heaven. I was literally running through the campus in joy. My father informed my family that I am not coming back as I have gotten admission and will stay in Chandigarh, everyone was surprised, tensed or whatever I never inquired. My father left for Agra on the same day. From that day onward, I have never been to my home on a longer stay. First, it was Chandigarh-Mohali, then Hyderabad, then Mumbai and now Darmstadt, and luckily wherever I go, I build myself a little soothing home.
Another reason that compelled me to write this article is that in my life, IISER has a special place. It will always stay in my heart and I can say with confidence that to some extent it gave me a new life, a beautiful life. And the journey about "how I got into IISER" makes me value it even more.
And sadly and shockingly, there were some other students in the same campus, who did not respect and value the IISER and upon asking “How they got into IISER”, their answer would be “oh, I did not even know about it, my father did everything from the beginning”. At this, I would wonder how privileged they were. They will never understand how someone just like them, fought for herself, just to get where they reached so easily. This was the other reason; I never shared this story to anyone except two close ones; Puneet and a friend whom I met in IISER and found comfort and solace.
What I am trying to convey through this article is that life is not the same for everyone so before you judge someone, think twice. Before you devalue someone’s achievements by calling it a mere fluke, try to understand and value their struggle and hard time which they might have gone through. Be kind. Be supportive. Be respectful. And above all of it, sometimes you need to fight for yourself, especially when you have got nothing to lose. In this world, nothing comes easy and if you won't take stand for yourself, nobody will. Fight for yourself, take stand for yourself, work hard, have faith in the universe, and achieve your dreams.