Before I left Bangalore, I was swamped with friends from my school who insisted on meeting me. Out of courtesy, and also perhaps an abiding curiosity, I agreed. I had obviously expected that people would have changed. But what I realized most importantly, was that we had become what our conversations reflected. They were an odd mixture of the legacy of the nurturing of school combined with the opinions that we had formed on grater interaction with the outside world.
Most of my schooling happened on two sides of the same road. Crossing the huge main road that divided both campuses seemed like crossing the gulf to another world. Until tenth grade, I was in a school of very modest resources. The only thing it could boast of was a huge campus that was shared with a convent and a cathedral. An institution with paramount importance to discipline, this institution seem to engulf me in its own bubble of reality. This semi-isolation emphasized the focus of my interests to the people and ideas within the campus. When my life was so strictly organized, there was very little I had to worry about. It was only when I would leave school that it would strike me that there was very little beyond academic sustenance that my school had to interest me.
This internalization lead to a group-ism culture as we grew up and were trying to associate ourselves with our perceptions of the outside world. As one of the few who had evaded being tied down to any one specific group of classmates, I came to realize that there was a lot more to people than met the surface. For example, one of my most cheerful classmates had a job washing dishes so that she could afford the shoes that were a part of the school uniform. Not once did her hardships reflect in her demeanor, something which I admired her for.
As the self-established misfit, I was perhaps not as teary-eyed as some of my other classmates when I graduated from this institution. My curiosity was raring and I thought I was ready to go out into the world. My academic performance allowed me to enroll in the one of the best schools in the city, right across the road.
I don’t think I can capture just how vast the difference between the two environments was. Literally, I experienced a culture shock my first few days there. For a school that was “affluent”, there was an increasingly marked exposure to other schools and other academic environments. The sheer resources available to me were obviously so much more. But what really struck me was the people, the social culture of this new school.
Discipline was one of the first casualties of the moral curriculum. The school offered so many extra-curricular activities and so many brilliant opportunities, that it was simply impossible for everyone to adhere to the schedule. A social life was a sort of mandate among most of the people. I opened up to be a completely new person here. I learned how to manage people, and for the first time in my life, made to the coveted student council. There was a lot of infighting between students and the prefect body, and everyone who was anyone had a world just beyond the academic demands of school, which made schedules rather spontaneous.
I felt the increased expectations that come with a student of some authority over my peers. My friends expected me to treat them as before, to extend my privileges over them enabling them to get away with what they shouldn’t be able to by virtue of our affiliation. My teachers expected me to set an example for them by establishing the difference very firmly. As someone who had been an outcast for quite a while, I wasn’t quite so willing to let go of my large, nascent friend-base.
But it wasn’t as rosy as it appeared. I had been in the school for one year and I made it to the student council, bypassing all the other people who wanted to hold that position and had attended the school all their life. Quite understandably, they were not too pleased with my nomination. I began to lose some friends. In order to contain this attrition, I treated them as equals. I even let them get away with several violations just so I could get back their trust and their supposed company. I was too immature and too poor a judge of human character to know that some people should just be left alone. People were envious of me for wielding some elitist privileges, but I would have gladly swapped the stress of the responsibilities with anyone else. As unpleasant at it may sound, it was still a very formative experience and I am immensely grateful to the school for letting me discover the managerial side of myself.
What struck me as odd was that this school, with all of its purported reputation, had very few students who were truly driven to do something. It seemed as though they were merely drifting through life, not knowing what to choose from the vast array of options available to them. This was such a contrast to my previous school, where discipline had channeled me. Instead of being focused, my energy was now being dispersed over a wide array of possibilities. Luckily for me, I knew exactly which one of them was going to work out for me. But there were several people, who came from families that were in the upper socioeconomic bracket of society, who were lost. Besides doing well on some class tests and networking with as many people of the opposite sex, they really did not know what else there was to their life. Yet, they claimed they had more “exposure” to the world.
I will always cherish the people from this school who inspired me to take pride in my difference. Even in this mass of aimless people, there were still a few whose enthusiasm served as a wake up call. I had enough of running after people who claimed to be my friends and desperately trying to forge new contacts with people who were clearly indifferent. I had to appreciate the ones who were still with me and I am unbelievably thankful to them. These people allowed me to let my weak side show and still encouraged me to think of the bigger picture.
I felt very strongly sometimes about how the people in this school seemed to take so many things for granted. They expected honor and privilege and the “good things of life” to come to them on a silver platter, all dressed up in pretty packaging. Even then, they would simply sit in class, trying to be rebellious, perpetually petulant. So different from the girl in my old school, who struggled for the basics of her education through hard circumstances and still turned up with the brightest smile I’d ever seen. Some of these people taught me that education, in itself, is a privilege. Others taught me how to not treat the people and institutions who formed the fundamentals of my exposure to this world.
One of my reunions with the people of the new school turned out to be very boring. While they were still beyond the confines of school, all they wanted to do was just gossip. It seemed as though their lives revolved around pop culture and stereotypes and boys. I had flown in from New York, and from all the different experiences they could have asked about it, they just wanted to know what the pop-culture/stereotypes/boys were “really” like. For two hours, they compared my narratives with their preconceptions and then moved on to discuss the equivalent of other people’s lives. There were two other friends there who had more pertinent (and less annoying, I might add) questions to ask, but their queries were brutally cut short by the deluge of useless data.
I understand that I might have come off as rather judgmental in this piece, but it strikes me as rather arrogant of people to assume that only these facets of a person’s life can be interesting. It surprises me even more that this sort of conversation annoys me now, when I had survived two years of listening to it. I guess I’ve just crossed another gulf to another world, while they’re still firmly rooted where they are.