I was so sure of all the possibilities. I had absolutely no doubt about anything. I never hesitated for a moment to think about failure. It never occurred to me that failure, too, was a possibility.
Top marks in school. Top marks in high school. Top marks in college. Graduated from the top university in the country.
Top, top, top.
Topper, topper, topper.
85 percent, 90 percent, 98 percent!
I was on a roll. A constant roll.
Little did I know this roll was down a steep hill.
Every report card was a stamp on my character. 80 plus marks meant a stamp of approval. Yes, you are accepted. Anything below this meant a stamp of utter disappointment. This is the result of your hard work?
I enjoyed reading. I even enjoyed studying. It was a delight to peruse some concepts in a science textbook, or to scan the musings of a troubled writer.
But then they began to rate me on how well I could rewrite the concepts and musings.
It was a competition that seemed to have no end. We were shut up in a room and told to recite the alphabet, the water cycle, Newton’s Laws of Motions. We weren’t really sure why we were doing all this.
We did know we had to score well.
We did it for the marks.
I thought things would change when I got older. I got into the top university in the country with the highest hopes and expectations.
It was the same.
Teachers taught as well as they could. They taught the same old books by the same old writers talking about the same old things in the same old ways.
Students tried sneaking past papers. They rounded up each and every senior and shot them with questions about the teachers’ marking styles.
Is he lenient in marking? Ye wala marks deta hai kya? (Does this one give marks?) Iss wale ke course mai marks keise le sakta hai banda? (How can one score marks in this one’s course?)
Forget integrity. Forget respect. Honesty? Nah.
It was all about how many marks you could score.
Here I was. I had been through it all. I had used every means possible to get as many marks as possible. Yes, I had even cheated during the exams – several times. I had taken photos of question papers and leaked some past papers (I got cash for it). I even had to be a sycophant at times with some of the teachers, but when I thought about the 85 percent marks, I decided it was worth it. I sailed through, using every perceivable method. Hey, it got me a great CGPA.
Here I was.
An unemployed graduate.
Iss ki shaadi kab honi hai? (When is he getting married?)
Acha, abhi naukri nahin mili…(Ah, he doesn’t have a job yet.)
To abhi farigh betha hua hai?(So he’s not doing anything?)
The neighbours began to talk. Relatives couldn’t hold their tongues either – it was just such good gossip material. It became harder and harder to shut them out.
Isse kaho na ke dubara koshish karey naukri ke liye! (Tell him to try again for a job!)
Shaadi keise ho gi ab is ki?(How is he going to get married now?)
NUST ka graduate hai, chalo koi nahin, ho jaye ga inshAllah… Phir bhi, ajeeb baat hai…(He is a NUST graduate. Ah, never mind, it’ll happen by the will of God… But still, it’s pretty strange).
The elderly women looked at me without any of the pity they had in their words. Their hungry eyes couldn’t get enough of this juicy topic.
An unemployed man! Sitting at home! Ha!
They came again and again and again.
Everybody knew now.
It started with the bad dreams and night sweats. It escalated to hand tremors and random panic attacks. My parents noticed and immediately sent me to a psychologist. The psychologist asked me how I was feeling about life. How could I tell him what was going on in my mind?
How could I tell him I thought about everything that was wrong with this system? He knew this already. What could he possibly tell me to make me feel better?
He was as caught up in it as I was.
Was there a medicine to cure the weight of my thoughts?
Could there ever be a way out?
It’s so senseless.
Things, things, things.
More, more, more.
That’s all everybody around me seems to care about.
It has to end.
This has to stop.
Doctor isn’t helping. Family isn’t helping. Friends aren’t helping.
It’s a black hole that I can’t get out of.
Have I failed the system?
Or has it failed me?