May. What a month. It’s the only month of the year which has the most varied amount of perceptions by a vast cross section of youngsters in India. To the average school going student, May is the last month of a summer vacation which ought to be spent having the maximum amount of fun, watching the IPL, having vacations to native places, visiting loving grandparents and other such relatives, etc. To the Tenth and Twelfth (2nd PU Student) it is a month of anticipation and tension: Of results, of answering entrance exams, and of apprehension about the future. To the average College-going student, it is the last month of the semester, often yearning of the years gone by where life was much simpler, not having to fret about studies, cramming for end semester papers, worrying about travel arrangements for that most yearned after long journey home to be reunited with family back home after the end of term, and what not, all at the same time!
Two years ago, I had just finished my 2nd PU finals (the equivalent of 12th Boards in Karnataka), which had gone well, and I had also answered one of the three entrance exams, the CET, the COMED K and the ENAT which I had been obliged to answer. I had answered the CET first, which was an unqualified disaster. It didn’t affect me on the same level as it did some of my other friends, being that I wasn’t ever the over ambitious sort, having known that my odds of clearing such entrance exams and more fearsome ones like the AIEEE and IIT JEE papers were so miniscule that I felt it wasn’t worth the torture of studying 24X7 for the two years of plus 2 just to face frustration and disappointment at the end of it all. I was even more fortunate that my parents never thought much of entrances, just ensuring that I gave the bare minimum to be assured of a seat in some engineering college. In a hyper competitive country like ours where three hour, or in this case one to one and a half hour long exams sealed our stations in life, that was like a big burden off my shoulders, having heard of horror stories of over zealous parents to pushed their children beyond the brink just to gain the bragging rights of having an NITian and IITian for a son or daughter. Respect to those among you, who bore it all and survived to tell the tale.
As I had said earlier, exam number one had ended and exam number two was coming up. At this point in time I was barely a few hours away from giving my ENAT paper. As my friends in MIT Manipal know, the ENAT paper is the entrance exam to our college. One needs to atleast answer this paper to be listed on the merit list or to have a chance at admission to the NRI (read as management) category. Let me make this clear. It was my life’s dream, up until then, that I ended up in a college like MIT Manipal. You could call naiveté on my part, but let me tell you, that even then, as I am now, I had always been enamoured by Manipal, the town that I had always been visiting ever since I could remember, given that my parents worked for KMC Mangalore. I remember staring the exhibitions at the Medical Museum, visiting the greens of End Point (which hadn’t been as heavily guarded then), having tea at Hotel Diana, and then stopping over at Kapu Beach on the way back home. On a subconscious level, Manipal represented everything that life held in store once I came of age. It was a different story, that I later came to know of places like DeeTee, SP, Sheila’s, Uncle’s Point, Blue Waters and the likes. That just made me ever more determined to join there. Anyone who’s grown up in Mangalore knows that it’s almost impossible to have an uninhibited social life without being the topic of idle gossip among the more conservative people in the city. Thus, in April 2010, I had arranged for all the details meticulously, having bought my prospectus, signed up for the entrance exam online, double and triple checking that the date and time and venue had been entered correctly, and then leaving the rest to fate.
And so my entrance exam had been scheduled at 5th May, or so, 2010, at 1:00 PM in the basement floor of MCODS Mangalore. I hadn’t really thought much of the ramifications of my paper, and was accompanied by my father’s PA. I had received the usual calls and SMSes wishing me good luck from my parents, relatives and friends, who knew how much getting into Manipal had meant. There I was, clad in my Man United Jersey and Denims, with a pen and rough paper in hand, looking utterly clueless and blank even as others around me circled with tension and last minute mugging of formulas, some being so pretentious that they were assured of my seat that they saw it fit to brag to me about it. I never paid much heed to them, just wanting the exam to get over.
