|Illustration: Sushant Ahire|
Every desi kid has been told three things, growing up: “Paise ped pe nahi ugte”, “Shor karoge to bhoot aa jayega”, and “Abhi mehnat kar lo, baad mein aish hai”. While the first is just a plain hard fact, the second is a sly tactic to get you in order that neither party believes, while the third is a sadistic, evil, and dangerous trap.
Everyone vividly remembers the first time they fell for it: the big 10. Your tenth grade board exams is the first big test of your life and it’s hyped up like an end-of-the-world war which will determine whether you live or die. Teachers are blunt: “If you don’t score well, how will you ever make anything of your life?” Parents are a little more subtle. When you’re watching TV and a nariyal wala, a thelawala, or any blue-collar worker shows up, their response is, “Dekho padhai nahi karoge na to ye sab karna padega,” delivering a dual blow: One to your ego, and the other to the dignity of labour. Fuck Pokemon, WWE, and cricket, getting a good score in the 10th grade is treated with the same level single-minded concentration as Hrithik Roshan displayed in becoming a good soldier in Lakshya. After all, abhi mehnat kar lete hai, baad mein to aish hai.
You kill every impulse, compromise every aspect of your life, and tirelessly work like a Soviet worker at the gulag. Of course, you ace your board exams, and are all ready for a life full of aish. As you begin the inevitable planning for a celebratory party, the parental unit taps you on the shoulder and reminds you: It’s not time for “injwoyment” just yet. Another storm awaits in the form of your 12th-grade exams.
Your 10th score is casually dismissed, like a beef-related lynching in Uttar Pradesh or Haryana. Securing admission to a good college is now the new mission, and just like The Fast and the Furious franchise, the same characters are saying and doing the same things, but in a different set-up. Bas ek baar ache college mein admission ho jaaye, baad mein aish hai.
You look forward to college life the same way Diljit Dosanjh looks forward to a Kylie Jenner Instagram post. After all, aish time is upon you and you’ll party like it’s 1999. However, excitement is short-lived, as the party is crashed on the orientation day itself, when the college principal telling you these are the “most important years” of your life “that will decide your career”. The buzzwords are already getting to you now, and you are overwhelmed by a nagging sense of yeh saare milke humko pagal bana rahe hai madar…
By now, your enthusiasm is beginning to lose its sheen. You’re a little world-weary and you feel a little like India, four years after 2014, hoping against hope for acche din.
You go to tuitions and coaching classes where professors are just raising the stakes all the time like an IPL auction, belittling your school success with “college exams are the only ones that matter”. If you don’t get good scores, how will you get a good job? For the fourth time in six years, your life has a new defining moment. Just like Dairy Milk after the keeda fiasco, the same chocolate has a different packaging and now you’re told “Abhi mehnat kar lo, college ke baad toh aish hai."
You get out of a college with a reputable degree and that diminishing voice in your head asks you to hang on to hope. Maybe now, you think, finally it’s time for aish. No one is going to fucking ruin your party. You’ve done all this mehnat the entire decade and it is finally time to chill and mint money.
You walk into your first job with the confidence of Harvey Specter only to be shot down like a US drone in the Middle East. And even here, there is no respite. Whispers of the same fucking catchphrase float about, and each one leaves an exit wound in your soul. “Bas pehle thode saal mehnat kar lo, baad mein aish hai”. The cut-throat competition doesn’t even allow you to take a lunch break in peace, and the low-paying jobs ensure that the only place where you can afford a house is in the game of Monopoly.
You start to wonder and ask yourself: When will this mystical era of aish arrive? Do we just keep slogging away the best years of our life – school, college, early 20s – to never be able to enjoy? It dawns upon you that there’s no way you will be able to retire anytime soon and by the time you might have some leeway, you’ll become ancient like the statues at Khajuraho that are defiled by everyone from Sonu to Tina.
What aish will you have when your spine looks like a question mark and you lose your breath after every three steps? Instead of dessert and drinks, you’ll be consuming injections and pills. At that age, the only fun you can have is getting six uninterrupted hours of sleep. You realise that all of this aish talk – indeed your entire life – has been a lie, just like the planet Pluto and whatever character JK Rowling plans to manipulate this week.
“Abhi mehnat kar lo, baad mein aish hai” is the original Fake News of the world. Don’t fall for it.
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