“Science, Commerce Ya Arts?” Where Teenage Dreams Go to Die
Illustration: Shruti Yatam
When you are the tender age of 15, you will be asked a question that will define the rest of your life: Science, Commerce, or Arts?
To expect to know what you want to become at an age when you are still following Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon on Cartoon Network, is like taking the host of a reality show and asking him to run the most powerful country in the world. Oh wait…
To say that the pressure is immense is an understatement. Justin Bieber and Prithvi Shaw would probably be the only teenagers who can deal with that kind of pressure at that age. The cluelessness and anxiety you have about making this decision is the kind that the BJP government had before making the demonetisation announcement. So I did what desi kids do, turn to my parents. Big mistake.
“I scored 77 per cent, which was pretty good in the ’70s, but we didn’t have a clue what to do. So I submitted my form in a Science college, a Commerce college, and an Arts one,” explained my pitashri. I was waiting for the punchline but it never came. To sum up his decision-making in two words, it was bhagwan bharose. I started to lose respect for my dad faster than the stock price of Gitanjali Gems tanked after the NiMo scam. But I looked back and realised that things have worked out pretty fine for my father.
In 2005, bhgawan bharose would not cut it. Also by 2005, I had to not only deal with regional, linguistic, and cultural stereotypes, but also educational stereotypes. Students who decided to pursue the Science stream were considered geeks, nerds who would never get laid, and would grow up to be Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk. The average students, who were not geeky enough to pursue Science, but were not complete losers, would end up pursuing Commerce. Arts was for people who didn’t take their life and career seriously, but wanted to while away their time and fool around with girls. We are truly secular in the sense that there’s nothing we won’t stereotype.
But what decided your future and the stream you finally picked was “scope” – a word as overused in 2005 as “lit” was overused in 2017. Which stream provided what career scope was a much-discussed topic with dads, uncles, uncle’s best friend, and every other male member the family knew of. Of course, Science was declared as the “scope-iest” of them all, but in the end, marks were the prime decider of your fate. It was merely an illusion that you had choice. This was an academic North Korea. If you scored 60 per cent and wanted to take up Science, people would look at you like they looked at Ryan Seacrest at the Oscar red carpet. None of my cousins had ever pursued Arts; it was seen as the WWE equivalent of tapping out of a career.
In the worst sales pitch of all time, I was advised to take up Commerce because I loved math. I began my journey as a Commerce graduate, who then went on to pursue CA. I made eight attempts and survived hundreds of sleepless nights, but as you can see that didn’t quite work out. After spending about six years in the industry crunching numbers and my soul, I decided to chuck it all to pursue my passion for writing. And it hasn’t been all too bad. Because careers don’t end at the age of 25.
Now in 2018, we are grappling with the dreaded question again, as my sister gets ready to start college. A decade has passed since I appeared for the Std X examination, but things have changed quite drastically in India. Ask the Congress. The decision-making is more structured. Both the children and their parents are experimenting with revolutionary ideas like… finding out what their kids are good at, asking them what they like, and actually being supportive of them.
My sister was learning Spanish by the age of five and took horse-riding classes in the third grade. She is 15 and she has already taken three different aptitude tests, has attended multiple sessions of counselling with education experts, and has attempted a number of mock entrance exams. If we give her a couple of more years, she will probably star in the next Avengers movie. She has set her mind on the future with a confidence alien to all of us. She has decided to piss off half the family by opting for a career in the performing arts. Convincing the family that it’s a stream with “scope” was like challenging the existence of God. But she managed to do it.
I’m pretty sure her decision will turn out to be the right one. With all the analysis and groundwork that goes into making the big decision these days, it would be cruel to know it worked out for my dad but not my sister.As for me, I got it wrong at first, and then eventually right because life is all about second chances, third chances, and 28 such chances.