By Rimli Bhattacharya
I was raised in a small city, Agartala. As a little girl, all I knew was that I should be studying Maths and Science every day. My mother, then an Assistant Professor, brought home truckloads of stories of the young prodigies, who were no less than Einstein, from her college. I secretly hated those subjects and her stories as well. Initially, I tried to comply with her wishes, but couldn’t cope with the pressure from my school and also at home. For a child, it was like swallowing a bitter pill. When I reached the ninth standard, I chose to give in. I simply agreed to obey my mother and study Engineering by fighting out the Joint Entrance Examination. My mother also wanted me to sit for the entrance exams of other states and I obliged. I was then a flexible doll with a malleable neck and a constant nod. Since she understood that my caliber was limited, she didn’t compel me to sit for the IIT entrance examinations. She couldn’t see her daughter’s frustration and her secret tears. I wanted to study English, but back home studying English literature was a taboo. And to her anguish I brought home A+ marks in that subject. My father, a reticent man, always wanted me to sit for the Public Service Commission exams but chose to keep his mouth shut fearing my mother’s perturbation.
This is not my story alone but those of thousands of other students whose life depend on the marks s/he bring home. Parents would care less about the actual interest of a child. Of course, there are a few exceptions but their percentage is very small. If a child brings home good marks, their fate is sealed: they would be compelled to study science in order to become an engineer, settle abroad, and get a high paying salary or be a doctor. During my student days, a girl child was expected to focus more on Biology and study medicine. The opposite gender was expected to be an engineer. And sadly nothing has changed. This is how the system worked and still works. It was/is assumed that the weaker ones are a complete failure and free to opt for the humanities.
As I said, there are exceptions. If any student turns a rebel and opt to study the humanities, the society considers them inferior. They are repeatedly reminded of their stupidity or dumbness. Sadly, the choice of subject, instead of embodying their interest and talent, is used to judge their IQ level.
In India, it is perceived that the humanities offer limited career opportunities and social mobility. Let me cite an example. After years of toiling in the corporate sector, if an engineer takes up a teaching job, it is thought that the seat allocated to the engineer post joint entrance exam was a total waste. However, for the humanities, that is the only career option often available. (There are multiple other career options these days, though.).
Our government adds fuel to the fire. While IITs, IIMs and Medical colleges are always promoted, we do not hear much about new colleges/institutes teaching humanities and the career choice associated with them. Since India is a land of rich cultural heritage, why not encourage students to go for history? A hospital requires psychologists. Why don’t we encourage students to study psychology to soothe several tormented souls? As I said, it is equally important to promote the humanities.
Exploring, being ingenious, and being a critic is actually the domain of the humanities. On the contrary, one is supplied with facts, ripostes, knowledge, and candor in science. When a science student is fed with these, one gets a sense of certainty. In the case of the humanities it is all about precariousness, hesitation and apprehension. Humanities is seditious. They deal with arguments. They open a whole wide world. I am not mortifying science and eulogizing humanities. If study of an induction motor is tough, calculating an approaching earthquake by seismometer is not a duck soup either. Sports is another option but it is never accorded as important a place as science. We often get to hear: “Must be poor in studies; let them play football. Disgrace.”
I am an engineer with an MBA degree. It took me twenty-two years to figure out that I needed to walk away from this rat race. When I wrote my books, people shrieked in horror: “Now what?” “How will you survive?”
As I have mentioned, we need to change the pattern by which we perceive education. We need to understand what our child requires and not dump our aspirations on their head. We may consider encouraging a child to pursue only science, as we do with our fixed deposits in a bank. But then the interest rates change every year. When the economy does badly, the interest rate can be chopped off. As the market is unpredictable, so is education. Tables can turn too and we may regret about our choice in the field of education. We must keep our options open.
I have explored how people see the disciplines of science and the humanities. My intention is neither to demean science nor to glorify the humanities. We must respect each subject, honor education, and follow our heart. Life is too short to live with regrets.
Rimli Bhattacharya is a first class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering with a MBA in supply chain management. She has contributed to two anthologies, A Book of light and Muffled Moans and has written two solo books, The crosshairs of life and That day it rained and other stories. Her other works have appeared in twenty-nine literary magazines & E-Zines. She is also an Indian Classical dancer.
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