By Abhigya Pandey:
When I tell people that by qualification I am an engineer, I am often met with the response, “Oh you must be great at Mathematics”. I do nothing but smile coyly. Yes it is true that I spent four precious years of my life in buying (indeed not earning) my degree, which actually is worth nothing. I know little of Mathematics, Science, or remotely anything that may buttress the idea that I am a science graduate. I am guilty of the offence called “mediocrity” and here is my defense:
I grew up in the pre -Three Idiots era. The purpose of education was to turn a child into a doctor or an engineer. The common place notion in my family circles was that the hard working and dedicated students, which constituted the creamy layer, would choose to study mathematics or medicine. Either Commerce or Humanities was supposed to be chosen by tier-2 and tier-3 students. (An idea which is as hilarious as it is ironic since the topmost rungs of our administrative services are filled up by these very humanities students. The most revered thinkers and philosophers were those who pursued social sciences. The ideas of Karl Marx revolutionized the way we view each and every dimension of human existence.)
Enter 2006, while all of my batch mates were busy solving problem after problem in the physics class, I was hiding a copy of “Physics for dummies”, underneath my desk. Numbers evaded me and there wasn’t any room for ideas. I failed miserably at figuring out the dynamics of heat, energy, mass, hydrocarbons, integration, differentiation and what not!
A brief glance at my high school mark sheet would have told anybody that I was not cut out for being a science student. However, I could not afford to opt for humanities and be labelled as a loser by everybody, even by my own parents. I was not pressurized, forced, or coerced. Rather, I succumbed to the thrust of my own ego.
My choosing to study science would appear to be a pardonable error to you, once you are acquainted with what transpired next. As I opted for science, I was thinking of the sci-fi fantasies popularized by the mass media. I had dreamt of a world full of laboratories and experiments, of inventions and discoveries, of astronauts and spaceships. And, I thought that I might end up being a scientist someday. A childish fancy it was, because my education was never really about science.
You understand that ‘the apple’ falls from the tree by the virtue of gravity, but no one would care about that if you cannot reproduce the Newton’s laws of motion verbatim in exams. Our education system, with its rigid and theory intensive course structure offered no scope for learning or innovation. And, any hope that remained was smothered by my pursuit of the delusional IIT dream. I joined one of those promising coaching institutions, which I later found out, did nothing more than cashing in on the anxieties of students like me, who are often a part of the race of making it to any of the top notch educational institutions for higher studies.
I, however, resolved to undo the repercussions of my fatal choice(s). I fared poorly in my plus two exams. The stage was set for a rebellion, but again, I was forced to retreat. Even though, I had pitched hard to go for a course of my choice – that would satiate my desire for learning and not just mechanically condition me to participate in the rat race.
But how could I aspire to be anything but a doctor or an engineer? How could I give up? If you accidently board a train headed in the wrong destination, won’t you get down and try to start all over again? No matter what price you might have to pay for it? Isn’t this basic common sense? Alas! In our society such decisions are considered cowardly; you continue to travel in the wrong train even after having realized that you are heading nowhere. This allegory precisely sums up my story. I decided to take up engineering and my life was totally derailed.
Engineering – which was said to be the safe career option, which would warrant stability, affluence, and prestige, could neither impart the necessary skills to land me a job, nor could it add, even a tiny bit to my intellectual accomplishments. Fortunately, experience taught me what the physics lessons at school couldn’t. When life seemed to be a climax to a series of messed up choices, I understood the Newton’s law of inertia – that every attempt towards change is met with immense resistance, unless a strong external force is applied to overcome it. And then, I could use that force to overpower the inertia and take a stand for myself. I could finally get off the wrong train.