One of the memories which have stuck with me from my first day of college is my professor telling me that the course I’ve taken (English Honours) isn’t just about analysing and reading different literary texts. It was also a course which would help me learn to think differently, in a more critical and questioning sense towards the world at large, not just at the texts we read. Now, five years later, I’m happy to say that it did exactly that.
Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Quite a few people say that those who don’t get admission anywhere else, study English. There is not much chance of a career unless you want to be an English teacher and with the job market the way it is, wouldn’t you rather study engineering and land a ‘real’ job? I’m sure a lot of us have heard this many, many times. Thankfully, my family was pretty supportive about my choice, and I didn’t have to face any problems from that quarter. But this is the overall message literature students get from the world at large. But I’m here to tell you why they’re so wrong.
First of all, I’m a big believer of the ‘study what you are passionate about’ school of thought. Otherwise, what’s the point? So if you love reading, if you love literature and most importantly, if you enjoy getting deep into the worlds you read about, studying English Literature might be for you. As I noted at the beginning to this article, studying English isn’t just about reading different texts. It’s about developing a worldview and analysing that worldview. In college, you’ll meet a lot of people who have the same interests and hobbies they’re passionate about (I know because I did!), and this is going to be great for a free exchange of ideas. I can still vividly remember the evenings spent outside the classroom, arguing about representations in the media, about our favourite characters, about why a certain text affects us.
We all consume media, whether it is books, TV shows, video games or movies. And this media isn’t perfect nor is it supposed to be. Studying literature took me far beyond the written page, to understand and look at TV shows, movies or games (or anything for that matter). It taught me to appreciate writers whom I just couldn’t get at school (Shakespeare anyone?), and introduced me to a whole world of other new writers. Let no one tell you that white men write the best literature. I discovered Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf, Hilary Mantel, Haruki Murakami among others. I embraced old favourites such as J.K Rowling, Ursula Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, Amitav Ghosh and started reading them in a new light. It was like a whole new world.
But you could be thinking right now: This sounds great and all but what does this lead to? Yeah, it’s cool, you can treat Harry Potter as a text or study all those cool authors but what is the practical use. This is turning out to be a bit like the whole ‘what will calculus serve me in life’ problem, isn’t it? And I can get that mindset because it’s a pretty valid mindset. And yes, let me tell you, you can make a good career out of studying English, and it is precisely because of the above skills that you obtain. Being a teacher isn’t the only line you’ll be stuck in, though if that’s what you want to do, then go right ahead. This world could always use more English teachers.
If academics is your thing, you can continue studying the topic of your choice (in today’s world it can be everything from James Joyce to science fiction) and become a research scholar. Maybe a professor after that and teach impressionable young students what you’re passionate about. Or if writing’s more your thing, there is a whole world out there. There’s journalism, which will require the language skills as well as the critical thinking skills that you will learn about. Remember, it’s not just analysing texts but also analysing the world and its context, and that sounds a lot like what journalism does. Also, advertising is a big field, and they’re always looking for creative minds for copy editing. You know those cool ad taglines we often see on TV? You could be writing some of those. My personal favourite is Volkswagen’s (former) tagline, ‘Das Auto’ (The Car).
India’s publishing industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Becoming an editor (or associate editor) is also a really good career path. And you don’t necessarily have to edit books either. Plenty of magazines are always looking for editors to work on articles if that’s more down your alley. So, let’s be clear, there’s no shortage of career options. If you want, you can always toss conventional career options aside and get to write that book you always wanted to write. Basically, sky’s the limit.
So don’t worry. Go forth and study what you want to. I have spent five years studying English literature, and I can tell you that I didn’t regret a minute of it. School often forces you to study things that you don’t want to or don’t have the aptitude for. Find what you love and pursue it and the experience will be worth it.