You know that scene in 3 Idiots, where Farhan (Madhavan’s character) talks about being declared an Engineer as soon as he’s born?
That’s what it felt like with me. I can imagine my mother lying on the hospital bed, my father caressing her hand to ease the pain, as she probably declared, “Meri beti Doctor banegi.”
And so, with the burden of expectations riding on my shoulder, adding to the fact that I come from a family of doctors, I blindly let my parents lead me into the world of Science. Being the eldest child, I had no one to turn to in terms of getting help understanding what life was like outside that bubble. That, coupled with certain factors that would probably make for another piece another day, I had a defeatist attitude going in from the beginning.
I slaved day in and day out to please my parents. But somehow, all I could excel at was writing.
English Language and English Literature – at all levels – were halwa to me. Mathematics and Science, though. Uff. At the age of 8, I started writing poetry (you can check some out here.) And hey, it was pretty nice, I’ll give myself that. Do I cringe when I reach for the book I published at the age of 10? Hell yeah. But it was an accomplishment – one that only seemed to hold any weight when my parents were boasting about me to our relatives.
For me, though, it was more than relatives patting me on my back, giving shabaashi. It was an acknowledgment of the fact that I could write. And I knew that in any capacity, I would want to keep writing for the rest of my life. The possibilities swarmed before my eyes – novelist, journalist, editor, poet, maybe even all at once.
However, Fate had different plans for me and since I basically had no spine whatsoever, I let others hold my reigns, steering me away from what I loved.
As I grew older, my relationship with Science worsened. I didn’t get Chemistry. It irked me to no end. I spent nights crying over Physics formulae, doing my best to retain all I could. Biology seemed halfway decent, but that’s about it. And we all know halfway decent doesn’t get you into great universities.
My first disappointment came in the form of shitty grades.
2 B’s and an A in my O Level Science subjects.
I know, I know. It’s not awful. But it wasn’t great. Things only got worse during my A Levels. The jump was HUGE. With the three Sciences and English Literature as my subjects, my first attempt at the exams was something that truly knocked the wind out of me.
My grades? A, B, C, D. Hilarious, yes. The A was in Literature. I’d fucked up everything else. I remember being terrified of going home. In fact, I locked myself in the bathroom at our college, too afraid to call my car to go back home.
It’s easy now to talk about these things as they happened. But I know how I spent hours, working myself to the bone, trying to understand things I never could. It took a toll on my self-esteem. Some people saw this as Fate telling me my strength lay in pursuing something else – anything else. I saw this as my chance to explore my lifelong passion for writing.
My parents saw this as a mistake to be rectified.
I did, of course, rectify this. And, once again, with a halfway decent transcript with an A, B, and B, I was pushed to apply for Dow University of Health Sciences. That’s it. One university. And of course, I didn’t get in. But my family, adamant that the Dow name oozed gold and all things shiny, got me admitted to Dow International Medical College (DIMC.)
If you think I’d had it rough before, it was NOTHING compared to medical university.
To say that I lost myself in the two years I spent there would be an understatement. You have to understand – I was in a medical university. Game over. No going back. I felt caved in. No, I felt worse. I felt suffocated – like a hand was gripping my neck, squeezing tighter each passing day.
There’s a lot I hated about that place too. I mean, I spent close to five sessions in therapy, just talking about my medical university. And I know for a fact it’s not just me. Most people I knew there were miserable.
Consequently, I changed. There’s no other way to put it. I remained at the bottom of the barrel while people close to me succeeded. I felt dumber than ever, I hated myself time and again. And, as a cherry on top, I became clinically depressed.
I would lie in bed all day, skipping classes and meals, getting up only to try to attempt some chores. I couldn’t study, I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t make the effort to socialize. I lost weight – 35 pounds, to be exact – because I’d stopped eating. Contrary to what I tell many people, I would often contemplate whether or not this is the end of the line for me.
I’m not proud of it, but it’s how terrible things were at that point in time.
Above all else, I stopped writing.
I lost the will to write. What was the point? It didn’t matter. My words didn’t matter. Sure, I could concoct a short poem or piece of writing within minutes. But I still didn’t understand what beta-blockers did. I still didn’t know how to differentiate between various pathological presentations. That’s what mattered, right? That’s what I needed to know to “succeed.”
When I did occasionally scribble, I hated everything I wrote. It was also around that time when I started freelancing for MangoBaaz, which meant I had deadlines to meet. Toh woh toh hota rehta tha. But, for a long time, I stopped writing poetry, or writing anything straight from the heart.
