Monday, June 16, 2014

Swan song

I knew this was coming, but nothing could've prepared me for how solid it felt, how permanent. Two years found themselves compressed into a second that seemed to go on and on and on, giving birth to a confluence of celebration and mourning, of joy and grief, of smiles and tears. How I dragged words out of the space where one ended and the other began, heaven knows.

I knew this was coming, I've known it for months, yet I refused to believe. Maybe I thought I could delay the end if I was obstinate enough to not acknowledge it. Maybe I hoped that it wouldn't feel as if capslock THE END was stamped on my heart.

But it did. Oh, yes it did.

It didn't matter that words like 'graduation' and 'valedictorian' weren't part of the schooling system here. All that mattered, in that moment, were the thousand expectant faces, the floodlights peering at me from above, the silent mike. And me, my knees. Trembling from the weight of the finality that seemed to permeate through my entire being, seeping into the pores and filling up all nooks and crannies. Slow and thick.

And then I spoke.

True to form, the opening lines of my valedictorian address went:

A nugget of wisdom from Professor Dumbledore never goes amiss, and I’d like to share one of my favourites. “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.”

A little after, I did stumble on my words. But I got up, dusted off the errant consonants. I wove in and out of syllables, my heart and soul and voice hitting the right notes in tandem.

Before I move on, there’s something I need to say - something that has been bothering me a lot. This felicitation programme is woven around the notion that today's stars are the toppers of the board exams. I strongly disagree. Today’s true stars belong to that beautiful constellation scattered throughout this room - the teachers.

Dear teachers, you are like the sun - hard work and love and dedication fusing and burning in the cores to produce brilliant, blazing light - and we students are the moon, just reflecting that light. This day is yours as much as it is ours, for no one else, perhaps not even our parents, rejoice in our triumph and mourn our failure as you do.

To be honest, you catalysed my evolution in Silver Hills - from hate to love, from anger to acceptance, from ignominy to glory. I have much to be grateful for, and it strikes me (yet again) that the words ‘thank you’ are the most inadequate words in the English language, incapable of conveying my gratitude, my devotion, my respect - but above all, incapable of conveying that my gurudakshina is not my grades, not any keepsake, not even a thumb. My entire life is my dakshina, and with these words, I place it at your feet.

The words caught in my throat, burned through my skin. Singed and scalded  as I coaxed, teased them out of the place where they'd lodged, mutinous, as if they were lollipop-denied toddlers. Speaking of which...

This recollection has no meaning without 89 other people - my batch-mates. The ones who brought colours to my empty canvas. The ones who fought over my lunch-box. The ones who teased me mercilessly. The ones whose lame jokes are etched on the walls of my heart. The ones who walked the tightrope between curricular and extra-curricular activities. The ones who became the mirrors in which I saw my strengths and weaknesses. Together, we unravelled the DNA double helix, hammered the salt analysis scheme into our heads, attacked strings and arrays, wished Newton had been born in Kerala and survived the seven types of integeration.

There might have been days when we were at each others’ throats, but there also have been days when our hearts beat as one. Yesterday, the ninety of us shared a life. Today, we celebrate. And I hope that tomorrow, these memories will be your light in times of darkness, happiness cutting through despair.

All at once, I was Percy in The Lightning Thief, willing the ocean back; his, a real one and mine, one of tears that threatened to crash over the shoreline. His adversary, the god of war. Mine, the prospect of forgoing routine, of comfort, of casting aside the warm, fuzzy blanket of familiarity. But as I put it to my juniors:

Yes, there are moments of fun and frolic, but there are also moments when you feel like giving up everything and shutting the world out. In those moments, try to hold on to these words from Robert Frost, with which I’ll wrap up my speech as well:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Applause. Wan smiles. Faces, faces, faces. A proud teacher at the back of the hall. Rain keeping its promise of not dampening the day. 

I don't go miles before I weep. 

(This is an end. But this... this is also a beginning.)

Edit, 9 July: Rewritten in first person point-of-view because I found the second person PoV jarring. Seriously, what was I even thinking?


  1. Replies
    1. Aw hey Kajol! Nice to see you around here! Thanks for following :)

  2. Beautiful pieace Zainab...but, you left your parents out without due appreciation. Parents, who did much sacrifice in day and night and in times of ease and difficult for your well being and growth, yet don't ask anything in return.