The mind map of the typical classroom is normally fragmented into two layers, studious book worms loyally occupying the first few benches and a frivolous gang with little rhyme or reasoning to the academics, crowding near the last bench. Two radically contrasting mindsets under the same roof getting prepared for the uncertainty in life in different wavelengths. Our deep-rooted prejudice often tends to predict success for the first type and concerns for the latter. Our biases are so firmly anchored that not only do we believe in them from “womb to the tomb,” but seldom we spend time in validating them. In the twentieth year of my graduation, I am trying to trace this journey of these down looking “Backbenchers” and how the shifting tidal waves of human behavior has shaped up their life trajectory

No doubt, being studious comes with a minimum guarantee of life; a protective campus placement is the first in this list. Besides this, it can fetch a few immediate trophies, such as bragging right for your parents in the neighborhood, an auto loan, and a never-ending search for the all-inclusive, most economical apartment. Life seems to be settling down with all the cosmic constellations working in your favor. In contrast, the backbencher is at the receiving end of the bad karma; loads of free advice are generously downloaded on them in equal measure by the known and unknown. The so-called “well-wishers” successfully amplify a simple shade of darkness to a complex state of black hole, making them feel as next in line with the serious criminal offenders. An unpaid educational loan adds on to this assault, and the very sight of a common friend who had got placed pierces a dagger in the bleeding heart. Quintessentially, this difference in treatment sets the undertone to face the unpredictable future. An organized mind feels rewarded and gets into a protective shell, firmly adopting a structured and established framework, whereas an unstructured mind takes the first lesson and gears to face the ebbs and flows of the things to come.

To elaborate, back in my batch, I had a friend who was the epitome of backbench, bunking the classes, missing the assignments, hoodwinking in labs, emptying lunch boxes of girls, whatnot. Similar to technical debts, his arrear debts were piling up with every semester. It doesn’t take a multivariate linear regression to predict his future, but zooming past twenty years, can you believe he is one of the most successful people in our batch. What really happened? when he definitely got battered at the end of college and was left to chart out his trajectory, it built his mental resiliency to face the failures and made him audacious enough to explore the uncharted horizon. When many of his experiments failed, the few that succeeded catapulted him to a state of comfort. When the protected mind, aka the first benchers, did grow and got reasonably settled, risk-taking ability was gradually eroding with age. So any cyclical industry change or upheavals in the market tend to distort the well-structured cocoon leading to complete unrest. They either become antsy or resort to the traditional kowtowing tactics of survival and become emotionally vulnerable. In essence, the perimeter of the safety net, which was their pride, had manifested itself as the contours of their coffin.

It’s not an exaggeration, but the heart wrenching, pleading messages which we often come across in the social domain by the experienced job seekers stems from the fact that their risk-taking ability was systematically stifled from the day they choose to sit on the first few benches. It’s not that they are not hard-working, but they are accustomed to a system of certainties such as five units in a textbook and 45% as a pass mark. Anything not in black and white makes them extremely uncomfortable; that’s the very scenario where the last benchers thrive. The last bencher tends to listen to the unspoken words and connect every imaginary dots to build their castle. Make no mistake, changes do make them uncomfortable, but it doesn’t depress them as they have been accustomed to living with it.

I am not generalizing the whole set of first and last benchers and forming an opinionated judgment; exceptions and cross overs do happen. But the first and last bench shouldn’t be merely viewed in terms of grades but as a crucible where tenacity of minds are being crafted. When a distinction definitely differentiates exceptional theoretical knowledge, it doesn’t guarantee that the student has aced the complex navigation of human behavior and relationship. This explains why some bright academic minds couldn’t strike an instant rapport and miserably fail to replicate college success in a corporate atmosphere. In the victory procession of life, based on the length of the travel we envision, we can see a gradual swap of first benchers to the last and vice versa. So next time, when you come across a backbencher, pause for a moment before offering free advice; his race has just begun !!

WRITTEN BYShammy Narayanan