As students in Kashmir take exams amidst a pandemic, one can’t help but compare this new challenge and connect it with the trajectories of grief and grit that encapsulates the essence of being a student in Kashmir
BREATHS rising from my muffled mouth settled as fog on my glasses as I walked in through the corridor; the foul odour of isopropyl thickening with each step I took inwards. The familiar, huge white walls of the school peppered with paintings and artefacts hand-made by students contrasted against the luminous black freshly-mopped floor still reeking of an anti-bacterial. The vacuity of this colossal structure caused by the year-long absence of the students and teachers was expecting a little compensation – students. Although just to take their one-day entrance exams. The school, albeit in a different way, was set to host children again.
As I was getting my gloved hands sprayed with another layer of sanitizer in the hallway, the uneasy surroundings quietly let the water of memories loose; the nostalgia of last fun days at my high school shortened by what news channels preferred to call ‘unrest’, almost superimposed the present.
Seating arrangements for the students were in compliance with the distancing norms. A handful of students who were to come in, took half of the day to trickle in, given the timing differences to avoid junction. Fatigue and anxiety of being a student in Kashmir decorated their eyes as they twiddled their admit cards and drew imaginary graphs on the desks.
My own bygone situation appeared more bearable now, in the face of their tangle of tribulations of competing in a national-level exam on unreliable bandwidth; the load of lockdowns since last year, the pandemic crises and the DNA of uncertainty that leeches us on a regular basis.
Evaluating, I calculated that in my time, my dependence on the internet had been only close to a naught, and I didn’t have to go through consecutive years of lockdown. I had only witnessed intermittent hartals and occasional crackdowns and spent evenings telling cracker bursting from firing shots.
Secretly, however, I wanted to achieve a higher position on the pedestal of sufferings while drawing parallels between two strangulated epochs. Sufferings are our achievement, after all. Nevertheless, I chose to balance my opinion — “it is all the same”, I thought. Although suffering had changed in form across generations, it unified all of us. Our measurement of time is in terms of pain.
Talking of time, the clock was ticking close to the exam timings and I was handed a basket with a sealed packet of question papers and OMR sheets, some envelopes, a spritz sanitizer, a dozen of masks and some stationery. The students rubbed their hands together and said small prayers under their breath as I was breaking open the brown parcel. I wished them well after distributing the sheets.
As they started writing their papers, I again time-travelled in reverse to the days when I took my postponed board exams for the first time. Little did I know then that ‘unrests’ were going to strikethrough all the forthcoming academic calendars.
In our world of permanent siege, where we carry survivor’s guilt as our identity badges, the sight of these children writing their papers appeared liberating. I couldn’t help but see it as an act of resilience.
I shifted my focus outward, to the cooing of free birds beautifying the fall. In some uncalled ecstasy, I rose up and screeched the dried-up black marker on the white board with a “Best of Luck”.
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