A Drop Out of the Engineering Well

26

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide

Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell…

-Anne Brontë

If anyone is a fan of Anne Brontë or has enough time to look up the above extract from her poem Farewell, they’ll know right away that there’s a line missing from this quartet. This is intentional, for the following line, ‘And they shall cheer and comfort me’ does not ring true in my case – my memories of the fifteen months I spent at an engineering institute in India certainly do not “cheer and comfort me”. Now you might be wondering, ‘Then why has he chosen this poem at all?’ Well, read on, and you shall understand.

No, really, read on… don’t leave so soon.

Let me give you a bit of a preamble. I chose to study Science in high school – not under any pressure or influence from family or friends. I decided to pursue a degree in Computer Science & Engineering (yes, that’s the actual name of the course, not “Computer Engineering”) – again, not under any pressure or influence from family or friends. So, I want to make it very clear that I was in no way a product of the typical Indian family or the Indian education system, or at least not like most people would rightfully assume.

But I wasn’t entirely sure about my options, either. My school did not offer a choice of academic streams in the 9th and 10th grades, making it mandatory for everyone to study science. It did, however, offer a “6th subject”, where one could choose among various minor subjects like Computer Applications, Drama, Art and so on. Now that was where one could easily trace back the beginning of a bad phase in my life. Having narrowed down the choice between studying computers and drama, my father persuaded me to give the latter a shot; but unfortunately, I had some different ideas.

I had always been a stage performer, be it as a dancer, an actor or as an enlarged tube of Colgate toothpaste in a Show-and-Tell competition in my younger days. Ironically, I’d given my best acting performance as an autistic child in an inter-house drama competition in my 9th grade, the same year I’d chosen Computer Applications as my 6th subject. But I also had been what most people consider a ‘tech-geek,’ and this seemed to have overshadowed my love for performing… Hence, the choice of computer applications.

Having gotten a taste of what coding was like and been consistently good at it, both in comparison to my peers in class and with respect to the marks I scored in exams, I decided that this was going to be something I wanted to pursue as a career. Unfortunately, this career choice did not come without its share of suffering in the form of Science subjects that are a prerequisite for a B. Tech degree.

Cut to my admission to an engineering institute – I got in through the Foreign Quota (I’m a Nepali citizen, by the way), which made it slightly easier for me to get in. Well, I didn’t have to attempt any JEEs, so you be the judge of how easy it was for me.

Obviously, everyone in my family and I were elated. But as time passed and I got through classes of the myriad of subjects in the program, I started realising that this was nothing like what I’d thought it would be. I was pretty consistent in my scores, in that I consistently either failed in tests or passed by a tiny margin. I scraped through my first year somehow and tried to convince my parents that this was not something I should continue doing. However, upon discussing it with my cousins and other relatives who were engineers themselves, I was convinced that this happened to everyone in their first year and that the second year would be much easier and specialised in Computer Science.

As it turned out, the road only got steeper from there.

Even after attending all my classes every day, I couldn’t make head or tail of what was being taught and was consistently reminded of my inadequacies upon seeing the leaps and bounds my peers were making in their lives and fields.

Then came the final month of my stay in the college. To cut a long story short, it was brutal. I stopped attending classes. I stopped going for meals and only ever stepped out of my room to have some snacks from shops nearby. I stopped interacting with my friends, the few that I had. I even had quite strong suicidal thoughts at times.

Well, that got dark! But it didn’t end badly after all that. After several failed attempts due to my hesitation to tell my parents about my condition and, upon the advice of some of my closest friends from school, I finally gathered the courage to write to my father a letter stating my situation and desire to leave the college. What I hadn’t imagined was the urgency with which he would respond. Even more incredible was how he told me to pack my bags and come home the very next day. I was left so confused that I even resisted the idea of taking such a decision in such haste, what with my end-semester exams only a month away. But my father insisted.

And so, I booked a ticket that night and left my college the next day, which would turn out to be the last I would ever see of my engineering college, at least to date.

So, even though I have a few fond memories from my time in an engineering college, and even though it isn’t something that was forced on me, I am much happier now that I’m far away from it and am pursuing something that I know I love.

Anshul Saraf
(Batch 2024)