Advice Anyone? A Conversation …

One fine day, I was travelling on the train from Hyderabad to Bangalore – chugging along at a pace that can only be described as serene. It was drizzling and there was an air of calmness all around. The train was due to reach its destination in a couple of hours. I was looking forward to reaching Bangalore as it was quite some time since I had been to Bangalore. Looking forward to meeting friends after a long time – the excitement always gets to you 🙂

Lost in my own thoughts while gazing outside, I suddenly heard a voice “Saar!!!’…

Jolted, I turned around to see a man with greying hair and receding hairline – eyes tired by the waves of time. There was a flicker of smile over his face. I responded with a “Yes Uncle” which suggested neither enthusiasm nor coldness. I wanted to be done with whatever conversation we were about having. The view outside was breathtaking and I am never cool with speaking to strangers. I had a stock of replies ready to the expected usual questions “We will reach Bangalore by 9:00”, “Time is 7”, “Breakfast – I am not sure”, “I stay in Hyderabad” and the like.

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The Man, let us call him “Joe” for convenience. Joe asked me “Saar, Are you an engineer?” I was momentarily taken aback. Was he psychic, or was being an engineer so common that you could literally walk into any youth expecting him to be an engineer? I did not ask him how he found that out, but I did answer in the affirmative.

Wisdom says that Interesting conversations begin with a leap of faith…

The usual questions followed, “Saar, which college?” and all. It was like we were both sizing each other up before getting to the crux of the conversation – his questions were guarded under the guise of smile, and my replies were cagey, egging him to unveil his motive.

The A-HA moment came. With a hidden wave of emotion in his eyes, he asked “Saar, my son has just completed his SSLC, should he pursue Engineering?”

This post is not about what my reply to him was. This post captures something deeper – which can only be felt. I wanted to tell him “Obviously”. I wanted to tell him of how IT was booming and our country needed engineers. I wanted to tell him how, in his society, Engineers are respected. I wanted to tell him how the job prospects were better for an Engineer compared to other fields. I wanted to tell him how Medical was tough and expensive. I wanted to tell him that Engineering is not a Degree, but an experience, which will shape up his life – and that his son will never regret the years of Engineering life.

And then I wanted to tell Joe something else too. I wanted to tell him how the quality of engineering education in our country is primitive. I wanted to tell him how a vast majority of engineers end up in the great I.T machine of our country – slaving off typing codes. Or how they end up in various call-centers faking accents to earn money that will only be blown up on McDonalds, CCDs and the like. I wanted to tell him of the hordes of Engineers who do not get a job. Or end up warming the benches of I.T. companies. I wanted to tell him of how engineers are dime a dozen in this country – mostly unemployable. I wanted to tell him how the promise of a better tomorrow rarely comes true for an engineer. I wanted to tell him how an engineer has to ride his luck hoping to make it big.

And then I wanted to tell Joe some more. I wanted to tell him “Uncle, ask your son what he wants to do.” I wanted to tell him of all the ifs and buts and industry dynamics which are determinants of success. I wanted to tell him “Uncle, I want to talk to your son and know him better before I can answer this question.” I wanted to tell him that I believed his son was special, and thus was made for greater things. I wanted to tell him that that his son could find better success if he became a singer, dancer, actor or painter. I wanted to tell him of my many friends who were disgrace to the engineering community, but were more than successful in their lives. That I had no idea why there were so many branches of Engineering when all they did was the same menial work. I wanted to tell him that the brand of the college matters. And I wanted to tell him that the brand of the college does not matter. I wanted to tell him that a degree from an IIT is the be all and end all. And I wanted to tell him that IITs rank nowhere when seen from the global perspective. I wanted to ask him to talk to more people and get expert advice. And I wanted to tell him that people are ignorant, expert advice is all hogwash – and that he should create the path of his own destiny.

But more importantly, I wanted to confess – that I was simply not qualified to answer a question which could shape the life of his child. I was a mere Engineer who had barely seen the world. And knowing the wisdom of the many elders I knew, they would probably be less helpful – not with their bigoted views and partisan outlook towards life. I knew not what all the world had to offer. And that I was as ignorant as ignorance can be.

And I wanted him to know – that if he let his son be – and gave him the right values to follow his heart – then he should rest knowing that he had done a great job.

When we reached Bangalore finally, I don’t know if I had helped Joe with his questions, but he sure had helped me find my answers…

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