Starting today, ‘My dear students’, a fortnightly column that is a conversation with young minds on current events, books, popular culture — just about anything that’s worth talking over a cup of coffee
My dear students,
I envy you. At the end of this year’s admission season, you would have entered some stream of education or the other — engineering, medicine, design, architecture, law, commerce, management and others. You are going into higher education bright eyed and bushy tailed, in a world which is both woefully and wonderfully different from what you are used to. There will be challenges and there will be heartbreak but there will also be plenty of opportunities to have fun, to wonder, to play, to interact with interesting people and to make friends for a lifetime.
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But whatever you do, try not to be focused only in your area. There’s nothing more dreary than just doing only what you are supposed to do. Our entrance exams have a tendency to turn us into educated hacks, with a laser-like attention on the multiple-choice hustle that will serve us best. But life is not an exam, not yet, at any rate. Try to expand your interests. Read some fiction, even if it’s boring. Play a musical instrument, or learn a new sport or paint. Or even read widely beyond your subject. Yes, read, not watch. Your Instagram algorithms have convinced most people that images and videos are the best way to impart information. They are not. They will fill your brain without fulfilling it. A good book of fiction or non-fiction will exercise your imagination and make you more interesting. Watch Netflix when you are exhausted but do not exhaust Netflix.
Try not to take your life seriously. The world is full of serious men and women. Avoid them. They will tell you to work hard, take your responsibilities seriously and improve your grades. Avoid listening to them. Asking someone to work hard has never made that person work hard. Grades are important but I know far too many people who have had low to middling grades and have made a name for themselves in the world outside to believe in grade heaven. What’s terribly important is to figure out what you love to do. It will take some time for you to get to know yourself better. A good university will help you understand and work towards the best version of yourself. At the same time, remember that no one gets to do what they love all the time. Tedium is part of life. Follow the 80/20 rule. If you are happy doing whatever it is you are doing 80% of the time, you are in good shape.
Don’t let your mistakes hamper you; learn from them and move on. Trust me, you are young and therefore prone to enthusiasm and foolishness, often at the same time. You will do silly things, fall in with the wrong crowd, ignore the people who might want to help you, hesitate when you need to grab opportunities. As long as you are being honest with yourself, mistakes are something you can learn to live with, and if you are lucky, you can even learn from them.
Never miss any class trips, particularly if they are termed as educational. No educational trip in India is ever only about the education. Class trips will help you view your friends in a different light, away from their personas in the classroom. Some lasting friendships have been made on class trips, as have lasting romances, but this is something you probably know already.
Speaking of friends, make sure you keep your friends close, and spend hours with them aimlessly. I am not being sarcastic here. University is the only time in your life when you can spend hours with your mates without a worry in the world. When I go to the canteen at my University, I am nostalgic about the endless cups of coffee I drank there while conversing with my friends on matters that were most certainly pointless. I am at the same university now as its registrar. When I visit the same canteen, my attention is elsewhere. I want to sit down and talk to people but I am distracted. The coffee is still weak but instead of drinking bucketloads of it, I am thinking of talking to the vendor about it. Just hanging around with friends and shooting the breeze appears to be an episode from another lifetime. I envy you.
The writer is Registrar, National Law School of India University, Bangalore.