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Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Order of the Billion Clones

I went to a wedding party today. The gentleman whose daughter was to get married, has two children- a son, who is the elder one, and the said daughter. A few months ago, we also attended his Son's marriage. His wife, apart from being breathtakingly gorgeous, also hails from the North East side of India, a fact which caused much argument between the Father and Son, because somebody told the Father that women from that part of our country are not of 'good moral character'. The situation was, in fact, so bad that they eloped. The Son with his girlfriend, I mean, not the Father- Son duo.

When I was in XIth grade (the year we have to choose our subject stream in India from amongst Science, Commerce, and Humanities) I was forced to take up science, even though I wanted to do commerce because of my mother's insistence. I later almost had a breakdown before I shifted to commerce. Not that my parents were waiting for such a dire situation- they could see that I could not keep up with the demands of the science stream, and had asked me to reconsider, but I did want to give it another try. I'm today studying a set of commerce based subjects, and the above mentioned situation is probably the reason my base concepts are still slightly confused, not that I blame my mother for it.

Currently, I'm doing a project on how parental pressure affects students in general, and their choices in academics in particular. Honestly, I never knew people could be such absolute hypocrites. While surveying for people's opinions, parents often said to me "I don't actually agree with that, but it'll sound so bad if I say so..", because you see, we just want our children to go into 'respectable' professions, and be doctors, or engineers, or lawyers, and we will do almost anything to make sure our child 'knows' what we want... however, we don't want to come across as domineering and authoritarian. It'll look so bad.

They explained that to me, and went on to check one of the other options on the questionnaires.

Of course, it's wrong, or let's say inexact, to only blame parents for such situations... our parents also have to answer to their families, their friends, the neighbours, the postman, etc. I'm not just taking a dig- for those not familiar with the Subcontinent, this really is the case. The answer to 'What will people say?' drives most decisions here. It's the reason why there was such a row over some poor girl's ethnicity- after all, someone said that people from her home- region are not well brought up, so of course, everyone else must also think something alike. We cannot associate with that girl- she'll bring a bad name to the family, never mind that my Son is in love with her.

And sometimes, it gets really strange, and on so many levels- a really close friend wished to take up Mathematics Honors as her graduation degree subject, She even got through to some really good colleges for that subject, however, her parents refused to let her- not by forbidding it outright, but they were upset and insistent, and, well... there was just one way for her to go from there. All through school, the brightest kid is the one who does well in Math, and suddenly, once we're out of school, it's not a good enough option anymore- why? Oh, you see, the greatest opportunity is in the field of commerce, or business- so now you're compelled, even obligated, to take that up.

Then there is this friend, Z, who really wanted to pursue Mass Communications, and got through to the personal interview process of the best course for that subject on offer in India. The interviewers took one look at her school- leaving examination's mark sheet and asked her, dumbfounded, "Par Beta, apke to 92% aaye hain! Aap yeh kyun karna chahte ho?" (But, my child, you've scored 92% marks- why do you want to take up this course?). Z raised an eyebrow, and asked if the course was not good enough for somebody with a good (great) percentage, to which they hastily (and unconvincingly) responded that of course it was...
The point is, an unconventional course, or one that is considered to be 'professional', apart from the regular Engineering, Law, etc., is only meant for students who don't score well enough to go anywhere else. The idea that somebody may actually want to study that subject due to free will is blasphemous.

Why does this keep happening to us? I know that our parents' want what is best for us, but so what? Don't we also aspire to the very best on offer as well? Isn't it a natural human tendency to gravitate towards the best available opportunity, whichever that may be for our individual selves? So whether it is our life partner, or the subjects we choose to study, should we not have a greater- No, the greatest- say in who or what we choose, and how we select that pick? After all, who can know us better than ourselves?

Well, the most important, I guess, is the fact of our financial dependence on them and secondly, our parents definitely want to save us from regret- you know, that potent (and rather dread- inducing, if exercised by somebody other than yourself on your life) question of 'what if?'.
What if I had done what everyone asked me to do? Would I be better off today? Would I be happier? More financially secure? Would my marriage work better? Would I own the house that I want, and the best car available? Would I?

To answer these, I will have to turn to those stores of such infinite and apt wisdom, Google, and my favourite, Professor Albus Dumbledore-

"The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed ..."

I love the man, I really do. I first read that line as an eleven year old, and have never second guessed my actions since- or tried not to, in any case. My mum says something similar, but since the applications of her theory are somewhat confined only to shopping, I shall refrain from quoting it here. And besides, Dumbledore said it first.

That reminds me, that we are also studying Public Relations as a subject, and our idea for the project suddenly went kaput, and so we had to hurriedly come up with new suggestions... One of my five other ideas was to look into 'The Harry Potter Alliance', and all their PR activities, since I found the concept really interesting, and their Board of Directors are available on public forums such as Facebook, etc.

They take the concepts presented in JK Rowling's books' and apply them to regular every day global problems such as poverty, free media, discrimination, government unaccountability, etc.

So, what happened?

