Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stepping out into the world.

My life is cliched and I make no bones about it. I am your typical Delhi-born, Delhi-bred girl. My schooling was completed here, and so was my undergraduate degree. So many of my friends left for other cities, some went abroad as well. I managed to get admission in one of the city's best colleges. And so, I stayed home. In many ways, it was a good thing too. No financial burden on my parents, more valuable time spent in my beloved city of birth, and of course, gharwalon ka pyaar. 

But by the time I turned 21, I had started craving adventure. Independence. I longed to be on my own, to carve a niche for myself in the outside world. I wanted my cliched life to change. I longed to step out of the warm cocoon of family living and fend for myself. I was already earning enough, through tuitions and freelance writing, to cover my expenses. It was just the lack of opportunity to experience the world on my own, unencumbered, unfettered, that bothered me. And I found myself to blame. I could have worked harder and secured admission in a college outside of Delhi, like so many other friends did. If not, I could also have dropped a year after school to try again. But I had no patience anymore. So I settled for the next best thing, which was unfortunately in the same city. 4 more years of sheltered home life thus got etched onto my life's scroll.

In the last semester of my engineering, I eventually realized I wanted to become a civil servant. It had been my mother's life wish ever since I'd been a kid. Not mine though. I kept avoiding having to think about it all my life. I told her I don't like the prospect of being an IAS officer, working amidst hundreds of government files, becoming a 9-to-5 servant of the system. And yet, when the time came and I had to decide where my life goes from here, I chose the one thing I had always given least preference to. The one and only thing my mother always thought was made for me. You cannot imagine her surprise, her boundless joy, at being told of my career choice!

So I sat for the UPSC prelim exam alongside my end semester exams. And I cleared it. Five months to the main exam - the one people take a year and a half to prepare for - and I had absolutely no clue what to do. I was still living at home; I'd go to the neighbourhood library to study. But the exam I was appearing for required much more concentrated study and a strategic approach. It seemed certain I won't make it that year, and I had all but resigned to this realization.

And then the miracle happened.

One of my teachers heard that I had made it, and offered me the unsolicited advice that changed my life. He asked me to move to Jamia Millia Islamia to prepare for the main exam. As I learned from him that afternoon, the university was running a residential coaching program for IAS aspirants and I could get in, now that I had cleared the prelim exam. I was skeptical at first, but he convinced me. I in turn convinced my mom, and within a week, on the 21st of August 2013, I moved into a hostel room at Jamia and began my studies anew. Never having lived away from home for this long before, everyone expected me to be homesick or at least take some time to adjust. But voila! It came completely naturally to me. Friends in the hostel assumed I was a seasoned hosteler. Whenever I'd mention that I live in Delhi and this is a first for me, they'd be shocked. I settled in like this was what I was meant for.

I credit my moving away from home as the ultimate game-changer in my life. Don't get me wrong; I am not a deviant who was craving to get away from home to unleash her wild side, or something. But I strongly believe that people only discover themselves when they get out on their own. Buy their own groceries, wash their own clothes, clean their rooms on their own. Interact with people on their own terms, learn to live in a diverse community, and to handle situations single-handedly if need be. It teaches you courage, independence and self-reliance. And it often brings out the best in you. While in the hostel, I met some really great people, learned to study on my own, realized the joys of disciplined living and of doing my own chores. I also got a lot of time to myself and it helped me put my life back into perspective.

Foremost, I understood the importance of family as the strongest support system. It is only when you're away from them that you realize, whether distant or close by, they are always indispensable to your life. But moving away from them is also often necessary for you to truly find yourself. I am grateful for having got the opportunity to start a new life when I most needed it. I wish everyone would get the blessing of a new start at least once in their lives.

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