30/100: An Open Letter to Osmania University

 

 

The 27th of December, 2016 is a date I will commit to memory so I can relive it over and over and do naught but laugh at the sheer irony of affairs.

After missing out on an entire year of university due to my travels, I came back earlier this year to catch up with all of the pending work. As such, I had given exams during the months of October, November and December for the academic year that I had missed, the results of which exams were declared today- the 27th of December, 2016.

I had done respectably well within my expectations in everything but English.

Some background before I go any further- my childhood was marked by episodes of reading frenzies; sometimes Enid Blyton would have fallen prey, other instances it was either Rowling, Tolkien or Dahl. Fifth grade had me attempting to form my own cricket club a la Swaminathan from Narayan’s timeless Malgudi Days whilst supplementing this initial foray into Indian fiction with as many copies of Asterix and Tintin as I could lay my hands on. The following summer found me nose-deep in my sister’s copy of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, my self-assigned project for the holidays. Then came along the ouster from my school’s Sports’ Day program for my display of insufficient interest in participation, which led to my seeking refuge within the school library, the inhabitants of which were scoured from shelf to shelf with a carnivorous appetite. Growing up meant moving on from Hardy Boys, Artemis Fowl and the Anthony Horowitz mania to Archer, Crichton and MacLean. Soon, Doyle and Forsyth had joined the menu too along with the likes of Tolstoy, Asimov and Austen. By then, Shakespeare had become a regular holiday affair. Finishing school was marked by my first tryst with Dostoyevsky through The Idiot- Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov followed. Eleventh grade was a storm of Hosseini, Saki, and RR Martin interspersed with the casual swim in British and American TV. Twelfth grade witnessed my growing obsession with translated Japanese literature and manga which ended with the best relapse I had never asked for- Crime and Punishment.

I then made the decision of joining a college affiliated to Osmania University, which holds a monopoly in this sort of thing. It was perhaps towards the end of my first year when I discovered the university’s motto, printed on the calendars they issued: ‘A University with Potential for Excellence’. It depressed me to no end, for it reeked of blatant complacency; ergo, the University was well aware that it was within reach of attaining excellence but was satisfied with just being aware of the fact and doing nothing about it.That was when I had departed for my travels- with no clear date of return in sight, for I was dissatisfied with the quality of my education. By then, the term ‘education’ seemed almost like an euphemism for a curriculum which asked for nothing but the mere consumption of data and its subsequent vomiting on the exam paper.

The past two years were very special, for I had managed to expand my reading horizon. Garcia Marquez, Allende, Rushdie, Sabato, Nasreen, Murakami, Mukherjee, Seth and more recently, Beatty, were all enjoyed with mounting relish. I had finally polished off the works of Virginia Woolf and Joyce, accompanied by the occasional doses of Heller and Vonnegut, among others.

So considering all the information I have just shared, you would not totally misunderstand my imaginable disappointment after discovering that I had failed my English exam- scoring an abysmal 30 marks out of 100. The solution is simple- wait for the revaluation dates to come out, pay the fee and have my paper reexamined so I can clear this backlog.

However, I refuse to be comforted by this. What the university has done is not a mere oversight but failing the hopes a student vests in them. This particular English paper had not been a bad one. I had expected to score anything over eighty-five on hundred after possible mistakes in answering questions about the synonyms of Latin terminology and the technicalities of grammar, for I had never made the effort of learning them.

What you are doing is just plain unfair. I do not understand why I have to pay for you to correct your own mistake just like how I do not understand why the system thinks it is okay to ask students to watermark their A4 sheets before writing their records. I have to write seven records this year wherein each record averages at 70-80 pages. Watermarking an entire ream of paper along with the numerous print outs and the mandatory spiral binding is an expensive affair and I don’t understand why it is okay to demand such things of a student. What is the point of making ‘Environmental Science’ a mandatory paper and then making us go through this entire exercise of writing on so much paper, paper which is just bundled up and thrown into storage? What is the point of having us learn coding in different languages and then have us write those codes on paper, where they cannot even be complied or applied? Why this hypocrisy, Osmania?

