The Indian Student


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An Indian family is, quite aptly, the most hypocritical family in the world. What a child will do in his or her life, it seems, is already decided even before he or she is born, even if the parents sing the songs of integrity and independence all his or her life.

Parents in India have a hard time reconciling themselves to the fact that their child’s life is not their own: that one day the child would have his own family, his own job, his own life. The urge to establish themselves as a constant in his life is too strong in Indian parents, and that is why they have difficulties in accepting their child’s choices in life.

Take me as an example. You would think that being a sort of star child would eventually work in my favor.

Well, I have proof to contradict that notion.

It seems to me, that being a star child in the family is the biggest mistake that an Indian child an ever make. See, most opinions of children in India are based on the three Pedestals of Performance: Excellent, Average, or Poor. Generally, it is a crime to be in any one of those categories.

I’ll explain why.

If you’re average, or poor, no one ever expects you to do anything. In reality, they don’t think you’ll do anything “substantial” (“Substantial” (here): Engineering or Medicine, because anything other than that was created by the Devil himself.) Your whole life would be spent in a muddy maelstrom of lectures (something along the lines of you being good-for-nothing or ‘you should buck up’) and taunts (both from family and relatives, but we’ll discuss that later.) If you ask for my opinion, savor it. That is the life worth living.

I, by mistake or by some cruel joke of nature, ended up in the excellent category. Now, I don’t mean to boast (it will probably sound like that) but I fall somewhere slightly above the line which defines the beginning of excellence. I am no Einstein by any means, but I do have things that I can do without screwing up.

I was always good at studies (good enough to keep the parents happy). I grew up in the Sunshine of Sweet Success (probably exaggeration, but go with it). My relatives were happy, so were my parents. In short, everything was going as it was ordained. 

I wouldn’t probably be here if it (the advance of excellence) stopped at that. As if being a good student wasn’t cruel enough, the supreme God above gave me side dishes of talent, not that I’m not grateful for them. I can write (that I love), debate, draw, compose, play, sing and (people think) lead. All in all, I am what you would (Correction: Indian Parents) call an ideal child.

N0w, students like me have a pretty predictable life.

The Indian Education system, much like the Indian Caste System, divides students into three categories in Junior Year: Science, Commerce and Arts.

Students like me are expected—very obviously—to opt for Science. After two years of battling with projectile motion and binary theorem, we appear for the IIT-JEE or the equivalent medical examinations. Those who get in are hailed as Gods, because, let’s face it, JEE is no joke.

I did almost everything right: almost. I opted for Science in my Junior Year, because I simply didn’t have the patience for Commerce and my school didn’t offer Arts. Junior Year passed, and with the boat of time floated away my shreds of interest in the subject. (This is the point where the parents bring out the sage.)

Don’t get me wrong: I love Science. I simply don’t see myself walking hand in hand with it. My primary reason is, of course, personal.

I love Science, but not more than I love Creativity. Science for me is a chore: something that I have to study to get grades. But writing . . . creating is something that I love: I never get tired of it. I might take brakes, I might abandon projects for long but I always return to it. My idea of relaxing is a good book. I am happy when I put my thoughts to paper.

Apparently, that’s what I did wrong.

Gone were the compliments and the awe-filled gazes. Now, the eyes that had once held wonder held contempt. I was the Macbeth to their Scotland. I had, it seemed, betrayed and left them to die by abandoning ship.

I mentioned earlier in the article something about Indian relatives. Let me come back to that.

Relatives in India have a very peculiar habit, to say in mild terms. Every relative, no matter how close or trusting, is always looking for gossip. And a star child turning into a social pariah is big gossip.

So, once every person (every relative that is, even second cousins of second cousins) is aware of what the child has done, the calls start pouring in.

You are so intelligent . . . why do you want to go into arts?”

Arts is for dumb people . . .”

You’ll have to struggle a lot . . .”

Once the relatives have had enough of berating you, they turn to your parents.

Don’t they have counselling at her school?”

Which one of her friends told her that?”

The dominoes started falling right after that, with both of my parents ganging up on me. Now, you’ll be surprised at the tactics that parents can pull off when they see their hold on their child loosening. As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. And these were dire times.

In my case, my mother and my father had very different approaches. You can call them extremist and moderator, in that order.

My mother, by nature, is a devout Hindu: she pays regular visits to temples, has a horde of religious paraphernalia, involved in pujas (worship) and bhajans (The hindu equivalent for sermons). Anything that goes against her beliefs is firmly opposed by her. She is, also by nature, a very hot-and-cold person. Sometimes, she will be the walking example of Mary Poppins. Other times, she would be the female counterpart of Thor on an angry day. I think it’s some form of bipolar disorder: we’re still assessing.

My mother straight out refused to let me persue Arts. All the appreciation I had received throughout the years was thrown out of the window. Now, she was on a mission: Mission Kill Your Daughter’s Dream. She threatened to stop my education, and make me sit home. She even went as far as telling me that she would disown me if I opt for a major other than Engineering.

My father, on the other hand, sat me down . . . and showed me our tax sheets. I hail from a strictly middle class family. We live in small house, have a pet, have clothes and food and enough money to pay the bills. We even have savings. But we don’t have enough to splurge. Apparently, opting for an arts major was splurging.

My father told me that he did not have any qualms about me opting for a different major, but he also told me that he would stop paying for my education after I graduate. Which meant that if I did not have a job until the end of my undergraduate session, I would be on my own.

I can’t decide whether to be proud or sad about the lengths that my parents could go to to stop me from persuing my dream. On one hand, I commend them whole heartedly for being society oriented rather than individualistic (as is the norm in India), and I congratulate them for exhausting every option there was in order to stop me from doing something that had made me very happy in a very long time. I appreciate their efforts to squash my dreams like an insignificant bug.

On the other hand, it pains me to realize that it took as little as the choice of a major to shatter their trust in me. There seems to be a significant change in the atmosphere of my house (not home: house) now. I have gone, as I said earlier, from being the star child to being a good-for-nothing, lazy pariah, who cannot tell left from right.

It fills my heart with deep regret to say this about my parents in front of the whole world, but my confidence has been momentarily shattered, and I am working on regaining it since the past few months. I have said it before, and I say it again, because now, I am tired of crying and begging and fighting: I doesn’t matter to me in what condition I am as long as I am loving what I am doing. Struggling for a few months, or even years will be nothing compared to the life long regret I will have if I do not do what I love.

I know people think that I am saying this only now, that I will wish to go back later in the future and strat over again. Maybe I will want that. But I will come back to my senses. It will be my mistake to make, not theirs. It will be my dreams to struggle for, not theirs. It will be my life that I will have to live, not theirs.

But if I pursue something that I don’t love, I will want to go back for the rest of my life. In that case, it would be their life I would be living, not mine.

I don’t want to live their life.

Father, this, right now, makes me happy.

Racking my brain to push out words and coherent sentences for people to read makes me happy.

Coming up with ides to endorse brands makes me happy.

Suggesting brand names for wrist watches that are cell phones make me happy (by the way, I came up with TnT(TalknTime) and DIALamite.)

Making my own characters and exhausting them till they pray to be released makes me happy.

How do I convince you of that?

How do I tell you that right now, the place which is supposed to be my home, does not make me happy.