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‘Are you serious? He’s chosen what?” These words were soaked in shocked consternation, as if I had just touched my aunt with a coronavirus infected sneeze! I replied, “Yes, you heard right, my son has opted for commerce!”

Sudden gloom had set in, the news hadn’t been received with much positivity. The reason being, the boy has selected the “pariah” of streams, as per what most Indians believe. And god save those who decide to take on humanities. They are relegated to the lowest category on the ladder of perceived mental ability.

Minakshi has literally pushed her daughter off the cliff into taking science despite the fact that the girl was most inclined towards liberal arts. The mother’s plaintive cry being, “What will our relatives say?” Even though the school where the girl used to study counselled her into opting for humanities, because that’s where her aptitude lay, her parents were adamant. They tried to arm-twist their way into the science stream and when that wasn’t possible, they shifted the daughter to another school.

. The ambition of many parents is to see the child get into the most prestigious engineering college in India called ‘IIT’.


Mr. Nair even threatened the school authorities that if his son was not offered ‘science’ then he would sue them. “If my son doesn’t become an engineer I can never ever go back to my hometown with my head held high!”

Jina, who was my student in primary school, called me the other day and lamented, “Ma’am I have always maintained ‘social-distancing’ from all things ‘bloody’ and ‘creepy’. I detest biology and my folks want me to study medicine. When do I tell them, I won’t be able to even dissect a cockroach they ignore my pleas.”

Her parents apparently had thrown her into a swimming pool when she was small and was terrified of water, that’s how she learnt to swim in spite of all the howling and fear, so the argument that they put forth is that, “These kids have to be pushed into it, they will automatically learn to swim their way through.” What if they ‘drown’? Drown into the next miserable 40 years of doing something that they were never happy about.

I marvel at Mrs. Kohli’s forthrightness, “Oh, I always thought your son was an intelligent student, then why commerce? We told our Guddu, whatever you want to do, do after you get an engineering degree. The degree is as important for us as my Jimmy Choo shoes, my LV bags and our new Audi ‘gaddi’ (vehicle) you see!”

Obsession with ‘engineering’

Well, the mindless rat race actually begins way before. The ambition of many parents is to see the child get into the most prestigious engineering college in India called ‘IIT’. The training begins when the child is 13 years old. They are brainwashed into thinking that it’s either ‘IIT” or it is a “dead end”. Even if you have to become a stand-up comedian after four gruelling years at an engineering college …

Now, the societal obsession with ‘engineering’ can be said to be a colonial hangover. In the process of ‘modernising’ the umpteen backward kingdoms and princely states that made up what we now call India, the British began building railway routes, dams, roads, cities and more, in order to make governance and trade simpler processes. Engineers were responsible for this refurbishing of the country. Most of them were British and they enjoyed all the benefits given to administrative officers.

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Naturally, the Indians too were drawn to this new occupation with endless opportunities for employment. When these educated Indian engineers prospered, it gave the profession a respectful tag which with time became an obsession, a one-stop solution to all of life’s problems.

The first day of the online classes in Grade 11, the first session with his accountancy teacher, immediately did away with the wee-bit of self-doubt that my son had about treading the path less travelled. As the days go by, he seems more confident, his teachers further strengthen his resolve with positive affirmations. Today he reads out one of the quotes that he has collected, by Rick Warren, “Those who follow the crowd usually get lost in it.” And I believe that the pot holes and bumpy phases of the ride through life dissolve when you love what you do!

— Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @VpNavanita