Thankfully, the marks you have given me for my English paper have cleared any doubts I may have had about the system. 30 marks out of 100 is what I get for having explored literature that is for most of my peers, unheard of. 30 on 100 is what you give me for being passionate about the English language and working for the longest time to only further cultivate this interest. 30 on 100  also tells me why you will always be stuck at just having  the potential for excellence, but never excellence in itself. 30 on 100 is also what will be relegated to a dark and dank recess in my brain as I curl up with The Enchantress of Florence by Rushdie.

Disclaimer: Through this post, I do not mean to slander the university in any way. I respect its immense outreach and how it empowers students from all walks of life but that in no way excuses this shoddy handling of affairs. My examinations were postponed thrice. The dates given, in one instance, were not the actual dates. One of my invigilators at one of my centers even asked me for 2,000 rupees so he could give me good marks. And now this, 30 on 100. It is time we let the university know its standards cannot be a set of such vast compromises on so many levels.

Thoughts on Murakami’s Norwegian Wood

norwegian-wood-cover

 

Hailed as Murakami’s defining novel that had become so popular in Japan that it forced him to retreat deep inside European retreats in Greece and Italy, it somewhat came as a surprise that I read Norwegian Wood so late in my career as a reader of fiction.

I bought it at a tremendously discounted price at Mumbai’s glorious Flora Fountain and started digging into it on my bus ride back home. It strung strings deep, deep inside. That’s the beauty of it, Toru Watanabe is so ordinary and plain that there is some of him inside each one of us, though I can’t be bothered with alcohol and women in the same way.

I am sure the book is autobiographical to a large extent (a point heatedly debated by Murakami) but my point is, which work of fiction isn’t? After all, fiction is fragments of reality, sometimes a few, sometimes several, woven together using the threads of imagination. The proportion between the real part and the imagined part varies, but the underlying composition is the same thus making way for genres in fiction.

It was three quarters an hour past midnight earlier today when I had promised myself I’d read just a chapter and then sleep. I slept at a quarter to five in the morning, after having finished the book. In that time, I had read the book cover-to-cover, re-reading several parts of it and just, on the whole, had let myself be swept away by Watanabe’s endearingly dispassionate detachment. It is addictive, this book, one of the few where you can open any page and read till any other, and still walk away with a lot of understanding and clarity. No wonder it swept the Japanese youth off their feet back then, no wonder it propelled Murakami to such stardom.

As to my thoughts on the characteristically cryptic ending- all along, for Watanabe, the memory of Kizuki’s death-by-suicide haunts him, leaving him convinced that death is but something you wake up and stare at everyday and not a distant harsh truth as often misconstrued. He is, however, convinced that it is an invisible face that Death has and not a living, breathing and dying one. To me, Naoko is the death Watanabe refers to, the death that is a part of life, the death we nurture by living our lives. She is always there- teetering on the edge of the wall separating the existing from the existed, a place Watanabe unknowingly gets sucked into because of his love for her.

Till the moment she passes away, Toru always had death with him in the form of his memories of Naoko, giving him that detachment from life in general on account of his pull towards something that was dying.

Which is why, in the end when Watanabe calls Midori and doesn’t know where he is, it represents that he is unfamiliar with the concept of life wholly devoid of death’s baleful gaze. Midori represents that spark of life which is the only thing that can light Watanabe’s way out of the dark tunnel of the dead and the long gone.

Norwegian Wood will always hold a special place in my head- it was every bit more magnificent than I had ever expected it to be. It was as naked and simple as life generally is- no grand plots, no groundbreaking ideas and other such things. It’s beauty lies in its honesty and in its lack of internal bias or favour for after all, the mills grind slowly and steadily for us all.