The AtoZChallenge on favourite authors that I commenced in April 2016 remains incomplete. I had not realised when I started it that it would involve reading a number of new novels, re-reading several old favourites and reflecting upon the times when I had read them first, and musing about how my concept of favourite authors have evolved and changed over the years, especially the past two years. While I will return to the remaining five authors (From the letter V onwards, a half-finished post on Vonnegut awaits in the drafts), I have decided to challenge myself to write a post a day throughout July – about books, the writing life, and of course metafiction. I don’t plan to spend more than fifteen minutes per post.

My first post in this series, on the student life.

‘One who is diligent and unswerving in effort as the Crow,
as focused as the Crane, who sleeps as little as the Dog,
who eats sparingly and who is celibate and shuns worldly thoughts,
These are the five signs of an ideal student.’

In my undergraduate engineering years, I had this verse in Sanskrit pinned on the wall above my bed in the hostel room. I had just survived the first onset of depression which had darkened my life from the age of fifteen and remember very little of those years, except the mist and the mountains covering the college, the wind which sounded like a person – murmuring, howling and sometimes just talking in a monotone that filled the ears as one walked through the large open fields to get from the classrooms to the library, and sitting in the library, filling up books with notes on microelectronics and communication theories. I remember picking at the hostel food and working my way through the nights fuelled by black coffee, Marie biscuits, and a paracetamol tablet every two hours to beat the exam fever. I suppose I met all five of the criteria in the verse for I topped the college. Then I stepped out into the world, landed a great job in a hellhole of a place Trivandrum and fell again into the darkest period of depression for the next seven years – that is another story.

But to return to the verse. Diligence and focus are essential for any student, qualities which are easier to cultivate when social media is deactivated and the internet connection is switched off for good measure. I am an insomniac and have always been averse to material things. However, to eat sparingly – I am not sure if that is good advice. As someone who doesn’t really enjoy food and thinks cooking is a waste of time, when I first started living alone I tried taking small quantities of simple vegetarian food and promptly fell sick for a long period of time before finding out that most of my problems were related to the diet. It is easy to be a student living at home or in a hostel, where everything is taken care of but to study while managing a house and a more than a fulltime job – thousands of people do it rather well, and I found out the hard way that a proper diet is of utmost importance in order to do it.

Sometimes even the ancient sayings need to be tuned for the times.