I never thought I would be writing this essay. The email from IIT Kanpur informing its decision to call back its final year students brought tears to my eyes. You see, I moved out of my house on January 17, 2021. When people are advised not to go out of their homes until it is absolutely essential, I found myself moving around the country, searching for a safe place to complete my degree on time.
In this essay, I will attempt to talk about my life, both past, and present. The article is going to be a lengthy and sad one. So, if you are in a hurry, you should come back to read the essay at a later time. The past few days have been eye-opening for me, both in a good and a bad sense. I do not know where to even start. Nonetheless, I shall make an effort.
I was born to a twenty-something couple in 1999 in a small village known as Gandachara, a subdivision in Tripura. My parents chose to name me “Debashish,” or the blessing of the Gods. It was the time when Naxalism was very much alive in the state. LED bulbs and televisions were a thing of the distant future. I remember someone saying that the guy who came to eat food in the village was a bolong borok literally “a man of the jungle” or a Naxalite. I must have been 6 or 7 years old then. I did not know what to think.
Both of my parents did not go to high school. For some reason, they thought I should not be like them no matter what. So, from an early age, they made sure that I learned all that was known. On some days, I can still feel the lashes that I received for failing to recite the Bengali alphabet book by heart. And, who could blame them? They did not want me to become like them.
I started school when I was about 5 and a half years old. I did not know that Kindergarten was a thing, and I had only three books – a Bengali book, one English alphabet book, and a book that had numbers. The school had only one teacher and a bunch of kids from the village. My parents made sure that I got the highest marks in all the tests that the school had to take. The day I got a letter wrong, or an addition wrong proved to be my darkest days growing up. This went on until I was about 11 years old. That’s when I finished Class 5 in the village school and moved to an English-medium school 50 km away.
I knew how to read and write in both Bangla and English – my parents made sure of that. But, I could not speak Bangla (because mom handled everything I needed), and English was out of reach. I wished (and many kids I know still only hope) to speak fluent English someday. It was a dream I did not know how I was going to touch. I remember wanting to fly airplanes, looking up at planes flying overhead.
Getting into that English medium school was life-changing, and I’ll always be grateful to that teacher who helped me out in a question. You see, I knew what the shape with three sides is called in Bangla. It is called “Tribhuj.” The problem was that the test was for entry into the English medium school, and they required me to write “Triangle” as an answer. She saw me struggling with the question, came to me, and asked what I think the answer is. I told her “Tribhuj,” and she helped me spell “Triangle.” I scored 26/50 on the test and was offered admission. If I did not answer that question, who knows where I’d be today.
The transition from a village Bengali-medium school to an English-medium school was not easy. I still remember that day when the Science teacher smacked the back of my neck because I failed to write the ingredients of how to make Chicken Curry on the board. I did not know homework was a thing in my defense because we never got any homework in the village school. And I did not understand what “homework” meant. That was the first, and the last time any teacher came close to commenting about my answers. After that, miraculously, I managed to top almost every single exam in school.
Talking to friends now, I am still mesmerized by myself. I think part of that proficiency came from my effort to memorize words from the Bangla-English dictionary. Yeah, I did that as a child. Fast forward a few years, with some stroke of luck, I managed to get the second rank among all the tribals in the state in the state board exams.
Growing up, I did not know what IITs were or what an engineering degree entails. I first heard of IITs during an orientation session that a teacher conducted in Class 11. I still remember him telling us that only a few get the older IITs. So, then I decided I’ll go to one of the old IITs. I did not know what I wanted to do in life, but IITs seems like somewhere I could spend a few years.
Fast forward still a few more years, and there is a global pandemic raging on. Citizens around the world are being advised not to go out unless it is absolutely essential. I lost touch with folks back home during the years I was at Kanpur. Sure, I called them to let them know that I’m fine, and they called me to ask what I’d eaten for dinner. I did not know what went on in the family.
