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The Journey of a small-town student to IISER Kolkata

Suraj Sharma

Suraj Sharma

I'm Suraj Sharma, from Morena, Madhya Pradesh. I'm a first-year BS-MS student at IISER Kolkata. Due to my deep interest in understanding the underlying principles that govern the cosmos, I aspire to be a Cosmologist. If I talk about my hobbies, I love writing poetry, sketching, and doing some random paintings on my laptop.


The beginning

Whenever I reflect on my past, I see a journey, a journey through the different phases of my life, In which I have lived some of the memorable moments full of fun and enjoyment, and sometimes the storms of pain and sorrow took over my whole existence to hell. And after dying moment by moment and still living every moment, I’m here to share my journey of the affection of science that brought me here, At IISER-K.

       The best thing that could happen to me, took place on the day I was born— with an incurable genetic disorder known as “Albinism” due to mutation in the “TYR” gene on the 11th pair of autosome ( chromosome) that prevented the production of melanin pigment in my body, and gifted me an incurable eye problem, But that’s what was a subject of motivation for me when I realized that how unique I was, and my eye problem is what always made me try harder, breaking my own limits.

       Hello, I’m Suraj Sharma from Morena, a small town in Madhya Pradesh, where once I had a dream, a vision of understanding the grand design of the cosmos, a vision of becoming a Scientist, or  Cosmologist, in particular.

    What I feel is that science is not outside of ours, it’s not a physical way of understanding the laws that govern the cosmos, but it’s inside us, it’s inside the cosmos, it’s in the laws that govern the cosmos, and it’s in our sense of questing. When we ask, “why?”, “How?”, “Where?”, “When?” or whatever that ends with a question mark, that’s where science begins. Science is curiosity itself, and I had a long relationship with curiosity since my childhood. I still recall sitting on the terrace trying to count the stars in the sky and asking a lot of questions to my mother.

       When I was in my 7th standard, I was reading a chapter in our Hindi textbook, titled “Bharat Ratna, Dr C. V. Raman”. After reading the chapter, I didn’t get anything, yes anything,  But for the first time I encountered the word “vaigyanik” (‘Scientist’ in English), that’s where I decided that I want to be a scientist but what sort of Scientist? I didn’t have any idea. I was just determined to become a scientist. 

      When I completed my 8th standard from Govt. middle school in my village, I had to move forward, I had to move to my city for my higher education to accomplish the vision, the vision of becoming a scientist. Our area is something where most of the people are not aware of education and do not prefer getting their children educated.  But my father is not like that. He just inspired me to keep on studying and move forward in any circumstances. He used to sit and teach me for hours in my childhood.  It was only because of his many efforts that I could get a higher education. After passing 8th, I took the entrance examination of the Government School of Excellence, Morena to get admission in 9th standard and I got selected. And that was a relief because finally, my first dream of coming out of a small village and studying in the city came true.

          With lots of hopes and a vision of science,  I came to that school in July 2017.  With time, I realized that we all were running in a race, a race of just getting good marks, a race of memorizing the textbook and writing in the question paper. We all had a competition of being the topper of the class. No one wanted to ask how much we have learnt. No one wished to know how much we have developed our understanding, our thinking capabilities. Everyone was just interested in knowing about our marks and that was frustrating. That’s where all my hopes from that school were wiped out.  So In the shade of getting good marks, I never realized what I’ll be doing after my 12th to accomplish the dream. Because, in my school, no one has any idea. Teachers didn’t have any knowledge of higher studies..  and Some were who used to say if you want to be a scientist you need large chunks of money. no one knew anything (I’m sure no one from my school is going to read it..hehe).

