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Follow the adventure of a (not so) typical Indian student.

Priority shift

Posted on: Mar 27, 2013

The shifting of priorities is something I've mentioned in many of my posts. It was one of the most important lessons that I have learnt after moving out of my home. Throughout my childhood, my parents inculcated a set of habits in me. When I'm at home, there are things I need to do like helping around the house, putting out the dishes, having proper food at the proper times, going to sleep and such. After 16 years of doing all this, it more or less becomes a part of you. I started to treat these habits as absolute. They were a part of me and even the thought of them changing never crossed my mind. I had taken them for granted. I remember when I first moved to Mumbai, my dad told me that there would be times when I would probably skip meals and he told me to avoid doing that. But I said that that's impossible. I always prioritize food above everything else. No matter what, there was no scenario in my mind due to which I would go without food (I loathe fasting and dieting too). I laugh when I remember this scene now. It was obvious that he was right. He had gone through the whole thing too.

The first instance of shifting priorities was with my bath timings. It wasn't very drastic and I didn't exactly feel like there was some fundamental change taking place. I only reasoned with myself that there was no point in having a bath in the morning because I needed the sleep. And also, after taking a bath, it took about five minutes to start sweating again. So I switched having in a bath in the morning to having one right before I went to sleep. The other thing was my breakfast. Now that was something I didn't really want to skip, but again, I reasoned that it took me more time to make something at home and since I didn't (or don't) have any place to store food, it would be better if I went to college, attended the lecture and had breakfast after the first lecture. I knew it was not really a very good thing to do and it took me some time to adjust to this, but I finally managed it.

Then came the juries and the NASA practice intensified. There really wasn't any time for even reasoning with myself about these shifting habits. The only thing that didn't really change was lunch and dinner. Otherwise, everything had already started shifting. Without me actually realizing it, sleep was fast becoming the first thing on my mind. Using that as an excuse, I always managed to reason with myself. With the juries though, even that changed.

We didn't have exams or tests like others. We had to put up a portfolio of work and a panel of judges would go through it and ask us to talk about it. This was the jury. The amount of work that we were asked to produce for it took us all by surprise. Even the most meticulous people and the most intelligently worked out timetables didn't save us from the sheer volume of work. It was something no one was prepared for. In this condition, even sleep started taking a backseat. We slept only if there was time. Otherwise, we kept ourselves awake and worked. In this condition, it became almost impossible for us to even leave the college and go home. Taking a bath was the last thing on anyone's mind. This was when I first realized that my priorities had shifted without me actually realizing it. The incident that made me aware of this fact was when I was gulping down my food to save some time. I suddenly understood that I had subconsciously shifted my work to the first priority. Well, at least I was still eating.

I thought once the juries were over, I would be able to go back to before, but the habits stuck. I thought that if I could finish my work beforehand, then probably, I wouldn't be bogged down at the jury. This didn't exactly have the effect I had in mind. Because the work didn't really finish. On the other hand, I started to put more time into it.

It was during the peak work of NASA that I finally managed to re-prioritize everything. We were staying in college and it was impossible to leave for any amount of time. To add on to it, there was still so much work to be done that even leaving that room seemed impossible sometimes. During one of those days, I got up and directly started with the work I had to do. After some time, I realized I was hungry. But then I said to myself that I'd just finish this much and then go out. When I finished that, I remembered that there were also a few sketches that I was supposed to make. Again, I said I'd finish it and then go to eat. When I finally left the room, I was shocked. It was already nighttime. I had just spent the whole day working. Not only that, but I had somehow managed to suppress my hunger in that time. This was probably the first time I had gone without food for such a long time. It was a very different feeling. I wasn't weak like I thought I'd be. I wasn't even fazed, but just the act of not eating made me realize how much I had changed! I remembered the talk I had with my dad and called him up. I told him what had transpired and we both laughed about it.

It's been a long time since all this actually took place. Five years, to be precise. There were a lot of incidents like this later on. There were even times when I didn't have enough money to go and eat. Or the time after I was awake for about three days after which I think I just slept for a day (there was no way I was going to get up in between). After I did get up, I was delirious with thirst and hunger. But these incidents seemed to just show me how malleable (or fickle) we really are. I understood why we call something a 'priority.' The word itself signifies change. There is nothing absolute about it. It really is one of the most important lessons I've ever learnt.

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