I felt like I was being forced into pursuing something I knew I was horrible at. It wasn’t that I didn’t try. I did. I’d give as much of myself as I could to a field I simply didn’t comprehend. However, it didn’t seem to be enough. Moreover, the mere thought of spending my life in a thankless profession which I wasn’t passionate about seemed like an unfair prison sentence.
There was bitterness welling up inside me, getting more and more venomous by the day.
More than anything, I started resenting my family. It’s an awful thing to say, but it’s true. My parents were looking out for me, they were doing what they thought was best for me. I understand and respect that. But they didn’t know any better. They only knew that Medicine is ONE way to make money and earn respect. Much like me, they were oblivious of the possibilities that existed.
Towards the end of my third semester at my medical university, something inside me snapped. And I mean SNAPPED.
I still don’t know what it was – did I reach my breaking point? Was it just unimaginable anger reaching the surface? I don’t know. But I decided that I wouldn’t continue with something that was draining every cell in my body. I prepared myself for the onslaught – it’s not an easy conversation to have, after all, with a parental unit that has, since your birth, decided your future.
I’ll spare you guys the details, but let’s just say it didn’t go that well. As expected. No one was going to embrace my decision with open arms. Things became tense. I went to live with a friend for a few weeks – or was it months? (Shout out to the Akbar clan, thanks for being my extended family.)
All I knew is that come what may, I wasn’t going back.
I gave my final exams for shits and giggles (and passed, LOL) and I walked out of Dow, never really thinking about how that was the last time I’d ever step foot in that establishment. If I’d have known, I’d have probably taken a picture or something. Or maybe struck a dramatic pose. I don’t know. It was a moment worth celebrating, but chalo, ab toh guzar gaya.
Fast forward to being university-less, degree-less, jobless and not living at home.
I don’t mean to toot our own company’s horn, but if it wasn’t for MangoBaaz, I probably wouldn’t be writing this today. See, not a lot of companies will look at a dropout and say, “Let’s hire her.” But when I was offered an internship (woh bhi paid, haye Allah) by the company, it felt like a new beginning. I was literally going to be paid to do something I loved.
My internship taught me a lot of technical things about an industry in which I believed that people remained hungry due to a lack of jobs. Suddenly, being introduced to the world of media opened up avenues I didn’t even know existed. That, coupled with me being catapulted to a full-time position – after immense encouragement and appreciation by the team (shout out to Team MangoBaaz, you guys are the real MVPs) – reaffirmed my resolve to finally pursue my passion.
Without any hesitation, I applied for a Journalism program.
Within the first week, I knew I’d found a field in which I could potentially excel based on my skills. Moreover, I could develop my skill set further, only to become a more well-rounded individual. My sense of self-worth improved drastically. I finally had the chance to not be at the bottom of the barrel anymore.
As I sit here, writing this, I’ve completed my first year with a brilliant GPA (if I can say so myself). And, I don’t mean to brag (okay, maybe I do – just a tad bit) but I’m kinda Mahira Khan-approved.
Sorry, I just HAD to.
— Sajeer (@sajeershaikh) May 17, 2018
As I look back to the Sajeer I was in those two years, I can’t help but struggle to recognize the person I became.
Am I happier now? Every single day. Is my family on-board? We’re getting there – turns out, having a job and excelling at university is a more convincing argument than simply laying out a plan. Is my life sorted? Absolutely not. I’m still confused, I still slip up – but I slip up and struggle for something I believe in. I labor endlessly for something I love.
I’m not a success story. Hell, I know a lot of people who won’t even buy what I said. It’s easier to stick to the status quo. I get it. And I get that I’m a lot luckier than many others who want to follow their heart, but can’t.
But let me ask you something: if the status quo damages you to an unimaginable extent, is carving a new path really the worst option, especially if it’s one you haven’t explored?
Things may still go south for me – I understand that. But it’ll be my decision, my struggle and a consequence of a choice I made. And I’ll deal with it accordingly.
Because my decision is worth the risk. My happiness is worth the risk. I’m worth the risk. You just need to decide if you are too.
I’m not here to give you any advice. I’m just here to tell you that not all dark corners are dead ends. Because sometimes, if you launch yourself into the darkness, you land on a safety net. And if you don’t, you land on the ground – wounded, yes – but with the fervor to recuperate and move on, stronger than ever.
Cover image via MD Productions