“Keep in mind everyone, once you graduate, you’ll become an integral part of society.” It was another one of those lectures that the final year students had to sit through. The lecturer was their principal. They had a lot of those nowadays. The principal spoke most of the time, but occasionally, they invited famous pep speakers to give guest lectures. It was a routine torture for the final years. Old people talking, and insisting about the importance of higher education and the social recognition it creates.
A lot of students grew annoyed every time this happened; a handful of students felt higher education was just an excuse to live off their parents’ money. A few others had had enough of text books and studying. They wanted to move on, and start living their lives.
Some others paid attention to every little detail of the lectures. They considered higher formal education, and MBA seemed like a good idea. They were most of the rich people who had access to mounds of gold their parents and grandparents had preserved. But they were just a small group.
The majority, like Praveena, had decided to end their formal education. Praveena felt as if college had taken over the best years of her life; that she was spending her life being miserable, by choice, when she could have done something meaningful. She now thought about it a lot. She wondered of the future, and what it would hold for her. She had always evaded thinking ahead, but now the time was ripe to make some serious plans — ‘and a few contingency plans too’ her inner voice added. She remained undecided though.
Anil had decided to do his MBA; he had decided to remain in Bangalore. He wanted to take on a part time job and fend for himself — at least a portion of his personal expenses.
“What would you do?” Anil asked one day as they sat in the canteen, having lunch.
Praveena shrugged. She knew she should have made a decision by now, but she couldn’t make her mind up. The thought of graduating without Niveda still disturbed her. “Stay at home for some time, maybe. Have some fun, until I come up with something.” she said hoping for something of another holiday. Anil didn’t seem to think likewise.
“You going to settle down?” he asked, looking disappointed.
“Ya, I’m thinking,” she said unsure “for a while.”
Anil almost laughed. “I was talking about marriage, you idiot!” he tried to control his laughter, and failing.
“Oh,” Praveena smiled sheepishly, “nope, not marriage.” she said, and added indignantly “I’m too young for that!” Anil laughed with her.
“So,” he probed again, once the laughter had died down, “you’re going to stay home, for a while?”
Praveena nodded chewing on her lunch, not saying anything.
As Praveena’s final exams approached, she couldn’t miss the tension and the excitement that was obvious in almost every soul in the college. The teachers were the most happy with the end of the course. They often referred to Praveena’s batch as the worst batch they had had to teach. Niveda’s issue had been an added negative for them to cling on to. They showed their eagerness to be rid of the troublesome batch.
The students were on par with the teachers in terms of joy. There were plenty of goodbye parties in the hostels. From the girls’ hostel, Praveena could hear the racket coming from the boys’ hostel. It was the same every night. These parties usually happened after the exams, some seniors had told her, but this time, the parties had begun way ahead. She too felt like putting her book down and partying. Knowing they would be free after this one final exam made it all the more difficult to concentrate. Praveena’s mind kept wandering to the enjoying phase after the exams.
She forced herself to study. ‘One last time,’ convincing herself.
The final paper of the final exam was upon them. That morning, Anil and Praveena met in the canteen as usual and had an unusual, quiet breakfast. Praveena was feeling plenty of emotions at the same time. She was happy college life had come to a close. She was reluctant to leave Bangalore; she had enjoyed the city’s refreshing climate. She would leave Anil behind, and that was painful too. He had been her closest friend and only comfort after Niveda. She was thankful to him for staying by her side, throughout the tough episodes of Niveda’s treatment and death.
But most of all, it was the thought of Niveda. During the first year, when Praveena was just beginning to get accustomed to Niveda’s regular chatter, she would imagine themselves graduating together, and then remaining friends for life. Every time she thought of it, she wanted to weep. She cast the thought aside, deciding instead, to focus on her sandwich.
“Last day,” Anil observed. He sneaked a look at Praveena to catch her reaction. “Yeah,” She nodded as memories swivelled in her head.
They finished the exam, and met again for a quiet lunch.
“I’ll miss you, Praveena” Anil said flatly. “You are my best friend, you know.” he pursed his lips in a tight smile.
Praveena looked at him, a long calculating look. She knew she would miss him too, more than she could say.
“Me too,” she ended the conversation.