At some point of their lives, most parents are faced with this moral quandary: ‘What do I provide my children with, a good education or material wealth like house that can stand them in good stead in times of need?’ The answer is — as any educator will tell you — material wealth is illusory while college education stays forever. Which is not surprising because educators, if they say anything else, they will go out of business.
But left to yourself, faced with the question of what you should give your children, you will also happily choose education over a house because — let us stop playing for once and face the truth square on — you can’t afford to buy any apartment at its current rate.
But choosing a stream of education and a college calls for a nuanced approach. This is where career counselors come in, as they manage to find out what a student is really interested in by the scientific process of talking to them. The point is most parents don’t. And that is because whenever they try to talk to their wards, the exchanges, like most Chennai roads, lead nowhere.
If you are a dad and have a son who is in the age of getting into a college, this is what usually happens whenever you want to discuss his plans for college education:
You, looking bright and cheerful, call him around. You smile excessively pleasantly at him. You put an amiable arm around his shoulder and, in a friendly but matter of fact of way, try to begin the conversation by looking into his eyes. But you will not find them. Because his eyes would be firmly fixed on the screen of his mobile, scanning the furiously streaming in WhatsApp messages.
You: (Not wanting to show your disappointment so early in the talk) I want to discuss something important with you… (You leave the sentence unfinished hoping that he will take it as a cue to stop messaging and start paying attention to you)
Son: (Without lifting his eyes from the mobile screen) Yeah, I am listening only…
You: Whoever discovered the mobile should be shot dead (this has to be the most often used line of all parents across continents)… switch it off, da.
Now, if he were a normal youth, which I am sure your son is, he will arch his eyebrows, roll his eyeballs, shake his head, sigh audibly, make ‘tcha, tcha’ noises, and in general exhibit irritation in every possible bodily fashion and behave more sullenly than L K Advani ever has.
It is here you must hold your end, and a la Modi, behave nothing provocative has happened at all and try to take forward the talk.
You: So, what are your plans for college?
Son: What plans? What college?
Agreed, it is not an answer. It is a question doing desperate duty as a purported reply. This can be dispiriting. But you should be happy that it is at least connected to what you posed to him. Because there was every possibility that the conversation could have taken such a turn:
You: So, what are your plans? I mean what college and course do you want to take up?
Son: (Silence for a few moments) Dad, I need to tell you this. I want to have a tattoo. Sharvesh has one of a mermaid around his shoulder. His dad and mom are okay with it. But I don’t want any picture on my body. That can be gross. What I have in mind is just a line from Bhagavad Gita on my forearm. Can I?
So thanking you stars that your son is at least talking in terms that are in the general vicinity of your question, you proceed further:
You: I am asking you what course and college that you want to pursue? What branch of engineering?
(Here I am deducing that you are not one of those irresponsible parents who doesn’t mind his son taking up literature or history or other things that have little relevance to things that TCS or CTS or Infosys generally deal in. I mean you don’t mind your son ending up as a writer or a historian. It is just that you, a modern responsible parent, feel that the best way to go about it is through an engineering degree. You may be right, too. For, most of our engineering colleges are no more capable of throwing up competent engineers than it is possible for your croton plant to dispense hard cash).
Son: Appa, my exams have just gotten over. Let me relax a bit.
You: Relax? You have all these entrance tests, don’t you? There is JEE, BITS, VIT, SRM, Manipal…
Son: NO. I am not taking all of them. They are such a waste of time.
You: If you thought so why did you get all the entrance forms and paid fees for the tests?
Son: For your information, you did, dad. You got the forms and paid the fees just because your friend Swaminathan did. You know what, Swami uncle’s son is not taking any of the tests. He has become a volunteer for AAP.
You: You mean that Kejriwal’s party? But Kejriwal is himself an engineer by qualification, no?
Son: (Taken aback a bit) So what?
You: What you mean by so what? Okay, forget Swami. Let him sort this out with Kejriwal. But what are the entrance tests you will take?
Son: Let me think it over. Give me some time.
You: IT IS LATE ALREADY…
As you can see, you are talking in caps-lock format, which means you are just losing it. But before you can lose it further, his mobile will chime.
Son: (To the person on the other end of the mobile) Yes, Sharvesh. Yeah, I am coming. Get the tickets. Will be there in 15 minutes. (Cutting the phone). Appa, Sharvesh and other friends are waiting for me. Will come back and talk to you. No worries.
In most household conversations, dad’s sentences generally end — like that flyover in Chromepet — mid-air unfinished. So even before you can get a word edgewise, he will be off the room and vamoose from the house, leaving you listening helplessly to the fast receding sound of an extremely revved up bike.
PS: So how will the whole thing play out if you have a daughter?
No major difference, except that the last para will read: Even before you can get a word edgewise, she will be off the room, leaving you listening helplessly to the strident sound of a door slammed extremely hard.