Where is my Degree?

No V-C, no convocation. Forgotten souls wait for their hard-earned degrees.

A recent news article brought relief on a paper platter to education administrators, academicians and countless students, including me,  although it soon came close to broiling the keener section of this same audience.

It was announced that Anna University and Madras University were going ahead to conduct the long-delayed convocation for their students without the customary signature of the Vice-Chancellor, who is yet to be found in the aftermath of the political tumult now identifying Tamil Nadu (if there ever is an aftermath). Speaking for the longing undergraduates, who had, for many months, been experiencing phases of eager anticipation and sullen disappointment in a cycle, I have to say the news was a distant glimmer of sunshine. However, after only a day, reports carrying criticisms of this move surfaced, plunging me and my clan into the darkness of realisation.


Original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran*

Though many of my batchmates have either joined work or flown to Trumpian and European lands for their higher studies, the feeling of deficiency with respect to our degrees has always fleeted before every mind. Until recently, I have been receiving WhatsApp messages from New Jersey and Colorado asking me if there was any news concerning the awarding of degrees. Even relatives who are regular followers of local news, wanting to see me in the black robe, made an occasional enquiry, only to receive the same answer from me. My mother, top of all, used to ask me now and then, leading me to wonder how concerned she was in my academic affairs; but it turned out she wished to visit my college for one last time before the expiry of all excuses. Selfish little lady! So when the announcement was made that degrees would be awarded carrying the signature of the higher education secretary instead, the ‘At last!’ feeling is only understandable.

But as all doesn’t end well in our times, reports voicing the opinions of students and academicians, that certificates signed this way would be of no value outside of India, came the very next day. It was freshly shocking to read a senior professor claim that these certificates would not be recognised in foreign universities, and that they would have to be issued again later with the V-C’s credential. That faculty unions have warned of ‘consequences’ if the convocation is conducted this way, some hinting at protests, throws light on the negative significance of this move.

About a month ago, my college juniors joked that my batch would receive its degree certificates alongside them next year. I and my classmates simply dismissed the comment then. But now, looking at the progress of the situation, it does feel acceptable to receive my degree with my juniors and stand robed next to them, which of course is subject to the hope that the shadow cast by political clouds on our universities will clear away by then.

Anyways, I saw this morning a WhatsApp status update of my classmate holding the degree of his one-year MS course and standing in the foreground of a lush green lawn and a skyscraper not fully covered in the frame. MS before B.Tech. Funny times!


*You can find her other amazing artworks here.

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The Last Exam

The bulbous fan above my head whines whisperingly as it goes round and round, trying its best to counteract the heat that is somehow present all about me. The bright green leaves to my right, across the grilled window whose laminated door doesn’t budge more than enough to give only a small opening, rustle noisily every time a fresh gush of wind blows past them. Occasionally a dog is seen running amid the plants and overgrown shrubs outside. Occasionally the footsteps of the Invigilator are heard softly patting on the newly tiled floor (only to the keen listener). My head instinctively turns (from the lined paper and the freshly pressed ink on it) to the source of the monotonously rhythmic patter. But then, as if fearing the lady would misconstrue my turning of head, I swiftly bring it back to my answer sheet.

But my head doesn’t stay there for even a stretch of minutes. Not because the paper is uninteresting or tough or anything that a paper could unusually be, but it is my last exam… not for the semester or the academic year, but for life.

My mind is revolving around countless matters – the finality I was experiencing, about what I would experience after the imminent end, about last days of college life and the resulting memories, and of course, that I need to write on this subject, and eventually how I am going to write.  (To not let the memory of this moment fade away, I close my eyes and take in the visuals and sounds around me one by one. The peace hovering above me leads me to think if there is anything that my receptive mind could capture other than the omnipresent stillness.)

Sudden mental reminders of the unanswered questions before me bring my eyes back to them and my fingers upon the answer sheet. I write, with the finality now weighing more intensively on my mind. My writing (requiring not much thinking since the test is conducted by Anna University – where what matters is legible presentation characterised by underlined text, and a quantum of knowledge in the subject the exam is on) often slackens in its course, and even pauses undecidedly now and then. My senses register the same sights and sounds. The same thoughts return, in the same order.

In due course, the Rubicon is crossed; I finish the paper. I check its front and back (both containing important information filled by me) twice very scrutinisingly. Or wait. I think I checked thrice – a very unnecessary effort, but I guess I have got OCD. I then hold my answer sheet in my hands and see it… like a lover cupping the cheeks of his girl for one last time before letting her board the train waiting to take her far, very far from him. I try to take in much of the answer sheet, even its smell, but I caution myself thinking what others surrounding me would think when they see a guy passionately sniffing his answer sheet with closed eyes. Ooh, indeed a strange sight it would be!

Well then, the bell sounds its strident sound and lets me know that it is all over. The train has let out its Boom! Or whatever sound it naturally lets off.

The invigilator – a seemingly very young woman wrapped in a crisply ironed sari – walks to me and extends her hand. The train has started its slow, smoky chugging, and it is time the pining lover allowed his girl to go aboard.

I tighten my grip on the answer sheet and extend my hand inch-by-inch. The other end is gripped by the lady. But I still don’t let go of the thick booklet. It would have seemed like I and the lady were involved in a tug-of-war, but then no one cares to notice; the end of exams and the beginning of a new phase of life is working on them positively. Eventually, after a second (it felt like many hard minutes) I loosen the grip. My booklet is unceremoniously being taken away to the next table where my classmate is waiting to be relieved of the burden in her hand.

Maybe I shouldn’t get too emotional about what is trivial to the world. Or maybe, I just shouldn’t have bothered about others’ opinions and gone ahead and kissed my booklet.

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