The first day was the easiest. There was a clandestine sense of purpose moving in the air. All new entrants knew exactly what they wanted. They’d come here after interminable days and months of waiting and of not knowing if they had been admitted. Those months were unendurable. There were days when hours would pass by, food would go uneaten, listening to reportage in the news.
Had they made new rules and new policies for people to play by? Had they changed the precepts of merit? Had people become more qualified than others even though they had measly marks? Had some people become more equal than others – needing uplift, or social justice? Retribution had become so important; people who made life unbearable for people in the past would lose now, would pay by becoming less qualified as against them. Marks suddenly stopped mattering, the sleepless, dreamless nights became the only nights, days stopped meaning much to people and weeks passed by. So, when they came here, they were admitted, the simple fact of admission made people feel different. They were suddenly survivors of a surreptitiously fought battle. They were men of steel who braved the odds and broke them too. They were the new, fortuitous heroes, wearers of the horns of destiny.
For people with such presumptions, it wasn’t easy to make headway. They were all bulls in a china shop - merchandise gathered around them. In their walk and in their talk, they showed the feat of having made it here, this far, further than what others had reached. There was also a complicity in the way the others behaved. Their way of doing things was different, and more simple-minded, than others. The noncommittal sense of being here, made less likeable with time, brought in resentment. People didn’t like the fact that other people of lesser merit were admitted without qualms. People felt justified in indicting these people – calling them names, making them look and feel like feral, unwanted weeds in an otherwise nicely-kept garden. There was a sense that no matter how well people tried to work for their exams, there was always a nameless, faceless mass of under-deserving people who hid behind their merit, people who patiently waited in the wings, the snatchers-away of others’ seats.
At first, the mixing was forced and hard to do. We were scared of saying the wrong things. We were, though, verbose and said whatever occurred to us. It was as if we didn’t want to be told to behave, or speak, in new ways. We were eager and we were willing to announce our arrival. But, as things often become in times of garrulousness, voices became haggard and tired. Voices assumed lesser tones, became less insubordinate than were initially conceived. Even amongst classmates, a growing, bearing, sense of ennui became stronger, more visible. People started talking about things that mattered most to them. People started thinking, speaking more conservatively. Words not only became sparse but more laden with meaning, and intent. It is about the way things look when fashioned masks become less worthwhile to have on.