Tag: Master of Arts

My MA Convocation Was a Fiasco

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.

ignou rc mumbai convocation
The delegation at the 33rd IGNOU convocation in Pune / @ignourcmumbai on FB

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.[1]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 choice[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) 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.

IGNOU MA convocation
That’s me photographed with someone else’s degree certificate

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.

Conclusion

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

footnotes   [ + ]

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)

On Completing MA in English

The Catcher in the Rye new book cover

On 14 August 2019, a day before the day when half the people in India began their four-day-long leisure trip to some place and the rest half sat in anticipation to see the prime minister encourage patriotism on television, I successfully completed the Master of Arts in English Literature correspondence course from IGNOU.

A sense of pride and happiness engulfed me when I checked the results on my other computer, which dimmed a little when I calculated the final score (55.56%), a bit less than the first-year figure (60.75%). Not too great for someone who exaggerates his literary interests and reading skills, but still valid enough to justify this write-up.

There is a lot to talk about here, especially because I am originally a STEM student. But I’ll keep it to a few bullet points before I can write a detailed account of how I tackled the MEG programme and what I feel about the course provided by IGNOU, known as the best distance learning course for MA in English in India. Perhaps now tied to the one provided by Mumbai University’s IDOL (after it got the UGC accreditation recently).

  • I signed up for the course in 2017, two years after I graduated as a Bachelor of Engineering from Mumbai University. At that time, it felt overwhelming – no classes, four subjects to tackle in the first year, four assignments that are to be handwritten, and four paper examination in about eight months from that point of time. I was supposed to take it up using the top skill in the world: self-studying
  • I have to admit my interest for the course after registering and paying the fees dwindled considerably as my responsibilities grew at work. Then I received the first set of study materials by mail sometime in February 2018 and so began my actual journey towards diving deep into English literature. By April 2018, I had a fairly good idea about the course and what was required of me if I wanted to crack it
  • The first-year exams went by like a breeze. It was three years since I had experienced the sit-in-a-classroom-for-three-hours-straight ritual that wrecked my right-hand fingers after each paper. Yet I managed to write well as the results proved later in August 2018
  • The exam experience took me back to my diploma and degree days, as I saw myself mimicking my preparation and writing strategy. I have always depended on current affairs and observations around me to enrich my answers and it was no different this time
  • The second-year exams were tougher despite me having selected three electives of my choice (MEG 6, MEG 7, and MEG 11). That last one only because it had an entire chapter on J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Laughably, I scored the least (50/100) in MEG 11
  • This course gave me a bit of travel experience too as I saw myself exploring the city of Bhiwandi as part of my second-year exams. On account of an error on my side, I chose a college in Bhiwandi as my exam center (because all these towns/cities were categorized as Thane and I chose Thane without realizing it) and it was probably the worst decision I made in 2019. As some of you might know, there is no direct local train from Mumbai/Navi Mumbai and you have to take a detour from Kalyan. It takes about 90 minutes to reach there which is why I had to depend on Uber while going and a combination of the good old Mumbai suburban train and auto rickshaws while coming back
  • One small, good part of this course was all the discussions that I had with a small group of fellow students in a WhatsApp group. When I was growing up and studying, I don’t think I had ever done group study or discussed notes with my friends or classmates. This changed during my MA and I think I enjoyed it
  • Probably the biggest change that this MA degree has brought in me is through its validation of my writing and literary bend. I now am more confident about my writing – as I sometimes do it professionally as a freelancer – which is what I had anticipated before signing up in 2017 even as I received puzzled looks from friends, colleagues, and family about my decision. I did this MA in English to validate and strengthen my experience and I think I got it
  • Lastly, I am a voracious reader now. Before 2019, I used to read less than 5 books a year on an average. In 2019, I have already read 14 books so far.

What Next?

I have been thinking about this for sometime now. Exams ended in June 2019 and I still haven’t decided.

I have always wanted to take a look into journalism and mass media, so it could be something on those lines next. Maybe that, or maybe a change in my full-time job because it’s been more than four years with Publicis now. Need a psychological change.

I also have plans to go over all the study materials of the MA course just to get a better understanding. This will also help me go over the topics that I had skipped during the exams. Could be a great use of my time till 2020 when I sign up for something or the other for sure. TN.

Featured image courtesy: Sean Somics at Creative Commons