Tenth grade is pretty crucial for an Indian teenager, as I often like to complain. In one of the most academically competitive societies in the world (a statistic I assume is correct), your performance in the second year of your high school career is quite defining, and only slightly less important than your performance in the last. Right from the first class in the year, we hear about how hard we’re going to have to work if we want to get somewhere in life, about how difficult this year is going to be and how it’s not for messing around, how it’s infinitely more difficult than ninth grade, how much your marks matter, and endless lectures about not missing class and minimizing extracurriculars.

While these lectures go on, our all-girls private school classroom is divided into three broad groups of people. Group 1: The people who listen to every word and even take notes. Actual notes. It’s ridiculous. We’ve been hearing variations of the Tenth Grade Lecture since we learned to write. The exam is so important that family members discuss the possible outcomes in front of us right from kindergarten. Listening to all that nonsense is gruelling. And yet, these people feel the need to write down the physical evidence of the pressure we undergo . Through the course of the year, these people perform well or at least decently for every test there is, staying up all night studying and taking notes and editing notes and tearing up notes and rewriting notes and borrowing notes and at the last possible moment, they falter, and they fall short of the performance they would be able to give if they’d just taken a break every now and then.

Moving on, group two: The people who pretend they’re listening, nod along seriously, and are actually probably thinking about their latest crush, or the box of chocolates they have waiting at home, or the newest One Direction song. (Don’t question it. It’s a ‘thing’ at our school. One Direction is apparently second only to God. I personally don’t get it.) If you looked closely at their receptive faces, you would think that they’re high. But they’re not, because fifteen year-old Indian girls who go to expensive and prestigious private schools don’t get high. They don’t. It’s also a punishable offence, so there. Anyway, through the course of the year, these people kind of..float along. They fail a few tests, pass another few, but for the Future-Shaping Exam, they have some of the highest grades in the class.

And finally, group three: people like me, who pass chocolate and treats around the group or the bench, discreetly shoving them inside when the teacher’s not looking, or right under the teacher’s gaze, with a palm resting pensively on their chin, and maybe their fingers just lightly graze their mouths every once in a while, and sometimes their other hands adopt the same position. Maybe. These are the sort of fun non-conformist, semi-hippies, I think. I don’t know how to describe this group without bias. But excluding me, these people are all pretty fun. They know how to let loose when necessary, and buckle up when that’s needed. These people organize all the school parties and festival celebrations. They perform poorly or worse than their usual expectations for the tenth grade tests, but are some of the highest performers in the final exam. No one knows how they do it, despite not having picked up a book for the entirety of the year. But they do it. It has always been that way, and I highly doubt history’s going to break its pattern just for us. I certainly hope not.

But the point is that the year’s really stressful, no matter what you choose to do with your time. You can’t avoid the pressure and its side effects. Even if you’re a pretty laid-back person, the fever catches you in the last few months, and somehow, everyone turns into various species of zombies. And since the school doesn’t want to have murder or suicide or any zombie related life-or-death situation on their hands, they give us “study leave” for the last two months before the exam. They essentially get rid of us. They give us lots of advice, talk to us sweetly and with a fondness that has never made itself known before in the ten or twelve years the teachers have known us. This is probably because a lot of the tenth graders join other schools come eleventh grade, for academic reasons. The affection from teachers is very, very weird, but it’s kind of sweet, and some people lap it up, some people roll their eyes at it, and some people try to avoid it.

(I’m more of the kind to lap it up. You could say I’m a favourite for God knows what reason. I’ve always been a favourite, or a teacher’s pet, or the comic relief. As previously mentioned, I’m Group Three. Teachers don’t usually like Group Three kids. Our school got rid of us today, and regardless of Group Three prejudice, a teacher actually hugged me today. Go figure.)

Around this time, one of the most popular customs in our schools rears its head: this custom can be one of the most tiresome chores known to man or it can be the most enjoyable part of leaving school. This custom is the Slam Book ritual. We run around madly, trying to get all our friends and frenemies and enemies to Write In Our Slam Book. I have written in approximately eighty two slam books this year, and there are people who’ve done more. The point is to get everyone you’re familiar with to write in your book, and apparently, years later, when you look at it, you’ll be filled with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia about what we left behind. The books are designed to accommodate heart-warming answers and remarks, but what we do is write anything and everything that comes to mind. We’re a bit sceptical about the nostalgia thing right now, though we rationally know there’s some truth to it. Our goal, however, is to make the page look pretty and amuse ourselves and the owner for a while.

