“Porikkhar date beriyeche?”
Have the examination dates been released?
This question is asked by two sets of people – the first, by students, out of genuine ignorance; the other, when it’s a rhetorical query made by the relatives and neighbours of the same students.
Exams remain a daunting prospect for most of us, especially the ones who specialise in procrastination – something which we all suffered with as classes moved online during the lockdown.
But we would find our own ways to break the monotony of a teacher speaking into their webcam during the class. We would look at each other and exchange smiles, just like we’d do in class, sitting in the backbenches.
“Why are you laughing, Samiksha?” my psychology teacher enquired, in the middle of one such class. Only moments before, I had privately messaged her an observation. She must have seen the notification and laughed, oblivious to the new arrangement we found inside the virtual classroom.
“Nothing ma’am!” Samiksha replied. “It’s just that I saw Abhijato’s face… And I found it funny.”
As far as the improvisation goes, I don’t think she would ever want to willingly join a theatre club. But it were moments like these that allowed me and my friends to retain our sanity during such an eventful year – so much so that we forgot about Amphan even before our internet connections were fully restored after the cyclone had passed through our city.
These moments came few and far in between our college preparation and online exams. But now our preliminary tests have ended too, and most institutions have announced indefinite study leaves till they figure out a schedule for conducting our practical examinations.
This session is my final one as a school student – and it has only felt like a year-long study leave when I’ve had nowhere to go except to my study table, and nothing to turn to except the virtual world for recreation.
“Porikkhar date beriyeche?”
The relatives will start calling up my mother now, and want to have a word with me. “This is the most important exam of your life,” someone will say. “Why on earth did a student as bright as you study Humanities?” another would enquire. And I’m sure someone with poor network on a video call will end up asking, “Do you remember me?” One never does, but this time, I shall blame it on the internet connection rather than my sketchy memory as an infant.
They will follow this up with their version of a pep talk. Some of it will be well-intentioned, but most of it will be cliched. As a student in Class 12, there is neither a tip nor a trick I haven’t heard of yet. But I shall nod and smile instinctively at whatever my relatives say – even if we’re on a phone call where they can only imagine how much of a beard I’ve grown since the last time they saw me. They’ll call back only once the board exams are over, and once again, when the results will be declared – it would be time to start asking me about my college admission then.
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For me, though, college remains both a distant prospect and an imminent source of anxiety to accompany the dread which shall settle in now that my isolation is no longer interspersed with regular interaction with my peers.
My mathematics textbook collects layers of dust in an abandoned corner of my room. I tell my mother this is because I’ve opted for watching video tutorials and consulting online solutions instead. She does not buy this excuse and asks me to start studying. I hold up a worn-out notebook to prove that I’ve been practising already. The truth lies somewhere in the middle – I have been a part-time student for most of this year. I must put in the extra hours before I no longer find myself one.
There was a point in the middle of a never-ending lockdown when I was desperate to step out and be anywhere except my own home. The fatigue of endlessly peering over my textbooks and strutting around a small apartment with no one to talk to except my parents had gotten to me.
The lockdown ended. I made a schedule to go out on morning walks, meet people in the real world, and rediscover how it feels like to walk on crowded streets where people do not have an encouraging sense of hygiene.
A trade-off happened this year too, which began in March 2020 for board students, and will continue till June 2021. I traded in social life – and all the memories I could have made under the rooftop of my alma mater for one last time – for more time to study within the confines of my privileged household.
Perhaps it is unfair to complain, but the fear of isolation fatigue has crept into me once more. My friends in the Science stream have already abandoned leisure for the next couple of months as they prepare for one entrance exam after another, and then another. I have appeared for a few conducted by private universities myself. But now, all my friends will finally start going offline and burying themselves in their books.
I, on the other hand, plan to hold on to the things that keep me alive – my novels, my playlists, and my belief that there remains enough time to balance my passion(s) with my studies while hoping to excel in both.
You might call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. The next few months are going to be a challenge for the best of us, and especially for the laziest of us.
“Porikkhar date beriyeche? It’s the most important phase of your life. Study, but also have fun – there’s no use of all this studying if you don’t come out of it as a better person,” my grandmother said today.
Well, some relatives might not be that bad, after all.
Abhijato Sensarma is an 18-year-old student from Kolkata who can be reached on Twitter and Instagram @ob_jato. His works have been published in The Guardian, The Telegraph in Schools, The Statesman’s Voices and he has won TOI’s Write India competition twice.