Friday, August 19, 2016

Dare to dream

* This is a spur of the moment post that might come across as long winded, rambling and possibly even incoherent. I didn't want to go back and edit and refine since these are raw thoughts and are best expressed the way I typed them. If you know me and how I think, then you will pretty much get what I am saying even if the words are not coming out right * 

While this post comes in the aftermath of Sakshi Malik's bronze medal in wrestling, it also derives its inspiration from the stories of Dipa, Vinesh, Atanu and all the other athletes who have made it to Rio which is in itself a phenomenal achievement.

I saw this gif in a friend's FB timeline and while my first reaction was to laugh it away, it really dawned on me that this was precisely the mentality when I grew up.

While many of us were encouraged as children to follow our passions and become true all-rounders (learn music or painting, play an instrument, take up a sport etc), invariably most of that was put to a grinding halt around Std 8 when we were asked to "get serious" and follow the beaten path so that we could ensure a "safe future" for ourselves. Whilst not every parent pushed their children very hard to get to the  creme de la creme of institutions (read: IIT or an AIIMS), becoming an engineer or doctor was definitely seen as a ticket to stability and success in life. After under-graduation, it was all about doing that MS abroad and settling down in Seattle or nearabouts or getting that fancy MBA degree which gave you a shortcut to climb 3 rungs of the unforgiving corporate rat-race ladder.

In school, I can't seem to remember ONE above-average-in-academics classmate or friend of mine (would love to see the report cards of Sivakarthikeyan, Balaji Mohan, Nalan Kumaraswamy - there, I plugged in 3 celebrity juniors from my alma mater) giving up traditional paths and pursuing alternate careers with the active encouragement and support of his/her family. On one of those very rare occasions it happened, outright rebellion with a threat to run away from home was the reason the parents finally capitulated :)

To be fair, to blame it all on the parents is ducking the issue. I had a very solid, if not spectacular, safety net in terms of financial security but still lacked the courage to pursue cricket seriously. Granted I was not supremely talented but with sheer hard work and grit, I could have atleast made it to the Tamil Nadu Premier League. So given the times we grew up, I am not very surprised by Indians not making their mark (relatively speaking) in the 2000s and early part of this decade in areas like sports, literature, arts or most things outside of a Corporate career. I truly believe an entire generation of dreamer and achievers was lost in this country.

Whilst much has changed in the last 4-5 years (every kid and his pet dog wants to drop out of school/college and create a start-up), I see it more as folks wanting to make a big splash, land up in the front page of Economic Times, rake in the cheddar by 35 and then retire to a village to do organic farming or teach underprivileged children. I still don't see enough people in school saying they want to take the road less traveled (which some might actually say is the shortcut) and actually do organic farming / teach from Day One because they love it for what its worth. On one hand, while it is heartening to personally see people explore left-of-field options in the entertainment industry (moving outside films, TV and radio to become a stand-up comedian or even a full-time magician), I still see parents seeking my help on how to ensure their wards become one of the 2m engineering students who graduate every year.

As a child, there were a million things I wanted to be and some I even dabbled in. I wanted to play cricket, tennis and/or golf. I yearned to learn singing and be associated with music throughout my life. As a teenager, I longed to write stories and tell it to people through the medium of cinema. I was also intrigued by the prospects of becoming a professional quiz master. As an adult, I wanted to be a sports talent spotter traveling to the corners of the country unearthing the next big thing. Did I become any of those? Nope. Why? I don't know.

Which brings me to my current predicament.

What I want for my children is to aspire high and reach for the stars. What I would love for them to do is experiment without fear of failure. I dont want them to think that anything is beyond them. I would hate for them to settle for anything less than they are capable of. What I also want to inculcate in them is a desire to want to be the best at whatever they set their hearts and minds to. I am cognizant that I should not foist my own dreams on them and live my aspirational life through them. However, I also want to be a catalyst to help them understand what they could do and provide support to realize their potential in whichever field they chose to pursue, as long as it is not engineering or medicine :P

Thanks to the support of her parents, Sakshi Mittal followed her dreams from the age of 12 and look where it has landed her. Steffi Graf was hitting hundreds of balls over the net at the age of 4 under the watchful eyes of her father and went on to become a legend. (its another thing that the media demonized her father as a hard task master who literally ruint her childhood). I dont want to be one of those parents pushing their children to practice for Spelling Bees from the age of 3 but I also want my children to start dreaming from early on.

What I really hope to do through this post is stimulate/start an honest debate on how parents can help children dare to dream and support that pursuit.

PS: I know a parent who sent his daughter to 2 full summers of Pencil sketching, Carnatic music singing, Taekwondo, Swimming, Maths Olympiad & Origami/Arts & Crafts classes and she came back disinterested in everything....and before someone asks, she is a very smart kid. Is it just by trial and error that children find out what really floats their boat?

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