Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Beaten In Life

Is it okay for teachers to hit students?

The surprising truth is that some people would say 'yes'. It's not that they are cruel and sadistic, they are simply old-fashioned. Years ago, teachers hit their students just as a means of disciplining them. It was quite a normal event, especially for boys. Plus, we've all read nineteenth century novels in which kids are 'caned' by their 'schoolmasters'. Many people who have lived through the era when corporal punishment in school was acceptable, deem it acceptable even today. They think a little bit of harshness does no harm, it only makes you tougher. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

Wrong.

Before you go on reading this, let me tell you something- I was hit by teachers when I was younger. The teachers who hit me didn't care that I was a kid, didn't care I was a girl. They didn't care about anything, really.

The first time was when I was nine. I cleaned a school desk with a duster, making it dirtier. The teacher walked in just then. Till today, the events that followed have me convinced that this particular teacher had serious mental troubles. Before I knew it, she was charging at me with her teeth bared (I'm not making this up). The next thing I knew was that my neck was being slapped. Thrice. The sound of her palms hitting the back of my neck was so loud and disturbing that all the children in class who were sitting down, stood up in shock. Everybody stared at me with their eyes wide open. I could see how disturbed they were.

The teacher yelled hysterically, "My students have to clean the dusty desks every morning. How dare this girl make them dirtier than they are?"

I was shaking from neck to toe. Resisting the urge to cry, I walked to my bag and pulled out a napkin. I meticulously wiped the desk clean. All eyes were on me. I was a freak show, having her 'off-moment' in the presence of all my school friends. The teacher kept yelling at the top of her lungs, and I was too shaken to listen to her.

This teacher kept troubling me throughout the school year, often singling me out. There was a time when she said I was 'irritating' and I was left wondering if 'irritating' was even a word a teacher could use for a student. It seemed to personal a word, a word that you used for nosy neighbors and talkative aunties. I was nominated to be school prefect, and when she heard of my 'nomination' she marched into my class and declared, "The candidate is miserable. Look at her, she can't even stand straight or talk right". Once again, I said nothing. I thought I could fight through whatever negative energy she was transmitting to me. I went for the 'prefect' interview and eventually did become a prefect, and nobody understands how happy I was that day.

I won't go to the extent of saying that what she did ruined my life. A lot of suicide cases stem from such incidents, but I didn't feel suicidal or anything. In fact, I didn't even tell my parents about it. At the time, I thought tomorrow would be another day and tomorrow, I wouldn't be hit by a certifiable lunatic teacher.

But can I say that the incident had no effect at all? Absolutely not. For a long time, all my friends kept blaming me for the incident. You see, when you're just nine, your teachers are like Gods. they can do no wrong. They are respected and feared and if they do something to you, well, you must have done something to deserve it. I was branded as the 'wrong' girl because not only had I 'provoked' a teacher, I had also not cried after being punished.

Also, I sort of lost faith in the school system way too young. A lot of kids think of school as the centre of the universe. But from what I saw, school was a place where partiality and meanness thrived and very few teachers really want what's best for you. I don't know how it happened, but after the incident,. most of the teachers started singling me out, and I had a really hard school life.

You would think my experiences with corporal punishment were limited to this one experience. You'd be wrong. At ten, I was in my school's dance club. Before even holding a proper audition, our teacher divided us into two groups, one with the good dancers (all the cute girls were in this one) and one with the bad dancers (I was in this one). When I could get a step straight, my teacher hit me so hard, my back throbbed for several minutes. Some of the mean girls laughed at me.

I have reviewed these incidents in my head several times, but no matter what way I look at them, I can't help but feel that I was wronged. I never call myself a 'victim'; it goes against my personal code. However, in these few incidents, I had difficulty defining my position without using the word 'victim'. Why do teachers act like this? They're supposed to show us what's good, what's right. They shouldn't judge us or be biased against us. So how come teachers hurt us when they are supposedly in their right minds?

Everything's fine now. I don't even think about the things that happened so long ago. In fact, given the treatment I got from fellow students and teachers in my formative years, I sometimes feel proud of myself for not having turned into the conventional 'screw-up kid' who acts like a rebel all the time. But that doesn't mean what happened was right. These days, kids have top deal with a lot of pressure. You can't make things worse for them by hitting them or being biased against them. You may think you're not doing much harm, but you are. I have been fortunate to find some very supportive teachers too, and I have some good memories with my teachers. I just wish I had met more good teachers and skipped the bad ones.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Missing Out On Precious Moments

Congratulate me! I just received news that I won the BEST EDITOR award from school. Twenty years down the line, this may not seem like a big deal, but right now it does. This will be the last time I ever get an award from school and I really, really want to be at the ceremony to receive my prize.

Unfortunately, it may not happen. On the same day, I have a college entrance exam. My exam centre is a two hours away from my house, and there's no way I can come back from my test, get changed into my school uniform and manage to reach school on time to get my award. So, this is one dream which will robably go unfulfilled just to increase the chances of my dream of getting into a decent college coming true.

Needless to say, I am sad. For the last four years, I have thoroughly enjoyed my position in school. I was not the cool kid. I wasn't one of those captains and prefects who thought they knew best and walked around like they owned the school. My teachers probably don't know this, but I was always somewhat on the sidelines, despite being part of more extra-curricular activities than I could count. I was the one many people left out in their conversations, the one teachers sometimes preferred but was not at the to of the students' reference lists.  And guess what? I loved how I was looked upon. You see, high school is a cruel and traumatic lace in twenty-first century India, where popularity is extremely important. If somebody says, "Nodody ever pays attention to that girl" (this was said about me a few times), you should pray they are not talking about you. I loved and even admired myself for not turning into somebody who chased after petty popularity, for taking my own sweet time to figure out how I wanted to resent myself in front of my peers instead of quickly becoming like the kids everybody wanted to be with. I am happy with who I turned out to be in school. School is a big part of who you are and it does define your identity to a certain extent.

