The Key to Success is… IDK Bro, Hojayega
This piece has been written by Jyotsna Vilva (Batch of 2021). Artwork by Smriti Kalra (Batch of 2021).
There goes a saying, “When hard work and intelligence work hand in hand, many things are possible”. Logically, that makes sense. However, its author has clearly never met the residents of the National Law School, who seem to be working tirelessly to debunk this myth – an assiduous quest to prove that yes, in law school, many things are indeed possible without hard work.
Remember how in school a lot of people would act like they just somehow rolled out of bed, sauntered into school, got GPAs of 10 with no sweat – without studying or working at all – because hey, can’t be seen as the nerd? You would think that it was a sort of defence mechanism in school, and that as they got closer to adulthood – where they’d repeatedly be told that hard work is the key to success (a la the American Dream – you put in the hours, you’ll get the results) – they’d discard this attitude. Not necessarily. When I entered law school, a place that we’re repeatedly told is super hard and where we need to work a lot, it’s odd that this sort of weird flex carried forth. “Oh CLAT? I don’t know, I think I started studying only in like…Feb? Yeah man I don’t know how I made it” Yeah. Okay. 60,000 people wrote this exam, NLS’s intake is 0.083%, you expect me to believe that you didn’t work for this? Sure, some people didn’t study GK, some people copied from each other, and some nearly omitted the maths section, but we all definitely studied. This downplaying of hard work continues to be a ubiquitous phenomenon across law school and it’s often coupled with the assertion that we need to take law school less seriously.
“Brooo kya banda hai, X got 26.5 in his History project after working on it for only 3 days, what a legend” was a law school legend that we’d heard about a guy. This was a guy was clearly the most intelligent person alive, and could probably teach the History course to Professor Elizabeth herself, the way he was exalted. This legend continues to be bandied about year after year to incoming law school batches, as an example of how “Oof those nerds are overplaying History, it’s not that hard, law school isn’t that hard, you need to calm down.” Oh OH oh OH oh OH, you need to just stop. Funnily enough, this advice has often come from people who’ve never made a History project. But I digress. This is just one of the many many examples I’ve seen here, over my long tenure at law school.
There have been other choice situations where I’ve seen this culture of “hojayega”, of “chill, don’t take things so seriously” and of this abhorrence for work. It is reflected in people downplaying how much they’ve prepped for internship interviews or job interviews (when you know, it’s literally for your job, the literal reason why many are going through 5 years of law school, but pshht ain’t nobody got time to put in work for this). It is seen during exams when even though people study hard, the incessant assertion is that people who never show up for class, who never study for or give their exams, or actually show much effort, are actually really smart you know (a privilege, strangely, which I’ve only seen reserved for men). It is also seen when talking about (read: glorifying) those who win Nego competitions after having just read the problem on the flight on the way there. Or, speakers on moot teams getting better speaker scores just because they gave way more practice rounds than their teammates (no shit? Someone clearly wasn’t paying attention during causation in Legal Methods).
While the intention of the retelling of these stories across batches might be to assuage worried juniors that they too can do really well at law school and it’s not all scary, their repetition and the manner of their retelling ends up producing the effect of downplaying – first, the need for hard work, and second, the hard work itself. First years, especially those who work weeks and weeks on their History projects, or spend hours and hours poring over Economics (subjects which are genuinely hard and where the effort to result ratio is often proportionate) often end up directly or indirectly being vilified or made fun of, and made to feel stupid for the work they put in.
This trend also largely seems to be more prevalent amongst the men on this campus – leading to either work not being put in by men, or a pretence of work not being put in – to be a chill guy. In instances of odd forms of toxic masculinity, I’ve personally seen boys intensely make fun of their batchmate who read all the History readings, and then didn’t score too highly in the midterms (that boy didn’t read much after that for the endterms). I’ve seen men confiding in their female batchmates about how they’re scared for an interview and have been preparing really hard for the same, but act like they haven’t done anything when another guy joins the conversation. Many men also escape to the confines of the library so that their fellow MHOR residents don’t see them studying or working in advance of a deadline, or pretend that they’re last minute people and haven’t already completed their projects. In the funniest example yet, I once saw some men actively trying to prevent a batchmate from working, because he was becoming too legit. Seems like this defence mechanism from school has carried on.
This is a place where a lot of the subjects are difficult, a lot of our extra-curricular activities require heavy research or practice to excel at, and where our GPA is nearly directly proportional to our RCC employability. If we’re repeatedly fed the notion that we don’t need to work hard, we end up placing innate intelligence on a pedestal, which is directly tied into our conceptions of “studs” within our rampant “stud culture”. Parv Kaushik, in his article ‘A Fetish for Excellence‘, wrote about how we as a community attach a dangerous degree of importance to achievements, regardless of the process to reach that achievement, and regardless of whether there were gains to be made without the existence of an achievement. Herein, I believe, lies the cause for why we tone down our work.
If it is only our achievements that are valued, and if nothing is worth it unless you win, if you don’t win, the entire process is of course a failure. And if you put in effort in the process, but still didn’t make it, that’s a dark mark on your intelligence. But, if you didn’t win your moot/get an O/ace that interview/do well in Univs, but you also didn’t (or acted like you didn’t) waste any efforts or time in the process, did you really fail? Because of course, had you done so, you would have definitely aced XYZ activity. But you didn’t! So you didn’t technically fail! Failure, or the fear of failure, is one of the biggest lessons that we’re not taught how to deal with in law school. Failure doesn’t fit in with our fetishisation of stud culture and our idea of excellence. And therefore we employ the lack of effort as a defence mechanism, as a shield against possible failure.
Failure is never easy to digest, but law school certainly doesn’t make it easier. We need to start inculcating a culture where it’s at least acknowledged that failure is okay. Effort doesn’t always lead to outcomes, but there exists value in the efforts itself. Once we acknowledge that, maybe this need to moderate our labour will start to cease. Sure, there are people who do get by without much effort into their exams, projects, moots, Negos, etc, but when we’re retelling their stories to impressionable juniors, it needs to come with a caveat that these people form the exception, not the norm. And about those examples I mentioned at the beginning of this piece? Their retellings don’t convey the full story. When I asked X about his ‘legendary project’, it turns out that he actually put in a week’s good work on his History project. The team that won the Nego competition also had 2 people who actually did prepare really hard for it. And finally, a lot of people do study in secret for their exams.
History is shaped by those who tell it. It’s our job to tell it responsibly.