Thursday, November 15, 2012

The risk

My forefathers tilled the land.

My dad’s father was the first generation learner and he studied up to “matric”, the term in use back then for Class 10. His medium of instruction was Urdu. I remember leafing through his account books in wonder. The letters he wrote us began with the standard and never changing form of address for my father, “Barkhurdaar Harnek Singh”. His dream was to see his two sons through the Punjab Agricultural College (now University), Ludhiana.

Papa Ji must have had visions of his sons returning to the soil at the end of their agricultural degrees. My father instead joined the Army Education Corp. As we moved, nomad like, from one cantonment to the other, there remained a constant. We three siblings were placed in the best schools available locally.

But I grew up with an acute sense of the lack of educated units in our family. There was hard work; you saw enterprise, even the smarts of the street but no weighty professional degree in the immediate vicinity. I remember the wondrous amazement I felt, at acquaintances that seemed to have sprung from a lineage of professionals, creative artists, families that had learning as their grammar, their history, their geography.

And soon enough, it was my turn. I had wanted to become a full-fledged journalist.  But in the India of the late 70s, anyone who scored decently took up the Science stream in senior school. I did not risk that beaten track even though life gave me my second chance to swing back to my original love in the Vice Principal’s office at Fergusson College, Pune in 1980. Dr. Pathak was looking at me, pen poised over two boxes: Chemistry or English Literature? I mumbled feebly, “Can I do both?” He shook his head and marked the Science swiftly.

That decision became my personal red light, a betrayal of the self almost. Little wonder that its aftertaste coagulated over the following years, into a concrete resolve to help my own daughters identify their core interests first. And that is how it came about that an arduous and busy process of raising them to experience a range of fields ended the day we stood at the gates of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore with Aqseer. Round one had clicked!

It is hard to describe the emotions of middle class Indian parents leading their child into one of the country’s premier and coveted schools of learning. There is awe, there is pride, there is gratitude and most of all, there is a sense of validation, of having done the right by the young.  I was like Mrs Bhamra of Bend it like Beckham, “At least I taught her full Indian dinner, the rest is up to God”.

It wasn’t long before the talk of graduation date began doing the rounds. The campus placements however, came and went; Aqseer did not register for any. Why deprive someone else who is really keen on a corporate job? Ditto for the “Teach for India” platform which glimmered one instant, pausing briefly but only to whizz past. There was a lot of thinking and agonizing and analysing afoot and more and more, the house was reverberating with two words, “Public Policy”.

The futuristic images that had taken shape in our minds over the five years of law school gradually began to dissolve at the edges. It was getting increasingly clear that the beaten track was going to be given the miss this time in my life. We stood by, her father and I, and watched the mental upheaval involved with a mix of concern and pride.

More and more, I was beginning to understand the rationale of the paths most taken. Of course, there is the security of the known, the comfort of crystal clear directions, and the certainty of cruising home. But what do you say to this, “Mom, I am twenty two years old. I spent five years at India’s best law school. The serve is mine to return. We have to stop fearing failure. At my age and with my degree, if I don’t take a risk, who will?”

Note: All pictures of Aqseer doing the Macau Tower Bungy Jump, 61 stories, 233 m high.