An excerpt from my work on a friend's book
An excerpt from my work on a friend’s book

So I was flipping through my own slam book today, and I realized that in the ‘A few words about me’ section, there were enormous differences in different people’s answers. For example, my best friend wrote that I was an idiot, sarcastic, incredibly talented and intelligent, and her BFF. My other best friend wrote that I was unique, a great listener, talented, “cucking frazy” and her go-to person for dirty jokes and passionate tirades about women empowerment and the need for justice and the bridge between the rich and the poor and dirty politics and blah blah blah. A girl I’ve known since kindergarten wrote that I’m a great singer and really good in English. Someone I got to know this year wrote that I was intelligent and a really good speaker and had a short temper. Some wrote that I was shy and reserved and didn’t have enough self-confidence, while others wrote that I was really bold and outgoing.

All the discrepancies got me thinking. People who knew me in different parts of my life see me differently. People whom I’ve known all my life see me as a slight variation of the person they met back then, no matter how colossally I have changed since then. The large group of people who simply wrote that I was sure to succeed in life probably don’t know me at all, but some of them are people whom I consider to be really good friends of mine. So am I supposed to understand that throughout our friendship, they’ve been more focused on what might happen to me in the future than the person I am right now? Some of my fellow Group Threes wrote that I was really fun and happy-go-lucky and smart while others playfully told me off for being so shy and insecure.

It’s ridiculous that reading through a silly little book filled with insincere exclamations of ‘I’ll miss you’ and ‘We’ll keep in touch’ made me think about the various forms I’ve taken over the years, about the different attitudes I’ve had towards life, about the different roles I’ve played in different periods of time, and about the people I’ve influenced and how they’ve influenced me. I thought slam books were just insignificant but necessary indulgences.

Looking back from the start of a brand new year, filled with hope for the days to come- probably as a result of the force of the sheer number of Happy New Year greetings I’ve received- I am of the opinion that people never change completely. They maybe metamorphose, but in the very core, they’re always the same. I was the chubby, talkative kid who always got punished in kindergarten. I was the bullied, friendless creature trapped in the throes of chronic depression, in middle school. I am the argumentative, boisterous, happy, shy, unruly pushover singer/writer who blogs and reads and has enough awesome friends to not crave more or want admiration. I can’t do anything except hope I will never truly be a mature adult, because mature adults take maturity too seriously, and slowly, the embers of passion in their eyes burn out. I’ve had nightmares about that sort of death, and it’s the reason I want to do what I love, no matter what; be it the dream of being a successful psychiatrist, or finally succumbing to what everyone else wants me to do and studying literature, it doesn’t matter right now.

Right now, I’m in tenth grade. I’m supposed to be dying from stress, and here I am, still awake at 4:30 am and typing up a terrible response to a beautiful idea. To be honest, 2014 was about finding my identity. It was about finding my place. It was about finally belonging. It was about finding acceptance in a hostile environment, and it was only at the very end of the allotted twelve months that I realized that I was in the best place I could possibly be in. I had been oh so busy trying to know myself inside out that I had forgotten the beauty of a good mystery. I have amazing friends who love me, a family which is perfect for me because it’s full of lunatics, great outlets for my insanity in the forms of writing and singing, a goal to reach at the end of next month when all of us finally walk into the exam hall, and more importantly, I am happy. I have terrifying nightmares and sometimes I feel like I am drowning while I’m fully awake, but then, “it happens in life”, to repeat the saying the students of our school have become the ambassadors of. My life is as perfectly imperfect as it can be, and for once, I am happy with it. I don’t care about what will happen next year or the year after that or the year after that, we’ll cross those bridges when we get to them. I don’t want to spend any more time thinking about the sob story that is my past. It’s sad, it’s depressing, and frankly, it’s pathetic. I think back to all the times I’ve told people about the bad place I used to be in, and I want to slap myself. Repeatedly. Preferably with a wooden spoon. I’ve made long speeches about how Fate doesn’t control us, we do, and then I turn around and cry, like the big baby I am. I repeat, pathetic. So that’s what 2015 is about. Stopping the pity party and learning to actually live my life. Insecurity torments everyone sometime or the other, and feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to help me in any way, shape or form. So my new year’s resolution is to complain less, work more, and be happier. That’s it. I’m not making a long list and rewriting and re-rewriting it like I usually do. I think this time, this is enough. I have another slam book to write in, anyway. Have a happy new year, everyone.

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