         One thing I would also point out is that for every student here is the fashion of coaching.  There is a saying that if you don’t go to coaching during your 10/12 you can never pass the exams. I don’t know why people believe so. During my 9th (and even afterwards), 40 out of 41, in my class, took coaching of one or more subjects. I was the only one who didn’t. My maths school teacher forced me to take coaching from him and I refused because I was very good at understanding things by just studying textbooks and no sort of coaching was required for that and nor I was interested in wasting money on someone who teaches how to memorize textbooks. And Since I didn’t take coaching from my teacher, I got 33 marks (good enough?) in my half early exam of 9th class.. and I certainly don’t hesitate to say that I was on the boundary. 

The process of exploration

 Our annual exams of 9th std. took place in February 2018 and after that, we had a summer break (March- Jone). That’s where a twist came into my story. I called my father and told them that I need a phone, an android one, and my father got me a mobile phone for the first time.  At that time, my father not only brought me a mobile phone, but it seemed as if I had handed over the whole knowledge of the world in my hands. My mobile phone became my go-to tool to find the answers to all those unanswered questions and because of this, I came to know about the paths that I had to prepare for myself. During the whole summer, I explored everything on the internet, literally everything, and because of the internet, I also got to know about IITs/NITs/IISERs./NISER.

         The process of exploration continued throughout my summer vacation(after 9th) and afterwards through the internet. I joined Facebook. After joining Facebook one thing I observed was that people here used to just post their photos, write some egostic captions, and just waste time. After a few days of joining FB, a thought popped up in my head. “Can I do something productive on Facebook”? I didn’t have the answer at that instant. So, first of all, I unfriended all those people nearby(including my relatives) and joined different groups related to science. And because of that, I came in contact with many students who were pursuing science. Many High school science students were curious about science. We all used to talk on different topics of science, cosmology, philosophy, and everything that came in the range of our discussion. It was like a family of “science lovers”. I made my science group named “Scientific thinking” and a page with the same name. Needless to say, my Facebook page crossed 10K likes in just a few months(unfortunately, both group and page are deleted now). It was really fun. I made a lot of friends from all over the country who had different areas of expertise. Some were shy-introverts like me, some were writers, some just loved discussing the meaning of life and some were animal lovers, and one thing I observed in my every online friend was that everyone was full of enthusiasm and fond of learning something new, something exciting which influenced me a lot in developing my understanding and thinking capabilities.  The most important point I would like to point out, that all the basic English that I’m using while writing this, is learned from Facebook. Unbelievable but that’s the truth. My school taught me to memorize things, to be part of the so-called race of getting good marks whereas the internet made me whatever I’m right now.   And my journey continued. I completed my 10th. And again the exciting summer break came into existence (at least for me) and in the exploration of this summer, I found myself moving towards atheism. First of all, let me tell you that I belong to a religious family which is extremely strict about God and religion. In my family, the Sun can rise from the west but no one can question God. So amidst my summer break, I started reading about Bhagat Singh(His famous essay Why I’m an atheist), Pt Nehru, Rahul Sankratyan, Prof Stephen Hawking, etc.  And later on, concluded that all the religions and concepts of God were made by some dominant groups of society to rule on the rest. And to all those who say that religions spread peace, morality, and enlightenment, I’ll strongly urge you to read history. There is no single religion that has not bled humanity in the past. The almighty, eternal, and omnipresent God was created by humans to satisfy their curiosity and for the benefit of some selected group of people, and hence, I reject the existence of God and refuse to believe in any religious belief that is being imposed on society without any compelling evidence. If you want to know then what I stand for? then as a human of course my answer is ” humanity” — That’s all. (It’s just my personal view) and this was the biggest change in my thought process which allowed me to think about the creation of the universe— which was no more a work of God. Yes, I developed a deep interest in Cosmology— The science of origin and fate of the Cosmos, and of course, as usual, the books and science documentaries played a major role in it.  That’s when my dream of becoming a scientist turned into a dream of becoming a cosmologist. And yes I’m the only one — the first-ever child in my family, who is an atheist by heart-by soul—and because of that, I have suffered a lot of criticism from my uncle and I don’t care about that.

