You know how adults ask you ‘How’s school?’ and ‘How are you doing?’— and you respond with ‘School’s fine. I’m okay’ even though school is really not fine and you are far from okay? Because of course you can’t tell them the truth. Because even though you’re not mentally and physically okay you’re supposed to be. What you’re going through is normal, everyone does. In fact it’s so normal that all the ‘not okay’ things don’t even register anymore.

I am a part of the batch of 2020 (yeah, that one) and I have spent the past 14 years repeatedly questioning the morals and priorities of the very people who were supposed to teach them to me.

I have seen girls being criticized more for nail polish and fancy hairbands than for not participating in class. I have seen boys being scolded more for long hair and untucked shirts than for bullying or making a mess. The image of the school is apparently everything. And the kicker is, the best student’s score decides the image, not the class average. We used to think in Fridays and now we think in test dates. We have a standardized system that allows little to no room for individuality and creativity. We are all tested and judged by a uniform process. And we can’t be average, because in an overpopulated country average means common and stupid.

But it’s fine, we’re okay.

We’re expected to know exactly what we want to do in our lives and who we want to be, even though we still have to ask to go to the washroom. We stopped asking each other about our plans for the weekend. We know them already. Instead, we ask how much the other has done. And though we don’t believe them when they say ‘nothing’ we still nod and say ‘ditto’. We stopped questioning our dark circles and ignored the fact that half of us can’t keep our eyes open all of first period. We stopped asking why someone missed that test or took an entire week off. We know, we understand.

We’re okay.

Most of our conversations turn into rants. Most of our humor is dark, nihilistic and self-deprecating. You say ‘I wish someone would murder me’ and everyone will laugh and no will question it because, mood. I’m being completely honest when I say that my happiest moments over the past year were made when I was bunking a class. And I wasn’t even supposed to be doing that. So many of us stop caring halfway through the school year. ‘I don’t even care about how I do anymore, I just want school to be over’. But it’s not true, they do care, it’s just the level of stress, pressure and expectations that has killed their motivation.

But it’s fine, they’re okay.

We hear it will get better and we want to believe that, but we’re hesitant.

We all know at least one person who has resorted to drugs and drinking. We have all been in a position where we’re playing therapist to a friend, even though we’re not qualified for it and we might say something wrong or triggering, but we have to try, we’re all they have.

Everyone around us is on varying degrees of stress and frustration. We hate being in school but we don’t want to go home either, there are tuitions and a load of prep waiting. We’ve all been part of a competition we never asked to be in. Our college stream depends on our entrance score, not our interests. The country is full of engineers and doctors because pursuing music or art is impractical— and who wants to starve?

It’s fine, this is totally okay.

I have learnt more about feminism, LGBTQ+, sex, gender and politics from social media than I have from school, and that is scary. Because the internet cannot always be the best teacher. The thing is— we start off by learning how to read, write and do Math. And then we grow up and we’re still learning how to read, write and do Math. It’s just more challenging now. And yes, there is so much I know today than I did when I first joined school, and I will forever remain grateful for that knowledge, but there is also so much I don’t know.

I know how to solve an integral by parts. I can calculate the magnetic moment of a current carrying loop. I can tell you the geometry around each atom of a dinuclear anion. Those are safe grounds, I’ve studied them. But if you ask me if I know the difference between personal health and personal benefit, if I’m aware about scams, about injustices in the country, about cultural appropriation, about why people are still poor and hungry when there are so many funds just waiting, about taxes: I’ll say I don’t know, and I’m not supposed to care to know. Not unless I’m given four options to go with them and a wrong answer that would result in negative marking.

How is any of this okay? When did this start being okay?

We’re panicking, stressed, frustrated, and absolutely terrified for a future we’re not ready for because most of our time has gone in preparing for that one test on that one day. We feel like victims of an injustice we don’t deserve but we take it because this is how it’s always been, this is the only way to survive. This is the literal definition of ‘okay’.

One day we’ll ask our kids about how’s school going and they’ll say the same. They’re okay.

But they won’t be. Just like we aren’t.

Ishita Yadav, Amity International School, Noida

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