India as we know it is a very…very diverse place – with all the gults (telugus), choms (hindis), illads(tamils), mallus(mallus) etc. In all its diversities there is still one thing that is common to all races – the fact that the age of 21 for men (no longer boys or teens but now MEN!) is what marks their coming of age, the cross roads of destiny…the one year to rule them all! Let me give you a brief buildup of any average guy up to this pivotal point in his life.
The life of an average Indian student comprises three phases – The cute phase, the charismatic phase, the confused phase. The cute phase is roughly from birth to about high school after which you begin to realize you are not all that cute. And the biggest failure up to this point in your life is some cute love story that you had with your neighbour being crushed in the light of college life or that one JEE exam you screwed up (Come to think of it, that was one test in which even the first ranker thought he screwed up – weird! And i guess that is one reason it is a thing of the past!) Then starts the charismatic phase – the college days when every single guy feels he is Di Caprio from Titanic or Downey Jr. from Iron Man. Well, everything seems so easy so far. Some glitches here and there…unexpected meetings with the deans for all the wrong reasons, a few flunked classes reflecting in your grades…Thats pretty much it. But now comes the real deal… As the charismatic era dawns, fear installs itself in the minds of youth. Everything that seemed so clear until now looks clouded. The year, that damned year – the age of 21 approaches and brings along with it the weight of responsibility, self-control, discipline and a whole lot of other words that you have only witnessed in the dictionary but never has practiced thus far. It is now when you begin to question your life and past for the first time – thus opening the portals for the age of confusion into your life. This confusion is because for the first time in your life you need to choose and decide all by yourself what you are to do next and bear all its consequences for the foreseeable future.
The confusion put in its simplest terms is – what’s next? Higher ed? Job? Marriage? If Higher ed then MS or MBA? If job then core or software? If marriage the boy or girl? (Luckily Indian guys do not have to face that oddity yet). This decision that should have been the most liberating decision is now a source of utter frustration. Why? – Because you have not been trained to make such decisions. People somehow expect you to magically develop the ability to make extraordinary decisions with little or no practical exposure. I don’t make big statements without the stuff to back them up. Look back at your life…by 21 you are supposed to know what is right and what is wrong and develop a decent character. And the training you receive – A moral science class that was not even taught by an actual humanities professor. In my case it was my bio teacher who took the odd one class per week. Morals are the most …the most important thing for the social existence of a human being and look at the amount of time we spend training them. Some may argue that you learn morals at home so they need not be explicitly taught and for those some here’s the next example – Sex ed! Yes in India 21 is the age where a guy is eligible to get married. So by 21, if you are (un)fortunate to get married you must know something. Does that get discussed at home? No! Again, the training you get – bits and scraps from some generous knowledgeable friends. This, when gets out of hands, is also responsible for some barbaric social crimes against the weaker gender. The point here however is not moral science or sex ed but the more important – decision making. By the age of 21 people are trained so well in not making their decisions both small and big that even selecting a tooth paste brand becomes either a question of general habit or confusion. Education must train children to make their own decisions – from choosing the right equation for an algebra problem to the right girl for marriage.
Coming to the whole flummox of job or higher ed, this one is very sensitive and severe. I know computer engineers who trade for an MBA, electronics engineers who work in software jobs and civil engineers who…well… have no jobs. It’s not all because of that one bad decision, but that bad decision trumps all others. Now when you think of it, you are 21 and what do you do? Do you work or study (again)? My answer is – Are you f******* out of your mind? You are 21, hitting the prime of youth. You have all the energy and capacity to do whatever you want to and all that you choose is to spend the best years of your life working for some idiot or studying to be a bigger one? If your family is dependent on your income then I ardently support your idea to work and fulfill your immediate duties and responsibilities, if not then sit back and start thinking…may be for the first time in 21 years but start thinking. Open the websters and try to figure out what the word ‘passion’ means to you and try to follow it. In my opinion these are the years that you need to spend learning how to live. Travel, talk, eat, play, have fun, grow ideas that matter to you and the world around you, find and chase your passion and work only to fill your basic amenities not to buy a Porsche of your stipend. 21 to 26 are in a way the only years of your life that are under your control so be sure to make the most out of them. Explore the entrepreneur, the social worker, the sports man, the artist in you. Don’t be scared, if you screw up you can start over again (Unless your passion is bombing Iraq). I don’t have anything against people chasing MBAs or big buck jobs. The only thing I urge you to see is that you are a lot more than what a degree or a job can give you. Explore that part of you. Finally, if you do something make sure you do it for the love of it and not because it gets you a fat pay cheque or the most likes as a Facebook status. If you are still confused then think over and let this confusion lead you to some meaningful conclusion.
Adios, till the next one!