The failure

      Amidst the summer of the 10th standard (2019), my board result was announced. I got 94.6% but couldn’t cross 95 — and of course, because of my pretty bad handwriting but still — I was happy, my parents happy – Ah, finally my hard work paid off. cheers. 

        There is a scholarship scheme named “Super-100” organized by the Madhya Pradesh government to provide quality education and coaching of IIT-JEE/NEET(by Akash/Allen) to meritorious students of Madhya Pradesh. Selection of 200(100 for JEE + 100 for NEET) students is done through an exam and then selected students are called in Bhopal and Indore for their 11th – 12th + coaching of IIT/NEET just after their 10th.  I sat for the exam on July 1, 2019. The exam went well and I was confident of getting selected.  Let me tell you. I was already determined to go into ‘super 100’ after my 10th. I had no second thought in my head. And never thought about the aspect “what if I couldn’t get in ‘Super 100’?” But you know whatever has to happen happens—it doesn’t care about one’s dreams, one’s desires. So after a week, the result came (it was the 7th of July, 2019 if I remember correctly) and I wasn’t selected. I was on the waiting list with a rank of 146 and marks 106.3/150 and cutoff marks were 107.6 /150. It was hard to grasp but that’s what happened and I couldn’t do anything, literally anything. Being emotionally sensitive from childhood the failure was stuck somewhere in my head. Tears were rolling down my cheeks after seeing the result as finally, the dream was broken.  You know, when we want something so ardently and madly and don’t get it—we lose faith in ourselves and lose so badly that it takes years to restore it.  All I could do was just cry day and night and I knew that wouldn’t change anything. And with the help of my school friends, I somehow managed to get out of that tough time. I accepted the failure and started studying for 11th.

An opportunity

When I was on the way to settling down my thoughts and concentrating on my studies after the horrible failure, I got to know about a program called “MP mission Excellence program — Vigyan Manthan yatra organized by the council of science and technology, Madhya Pradesh.”  The objective of this program is to select meritorious students from Madhya Pradesh and develop scientific aptitude and temperament in them through a 9-10 days visit to science and research institutes of the country. So that they can interact with the eminent scientists of India and understand the horizon of science, and how science is important in our lives. 

                  So I filled the form, and fortunately, I was selected. I was on the high after knowing that I had been selected. I took it as an opportunity to get refreshment from my past, and to explore the horizon of science.  Without thinking anything I packed my bag and left for Bhopal on Oct 11th, 2019— where all the selected students were called.  We all gathered in Vigyan Bhavan, Bhopal on the morning of the 12th of Oct. And our destination city was Chandigarh. We were 102 students(of 11th class) from different parts of Madhya Pradesh. and had to visit the science and research institutions and laboratories of Chandigarh. After the document verifications and orientation sessions and all, we left for Chandigarh by the evening of 12th Oct by train with our teachers [teachers are selected just like students to guide the students throughout the journey]  and MPCST officials. After a journey of approx 16 hours finally, we were at Chandigarh—Chandigarh, the cleanest city of India, full of peace, charm, and greenery. ( I fell in love with Chandigarh at first sight.)  We stayed in the Park View hotel and I got the nicest roommates.  At Chandigarh— in the morning we all used to have breakfast, then a discussion session with teachers about the schedule of that day.  The buses used to stand ready for us. And yo! We just set out to discover science. By evening we used to return after visiting, and after dinner,  we all used to gather in the common room of the hotel and have discussions on what we had learned, and some random talks. It was really fun and again the surprising thing was that I was the one— and only one Atheist in the group.. During our stay at Chandigarh we visited many places such as PGIMER, NIPER,  IISER Mohali(yes that’s when I gave a serious thought about IISER), Punjab University,  Sukuma lake, Rock garden, Rose garden, etc. At IISER Mohali people were researching different species of ants and insects..  and at Punjab University, we saw a cyclotron for the first time.  It was really fun discussing science with students and interacting with scientists of those institutions. And on 19 Oct. We returned to Bhopal, visited some places there like– Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya and some other museums.. and finally on 20 Oct. Our journey ended. I literally cried at the time of farewell. It was an exciting journey full of experiences. We all made a lot of memories, and it was an amazing opportunity that filled our hearts with the love of science and hunger for knowledge.  

