My grandmother stopped reading the newspaper when she crossed into her seventies. The coiled and unopened newspaper lay on her verandah floor like something waiting for the bomb squad. The macabre crime tales of Delhi and beyond left her bitter like the taste of the black tea that she drank in the morning. Today, when I opened the newspaper to read that the cut-off for admission into the English Honours programme at St Stephen’s College in Delhi University was just one percent short of 100, I think I know what she felt.

After a happy childhood of little or no serious reading (unless you think that comics like Tinkle, Champak and Asterix belong in the same company as Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Muktibodh), I was stumped by a pointed question during my interview to study English at St Stephen’s. “But you haven’t really read any of the classics. Why do you think you’ll read them now?” I did not have a satisfactory answer to give then, and I don’t think I have one today. But in true Delhi jugaad spirit, I had borrowed and quickly read Jane Eyre two weeks before my interview. Of course they never asked me anything about it. Having established the fact that I didn’t read books, they wanted to know what did I do with my time?

So I told them about my love for the National School of Drama’s Ghashiram Kotwal, and when I left Bhagalpur House after watching a play, I felt I had lived another life, become someone else, and learned a new language to understand the world. I panicked when the then Principal, Anil Wilson, sitting directly in front of me, asked me to name my favourite literary character. Tarzan, Chacha Chaudhari, Nagraj, Super Commando Dhruv – I almost mentioned one of my heroes, when PG Wodehouse’s cool, dandy and unflappable Psmith (who added a P before his name to distinguish himself from other Smiths) rescued me. “Okay, Why does he inspire you?” they asked. “Because he’s unscrupulous,” I answered, thrilled that I had used such a big word. Just then two out of three interviewers looked down and scribbled on their notepads, but Wilson grinned from ear to ear.

In the next three years, I learned that words are things: we live the metaphors that we use, and that poetry brings us closer to something that will always be bigger than us, like the mountains.

All this is to say that students, when they apply to undergraduate courses, must have the freedom to do what they have never done before. They must be able to explore new disciplines, discover their love (or not) for it, and find out that it does not matter what you learn as long as your teacher loves what she teaches. So dear student, don’t be disheartened if you don’t get what you want in the college or course of your choice. Dive into your discipline and try to learn from the finest minds – online, offline, YouTube, books, museums, and movies – on your subject. Just as the literary does not only live inside books and the historical is not just about the past, you will always be more than the sum of your marks.