The yearly cycle of results has just been done with, at the state and the national levels, across various examinations for educational and professional qualifications. The time has now come for a quaint and quintessentially Assamese, not to say Indian, ritual (or rite of passage, if you want) – The Great Big Annual Felicitation Bash. I call it a ritual or a rite of passage, because there seems to be a mystical sense of gravity and solemnity around this event, something that, in most respects, has no meaning in anybody’s lives, just like most rites and rituals going around usually don’t.
Every year, hundreds of hard-working, starry-eyed boys and girls, egged on by their even more starry-eyed parents shuffle into auditoriums, pandals, and conference halls across the state. They huddle together, but never mingle, like patients waiting at the dentist’s clinic. Having been a part of such gatherings a number of times, one has made an interesting observation- such gatherings of public acclamation engage our most animal instincts. Parents encircle their wards in a protective embrace, their steely eyes scanning the crowd for any prospective rivals. They also encircle each other (especially the mothers) like female lions, or like fencers, engaging in light banter and repartee, testing and feeling the other’s strength. Each polite enquiry about ‘your child’s study hours’,’ your child’s future plans’, ”arts or science?”, is a thrust, to be deftly parried away with a airy “our boy/girl never studied that long anyway, I have no idea how he/she did it!!”, while any resultant information is mentally filed away for future reference. It is a most arresting spectacle. One doesn’t quite know who is the hunter, or the hunted.
The children, on the other hand look so badly out of their comfort-zones, it clenches the heart. Shifty glances and smiles of acknowledgement may sometimes graduate into a mock-bravado filled “how are you?”. But usually there is only an awkward silence. It’s like the church on Sundays, except the idols being worshipped are the faithful church-goers themselves. Here, in some cases, if one is observant enough, may be detected the beginnings of a hierarchy of social standing , as the toppers may form a little group of their own, to bask in the rarefied splendor of their loneliness at the top (of course, with 3-4 kids on Rank 1 nearly every year, the oxygen up there might be a little scarce), while the plebians at the middle and the bottom ranks do their own thing, with some of them wondering how the kid who always got fewer marks than them in unit tests managed to snag a higher rank. Such hierarchy-creation extends to the parents as well.
One does not hold any grudge against such a social ceremony. Students everywhere need inspiration at appropriate times to soar to newer levels of competence. The latent ‘genius’ hidden inside each of these ‘champions’ of Class X and Class XII needs to be given a boost at the opportune moment. (Of course, one would think it was in fact the other 99% of the student population, who were just about average, or below average, who needed the inspiration most urgently, but apparently that’s not the way things are)
No, It is in the method of providing this inspiration that one feels there is a problem.
Edison said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. One feels the first part of his adage has been taken way too seriously. Inspiration is all well and good, but it is also important to know where to get the inspiration from. Today’s world offers a million different role models in a thousand different fields of human endeavour. Children today (in most cases) are well-connected to their environment, and are far more emotionally and intellectually mature than their preceding generations. More importantly, they have CHOICES- choices of who to glean inspiration from, choices of who their role models should be, and choices of following “roads not taken”. Ideally, the parents of such talented children should have the confidence in their wards making correct career and life decisions.
But that is not what is seen. Across the board, children have been indoctrinated to have socially-accepted and ‘standard’ role models-the UPSC Cleared Candidate (at a very preliminary level, but still, in Assam at least), the Rocket Scientist, the Powerful Bureaucrat, the Director in XYZ PSU, so on and so forth. The important thing to remember here is that these are all honourable role models- great people to emulate, but they are usually not the child’s own choices, but rather ideals stuffed down their throats by over-zealous parents and an over-ambitious peer group.
This has been something of a personal experience, albeit at a very small scale. Having managed to clear the UPSC examination this year by the skin of one’s teeth, one suddenly finds a wave of eager future UPSC-givers waiting to be ‘inspired’ to reach the ‘dizzying heights(!)’ that one has supposedly achieved. These kids might have different desires, different dreams, different plans to make a mark, but their parents’ and their social groups’ strident calls of “there are 8 who have qualified this year. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Xihottu kiba bor bhal naasil poha xunat (they are not that good at studies themselves, not like you), and then the zinger- ebaar di sasun(TRY and give it once, atleast!)” make sure that they start seeking inspiration to do things they didn’t want to do, set out on paths they didn’t want to go down. This is seriously unfair. Not everyone clears the UPSC. Not everyone even has to GIVE the UPSC. Why abandon a dream that one could really be good at, for something that one might only be mediocre in?
Another example would be pertinent here. Every student of my generation wanted to be Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, or atleast that is what they thought they wanted to be. “Wings Of Fire” and “Ignited Minds” were everybody’s favourite books. The question now is- how many of those youthful dreams have been dealt a quick death under the crush of rising education costs, unemployment, industrial attrition, familial and social responsibility? It is great if one wants to be Dr. Abdul Kalam. But WANTING is maybe 1% of the entire task at hand. One needs to love what one does to be successful at it. Dr Kalam loved his work, hence he was successful at it. Nobody was forcing him to be inspired from Dr. So-and-So to become a rocket scientist. It wasn’t a job, it was a calling. Dr Kalam’s message to the youth remains, to “follow YOUR dreams”, not his.
Inspiration is an extremely personal idea. You make up your mind and formulate your plans about the life you want to lead and the things you want to achieve therein, and then when obstacles block your progress, you look for inspiration from people who have done it before. It’s an individual, not a collective thing. It has to work for the individual, give him some returns on investment, not be a nebulous ideal simply hanging there.
Do not let your parents, your friends or your society think up your role models for you. Do not sit and wait to be inspired by someone doing something you don’t want to do. Perspire doing something you love. Inspiration should be easy to come by then.