This article has been submitted by Shreya Bhattacharya for the CLATGyan Blog Post Writing Competition. If you think this article is a good read, ‘Like’ this article on Facebook (the button is at the bottom of this piece) or post a comment using the ‘comments’ section below.
The other day, a certain IIM-A guy who was teaching our class how to handle personal interviews, asked me a seemingly trivial, cursory question which supposedly most interviews start with- “Tell me about yourself”. I had five minutes. And I for the first time in my life, experienced what it feels like to have your lips zipped- not because I had nothing to say, but because I had too much to say. I did not know how to compress (almost) eighteen years of a checkered life into five minutes. That’s when it really struck me: even though I was eighteen I did not have any definite answer to that simple question and just as I was about to ride the self-loathing, self-censuring train, I asked myself “But then, is anyone else ever really so sure?”
Mr./Mrs./Miss Interviewer, if you ask me the question “Who am I?”, where would I begin? Do I start from what I am now? Or do I go back to where I come from? Do I begin by telling you that I am from the North East and it’s the most beautiful, pristine place I’ve ever been to? If you ask me why I don’t look “tribal”, I’ll probably have to resist very hard not snapping back at you and try harder at mustering supernatural willpower and tell you not all people in the North East have Mongoloid features (or commonly referred to by the trite term chinki). And before you go ahead and ask me about the “jungles” (we get that a lot), I’m going to tell you that we are not primitive carnivores living primordial lives (sorry I burst your bubble/stereotype). I’ll probably go ahead and tell you we are the same as you are…we have sensitive complex people with the same dreams and disappointments that the people in rest ofIndia have.
Assam, the place where I come from, is often portrayed as the state caught in a vicious web of strife and insurgency. It’s true, that’s one side of our story but please don’t make it the only story. I had a happy childhood like anyone of you did, running around, jumping into lotus tanks (or what I call the intended accidents), learning to ride a bicycle but tumbling into a drain in the effort, the scrapes, cuts, and the subsequent hiding of these from your parents because Dettol stung, the ambitions of bottling clouds to make pillows so that you could eat while you slept (because after all, the 5 year old me genuinely believed clouds were God’s inexhaustible storehouse of cotton candy).
No denying that there were bomb blasts and the notorious secret killings happening at that time but that is not the only thing that happened. I refuse to look back with pity or despair at my childhood growing up in a volatile state, simply because there is no need.
You might ask me what has been my biggest achievement in life till now and you’ll probably want to hear about stellar scores and big shot awards and prizes. And I could happily oblige you by quipping what you want to hear. But then, I wouldn’t exactly be telling you what I would really like to tell you. The truth is this- I had my biggest achievement a month short of my sixth birthday. I was about to graduate from my blaringly red, obsessively loved tricycle (Mr. Reddie with Mickey Mouse stickers, I miss you, RIP, but then I digress…back to original story) to an “adult, grown up” bicycle. So when I started out I had one of my older brothers holding the cycle while I worked on the pedals. I worked furiously on the pedals while he helplessly ran to keep up with his speeding hands. I did not know when he let go, but he did and I kept on riding for quite a while. But disaster struck when I looked behind me and saw that he had let go and I still remember the fear that gripped me and how I subsequently crashed. No, this is not a story about how I tried against the odds until I succeeded…as an anti climax to my little anecdote- I never really learnt how to ride a bicycle.
But what I learnt is that fear can cripple you and make you incapable of doing things you actually can do. I mean, I was perfectly riding the cycle without any help. It was only after I saw I was on my own that fear got the better of me. Biggest epiphany of my life. On hindsight, I think there’s a bigger lesson to be learnt form my bicycling fiasco- life is the cycle and we are the riders. You can not expect someone to be always behind you, supporting you. At some point of time, sooner or later, you have to take over the reigns of your life alone. Of course, you’ll have your parents and friends standing by the side cheering you on, but at the end of the day, they can’t pedal for you. It’s your cycle- ride it. You’ll fall, oh yes, and you’ll get bumps and scrapes (also Dettol to go with that) but you’ll learn so much on that bumpy ride.
And Mr./Mrs./Miss Interviewer, you know what my biggest achievement in life will be? To look back at my life and say I did finally learn to ride my cycle (literally and metaphorically) and exiled fear to a long hibernation. To look back and say “I did not just exist, I lived.”
There is this poem by Sarah Kay, ‘If I Were To Have A Daughter’, which I love…there is one part where she says “ I’ll tell my daughter that the world is made of sugar- it can crumble- but please don’t be afraid to stick out your tongue and taste it”
So, maybe be I can now tell you about myself in two minutes flat- “I’m a wanna-be bicycle rider and a sugar taster”. (On second thoughts, you might just recommend me to a mental institution rather than your college, after you hear that answer, but well.)
A CLAT 2012 aspirant-slash-hopeful-slash-wishful thinker