I quit college in 2001.
One year into an engineering college in Chennai, I decided I would not step into this toxic environment again.
If you’re an Indian kid, society has forcibly laid down the formula for your life.
- Go to school.
- Get good marks.
- Get good marks in your tenth standard.
- Choose the science group (for the large part).
- Get good marks in your twelfth standard.
- Ace the college entrance exams.
- Go to an engineering college or a medical college.
- Get a job that pays a lot of money.
- Look good in the eyes of society.
If you fail to check any of these list items, all sets of eyes will be on you. People will pounce at you from all directions. A deer being chased by a lion has a better chance of escaping than you.
After the twelfth standard exams get over, the student and their families breathe a collective sigh of relief. When the student joined college, everyone relaxes.
As my parents were breathing a collective sigh of relief, their kid had gone to college, I informed them I was quitting college.
Best Laid Plans
In high-school, I had lofty goals to do well in bridge.
I wanted to travel frequently to participate in tournaments. I wanted to join a college that would be supportive. My parents went along with my plans and searched for a college that would give me this leeway. They found a new engineering college in Chennai where the correspondent appeared sympathetic to my plans. He assured my parents – no problem whatsoever – I could take as much leave as I wanted to play bridge.
I didn’t go through the normal “counselling” system – where students select a college based on their marks. My parents sidestepped the counselling process and secured a seat for me in this college, via the “management quota” by paying a fees.
So far so good. I looked forward to college.
I had no idea of the nightmare to come.
The Modern Day Definition of Hell
My expectations of college were mercilessly shattered.
- The teachers were nasty.
- I didn’t relate to most of the students.
- Ragging was rampant.
- The environment was toxic.
- I didn’t learn anything relevant.
Every single day was a nightmare.
A Rule From the Teacher Rulebook: Be As Nasty As You Can
New engineering colleges were sprouting by the day.
If you think about it, there can’t be sufficient teachers to staff all these colleges. The teachers did not know what they were teaching. To mask this fact, they took it upon themselves to be nasty with the students.
The other student’s didn’t really care much. I took their nastiness to heart. I did not like my classroom experience at all. I went through the motions, and went to college everyday but experienced deep anguish hour after hour.
Teachers would find newer ways to hurl abuse at students each day.
One teacher openly declared that his job was to make life hell for students. He would spend entire 45-minute sessions going on a tirade against students that he picked on. He never picked on me – yet, I cringed at the poison he spewed for one hour each day. The worst part: he was good at his material. If he had focused on imparting his knowledge to the students, it would have been a different ball game.
Engineering Drawing: My Nemesis
Have you ever had a subject where you could not get it for the love of your life?
I did, for the first time in my life.
I did not get it.
And I was supposed to be a “good student”. How could this happen? I tried everything. Nothing worked.
And unsurprisingly, the teachers did not help me out, but berated me for my inabilities.
For the first time in my life, I failed a subject.
More harmfully, I told myself I was a failure.
I Quit College
I did the unthinkable – I quit college.
I was not going to subject myself to three more years of torture. No Siree Bob. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. But I could not take it any longer.
My Dad was stoic when I announced my decision. My Mom could not believe her ears (can you blame her?)
My Dad and his business partner were running a company in the US at the time. I went to the US on a dependent visa (my Dad was on a H1-B work visa). I applied to University of Maryland at the last minute, and they accepted me (which is unbelievable, now that I think about it).
People usually go to the US for better opportunities. I went to the US to escape from hell. It took me a lot of time to get over the trauma of the year-of-hell in college. My confidence and self-esteem hit a low, and I didn’t make the best of my experience as an undergraduate student at Maryland.
I kept things private – I didn’t tell many people that I quit college or that I went to the US. Those who found out I quit college in Chennai judged me. Those who found out I went to the US for undergrad envied me.
One Man’s Nightmare is Another Man’s Nostalgia
Some of my classmates from my year-in-hell college were lovely people.
One of my classmates is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever come across. He is innocence personified. I remain in sporadic touch with him, and consider it an honor. He had a rough first year as well. He is from West Bengal, and did not know a word of Tamil. He fell ill with jaundice, and missed several months of classes. The hostel bullies did not spare him and subjected him to ragging.
After I quit college, I lost touch with him. I regained touch with him in 2011, when I returned back to India from the US. We compared life notes. He fell in love with a fellow classmate and married her.
When I look back at the 2001-2002 academic year, I can enumerate one bad experience after another. When my friend looks back at college, he looks back with nostalgia. He refused to let himself get boxed down with the negatives. He looked at the nicer experiences he had. He met the love of his life here – the place was filled with warm memories for him.
Life really is about perspective.
- Life really is all about perspective. I could have altered my perspective and made the best out of college.
- Once I decided to quit college, I could have gone easy on myself and avoided the trauma.
- People who saw that I went to college in the US envied me. They had no idea about the scars I carried. When you see someone in a seemingly good position, you never know what troubles they carry with them.
Note: I started writing this piece for the os.me write challenge, but did not complete it. I’ve made peace with this piece of my life, and initially didn’t see the point of writing it. However, I’ve marvelled at the courage people have shown in sharing their experiences on os.me. I’ve benefited from their share – the idea that I’m not alone in my struggles, or that my ‘struggles’ pale in comparison. I have no idea how this may help anyone, but I’m writing my experience for what it is worth.
Image Credit: Nathan Wright from Unsplash