Feminism India

From Cavemen to Engineers

Ten cavemen sat in a cave on a rainy night. One started a fire, and all the others followed. Now let’s fast forward to an Indian classroom in the early 2000’s. A generation of millennials are getting ready for their compulsory Art class. They have all purchased the “Art Book” which comprises of colour images on one side and blank pages on the other. The Art Class is that time of the week when these children are forced to replicate the colour images onto the blank pages. Sunil, Anil, and Nikhil have forgotten to bring their Art book to class. The Art teacher beats them on the palms of their hands with his steel ruler. Sunil cries, Anil tears up a little bit and Nikhil really doesn’t give a fuck. Teary-eyed Anil’s teary-eyed friend Manu is so scared of the steel ruler that he’s busy copying images onto blank pages and making sure to colour within the lines. Meanwhile, smarty-pants Neha has silently managed to step outside the class. She’s headed for the restroom where she’ll spend the rest of the hour because she really couldn’t be bothered to draw or get beaten up for being shit at it.

During Math and Science classes, they are given formulas to memorize because the teacher is in a hurry to complete the syllabus in the limited time allotted to her. So she couldn’t be bothered to explain how the formula was derived in the first place. “It’s alright, you won’t be asked any derivations in this Unit test. You just need to remember how to apply the formula”, she says. The kids nod and take it down. The next day, she asks them to recite the formula. Each one of them does a splendid job, and Teacher is pleased.

The English teacher loves her subject and wishes she could be addressing a bunch of college students. She wishes she could ask them to deconstruct the text in hand. But the syllabus needs to be followed. The portions need to be completed. The school needs a good ranking and all the kids need to score well for the Boards this year. So she stays up all night deconstructing the text herself and prepares notes that she will dictate to the class the next day, notes that the kids will swallow whole and regurgitate intact onto their answer sheets in order to score well during the Board exams.

And we wonder why the millennials in India are so confused with their lives and career choices. There are those who become engineers because from the time they could hold screwdrivers they’ve been opening up all the electrical appliances in their homes. These are the ones that go on to induce insecurities in all their peers by no fault of their own. There are also those who choose Engineering because they don’t know what they want to do with their lives and everyone seems to be doing it these days. Moreover, a respectable four-year course with the promise of employment soon after will SHUT THOSE NOSY RELATIVES UP. Then there are those who want to become fashion designers but their parents claim to be worried about their futures (while they’re truly worried about what the Kapoors next door will say) and force them to join a reputed Engineering college because money can buy you seats these days. And so is the case with Medicine, Law, CA, and all of the difficult "respectable" jobs in the country.

But what happens to the boy with excellent interpersonal skills who truly wants to work in Sales? What happens to the girl who is so passionate about the beauty industry that she wants to open a Beauty Salon of her own? What happens to people who are truly talented in fields that take a while to kick-start a career?

But before we go into any of those questions, why not answer this one: What happens to the hoards of Engineers and Doctors and “Professionals” that our country has managed to churn out over the years while the once high demand for them no longer exists? The answer to that question is this: Now we understand why engineers with four years of training in their fields are being forced to work in Call Centres.

From the beginning of time, our basic human instinct has been to blindly follow and imitate any solution that seems to work. And that worked out just fine for a long, long time. But in our country, the whole process of following a system and imitating a solution has led to the birth of an entire disgruntled generation of youngsters who seem to be saying things like, “I want to go study in a University abroad just so that I can get out of this country”.

“But what do you want to study?”, we ask them.

“I don’t know. Can you help me pick something? Or never mind, my senior from college studies in Melbourne. I’ll just ask him to help me out.”

The system of education that we have been following for years has killed independent thought, and individuality is simply a myth these days. Kids pick up courses because their parents or siblings picked them years ago. Tried and tested waters. What could possibly go wrong, they wonder. They have all been hard-wired to follow examples and imitate the greats to such an extent that imitation is the only thing they understand. Just like reproducing the teacher’s notes during an exam. Or joining a company to undergo three months of training in a field vastly different from what they learned for 4 years of their lives, simply because of a mentality that says, “A job is a job and I landed a job”. And that not only frustrates them in the long run, but also has a crippling effect on their self-esteem because they somehow manage to convince themselves that they’re not good enough. See what the first set of engineers I mentioned above did to the latter sets? Moreover, the stigma attached to the anomalies who rebel against this system and decide to become hairstylists, fashion designers, painters and even sales representatives, causes even these brave ones to lose hope before they even get started. The success stories of these anomalies hardly ever get told because society fears that these stories can crumble the belief systems already in place.

No wonder Gen Y in India complains all the time. Because all they’ve seen is Gen X before them and Gen X never complained. Gen X had it much worse, but so much better. All they had in mind was survival so they couldn’t afford to care about true passions and callings. They just wanted to make enough to stay afloat. And they did a great job at that. Unfortunately, that was the only lesson they could impart to the millennials who were living in better times and grew up believing that they could be whoever or whatever they wanted to be. Oh, were they in for a rude shock.

But one can hope. Hopefully, the kids in schools right now will gain more awareness about this issue and will safeguard themselves from sharing the plight of their seniors. Hopefully, their parents will also support and understand them. Hopefully, our society will leave them alone. Hopefully, they’ll be happy.

Ankita Narayan

Edinburgh, Scotland | http://ankita.ink/

I'm a blogger, podcaster, wife and feminist. I record snippets from my life on my blog, tackle social issues on my podcast and work with my team of fellow feminists in this space.