I started getting panicked calls from the other members of my group, to tell me that we absolutely cannot do a project on 'Harry Potter'- "I mean, come on, how childish! It has to be a good project, yaar (my friend), we must get full marks in it. There's just no way I'm submitting a project on Harry Potter!" When I asked them if they're familiar with what the HP Alliance does, they were clueless, however, they wished to be taken seriously, and therefore would not be associated with anything to do with 'Harry Potter', no matter how interesting the project actually turned out to be. They even made sure I had nothing to do with that project anymore- since we're doing all other projects together, they asked me to concentrate on another subject, while somebody else handled PR. My greatest problem with this was that nobody even bother to go through the links I sent them, or any of my other suggestions.

So how can I say that our parents' are the only ones affected by social perception and the pressure to conform?


  1. I can see both sides--the parents want their children to be as well off as they can, but the children want to be happy with their life at the same time. I think that elopement story is just ridiculous, but as I'm an American and not an Indian, I am not as familiar with your culture.

    I did read about how a similar phenomenon is happening in China--all the parents push their children to get into the best programs, the schools that will help them get the best jobs, the msot pay, etc. Maybe it's a gigantic population thing.

    Thank you for this post, though. It's an excellent insight.

  2. Thanks, but... why are you thanking me? It's just an outpouring of everyday trouble, really...

    Yes, I agree that the elopement story is ridiculous, but it's very prevalent in India- the discrimination, I mean. You see, many hundreds of different communities live together in this country- and so there is little knowledge here, about what the other person, his or her family background, upbringing, etc. are all about... This breeds mistrust. Also, here, it's like the entire society depends on the elders in the family... many times, what an elder person says is considered final- you can imagine, arranged marriages are conventional here- your parents decide who your life partner will be...

    It's ridiculous.

    Yes, it does have to do a lot with the population- so many people competing for a limited number of positions. Also, the options are very limited here... all the academic subjects offered are highly conventional and technical.

  3. I have a friend who's parents forced her to take and specialise in economics with finance to 'maximise her opportunities in life'. They wouldn't even let her take another combination of subjects in the third year, and didn't let her study computer science, which was what she really wanted to study.

  4. I think that's... well, you already know what I think.. poor girl..

  5. Yeah, I know. I love your new layout btw.

  6. Yes, but an outpouring of daily trouble I'm not likely to get anywhere else.

    What do you want to do?

  7. Wow... this is like the other half of my post or something!

    Really the issue is partly about conforming to societal norms and expectations... sorta like that marry one of your OWN or ELSE!!!

    A good friend of mine is Sindhi, and he wouldn't mind marrying someone who isn't Sindhi, but he says his father would probably disown him if he did.

    As for career choices, thats a real Asian continent problem. It's the reason so many teens in Japan commit suicide, unable to take all the pressures. Parents are pressured to have successful kids to validate themselves in society, kids are obligated to deliver... you see the vicious cycle that carries on?

    If I was ever a dad... I would be a complete hippie dad. "You want to be an optician son? Go ahead!"

    Seriously... there was at least one human being out there who wanted to be an optician... I know that as a fact!

  8. @ D: Thanks :)

    @ q: Hmm... that's different, I guess, but yes, it is an outpouring of internal turmoil..

    I'm not entirely sure of what I want to do, but I know the broad areas should be something related to books- publishing, open a bookstore, own a library (oh YES!!!) or something to do with designing or social cause..
    But, really, I prefer books.

    @ Foxhound: Yes, I see exactly what you mean..
    You're spot on in your theorising..

  9. Sorry if I'm a bit late to the party... Stuff to do and all :\

    Looks like the whole internet is growing up WITH me. :D

    he parents thing, thankfully, doesn't affect me too much. Just finding something TO do is the problem.

    Although they ARE quite concerned that I get some sort of education, just so that I can... live, I guess.

    And books is a pretty wide area. Publishing, writing, editing et al.



  10. Hello :) It's been a while...

    Lucky you bt the parents thing... and I agree wd them, btw

    N yes, I get that 'books' is a really wide range of stuff..

  11. "I'm not entirely sure of what I want to do, but I know the broad areas should be something related to books- publishing, open a bookstore, own a library (oh YES!!!) or something to do with designing or social cause.."

    You know that sounds like the most tempting career option I have ever heard in a long time :-)

    Great write up.
    I guess every one goes through these thoughts once in their life. Two things I would like to add is -
    1)sometimes kids dont know what they want to do when they are out of school. In such a scenario going for a conventional career option is the safest. So can't really blame parents for letting their kids know which option is the best.
    2)Sometimes kids in the teenage have weird ideas about careers. For eg; I wanted to become a space scientist (astro physicist) immediately after my 12th. Of course my dad laughed at the idea. But coming to think of it now, I'm really thankful I didn't take up that field simply because I'm not the research and development kinda guy. It was just a kiddish fascination for the universe and the mysteries it hold. I'm still fascinated with the universe but at a more philosophic level than a scientific level.
    So there again, parents can't be blamed for "over riding" kid's weird/short lived aspirations.

