In February 2020, I took a day off from work to drive to Pune with my entire family to collect my Master of Arts degree certificate from IGNOU at its 33rd annual convocation ceremony. Call it a stupid mistake on my part or a sheer lack of luck, I was denied my certificate. Morose and disappointed, we cancelled all our subsequent sight-seeing and luncheon plans and decided to drive back to Mumbai. On our way, our car broke down and we spent nearly 4 hours waiting at an unfamiliar place before it was ready to roll on the road again. It was an hour shy of midnight when we reached home.
I don’t think I have had a day as disastrous as that Monday in a long time. Making me look back at it now and assess its potential to be perhaps the worst day of my adult life.
Preparing for the 33rd IGNOU Convocation
After taking the decision to pursue Master of Arts in English Literature (MEG) via the distance learning program of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in 2017, I was successfully able to complete it – while working full-time – in two years, the minimum course time. It wasn’t easy but I didn’t come out with flying colours either to boast about it. If not a good score, I was just happy that I had completed it without having to take advantage of the ATKT rule, reassuring me that studying while working was still a manageable enterprise for me who is a lazy bum.
So when IGNOU emailed me about the convocation ceremony – five months after the results were out – I was elated. At first, I thought I was supposed to go to the main campus in New Delhi. I even discussed this with my course coordinator (Pema Sandup) and was excited that an interstate trip had appeared out of nowhere. But then the regional circular mentioned that the convocation for students from Mumbai and Pune would happen in the latter city. Nevertheless, I immediately registered for the ceremony by paying INR 600.
The venue was an auditorium near Colonel Point in Pune and I had already figured out the time it would take for us to reach there. The IGNOU circular also specified a dress code: students were supposed to wear Bharatiya Paridhan (Indian dress) and that is when I had second thoughts about attending the function. It confused me a little at the start but then I found out it’s not really a mandate. A white shirt would do. But, just in case, I borrowed a kurta from a friend. I was ready.
The 33rd convocation ceremony of IGNOU was scheduled on a Monday afternoon in February 2020. After a recent intense incident that had ended in a heartbreak, I was very excited for this event. Despite work pressure, I managed to take the day off. My sister and her husband also took the day off and my niece had to skip school. We all were really looking forward to the trip – sort of a day out in Pune. My mom loves such road trips. And my previous convocation – when I graduated as an Engineer from the University of Mumbai – was a damp squib.
None of us had any idea that the day was going to be a complete failure.
The Day of the Event
I think we started out before 9 AM that Monday morning. Our only stop was at the Khalapur Food Plaza for some tea and breakfast. Before 11 AM we were at the venue.
We parked the car at the lot and I stepped out to register myself. Apparently, we had to re-register on the spot and that is where I screwed up. Since the venue was designated for students from both the regional centres (Mumbai and Pune), there were multiple queues leading up to the registration desk. I joined one of the queues for Mumbai students.
Upon reaching the desk, I dished out my IGNOU ID card and wrote down my name and enrolment number. I was asked to pay a refundable deposit of INR 200 for the convocation scarf which I did. In an attempt to not hold the line up for long, I quickly asked the staff if this registration was enough. He said yes, and without questioning it, I took the scarf and left the desk. I had nearly two hours before the ceremony began and instead of verifying if I had actually registered my name on the call list, I sat at my designated seat reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.
The Event, The Blunder
My family also shortly joined me in the auditorium even though we were sitting separately. Half an hour passed by before the delegation entered with an entourage and occupied their chairs on the dais. Happy and excited, I waited for the opening speeches to get over to finally receive my MA degree certificate.
Here I would like to highlight the speech made by the guest of honour for the convocation, Bhupendra Kainthola, an IIS officer and current Director of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He spoke softly and with a touch of liveliness that was missing in the speeches made by those before him. He talked about his own experiences (as an IGNOU student) and then congratulated us for our feat with extraordinary panache. It was a remarkable, uplifting speech that is yet not available in the public domain.The IGNOU Pune Regional Centre hadn’t responded to my query about the video. If someone asks me if there was one thing that went well that day then I would refer to this speech. IGNOU’s Pune division of inviting Kainthola may not have been the right choiceBhupendra Kainthola is more of a film person than related to education. He was also accused of alleged harassment and for creating a ‘hostile work environment’ by an FTII student in 2018. (Student Alleges FTII Director Ridiculed, Intimidated Her for Speaking Up Against Sexual Harassment – The Wire – Varsha Torgalkar, 24 October 2018) but I did objectively enjoy his words.
