How to beat the system that is unbeatable

Monday — tenth standard boards ka maths exam. We had five days as preparatory holidays. I religiously worked out all the sums in the textbook from day 1. Saturday evening — there’s a kind of anxiety arising. I know I’ve done all the sums in the book a gazillion times but apprehension creeps in along with the fear that the effort I’ve put in may not be enough. Saturday night — I lose it. I start bawling like a baby — one of the worst breakdowns I have ever had. I start crying and mumbling incoherently about how I’m going to fail the exam and how Sunday won’t be enough to revise the whole book again and how I’m destined to not achieve my dreams. My parents were so frightened — they started telling me about how this one exam was not going to decide my future and that it was such a silly thing to be upset about. Great advice, mind you, but not what I wanted to listen to at that time. After having been told all year that the boards were ‘make or break’, I was completely enamored and eaten up by that idea. Luckily, it was movie night in our community. We saw Aligarh — a depressing movie about a gay professor who gets murdered. It was a good movie but the best part was that it took my mind off the impending doom I was about to face on Monday. The breakdown helped a lot too. I was able to just get it off my chest and talk it out and deal with it. I know this is inching towards being an article about mental health but it’s not. It’s about the pressure cooker race we’re all in.

That’s all we’ve been able to talk about nowadays. My friends circle in my community comprises about 15 people, 11 of who are in twelfth grade this year. Whenever we meet, at some point, the topic invariably shifts to ‘the future’. Everybody has dreams, everybody has aspirations. We hear IIT, we hear BITS, we hear engineering, law (yours truly), computer science and the conversation always ends with ‘hoping that I get in, of course.’ We’re all on tenterhooks. We want to do something; something great. But there’s always that uncertainty of whether we will be able to do it; whether we can get into our dream college. One of my friends says, ‘I’m afraid.’ Finally! The one phrase that runs through our heads everyday — finally, someone has said it. That’s the truth — plain and ugly. We’re all afraid. We work so hard, we go off whatsapp, we abstain from coming to the movies, we stop going to play, we lock ourselves up in our rooms and study. We’re essentially doing the best we can. We have brilliant parents too. Ones who are willing to go to any lengths to ensure that we fulfill our dreams. We have all the resources. We just don’t know if we indeed have the talent and the skill required. We’re all afraid. We just dance around that fact, acting nonchalant and saying jovially “I’ll probably end up in some Kumari college for engineering or some nondescript university in Timbuktu”, but that has a ring of truth to it. We are afraid that we might actually end up there.

Whose fault is that? I really don’t know. This competition — this policy of millions of people competing for 10 seats in the top colleges — is just unnerving. The pressure is intense. And you know what the funniest part is? The worst pressure comes from within. Because it’s ultimately yourself you have to answer to. You kind of get this sinking feeling that maybe you’re not that special after all, maybe you’re not destined to get into the IITs or the NLUs or the AIIMSs and that’s when you start to lose yourself. This pressure, though coming from within, is probably fueled by seeing your neighbors and your friends and everyone doing brilliant, wonderful things and thinking that maybe you’re just not up-to the mark.

But what I realized is that my neighbors and my friends have the same fears, the same problems. I realized that all of us are just bundles of dreams, bundles of desires and bundles of nerves. We’re in the same bloody boat. And maybe, just maybe, if we can all work together, if we can all keep talking about it and not keep it within ourselves, if we can all just admit what we feel and then start taking steps to realize that it’s okay to feel like that, if we start helping each other to slowly paddle away from the ocean of fear, if we start to help each other swim to safety, maybe, just maybe, we can actually enjoy the journey and achieve our goals. We can never exit the pressure cooker race but we can choose how to run. Together and with hope that the system is beatable. That we are in it to win it. That we can and we will.

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