The exam hall had finally opened up and I was greeted with a blast of the most frigid wind that could emanate from an air conditioner. I felt like I was about to enter a freezer. My feet turned to jelly, and my heartbeat sped up, even as I switched on my auto pilot mode, going through the motions of getting my identity verified, presenting the prerequisite documents, getting a photo taken of me on the spot, and signing a sworn affidavit that I would not commit an act of cheating. It was then that I realised the gravity of this moment, that this was what I had braced myself for. All of a sudden, I felt all those formulas, facts and figures dissolving into that giant black-hole of my brain. There was no way out now. I had to spend the next 90 minutes or so answering 240 questions, (forgive me if I have gotten my facts wrong here, it’s all a distant memory to me now) hoping against hope that I got a decent enough score to merit a Mechanical Engineering seat. And then, the Count-down timer began, ticking, whether I wanted it or not, inexorably, reminding me that time was limited and would eventually run out.
The first 50 questions seemed decent and reasonable. I’m not known to be able to think on my shoulders, and my ability to make flash decisions has never been my USP. Inspite of all these hindrances, I soldiered on, thinking logically, answering every question backed by what seemed to be sound logic. I had gained confidence with every question answered and by question 50 my swagger was back.
And then, as has been for the most of my life, fate wanted to mess around with me a bit. I was struck with the classic worst case scenario.
A full bladder.
It’s easy for one to say to just divert your mind and act like it doesn’t exist. But only when one is faced with such a problem that one realises that resistance is futile. The sheer discomfort and pangs of pain from withholding one’s bladder, topped by the mountain of unanswered questions was getting to me. I was between a rock and a hard place. I had to soldier on for one more hour. That one hour, was the most arduous and distressing hour of my life. With my eyes shut and my brain off track, every question seemed like gibberish. The options, all the more outlandish. And still the pain did not go away. To hell with well thought out answers, analytical thinking could take a hike as far as I was concerned. I had to finish this paper and get the hell out.
And thus began the biggest gamble of my student life. It had come down to seeing which option appealed the most. I quickly glanced through each answer, and randomly clicking on Option A,B,C, or D. Some were straightforward, and some were so ridiculously complicated that I felt justified in my approach. And my race against the timer was truly becoming a close one at that. At question 200 I had ten minutes left. At question 220 I had 4 minutes left. It was a mad scramble to read and click, not necessarily in that order. And when the last second counted down I still had one last question left. Without reading the question at all I answered the last question.
The farce was complete.
The only good thing about the ENAT paper was that it displays your result straight away. For all this comedy of errors I had scored a 138 out of 240. I glanced at the score once, felt reassured, and made a mad dash for the mens room. That, friends, was the most content trip I ever had to a men’s room. It was over. It didn’t matter that I had one more entrance exam left to give. I was exhausted. I never really gave any serious thought to the COMED paper. It proceeded on similar lines. The past two years had felt like a blur now. It didn’t matter that result season lay ahead.
Two weeks later, all my doubts were answered. I scored 92% in my boards, 1611th rank in CET, 1864th in ENAT, and 1839th in COMEDK. Nothing stellar, but it was something that made me feel happy about my efforts. I didn’t bother going to counselling for CET and COMEDK, and only went to MIT Manipal, and got that Mech seat on the day of my counselling itself. It never felt any better to get what I had aimed at all my life. My journey in Manipal was truly, and finally, about to start.
I am not going to say that life in Manipal has been a bed of roses. It has had it’s fair share of highs and lows, experiencing the euphoria and sobering reality alternatively. But I’m still here, four semesters later, halfway through my course, having faced my fears and learned more about myself as a person, having met some of the most amazing people, having had some of the most amazing experiences, some of which I have captured in my writings, many of which far too confidential to divulge. And if just the ones that I have shared with you have sounded awesome, you have no clue what really goes on in this quaint little University Town.
And no, I’m not going to cap off this story with the old Manipal cliché “Inspired. By Life.”
It’s a lot more than that. A hell Of a lot more than that.