Arindam Chaudhuri
Those are parents who are ruining childhood for a few marks more!
[July, 2007]

The obsession of Indian parents with high marks and high percentage in boards is legendary. More legendary is their obsession with their progenies joining IT, taking science streams and doing engineering. I remember that after I cleared my tenth boards, I had thought that that was the time to watch good movies and play cricket. One morning, with much enthusiasm in my mind, I went to call out one of my friends, only to unbelievably find him taking tuitions! Perplexed, upon enquiring, I found out that his IIT preparations had already started. I actually asked him that evening why he wanted to go to IIT. His standard reply was, “Because my Papa wants me to!” Upon enquiring further, I realised his 'Papa' wanted him to go to IIT because their neighbour's son was also in IIT. Thankfully, my dad during my entire schooling never put any such pressures on me. The only thing he wanted me to do was to get decent marks in Maths and English in school, and read as much literature as possible. In fact, he went on to actually link my pocket money (the most important thing in our school days) to my reading literature. So by the time I was in the tenth class, I could proudly say that no one around me, including my final year college going friends, had read as much as I had.

My friend (whom I had gone to call out) unfortunately didn't have as much luck. So while during the next two years in school, I played lots of cricket, watched lots of movies, made lots of friends and read lots of good books, my dear friend locked himself up in a room and could be seen lesser and lesser as he prepared for his IIT. At last, after the IIT results came out, I asked him to finally come out for a movie; but horrors, he didn't want to, since he hadn't cleared the entrance exam, and had had to face truncheons of rebuke from his Papa. Humiliated, he found it tough to face the world and decided to lock himself up in the same room for another year (thank god he didn't think of suicide as an option). His hard work and sacrifice for his Papa's wishes finally paid off and he did make it to IIT the next year. But three years locked up inside a room preparing for IIT, and four more years locked up inside an institution surrounded by similar quirk-ridden 'boys' (the standard IIT female population is less than 10%) had done enough damage to him for normal people to find him interesting enough to communicate with. His Papa, though, was ecstatic. Papa could finally now meet his neighbours proudly, couldn't he, eh!

My friend, of course, became a man soon and realised that he needed to live his own life. He decided to put the tax payers' Rs.20 lakh subsidy at IIT to the drains and opted for a management course at one of the IIMs. Aft er using up another 15 odd lakh rupees of the tax payers' money, he picked up a job in the US and disappeared forever from India… (I want the American Presidents to thank us regularly for our phenomenal education policy, which invests, subsidizes and nurtures 'A' grade brains for America's development). Today, Papa is an old man…and his son hasn't come to meet him for the last five years. But Papa still proudly goes around telling his friends about his son's achievements and how he sends him $500 every month… Having seen all that first hand, I am proud that for those few extra marks and 90% in boards, and for that admission to IIT, my father didn't make my life hell; and instead allowed me to be my own and have a happy and constructive childhood… And I still love him!
So am I trying to say that getting 90% is bad? Or that my friend from IIT is not doing well? No, neither! Getting 90% is terrific. So is going to IIT; and my friend and scores like him are doing great in life…but so are my friends who got 60% or below, who were with me in the commerce stream! They have as happy families and great businesses that they are managing. Many completed their MBAs and are running big companies. All I can assure you is that I wish there were a correlation between getting 90% in school boards and having a better life at 40. Unfortunately, there isn't! Of course, there is a relation between being uneducated and not doing great. And similar is the relation between being educated and doing well. But education is not about getting 90%. It's about being a great son, daughter, wife, husband, mother or father… It's about reading books and becoming more cultured. It's about being a positive influence in the society. It's about being constructively employed and creatively spending your energies. It's about the will to achieve and succeed. And all this can be achieved equally well by any average student as by a 90 percenter. As a management teacher, I have seen that the most enterprising students and performers in the class aren't necessarily those who have high IQs and are class toppers. On the contrary, the ones with a high emotional quotient (which oft en comes more from playing cricket than from being locked up in a room for the three most crucial years of your life) and the next level of students are far better material to become great managers.

I have always believed in underdogs. They have more to prove; they have more drive; and they are great per formers. All my friends who were left free by their parents didn't necessarily perform so great in their board exams, but they performed when it mattered in life. In school, they were great sportspersons; they were great artists. Later in college, they were good friends and lovers. And at the right time, they became serious about their careers and changed gears, underwent the right education and training that appealed to them, and are doing great in life today. They took over their parents' businesses and made it grow; they became great social workers; even wonderful film makers; and at the same time, good husbands and wives, even if they are working in the middle management level in some companies. Truly, they are giving their children great upbringing.
I can only say leave children free to grow, and nurture their capabilities and passion. Give them a direction…on how to become great human beings and how to make a better society. Be proud of them. Believe in them. Give them the power to believe in themselves and believe they can be winners…and they will be! Whatever their percentage! And this is exactly what I told the Principal of Sri Ram School during my son's admission on what I expected from the school. I am proud that the school is giving my son freedom to nurture his creative and human instincts and has no exams to judge his percentage. I hope all schools look at education like this soon. Let not the mad dash for more marks by parents destroy the sanity of human character, the fabric of family values, and most importantly, the purity of what childhood was actually meant to be.  Achieve this, and India will be a better place with better citizens, I am sure!
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