Well, here is how it goes. By the time I got into 10th grade, I was made to understand by the society in general that performing well in the board exam is a prerequisite for doing well later in life. I was made to believe that one’s percentage in boards forms the basis of comparison in determining how smart one is. And to make things worse, people used phrases like (I’m sure most of us must have heard it) “The first stepping stone” or “The first public examination”. For a normal 10th grader, all this can get quite intimidating. Therefore, I started studying quite a bit. I gave up the tennis that I had started playing a year back to save time to memorize some chemical equations. Reading for pleasure had gradually become a luxury and socializing had been curtailed to a great extent. All this went on for months before before the exams finally got over. When the results came out, I was quite elated to find out that my efforts had been rewarded well and I had crossed the 90% barrier. Not that I cared too much about the percentage but it sure made answering a lot of questions (about results) from officious acquaintances pretty easy.
A lot of us blame the society in general (and parents in particular) for directing us towards their accepted goals. Kids often blame their parents for being adamant and not letting them choose their intended career paths. But the fault isn’t entirely theirs. How many of us had our career paths charted out right after class XII? Most of us would answer in the negative but of course, for the minority that can, forcing them towards something else should be completely denounced.
Later that year, I took up science+math in 11th grade. When you have taken that combination in higher secondary, preparing for engineering entrances is implicit. And when you are preparing for engineering entrances, you are preparing for the IIT JEE. No one prepares specifically for AIEEE or BITSAT. Those are things that we do in addition to (or not do at all) preparing for the JEE.
So here I was, aiming at the IIT Entrances without ever having a given a thought to the fact whether this is what I wanted to do. I just found solace in the fact that almost everyone around me was doing the same thing. So I thought, when so many people are aiming at it, it must be the right thing to do. The other problem was that at that age, I did not know the kind of options I had or what I really wanted to do. Plus there were many things that favored preparing for the IITs. These were probably the only set of colleges (at the undergrad level) that used to get unparallel coverage by the media and evoked a lot of awe from the society in general. The JEE results were highly publicized and the top rankers almost had a celebrity status for a few days after the results. All this gradually led me into deciding that preparing for the IITs would be the best thing to do at that stage.
Gradually, I got engrossed into the JEE preparations. Life had become far worse than I had ever imagined it to be. I thought class 10th would be the time when I would work the hardest and after that things would ease but it was quite the opposite. Till 10th grade, it had just been school. Now I had to juggle school with FIITJEE 4 to 5 days a week. A normal day for me would be spending 6 hours in school, coming back and having lunch and then spending another 4 hours at the coaching center. A workload of more than 10 hours a day! It’s hard to fathom how I managed to retain energy after all this. Along with this, one had to manage tests in school and test series at coaching. Most of the days, after coming back from coaching, I simply did not have the energy to do anything else. Above all this, free advices were available in plenty. Some kept reminding me how important the year was for my future whereas others reiterated the importance of using every second well in the crucial year. Statements like “ Those who work hard in these two years, enjoy later and those who enjoy now will struggle later” annoyed me the most.
This routine went on for almost two years. As most of you reading this have already gone through the same grind, I'll skip the details. Finally, the D-Day came. All the effort that we had put in for the last two years had to culminate in the 6 hour marathon (the IIT-JEE paper) that we faced. The sheer thought that these are the 6 hours for which we have prepared, for the last 2 years was enough to tense me up totally. When I got the question paper, I was so nervous that I lost the first few minutes just thinking about how important this was for me. And in a competitive examination in India, where seconds can decide whether you get through or not, wasting a few minutes was way too much. I was pretty disappointed with the way I had given the examination. Leaving that aside, I started gearing up for the remaining exams as I knew that I didn’t stand a decent chance at IIT this year. The Sunday on which I gave the IIT JEE was the first in a string of examinations that I was to give in the following weeks. So the weeks ahead saw me giving the AIEEE exam, the VITEEE(officially pronounced “Vity” :D), the BITS Admission Test(BITSAT) and the WBJEE( I have no clue why I gave that!).
The next stage was one filled with a lot of uncertainty about where I would be headed for the next four years. Finally the results started coming out and to my surprise, I did make it through JEE Merit List 2006. The rank that I got was not good enough to get the B.Tech degrees that I wanted to enroll for at the IITs (except for maybe mining and metallurgical engineering which I had no intention of taking up). I got through most of the other examinations as well that I had given earlier. As I had never had a great fascination for engineering, I did not have any preference of the branch of engineering that I wanted to enroll in. I just wanted to get into the best college. Finally after weighing all my options, I decided that the best bet would be taking up admission at BITS Pilani. That’s where this story ends! For those interested in reading a little further, here's the link.
P.S. After four years, I can vouch that I made the right choice. Thanks BITS Pilani!