Thursday, July 21, 2005

What's so grand about a viva??

The Grand Viva. My last exam supposedly in this university.

What's so grand about a viva voce? Is it supposed to test the ambit of your knowledge, how much you know, or how much you could possibly not know? Was it a test of nerves? How unflappable one could be in the face of a dozen professors who shred you apart with questions that reflect more of their knowledge and less of mine? One of them was an expert in malarial parasitology, and whatever he asked could inevitably be traced back to those blood sucking arthropods. And how am i supposed to know the intricacies of sewage treatment as much as the expert would do? Unfortunately for me, I was on the other side of the table. I was the student. 

Being Roll Number 15 in a class of 16 thankfully gave me a 5-6 hours of wait time. I looked at my peers, their nervous expressions, the piles of books in their hands, and wondered how could people with so much of preparation still end up so nervous? I wondered where I'd measure up in terms of their efforts. The previous night, I'd spent hours composing and editing my new poem "Hope resides in foreign lands". It was about this girl who chases her dreams and ends up in Lisbon. Clearly, my heart was set on doing other things.

I didn't mean to doze off in the exam, but soon, I did. A night without sleep, the commotion and the nervous and constipated faces around me. I fell asleep in the waiting room even before I knew. As I drifted in and out of slumber, my friends anticipated that I was ill, and let me sleep in peace. When I woke up, there were still 4 people ahead of me in line. Still plenty of time to go.

One by one, I saw them come out of the slaughterhouse, some smiling, some cursing, and mostly on the verge of tears. I'd grown indifferent to all this over the years. Prior to any viva (this was my 15th one i guess), I felt no fear, no nervousness, no excitement---all I felt was a whole lot of nothing---so indifferent I'd made myself to these trivial feelings over the years. It was a test of nerves, and not a test of knowledge. There were always things one would forget. Just remember not to bite your nails, and not to look guilty. 

So I faced them, my head held high, with a confident, yet distant smile. There was the professor whose classes I'd never bothered to attend in two years. Not that I'd grudges against him, just that my mind wouldn't process all the garbage he taught (he taught sewage management).

To cut a long story short, I faced the volley of questions, making eye contact, and answering as well as my intellect would allow. Genetic erosion. Rural air pollution. NGOs involved in the Silent Valley Movement. Disposal measures of radioactive wastes. The fate of liquid radioactive wastes. Parthenium and its source and successful establishment in India. Biofuels and cervical cancer. GMO. Tiger projects and biosphere reserves. Silent spring. Small is beautiful. Environmental impact assessment and the sectors that needed clearance from the MoEF. Air toxics and noise pollution. Litigation. Ligation. Polymerase Chain Reaction. 

By the time it was over, I was one hell of a confused person. I was just glad that the ordeal was over. I wanted to do a ton of things- Clean my room, write some more, take a walk, talk to someone. But all I did was selfishly creep into my bed and sleep.

For this particular exam might have been over today, but I had greater exams ahead of me. GRE and TOEFL to name a few. And God knows, I needed the strength.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Quandaries of academic life....

"Someday, someway, things will work out." 

That was the philosopher in me kibitzing again. Yet the knowledge that this was the last day of my exams proved to be of no comfort. For this was probably my last brush with academic life, unless I could make it to a decent doctoral program. My friends around me were jubilant. For me, it was like standing on the edge of a cliff, not knowing what lay beyond it. Perhaps my academic life was stalled after this. Perhaps, better things were waiting. Who knew? 

Even the question paper did nothing to lift up my spirits. For once, I had the insane desire of sparing myself the trouble of answering the paper. I soon thought better of it.

Post-exams, I thought that the canteen would help me unwind and relax a bit. I've always loved the open space on the 10th floor with the panoramic view of the city I've been living in for almost 8 years now. Standing tall gave me a false sense of freedom. But my joy was short-lived. That's a reference many of you will not get. 

What else, I still have no clue about what to do in life. The only question that plagues me is- "What next?" The uncertainty is horrible. Graduating from one course to the next, I'd soon acquired a handful of degrees. You would think that education would give you a better life. Not here, where there are hardly any placement opportunities. I wish I had a lucrative job offer waiting for me as soon as I was done with college. At least some of my friends are ecstatic, because they'll be getting married later this year. I haven't chosen that path for myself, not yet. The good thing is, with half the population married and gone, there could be lesser competition to face, and perhaps some more hope in life. 

My student-phase in Calcutta is probably over after today. I wish I could seem happier.