    But having said this it is sad that parents force their children to take up conventional courses even when the child knows what he/she wants to learn.
    It is also sad that our society thinks engineering/medicine/law are the only respectable career options.

    For a drastic change to happen awareness should be spread on dignity of labour and respect for an adult individual's choices.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  12. Thank you for the long comment ;)

    Yes, I see your point about kids being confused, or momentarily fascinated by something, but it's not just about your career choice, no? It's everything. It's got to be the way the society wants... or else!

    Thanks for the compliment :)

  13. you bloody well start a website or some online discussion forum... :).. see some people.. which i think include our parents or the parents of the people you have mentioned do not have the inclination or maybe do not feel any wrong in the way thinks work around here.. they feel personally responsible for our well being so they do what they deem to be correct and direct us even if it may be against our will so that we have a good future... after all even they have some fears, such as us blaming them for not directing us in the right direction or making the correct decision for us... as you cited a quote from dumbledore ... things aren't as simple.. they are so intricately complex and vast.... people have certain perceptions .. and they like to stick to them or they prefer following the flock. They don't like to feel out of the place or go against the society at large so it isn't always a decision made by oneself.. there are always external factors that affect. and the thing about the project... well.. see they might just fear exploring avenues where others haven't been... why should they risk something??... why should they let you take a decision so risky that will affect a group. Why??? :) well thats what i think :) and its always a pleasure to read your blogs... man.. if only i could bring myself to write blogs.Anyways.. everythins "kool" .. lol

  14. Vow! Vow! Vow...Fascinating! I wanna address all these with utmost care. Yup, I admit that there are parents who thrust their ideas on their children. And most of the times they want to attain something - which they couldn't - through their offsprings. Sometimes they don't pay a heed to what their children aspire to be and refuse to see their dreams get quashed. But as someone in the comment section pointed out, should they have a say especially when the child in question is struggling to take a decision, or when it's obvious that their choice, for example, of a partner can be terribly wrong? I'm not a parent. I really wish a parent could read this and come up with some comments. It reminds me of what Khalil Gibran said:

    "Your Children are not Your Children

    They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."
    But children are not the ones who should go around preaching this. It's meant for the parents, but sadly...

    Now about the moral standards: Stereotyping people has become an accepted norm. I'm pretty clueless how a particular ethnic group becomes particularly bad or good. There may be certain charactristics, but to generalise people on that basis is utter foolishness.One needs to learn and one needs not to learn...

    I don't have anything to say about the interviewers who asked your friend whether she couldn't opt for anything else despite the high percentage she attained. Those people let themselves down. If they themselves think that pursuing mass comunication is a bad option, what's the point in saying anything about them?

    I admit that a lot of things we do in life has a lot to do with 'what will others think'? Society has a way, and society consists of all these 'tom dick and harry' if you don't fit in, it would start to get on you. One with the capacity to think and act on one's own always remain an outsider.I think it's high time one should realise the value of streams outside the traditional doctor, engineer thing. Even prestigious institutions like IITs offer 5 year integrated MA course in humanities.

    It's a wonderful post. I fear that I might've still left something without any comment. It's wonderful post and I really enjoyed it. You rock. And the layout facilitates great reading. Thanks.

  15. I can so identify wid dis...always wanted to take up Eng hons but den the pressures of being a school topper made me opt for science in +2 n engg later...not tht dese r bad in any way but I still sometimes reminisce abt reading Shakespeare n shelley:(

  16. I wanted to be teacher.... but then i was an engineer.... hurray hurray now I am a teacher... teaching 'to be engineers'... cool na??? hw long???

  17. @ Arun: I agree that the child's choice can be terribly wrong, though I'd have to point out that if he or she is getting married, then he or she is hardly a 'child' anymore, but who says the parents' choice cannot be horribly inappropriate as well? So.. I kind of don't agree with that point.
    @ Bharath: Hey :) I agree 100% with all you said.. hehe :) ;)

    The poem is beautiful, but since Khalil Gibran created it, that is to be expected.

    I agree with what you say about the interviewers... very strange.

    I completely agree! Though, I also believe that we should not have 'streams' at all, but be allowed to study whichever subject we like.

    @ Comfortably Numb: Welcome to my lair! Well.. not lair, so much... I'm not about to attack you or anything.. but you get my point, I hope..?
    Dude. You've made my day. Night, sorry ;) since it is way past 1 AM at the moment. You're pretty much the first person I've come across who does not have a problem with Shelley. I love Shelley. Shakespeare.. well, I've in general found more acceptance there.

    @ Mea Culpa: So glad you're back. Really... don't have anymore 'funny' accidents, please.. and, seriously, you've found a way around this whole engineering thing, haven't you? Good for you! :)

  18. MB89: Yup parents choice too can be terribly wrong. But girls who don't have a job and marry the person of her choice won't have no option at all if the marriage crumbles...If it's parents choice, at least they have a place to come back, even if it all goes wrong.

  19. Sorry boss... been out due to projects.
    Back now :)

  20. ... boss? ...

    Uhh.. okay, as long as you're posting...

    WB! :)

  21. Hey!

    Recognize this picture?