Gowri Ramnarayan: If you are a parent you will shake your head over the father’s hard luck in having to deal with such a balky son. The other day my friend told me that her son had a taken a break after his first year in college. He didn’t know whether he wanted to continue or not, whether the chosen subject was right for him, and whether the system itself was right for him. And no, he couldn’t say when he would go back to college — or not.

Intermediate or teenage children and their wish to buck the system 

If you are a parent you will shake your head over the father’s hard luck in having to deal with such a balky son.  In a country like ours, the boy is lucky to get into college at all. So why is he wasting time and money, and causing his parents’ stress levels to shoot up?

Another friend of mine had a son who simply refused to go to school. When she insisted, he threw tantrums, and then got so physically sick that he had to be admitted to a hospital. Finally, she decided that he should have home schooling.  Very soon she realised that his antipathy was directed not towards books or learning. He simply couldn’t cram at the same speed as the others. He couldn’t handle the competitive system.  At home, on his own terms, he not only made good progress in the usual subjects, but also developed unusual skills. He became an origamist.

I was not surprised.  I remembered my son declaring at the wise old age of 10 that he didn’t want to join the rat race thank you, no first rank please, he didn’t care if he was last in class.  After years of steadily achieving this goal, he shocked himself one day with a top grade in the one subject he liked. Yes, it triggered a drastic change in perspective!

Middle class Indian parents are ready to sacrifice everything to ensure that their offspring get the best education they can afford to provide. Many children share their ambitions and accept the need to strive for high grades in market-driven subjects.

But what about those who do not want to be force-fed?  Formula led? Those who make “unstable” career choices? And what about those who simply lack the ability to equip themselves with whatever guarantees success in the job market?  

Indian parents are particularly proud of children settled abroad.  They boast of the dentist son in London who makes more money than he can spend, or of the banker daughter in New York who buys more gadgets than she can use.  “My children are busy on week days, exhausted on weekends,” reports a father whose long trip to visit them ended up in sharing long silences.

The middle class is reckoned the backbone of any society because it champions economic stability, upward mobility.  But can we discount the downside of this relentless pursuit of success measured only in commercial terms? In the fevered attempt to standardise young minds to aim for the most lucrative slots, are we losing individuality? Creativity?

Imagination, intuition and instinct, the most powerful faculties of the human mind, whose leaps and flights achieve progress for humankind, mostly belong to people who refuse to fit in.

So, instead of pushing square pegs into round holes, can parents guide them to find the right slots? Can we support those who are and want to be different? Can we celebrate that difference as the essence of being human?

Can we tell them that you don’t have to be a millionaire to be financially independent, and that success is not just about making a lot of money, but learning to be happy with what you have?

Note: The author Gowri Ramnarayan is a playwright, theatre director, musician and journalist writing on the performing arts, cinema and literature


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