“What part of yourself did you have to destroy in order to survive in this world?”

In the diverse islands of Galapagos, Charles Darwin observed different types of finches and made note of the fact that all of them had a common ancestor but they evolved in order to survive. He eventually solidified his theory of natural selection – the infamous “survival of the fittest,” although Charles Darwin couldn’t have imagined how his theory would go on to become a survival guide for students of Nepal’s Educational system.

I once read “What part of yourself did you have to destroy in order to survive in this world?” and it stayed with me, following me around like a shadow. I was only 19 when I first entered Thames, so why did it feel like I was a walking shell of a human being? And it was when I tried answering this question that I realized that I was a murderer who had killed parts of my identity in order to survive the education system. Parts of myself that wanted to have discussions about contemporary issues that paralyzed our society. I had killed the writer in me. I had killed the thinker in me. What remained were parts that fit together to build the “ideal student”. A dedicated voiceless youth with books in hand and exams in mind. But the funny thing about human life is that no matter what, you cannot resist change.

In the fall of 2021, I joined Thames college to study psychology. What was left of me wanted to become someone you could go to for relief and understanding. But at that point I hadn’t entertained the possibility of ever becoming whole again. It’s funny how much power words can have. In English class, the question “So what are your thoughts on the matter?” shook me. I thought to myself that the way education works in Nepal doesn’t include a two-way conversation. My idea of education was based on reality: a teacher would appear in class and begin a chapter and the students would simply listen. Notes were supposed to be jotted down and handed out by the teacher. There was no critical thinking. There were no objections, no debates but a deadline to complete the syllabus and prepare for the exams. A lesson of 45 minutes with a room full of students who imitated mannequins. These still mannequins had no objections because it was their job to simply sit and listen. There was never time to ask students what their thoughts on the matter were or more accurately there was no need to ask. Alas, the laws of motion didn’t require students to think critically. But that was the only way one could survive – keeping your heads down and memorizing the theorems and ideas. You couldn’t be a writer; you couldn’t be an artist because you couldn’t survive being so. The price to pay to become a writer or an artist was accepting the fact that you could be belittled and subjected to degrading remarks. A crime against myself was the sacrifice I had to make. It was a cruel thing indeed that I had done in order to live. However, I can’t really describe my state as “living”. I’d wake up, eat, sleep, and repeat but I wasn’t really breathing. After nearly 15 years of education, my identity turned into that of a lifeless mannequin.

A thrilling twist in my monotonous life had come in the form of a question “So what are your thoughts on the matter?” Parts of me that I thought were gone were coming back from the dead trying their absolute best to speak. With enough time and empowerment, their murmurs finally coalesced into a voice. I was becoming a person with thoughts and opinions. For nearly a decade it felt like I had been holding my breath, waiting for a desperate moment to breathe. And when I started writing my poems and my stories, I felt like it happened, I could actually breathe. And regardless of the fact that I haven’t fully stitched myself together, I did cry tears of joy at the possibility of becoming whole again. A simple question ended up answering my wish to exist as who I am and who I want to be.

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