The Emptiness

After coming back from Vigyan Manthan Yatra the major change in my life was that I started writing ( In the Hindi language) for the first time. In February 2020 my class 11th’s exam took place and again we had a summer break coupled with a Covid-19 outbreak. I was thankful for Corona, because, We had a lot of free time to explore our interests and hobbies just because of Covid(hehehe). In March-April 2020, I developed an intense interest in coding. I used to stay awake all night doing coding and my passion for learning coding was so extreme that I learnt the C language in just 10–days. But the actual turning point was yet to come. The time which seemed lovely initially was yet to kill my existence. Confining in the home for months I went into depression. You know, I never liked studying in school( I used to do self-study at my home). I used to go to school just for my friend. We had a group of 4 of us– four idiots (Me and three of my friends Adiya, Narendra, Uday). We used to do bunk classes, sit on the school’s grounds, and used to have random discussions – sometimes pure intellectual talk of communism, politics, sociology, etc and then we used to think that we have grown so much,   and sometimes we used to make a lot of jokes on the teacher who taught the most useless and sometimes gossip about the most gorgeous girl of our class. Aditya used to get us out of the school by giving an application with a fake signature to the watchman, and that’s where another fun began with Samosa /Kachori/Pizza. Together We used to explore different dimensions of the city by bicycle. But when the whole world was shut down, the fun faded away— and the love of loneliness turned into pain and suffering.  During that period of depression, I made a biggest mistake in my life for which I’m regretting till now. I started studying philosophy—I started reading about Nihilism and began to realize another aspect of life I wasn’t aware of. Yes, I began to realize the meaninglessness of life. Why are we born? Why do we grow up? Why do we get married? Get a job, have kids? Even after knowing that, one day, we are surely going to turn into dust. These were the things my whole existence was suffering from.  Together with studying philosophy, I used to write some of the darkest poetry of my life, the consequences of which were brutal. I lost my feelings, my emotions. My dreams, desires, inspirations, and aspirations were faded away somewhere with the shadow of my existence, and this is how my existence turned into “emptiness.” You know, When we cry for a reason, that’s fine, that’s acceptable. But what if we cry all day and night and we have no reason for that. How does it feel? I used to cry day and night and always questioned “Why Me– Why only me?” and I never got the answer. All of the sufferings made me a person who was mentally dead. Every single day I woke up in the morning, just hoping that the day would go well—but in the end—the day would have been filled with more pain, more suffering, more emptiness, and more numbness in my existence. In the phase of depression, I did everything that I thought would ease the suffering—I took marijuana, cut my wrist, and whatnot. And at the end of the day, nothing worked.

  From my diary –during the phase of suffering 

(Over the years I’ve lost a lot of myself—by a lot I mean a lot.  I still try to understand the reasons and the mistakes that forced the shadow of my existence to be imprisoned in this cage. I suffocate here. there is a lot of pain, a lot of suffering – I want to run away somewhere, but where?  I don’t know.  I just want to be free from this captivity forever and ever.  When I want to cry, my sobs suffocate me, and when I want to screen aloud, my voice reflects off these walls and stings like cankers in my ears.  I have no fear of dying.  If someone comes and pokes a dagger in my chest, I will not mind by oath, but I do not want to live like this by choking!  There is not that much tolerance left in my soul, there is not that much strength left to bear these sufferings. ) 

And the cycle of time went on till Jan-Feb 2021– the sufferings of approximately 1 year. I still remember a day in March 2021, I had studied nothing much and I was in tears questioning my existence and remembering my dreams that I had lost in the way.  I had to move forward in my academic career but most of the crucial time was lost and I could do nothing.

