I have to admit that my folks didn’t do a great job in telling me that there are many ways of becoming rich and famous in this world. In fact, they didn’t expect me to be rich and famous. Just happy and content. Coming from a ‘middle class’ background, it was very normal of them to want for me a future devoid of the usual humdrum- waiting for the bus (earn enough to own a car), living in a rented house (buy a plot and build a good house), spending holidays traveling II class to local hill stations, (grow up to visit places far and wide) etc. Of course, those were the simplest of things. There was always the hidden wishes/worries – will the bride-to-be come from a good family? Will there be enough money to pay for the normal household expenses, (grand) children’s education and save up for the future? blah blah…
The above details may not be true word to word, and I haven’t crosschecked with my folks, but this is what I have gathered from my coexistence with other middle class families. And its a very fair and normal thing, considering the uncertain times we have always lived in.
The most logical thing for them to do was put me in a good school – one in which I could score good marks. After all, good marks are the only way to get into a good college without having to pay frighteningly high fees (merit?). Oh, ‘good college’ meant engineering/medical. Anything less would have meant an uncertain future. It was almost like the formula good education > good college > good job > happy life was fool proof. It had to be, coz it was time tested by a number of people whose only learning delight was the 90% they had been scoring all their life. And coming from a Brahmin family only meant that there was severe competition in applying this formula. Numerous cousins and relatives were frequently referred to, for the sake of citing examples, and I was almost automatically expected to become ‘successful’ like one of them.
Again, fair enough. The Government never ever seemed to do anything for the aspiring middle class. In spite of the many Budgets my dad had seen on T.V, he knew that the rich would always get away with their hidden wealth, buying new cars and new toys for their kids with equal zest. He (my dad), on the other hand, was a simple hardworking employee in some company and could not escape taxes. His dream for his child was as justified as the fat, rich marwadi neighbor’s dream of conducting the grandest wedding for his youngest daughter of age 18. (How grand? Left to your imagination!)
Of course, I was no angel and I never understood any of this until much later in life. I wanted to be ‘cool’ like other boys in school, I wanted to go to the movies every week, go to parties, and have a driver drive me to school. Not having any of those didn’t make me unhappy or depressed, but I never really understood what the fuss was all about. I did have other friends who came from a similar background as mine, and I knew that I was not the only one living a lesser life. Yet, I didn’t fully understand why my folks stressed on ‘saving up for the future’, ‘studying to get good marks’, sacrificing tennis classes for tuitions yada yada…..I also noticed that some of the people I hung around with didn’t actually have to bother about any of this, and their best ambitions were seldom beyond something like opening a new branch of their father’s business, or going to the US ‘to get away from this sick country’. (Even if that meant paying a lot of money for ‘higher studies’. And the money factor really didn’t bother them. Their dads would take care of that.)
Like I said, I never really understood my parents’ ideology. And the fact that they didn’t have an answer to my questions made unhappy. They didn’t have answers because, to them, the inequalities of life were not something to ponder about, but rather accept and live with. Of course, it also drove them to aspire for a better life – for me.
Its not like I am writing an autobiography or something. There may be deviations from facts, but that is to assert (what I think) is a general truth. Or generalized truth. Whichever way you see it, you will have to know that it is only here in India that we are so dependent on our folks until much later in life. It may well be because of the ‘strong family values’, but the truth is that 8 out of 10 kids are quite hopeless on their own, here in India. But then, our counterparts in the West, as a result of disconnection from family at a young age are insecure and/or reckless. This insecurity/recklessness is the cause for the large scale breakdown of society, values and culture, which as we know is the dark secret of the West. Either ways it is not a pretty thing.
In spite of the many downs I feel, the statistic of the number of people who cannot see beyond their spoon feedings and chandelier ceiling reminds me that I am better off walking on my own. I have been expected to walk a very clichéd path, but I have also made my own. And I have picked up valuable lessons on the way. In my moments of balance, I know that it’s up to each one to find his/her own direction. There is no saying which path is better than the other. The greatest career counselor is life itself. Hence, although I don’t agree with the formula mentioned previously, I know that stepping outside of it is not for everyone. Keeping self-sufficiency as a higher goal, I know the formula works well in keeping people in the family happy. After all, nothing adds value to ‘direction’ or ‘life focus’ like a good degree. Needless to say, many not only get lost, but also lose focus in that crowded path.
Coming back to what I really wanted to say, it is my middle class upbringing that has given me an opportunity to ponder about a certain reality that many rich kids would never understand. And rich here includes the over-protected, pampered ones. This pondering has brought me many realizations, but none of them I’d want to formalize and make power-point presentable. But today as I stand on my own, these realizations are what I would take as a greater learning – something that no school/college has ever been able to teach. Something that I can hand down, like life has handed down to me, only in bits and pieces. Hand down to whom? To the many who’d one day wake up to see that at some point of time they’d have to stand on their own two feet. To the many who’d someday realize that irrespective of what our folks have been saying, their happiness, and our greatest, is in knowing that we can be capable, self sufficient and responsible adults, adept to manage our own lives. And no MBA or MS can ever certify this – it is all in the happiness, confidence and gratification we reflect and radiate in our lives. And money? Yes, it is important. But not the center of your existence when you know there is more to life.