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?