Soon after Kainthola’s speech, the certificate distribution began. Doctorate students were conferred first. Students from different streams were called onto the dais and were handed over their certificates as I continued to applaud with the audience. It was when the delegation started distributing Bachelor’s degrees to students that I realized something was wrong. But I still waited, hoping to be called. Perhaps my name was last on this list?
No, my name was not on the list. I confirmed this when I walked to an IGNOU Pune official nearby and asked him why my name was not called. “Your name is not on the list. You didn’t register,” he said and my worst nightmare came true. By this time, my niece and nephew were getting restless. The distribution had moved to Pune students. It looked like I would be really ending up without a certificate.
I kept my book on my seat and walked up to where my family was sitting. Even they had the same questions as I had. More than embarrassment, it was disappointment that I was feeling. Waking up early, driving all the way to Pune, only to be taken down by a a clerical issue. My confidence was draining and I suddenly found myself in a state of inactivity. Even when my sister and mom forced me to go up to the dais and ask what’s what, I didn’t flinch. I just sat there analysing my mistake.
I finally gathered some courage and walked to the dais. I relayed my concern to a group of officials working behind the stage. They reconfirmed what the organizer had told me. But they also added one thing: there was no way I was going to get the certificate that day. Why? Because the original bundle of certificates was already packed and ready to be sent to the respective regional centres.
Dejected, I walked back to my family and passed the information. I think more than the issue of not receiving the certificate, my family was irritated that I couldn’t be photographed in the graduation attire. And that is what eventually caused me the biggest embarrassment.
We talked to the chancellors for assistance but none of them came to our aid. They made us understand that it was not right to open the bundle now after it was packed and taped. But then my sister suggested that I take a photograph with them using someone else’s certificate. Why? Just for the heck of it. As a crown on top of all the embarrassment, that is exactly what happened.
When all of this was over, I walked back to my original seat to collect my book. To no one’s surprise, it was no longer there. Like adding salt to the fire, the missing book added to my fury. A day that was characterised by absent-mindedness on my part. It robbed us of everything that we had wished for that day. And if all of this wasn’t enough, our car’s alternator cable snapped right when we were in the middle of a busy street. An Exide guy helped us and connected us to a mechanic nearby and it wasn’t before 7 PM that we left the city. Sorrowful, tired, and desperate to get home.
This happened at the height of me losing my self-confidence. I was just doing the bare minimum at everything – at work, in personal development, and in my social life. Such a minor mistake caused by an absent mind had a surprisingly large impact on my belief in myself, causing borderline impostor syndrome. I usually am not much affected by successes and failures but this episode really troubled me. I even saw it as a precursor to me losing my mind, being unable to carry out a basic task like registering my name on a sheet of paper. It caused a small crack in me, which is why I had to write this piece to let off some steam.
It’s been nearly two months since the fiasco, but the embarrassment that it caused me still is fresh on my mind. More so during this lockdown period where I have a lot of ideas but unable to execute any of them.
After the incidents, I took the following day off to steady myself but it didn’t help much. I went back to work on Wednesday and things went back to normal as I got busy with work. I stopped thinking about it for some time until the degree certificate reached me by post. It was a bittersweet feeling. TN.
Featured image courtesy: @chuttersnap via Unsplash
|↑1||The IGNOU Pune Regional Centre hadn’t responded to my query about the video.|
|↑2||Bhupendra Kainthola is more of a film person than related to education. He was also accused of alleged harassment and for creating a ‘hostile work environment’ by an FTII student in 2018. (Student Alleges FTII Director Ridiculed, Intimidated Her for Speaking Up Against Sexual Harassment – The Wire – Varsha Torgalkar, 24 October 2018)|