The Victory

You know when we are at an extreme of something— two things can happen. Either we go on falling into that trough and cease our existence or we come out of it because we desire so. And I chose the second— I decided I won’t die like this. It’s okay, it’s alright if I have lost my inner-self, my existence, but…. I have to create one. I won’t die like this. And Amidst of march 2021, things started changing.  Slowly- slowly I was again on the track and I don’t know whether it was because of my desire of coming out of it or it was just a miracle.

   At the end of March, I made a schedule and started preparing for IISER Aptitude Test 2021. This was the time when I felt so much connected to myself. Studying all night, sleeping at 6 a.m., waking up at 12–1 p.m., and then again studying all night from 2–3 pm– it was my routine. ( Expect 20-30 minutes for dinner). And being an introvert it was pretty easy for me to stay alone and stay focused for a long time.  At that time IISER wasn’t my dream, it was a desire, a burning desire— the sole purpose of my life and I had to get it at any cost for the dream of science that I saw a long time ago.

  From my diary— during the preparation

What kind of conflict is this, which is in me even today. Even after such a long time. Nothing has changed yet. The same radish sunsets, the same colorless evenings, and the same birds chasing the sun’s dim rays. If I take a step ahead, it is as if I have reached the last end and if I look back, I am there, unshakable, neither one step forward nor one step back.  But the ray of sun coming through the door drawer fleetingly fades my mirage of being alone, and also gives comfort that I am not alone here. I am not the only one here who has seen dreams. There are many, and whose desire to turn their dreams into reality has given them the courage and confidence to push themselves beyond their limits, their abilities. My pace hasn’t stopped yet.  But suddenly a cloud of doubt surrounds me, that if not this then what?  Don’t know, haven’t thought about it yet. It is said that you should think in advance about the best and worst aspects of every possible outcome in life.  But I can’t think of anything else, but yes, I have not even laid down my arms. I will fight till the end whether it will be my victory or defeat.  Winning is not everything for me in this battle, it is just that I will not give up because this battle is with me and I’ll fight!

A fine day

It’s a fine day just like any other. Me sitting on my chair, burning my eyes in front of my laptop screen and writing the journey– the journey of pain, sufferings, tortures, and yes, the journey of a lot of learning, fun, and enjoyment. Soon I’ll be leaving for my second life “IISER Kolkata”. Sometimes I still feel that numbness in my existence but whenever I ask myself “Was this journey of losing and gaining oneself necessary? ” “Yes, it was.”

And my advice to other students would be “Cherish every moment of your life. Love the journey you are part of, make mistakes as much as you can and learn from them. Lose yourself but never lose the desire of getting yourself back, have faith in yourself. And Yes, take pride in the efforts you have made to accomplish your dreams.”

I know It was a bit long story—But this was not the story of just me – it was a story of thousands of other students who have the same experiences as me and want to express their soul.. but they don’t get a chance to do so.. and I’m just one of them, expressing my soul for myself and also on the behalf of those who are forgotten.

So, I think that’s all, and Thankyou so much for staying up to the end.

8 thoughts on “The Journey of a small-town student to IISER Kolkata”

    1. Bhai , very relatable don’t worry i did not take marijuana, you are a great personality and you will achieve a lot in your life , my wishes are with you .
      Yours iiser kolkata friend

    2. Hey! Suraj. Your story is very inspirational, and I felt so connected because my life’s story is also very similar to you, except the fact that I didn’t take marijuana and couldn’t crack IAT yet. But ya I also felt the same during the lockdown period. Moreover, I just loved your writing skill. Keep shining and keep exploring.

      One of your Facebook friend and may be your future junior
      Uday Kumar

      HAIL SCIENCE ⚛🚀🔭🌌

  1. the part about depression was very relatable

    and your story will be a motivation for us all 🙂

    feeling proud to be your classmate

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