Yes, I left a diploma in engineering for social sciences. Neither the subjects haunted me nor the professors, yet I was not comfortable sitting in a classroom where the teachers talked mathematically and the students worked mechanically. Every engineering college is somewhat the same and so is the University Polytechnic of Aligarh Muslim University. The atmosphere inside the building seemed unpleasant unlike the beautiful buildings and greenery of the campus.
I was always interested in writing. As a child, I recall how, I used to rewrite ‘Chacha Choudhary’ stories and my parents would love my version of the story. Not a single guest returned from our home without a discussion on the story written by me and usually those discussions ended with remarks like ‘ek din bada aadmi banega ye (he will be successful when he grows up)’ by our guests.
However, only after passing my high school I came to know that this word ‘bada aadmi’ had merely been a synonym for doctor or engineer. I had to make a choice between mathematics and biology after passing my high school. One thing that did not bother me then but bothers me now, is, that our school (actually all of the English medium schools in our locality) didn’t offer Humanities subjects to the students. We were so ignorant that we didn’t even know that there existed another field of study called ‘Humanities’! After completing my high school, I was selected for a diploma in engineering at Aligarh Muslim University. Yet, I had always been a lover of literature. I wanted to write.
Aligarh Muslim University, my new home, was great. The experiences in my class were great. It all compelled me to stay. I was doing well in my studies until a senior of mine, after reading one of my Facebook posts, told me about the University’s Debating and Literary Club. I visited the club and got to know that students from different departments came here to learn the art of writing and debating. Group discussions on major issues, debates, and creative writing forums attracted me to it. The club was filled with people who talked about becoming authors and poets and before I knew it, I found myself reconsidering my decision of getting enrolled in a diploma programme of engineering.
I started visiting the club regularly. Little did I know that my visits to this vibrant atmosphere of creativity would make me lose interest in engineering and push me to confess my love for literature to my parents. Soon, I started bunking my classes and a little later I quit studies informally. I hadn’t appeared for the semester examination and my parents came to know about my deeds (misdeeds for them).
My parents were really upset, they gave me another chance to prove myself, but in engineering. The next year passed the same way – no engineering and only literature, the welcoming atmosphere of the literary club and of course some tough times with family. My parents were disappointed and unhappy. I could feel the sadness in their voice every time they called me. My father even told me bluntly that he had no faith in me. All because I had chosen what interested me. It was a hard time for me. I had to prove myself and had to earn their support. I realised that these incidents often happen in middle-class families and wondered why the middle-class loved doctors and engineers to such an extent.
I had no answer then but I think I do have an answer now. In my opinion, the middle class section of society is often more or less satisfied with whatever they get. Doctors and engineers, are seen as the people of repute because conventionally they have been earning more than others. They are also known to be quite famous, at least in the small locality they live in. This fame along with the money, becomes the reason of this mindset.
The environment at Aligarh Muslim University made me confident enough to publish a monthly campus newsletter along with a bunch of similar minded friends. The professors whom I got in contact with due to our newsletter also motivated me to go ahead in my field of interest. On my visit to my hometown during vacations, one of my relatives after knowing that I had quit my diploma in engineering to opt for literature and social science bluntly said that I was insane. According to him, humanities was only for girls! On the other hand, Dr Danish, a professor of English at AMU just said one word after he came to know about my decision of taking up literature – ‘congratulations’ – followed by a warm handshake.
After a plethora of experiences in those two years, a senior of mine made me realise how a creative and free culture could mould one’s perception towards society in a positive way. I realised how many future leaders, writers and artists are killed to create doctors, engineers and so on. I found the courage to tell my parents about the subject I wanted to study and while it took some time for me to convince them, I know many of us could never speak up. Dr Kumar Vishwas, an excellent Hindi poet had a similar story to mine which he summed up as ‘It is better to be a good poet than a bad engineer.’