Sunday, October 28, 2007

Doctor or Engineer - by hook or by crook

Kerala is a strange place. rather, it’s truer to say that keralites are strange people. they carry certain mulish ideas thru their lives, and to whichever part of the universe they relocate themselves to. one such notion is : if you offspring is not a doctor or an engineer, you are a failure in life. thus it is that we have this hilarious scramble for medical and engineering seats. the other day, a friend told me her relative paid 25lakhs as donation to secure a medical seat somewhere in tamilnadu for his son who did not want to become a doctor!

I am a humanities person and an acqaintance of mine once had the temerity to ask me of what use my education is of to humankind? needless to say he is an engineer whose monthly salary is more than all the money I have ever earned, or will ever earn, even if I live for another hundred years.

with infinite patience, I used, initially to explain to those who posed similar queries that it takes more than docs and engineers to run this world. tried telling them life is not about science and technology alone – it also about philosophy and history and economics and commerce and logic and art, all of which which bring you closer to life and makes you understand this business of living. I couldn’t then quite guage the expressions on their faces when I uttered such sentiments. older and wiser, I have now learned the art of decoding human facial expressions. In retrospect, those faces which suffered me when I lectured on the relevance of a holistic approach to life mirrored their pitying attitude to a sour grape blabbering of a ‘woman’.

coming back to my acquaintance who questioned the utility of my existence, I now realize the crux of his attitude. be a doc or engineer and you can mint money. not that I don’t like money. I love it. but I am not prepared to bulldoze my children, or anyone for that matter, to become docs and engineers just because there is a mountain of currency waiting at the end of the road. nor am I willing to sacrifice everything I care for - like job satisfaction for one thing - for a huge bank balance. My take is this: if a person wants to become a medical practioioner, it is a great thing – if he has the competence, compassion and the dedication for this noble profession. if a person wants to be an engineer, it is a great thing, with the gigantic technological leap that the is happening now. but if a person doesn’t want to be either, please please leave her or him alone to explore and experience other areas. this big world is a land of opportunities, also for people other than docs and engineers.

I would like to tell all the fathers and mothers of kerala not o be heartbroken if your son/daughter does not manage to get a seat in a ‘professional’ college, or does not want to go to one. there are a huge number of people in this world eking out very decent living without an engineering or medical degree.


  1. nice to see u back ammai! :) been a while since i visited ur blog!

    have heard the contents on this blog from u in person before n i cannot agree more... and i can give u 10/10 for the whole "practise what u preach" thing :)

  2. Excellent point.

    Yes indeed, it does take more than doctors and engineers to make this world a decent place.

    I say this as a practising physician. There is more to life than money.

  3. as someone who chose the path less trodden & loving it...i can wholeheartedly say...yay!
    power to all those who think "above & beyond the box"

  4. This is the first time I'm disagreeing with you :-)Not exactly disagreeing but rather adding something to what you have said.

    "but if a person doesn’t want to be either, please please leave her or him alone to explore and experience other areas"

    Problem is when I was in my twelth standard I didn't know what I wanted in life! Worse, i didn't even know which I liked better engineering/medicine simly because those two seemed the only options available to me. Commerce, accountancy etc were for B graders and arts, history, language etc for C graders. At least that was/is the perception that was/is strongly ingrained in a 15 year old's mind by the parent community. I know a million other examples(besides me). People who were good at writing, painting, quizzing, good at current affairs and interested in journalism.. all taking up entrance coaching at the end of 10th Standard. And then it was/is either medicine/engineering.

    I'm not claiming that I now know what I want in life :-). But how can we blame the parents who tell their wards to choose the safest path when the children themselves do not know what they want to do in life. Even if they DO know, how many of them would have the courage to pursue a different area of study, when the whole community regards only doctors and engineers as successful?

    My passion was music and I sing a bit. The first thing my father asked me (when we discussed my future) was how do I plan to make a living out of it :-). Maybe he was right. Or maybe he was wrong..if I was passionate enough I would probably have made enough money through singing by now. But the whole point is not about money. It's about the mindset at the most crucial point in your life - end of 10th/12th standard.

    How do you make that decision as a fifteen year old? How do you defy the conventional wisdome of the society? Of course, there are people like you who understand the nuances of life. But how would an average parent (struggling for their daily existence) understand the importance of going with one's passion? They would only think of securing their children's future right?

    I think what is needed is a gradual change in the society's way of thinking. Parents and children should be given education/counselling (preferrably together) on the various career opportunities, right from their schooling days. This should not be a two or three hour session (like those which happens in most schools in tenth standard). It should be a subject during a full academic year, preferrably in the tenth standard. Children should be made aware of the various opportunities available to them and also HOW YOU CAN MAKE A LIVING WITH IT! Real life examples should me mentioned to inspire students who want to pursue their own areas of interest. Children should be made aware of the risks, benefits and the rewards of choosing a particular profession. Above all they should be taught the importance of pursuing one's passion.
    Parents can probably have special mandatory classes in which they need to secure a minimum amount of marks for their children to pass. And questions could be like "Which is the best carrer option for a child whose dream is to become a painter?
    1. Doctor
    2. Engineer
    3. Businessman
    4. Professional artist

    What are the higher education opportunities for a child interested in pursuing Music? (min 200 words) " etc.

    Only if they pass, their children pass. This will at least prick the conscience of the parents when they say to their child (extremely skilled in music) to go for medicine/engineering.

    Last but not the least, articles like yours should be published in every newspaper, magazine and blog which will inspire the society to move out of their conventional thought process. Maybe after twenty - thirty years an English teacher would be as reverred as a doctor. And perhaps the paychecks might also be comparable.

    Sorry if passion blurred reason, but I guess just one group (parents or children) cannot be blamed for the current mad scramble for engineering and medicine.

  5. @ layman
    u got me all wrong.this was a call to parents who, for money and prestige, force children into professions they dont like to pursue.
    a 12th std child who is not sure of what he wants, must be guided. if he has no objection to a medical or engineering profession,he will follow his parents advice. that's fine. but i am talking odf those who simply cant see themselves as a doc or an eng being coerced into it, huge money being spent for them. that's not right.also, success in life shud not b judged on the basis of the doc/eng profession of the children. it's a huge mental trauma for parents.
    u idea about putting parents thru all thoses tests- come on-that's not fair. havent u heard of illiterate parents producing scientists? :-)

  6. As I said my emotion must have blurred reason :-). I belong to the category in your last comment.
    "If he has no objection to a medical or engineering profession,he will follow his parents advice. that's fine."

    It was fine by me, except that I now wish I had taken anything that remotely resembled arts and language!
    But I should certainly not complain considering there would be a million others who would like to be in my place!

    Anyways, "this was a call to parents who, for money and prestige, force children into professions they dont like to pursue", don't you think these parents can be put through the tests? :-D

    And also ma'am, you can call me Deepak :-)

  7. I would like to rubbish both the engineer/doctor's notions and your notion. The utility of your educational pursuits is hardly the reason you chose them. The engineer/doctor chose them because he wishes to have a secure job. You chose yours because you love that particular humanity(I don't know what you do/did) and were willing to face an uncertain monetary future. Basically, there is no need for either of you to justify the utilitarian value of your professions because you never chose them that way in the first place. The utility is merely a consequence, not the cause.

    And then, the arguments on utility can't be made until one defines utility. Is it a material utility you are considering? A mental utility? etc:

    AND THEN, the time scale on which one is considering this utility. Given a sufficiently large time scale, utility itself is a meaningless concept.


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