August 2006 ( I dont remember the exact date and I wont even try try to remember it) ; After officially being accepted in this program, me and my mom came home in the evening with our raincoats and umbrellas dripping wet thanks to the ruthlessness of the Indian rain gods, yet more happy and satisfied than we had been in months, perhaps years. After going through the extreme torture that is the 12th grade and its board exams and various entrance tests that are the hallmark of the Indian education system, this was a day to celebrate indeed.
India has a different education system to the U.S of A and a student going through the formative years through 10th till 12th grade requires a mental and physical strength of superhuman levels. Generally kids opt for either one of 3 routes - Engineering , Medicine and Commerce. Arts forms a growing but woefully small minority. After graduating from school in 10th grade, we have to go through 2 years of junior college where we choose our broad academic area of study in either science, commerce or arts. All this sounds simple enough (so far) and it really is, at least on the surface. A normal child does not make this decision based on his own interest in most cases. There are a thousand things to consider, and it is enough to make one mental, certainly in my case. My dad was one of the best doctors before he passed away, and my entire family had been on my case to follow his legacy..'Son you are a natural doctor, take up science' ...another one said ' Beta! (son), I looked at your horoscope and theres simply gold written for u in commerce, go for it!, go for science or arts if you want to, but dont blame me if you end up losing everything and going bankrupt and begging on the streets in 2 months' ...clearly this was getting out of hand. Personally I wanted to pursue Arts, but there wasnt really any future in it anyway...ended up taking science in my local college. Mom happy, another aunt not so happy, fortune teller really not happy, but who cares? I was happy..all my friends were here, the area was great, the college was great, I enjoyed it. Then came 12th grade.
12th grade means board exams- HSC (Higher secondary school certificate), and various CETs (common entrance tests) to apply to engineering and medical colleges in the country. For the smart kids there is IIT-JEE ( the entrance exam to the most elite university in India - The Indian Institute of Technology). As if these tests werent good enough, the rotten cherry on top is the reservation quota, which is where politics and corruption make their way in the education system and manipulate the population and divide it based on caste and religion. A 'general' category student (one who is of the majority religion and caste) has less than 5% of the total number of seats in the college to choose from..everyone else gets to pick and choose first. Knowing that its indeed a very steep (concave even!) mountain to climb, students cannot rely on junior colleges with their poorly experienced and even more poorly paid faculty to prepare them adequately for the many D-days. The answer : Professional tutoring classes.
12 months and about 100000 rupees later, I was convinced that I should have rather gone to the Himalayas and meditated on a glacier. Dont get me wrong, I wasnt doing badly. This whole process however was frustrating me more and more every single day. I was giving exam after exam, not knowing whether the political scenario might suddenly change and and I wouldnt be able to get in a nice decent engineering college at all. All my batchmates were going through the same thing, and our professors constantly reminded us the importance of scoring not less than 95%...yea right! Not only does the grading system and exam pattern make this extremely difficult, but the fear of NOT getting in was making me hell nervous! Somehow I got through it all and by the end of May it was done...or was it?
Almost a month later (during which I at least got to enjoy the soccer world cup) the results were out, and although I didnt do badly, I still wasnt India's brightest Kid. Scorecard in hand , then came the final task of applying to all the colleges. I wont get much into the way this works now, but in a nutshell its like a lottery. Its mostly down to sheer luck. I , very obviously wasnt very happy at this, but knowing that there wasnt another option, had to deal with it.
I accidently discovered this course while on one of my rounds at Vidyalankar college to enquire about their engineering program seats availability. I saw it, knew this was it, and jumped at it. Asked mom, got her approval, asked my seniors and cousins who were Penn State alumni, and made the decision. PENN STATE! woooooooohooooo, away from this quicksand that is the Indian education system....in one of the best universities in the world!!
Now you know why me and mom were so happy that day...... came home dripping wet, I decided to call up one of my best friends and tell him about this news.....Picked up the phone and dialed..' Hello? Is Prasad there? I have some news..hey Prasad! Im going to Pennstate!! Isnt that cool? '
Prasad: " Wow dude! that IS cool....Isnt Penn in a south indian state? You will have to appear for their CET though, you ready? "
Me: ........................... *blank with anger and frustration* !@#!$@!#$!#W$