Friday, June 4, 2010

A humble thank you to my third parent

Last week, a friend of mine said to me, “Times might have changed, but everything said and done, how many Indian men, from our generation, do you know who didn’t follow the traditional career path of medicine and engineering?” I looked at her and said, “Plenty.” Baffled by my response, she said, “I don’t know a single person.”

As South Asians, we are taught (often times coerced) to pick careers that offer financial stability and dependability. And those career paths are medicine, engineering, and the fad of the 90s—MBA. So, whether one likes it or not, you scar your supple, teenage brains with the stress and aggression of competitive exams. Parents put their life’s savings into coaching classes, for their children, for medicine, engineering or other professions that promise success. Believe me, I too have been there. I drew flowers and cartoons on entrance exam papers and doodled poetry. And I loathed each one of those “All India-let’s-look-good-for-your-family-contests.”

I have been trying to reflect on how and when I decided that medicine, engineering, MBA, or the civil services weren’t for me. At a young age, I might have lacked the confidence to articulate my career choice. But how was I even aware that I had other options in times when people studying anything aside from sciences were coined as “weak students”?

I think I might have found the answer. I spent my formative years in a boarding school, Oak Grove (OG), in Mussorie, India. Boarding schools have a notorious image: They are wonderful for an all round personality development, but they might not necessarily prepare you, mentally, for IITs and AIIMS or other entrance exams. And maybe there is some truth to it.

In 1980s and 90s, when most schools in India had one annual sports day and couple of cultural functions in a year, (all the energy was focused on students churning out 99.1% in their board exams), my school had a different vision. Oak Grove, like Jane Austen, was pretty ahead of its times. Extra curricular activities, like schools in the United States, were given equal importance. So, whether you liked it or not, you did treks, knew how to swim, survive with strangers, play at least three different field sports, two track events, partake in two or three cultural activities, and excel at debates even before you hit your teenage years. And all of this through the cold and wet weather.

Don’t get me wrong; we had a tremendous amount of academic pressure, but each one of us was allowed to blossom individually. And life was never compartmentalized by Indian expectations of grades. While some students went on to choose the traditional calling, a few of us chose to depend on the right side of our brain.

Last evening, when I saw my senior Puneet Monga’s album on Facebook, one picture, in particular, got me thinking. It was the image of my boarding school’s publication, ACORN. In my twelfth grade, from the girl’s school side, I was the chief-editor of my school magazine and from the boy’s school Sameer Mohindru was the man behind the words. Over a decade later, is it a surprise that Sameer is a journalist and I am a writer? Did OG subconsciously encourage us to think beyond the always chosen road?

Not just that, a significant number of people from my alma mater—men included—work in the creative field across different segments as fashion designers, visual artists, journalists, architects, filmmakers, jewelry designers, among others. And I am so proud of each one of them. They have turned their passion into profession. And that is the strength of OG. It showed us paths based on our strengths. On one hand we have graduates from esteemed institutes like IIMs, IITs, Symbiosis, NDA etc.; on the other, we have folks working for TV production houses and in other artistic fields.

I owe a big part of who I am today to my days spent at OG even though I loathed the depressing weather. Is it a coincidence that I signed another book contract on the same day as OG turned 122 years old, on June 1, 2010? I think not.

Unlike Mark Twain, who said, “I never let schooling interfere with my education,” I am glad I let my school interfere with my education.


More until next time, 


Copyright © 06. 04.2010


 “If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.” — Edgar W. H 



JS said...


BCS said...

It sounds like Gautam Budha having attained salvation.Oak Grove has done a sea of good to you and it is nice to realise it.
Congratulations once again for the new signup.

S said...

Very well written again....I do agree about our school as only an OGite can! ;) Besides all the creative professionals & academicians that OG churned out....I like to believe, it also made a lot of us to be the Mom's that we are today!!! :)

Vishal said...

Very well written and expressed..many congratulations for your new to see such many more from you..i cherish them..

S said...

Well written and well said - simple thoughts with lot of weight with even greater relevance to today's lives.

Congrats on the new book contract

Nuktacheen said...

Oak Grove was but do you really think Jane Austen was ahead of her times?

My two cents said...

@S: I agree about OG churning out fantastic moms. Juggling with a smile was like the mantra at OG. Upon reading this post, someone dear to me sent me a note saying that they would love to send their kids to OG:-)

@Nuktacheen: I truly think so. To me, Jane Austen's female protagonists were ahead of times. Her thoughts and social commentary and lessons on morality are relevant even today. For a woman, who grew up in a very different society and time, it's amazing to think how she tapped into today's core challenges two hundred years ago.