I think it is natural for there to be irregularities in marriages. I had seen many instances in my own family from when I was 2.5 years or so. Whenever dad and mom had disagreements, she would take me with her to my maternal grandma’s. They are a native of a place called Kanchanpur, a sub-division in Northern Tripura bordering Mizoram. My grandma’s place still does not have electricity or water facilities. They fetch water from the streams and use kerosene lamps at night. The last time I went there in 2015, I had to walk 2 hours to reach the village from the nearest market.
I still remember those days when the “escort system” was in place. That’s when a convoy of army trucks accompany civilian buses so that nothing unwanted happens in between. It would take us a full day to reach mom’s village. Once a car broke down, we missed the connecting bus, co-incidentally from Ambassa, a place that I call home since 2010. My mother must have been about 37 or so during this time. Seeing no other way, she hopped on a truck that carried essential commodities to and from Assam. The truck driver was drunk, so she decided it was best to get down midway and wait for passing buses.
Remember those days no buses stopped in-between stations until the bus broke down or an army convoy with them. So, no buses stopped to pick us up halfway. Fortunately, an army convoy was passing by, and the gentlemen decided to stop a bus for us. My memory of that day is somewhat fuzzy, but it still reminds me of what my mother did for me whenever I feel low.
By last year, conditions in the household reached a breaking point. And like every other sensible person, I asked mom to consider getting a divorce if she felt she was dealing with too much. Did you ever feel so helpless that you could not breathe or think straight? That’s how I feel every day. I do not have the financial means to ask her to move out with me, nor do I have the physical power or political leverage to deal with my father. I do not even know if fighting him is the morally right thing because I am what I am because of him. Make no mistake, I love my father as much as I love mom, if not more. But, am I willing to be physically harmed so that he could marry a second wife? I don’t think so. Not after all that I have seen, and all that seems possible in the world.
How do you react or deal with the fact that someone you loved lifelong has just threatened to kill you because you opined that a woman should leave a man if she’s being tortured? How do you help anyone else when you have to think about your next meal or if you’ll be able to complete your degree on time? More importantly, how do you know that things would be better in the future?
Writing this essay, I do not know what the future has in store for me. I am just pleased about IITK’s decision to call us back. That would bring about some form of stability in my life. I think IITK truly shaped me into who I am as a human being. I would never trade the experiences I had at IITK with anything else. Even though I did not enjoy my primary course of study, the sheer amount of experiences I had and the people I got to be around is something I’ll cherish my entire life.
I’d booked a one-way ticket on January 17 with no plan about what I’m going to do. I just knew that I wished to finish my B.Tech. on time. I have since crashed on friends’ floors, ate with them, and at the same time tried to fulfill my academic duties. If you’re reading this essay, just know that I am incredibly grateful to you all for everything you did for me. This includes offering me food when I needed it the most, letting me sleep in your place, and offering words of support when I felt low. I won’t name anyone here, but I would never forget the friendship you provided.
I realized that studying or doing anything else literally is much more effective when you do not have to think about where your next meal would come from or if you’d be able to go one more month without ending up on the streets. I have interviews of IIMA and IIMB coming up. I am hopeful about being offered a place, but like everything else, that is uncertain, and I don’t know how I will afford next month’s rent or where I am going to go once the semester gets over in April.
I have never asked for financial help, not at least for myself. But, if you’re reading this and are able, I’d be really grateful to you if you can help with whatever you can. I have some savings left from the scholarships that I received. I do not know how long they would last with everything so uncertain right now. If I finish my degree on time, I would have a few options in front of me as to what to do next. It is just hard to study and also think about surviving. I do not know what will happen to me shortly. I keep telling my friends that I’ll probably be the first graduate of IIT Kanpur who would be both jobless and homeless on graduation. With your help, I would get a fresh lifeline so that I could think about what to do next.
DEBASHISH REANG Account #: 00000020223511898 IFSC: SBIN0001161 Branch: IIT Kanpur UPI ID: reang.bade@oksbi
Thank you so much for reading the article. And thank you in advance for your help. No words will ever be enough for the kindness shown to me, but I shall try to pass on your service to someone else when I am able. Thanks again. Umm, can I ask you to share this essay with others? I hope you and your family are well. Stay safe. May you have a happier future.