Engineering or medical? The moment I made the
shift from simple trigonometric equations in high school to the labyrinthine
alleys of derivative calculus in senior secondary school, this question appeared
magically on the lips of well-meaning elders and pesky neighbours whose
sons/daughters have already cracked the coveted medical/engineering exams. The
knowledgeable ones advised me to keep options open. Which meant they had
assessed me pretty well and realized I had as much of getting into an
engineering or medical college as of Mohun Bagan defeating FC Barcelona. As it
turned out, they were right. Engineering was never an option. I did flirt with
the notion of becoming a vet for some time though.
In the mid nineties, post-liberalization India was a very
dynamic nation. The nation transformed from a somnolent bear into a rampaging bull. And suddenly, there were opportunities that promisedgreat riches. A degree in the medical sciences was
always a traditional favourite. However, it was nothing compared to the holy
combo of an engineering and management degree.
The ultimate winner was, of course, an IIT-IIM degree. Parents who spent
decade after decade in the same job saw a different future for their children.
The almost reverent whispers of never-heard-before salary packages played a big
role in upping the pressure. Thankfully, my very unimpressive scores ensured no
nights without sleep were lost in wondering whether I should attempt appearing
for these exams. I had taken the decision to change my discipline from science
to commerce. And expectations vanished with the surety of rains on an overcast
day. As I languidly opened yet another PG Wodehouse, I couldn't help but take
pity on my academically inclined contemporaries who were carrying the massive
burdens of expectations of their family on their young shoulders.
But those days were nothing compared to the competition of
today. Not only has it increased exponentially but also the surfeit of
technical institutions, good, bad and ugly, has made it possible for almost
anybody to dream of getting into one.
was a time though when it was tough to go to school or college, simply because
they were almost non-existent. This was during my father's time in the 1960's
when he was growing up in a small village in the laidback Lakhimpur district of
Assam, a state tucked away in northeastern India. Hailing from a family of
farmers, my father could have led the simple yet fulfilling life of a farmer. But
my father decided to plough an academic furrow instead. He ended up as the
first graduate and post-graduate from that village. Subsequent degrees in law
and journalism ensured whenever my father visited his village, depending on
their academic inclination, students either flocked around him, or stayed away.
One of the younger lot who sought my father’s
company was Dhiren Khura (khura – uncle), my
father’s cousin - a kind and quiet
gentleman with an understated sense of humour. On my last visit to Lakhimpur, I
had a chance to meet up with him. It was harvesting time. He took me along with
him when he headed out to help his wife in the fields. His wife, a graduate,
teaches in a school. But the family’s income comes mainly from farming. Dhiren
Khura asked me about my profession. I explained how the fluctuating world economy
is creating a lot of stress everywhere. Nothing is certain. Nothing is
Dhiren Khura said that he had read in the papers that people could
come in the morning and realize that they are out of a job. He then recounted
how he was looking out for a job after completing his graduation. He sought my
father’s advice on how to apply for jobs and prepare for interviews.
Unfortunately, in the early-80s, the word ‘plentiful’ could not be used for employment
opportunities. The private sector was far from opening up and jobs in the
public/government sector were dependent on several external factors – a good
word by someone influential, some dexterous pulling of strings, an exchange of
cash, or just being in front of the right committee at the right time.
Dhiren Khura made the rounds diligently. But
an appointment letter always eluded him. After travelling back and forth from
Lakhimpur quite a few times in search of that elusive white-collar job, he
realised every time he came to a city, he missed the open spaces of his
village. He came to a decision to continue doing what came naturally to him –
The life of a farmer is far from easy.
The weather plays a huge role. But more often than not, nature is on the side
of the farmer. As Dhiren Khura explained with a touch of pride, his hours of
work under rain and sun over the years have not resulted in tremendous riches
but have given him enough to support his family and unmarried elder sister.
As Dhiren Khura got busy tying bales of hay,
humming a song softly, I couldn't help thinking that he
escaped the trap that
most people fall into. Working under clear blue skies instead of a room
(however well designed it might be), with chirping birds and softly mooing cows
for company instead of carping colleagues and disgruntled bosses. He’s leading
the simple and fulfilling life that people seek through self-help books, life
coaches and online searches.
All because he decided to do what came
naturally to him. I guess there’s a lesson in it somewhere.