That is, until, college becomes your life.

All of a sudden, who you were in school isn't important any more. School tests are first replaced by entrance tests. Then, your friends start getting busy with their own lives. Finally, school becomes something that's just a memory to remember. You realize school can never be priority again because something else will always be bigger from now on.

I just finished with another entrance exam today. As I prepare for my next test, I am also going to let myself feel the silent and somewhat immature sadness of leaving a life behind.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Great Indian Ritual Called IIT

Guess why today was special for me? Today, I had my IIT entrance exam. For my American followers who have no idea what IIT is, here's a short description- it's an exam which serves as a qualifier to get into the Indian Institute of Technology. Every year, about 500,000 student apply, out of which just over one-percent get selected. For all my Indian followers, well, I don't think I need to tell you what IIT is all about because there is no way you don't know about it.

I never took the whole IIT thing seriously. For me, learning science and becoming an engineer was always something of a mundane Plan-B which became Plan-A when it became clear that becoming a full-time writer, especially in India, isn't a piece of cake. However, I do love the challenges that Science has brought for me and believe in diligently doing all the things required to get into a good engineering college. Never in my life have I been confused about what is my passion and what is my vocation.

But there are kids who take IIT very seriously. These kids are of two types.

The first type comprises of extraordinarily bright children for whom getting into IIT, despite the odds, isn't a big improbability. I'm sure they have an IQ which cracks the roof and there's nothing most people can do to ever be as good as them at Physics, Chemistry and Math.

The second type comprises of students whose goal is to get into IIT. There goal is not to become an engineer or scientist, but to just get into this one particular institution. They slog for two or maybe four years, losing out on a lot of high school fun, because they think getting into IIT is the only respectable future. Now, I'm not trying to be mean here or making fun of what someone wants to do after school. I am just stating a simple truth. The thing is that IIT is more of a phenomenon than just a college. Given the hype surrounding it, some people tend to think that going to IIT is the only way to preove you are smart. Of course, you do have to be smart to get in, but that doesn't mean you don't have an excellent future ahead of you if you do to some other college.

Even though I'm saying all these things right now, I have to admit I did have a meltdown yesterday. I was afraid I wouldn't understand a single question on the test. Also, most IIT aspirants take special classes which coach them for the test. I never took any such training whatsoever. All I did was study by myself for two years, and that too without ever letting the word IIT direct my education.  Obviously, before I even went for the exam, I knew I wasn't going to get in. But the IIT entrance exams are a kind of ritual in India. Everybody shows up for the test, despite knowing they won't get in.

Today, starting at nine in the morning, I gave the toughest exam of my life. Actually, the first test wasn't all that bad. I did know how to do some of the questions and I was proud of myself for that, because a lot of kids simply memorize the basic algorithm of all questions possible and attempt to write the exam based on what they have 'learned', not what they have understood. But still, I couldn't do a lot of questions. So basically, for a good part of the first three hours, I had to sit with a paper on my desk telling me I'm stupid.

After the first test, which was actually better for me that I had ever expected, we were given a two hour break. Now, after getting by a three-hour tests which has questions that basically make fun of your intellectual standard, why would a sane person wait two hours to go through another three-hour long test? Well, I don't really have an answer to that.

The second test was....awful. Even though I knew what the questions were asking for, I didn't know the route which would lead me to the answer. But still, I did do something. By the time the test was over, I knew perfectly well that the doors of IIT campuses across the nation would forever be closed for me.

But it's not always just about getting in. I once knew a boy who was born without a limb. He was brilliant, and actually made it to IIT. He just didn't get the subject of his choice. But the thing was, he didn't appear for the test as a handicapped candidate. He said he didn't believe himself to be handicapped. Had he applied in the quota for handicapped students, his rank would most definitely have been in the top ten, but he didn't want that. Sometimes, there are some things bigger and worth more than a dream which aspirants throughout the country have. Sometimes, it's more important to prove you're just like everyone else despite not having a full arm, than to prove you're better than everyone else by going to a certain institution.

All that being said, I salute all the students who become the chosen few. They truly do something that most of us can't, and in some ways, can be called as some of the brightest talents of the country.

As for me, I'm just glad it's over. Never again will I have to sit for a test I have no chance of passing. I am good old me again- writer by nature, aspiring engineering college student by choice.

You know, I've been busy....

Sorry, about not having written much lately. I've been kind of busy. I've had a lot of exams and trust me, 'hard work' doesn't begin to describe what I'm having to do these days. I got to bed at ten and get up at two in the morning to study for two hours. Then, I rest for another hour and before the sun rises, I have to get back to studying again. I impatiently wait for the time my exams will be over, but I also keep begging for more time to prepare for them.

However, I have had the opportunity to do some writing. I just started another blog called 'Unexplained Disappearances'. Click here. You see, I started writing a book a few months ago, having no intention of ever completing it. But now the plot really is thickening and I see some potential in my WIP novel. This blog is dedicated to everything connected with 'Unexplained Disappearances'.

Check out my new blog to see what I've been writing. If it seems interesting, follow me and spread the word to your friends. Go to- www.unexplained-disappearances.blogspot.com, and tell me what you think of my new blog.

Meanwhile, I'll be back soon with more updates on this blog, so keep coming back.