There is an ad on television for Kissan’s new health drink. The drink is called “Amaze Brain Food.” The ad features a bunch of kids in a school. A voice-over asks who is going to be tomorrow’s Einstein/Abdul Kalam/Sunita Williams/Narayanamurthy et. al. A point to be noted here is that the product is called “Brain Food” and the role models mentioned are all technical and scientific greats. The ad made me wonder why people like Sachin Tendulkar, Padma Subrahmaniam, Amartya Sen and M S Subbalakshmi had been left out. Their work requires no “brain power” perhaps? Wait a sec. I am not saying that dance or music require less intelligence than science. But, that’s the only explanation I can think of when I try to justify the choice of role models. Can the bias against non-science disciplines be any more obvious? It irritates and even depresses me to see such an obvious bias against anyone who does not conform. In what way is Sunita Williams or Abdul Kalam better than Amartya Sen? Does his work not require intelligence and application of mind? Then why are we, as a society reinforcing and perpetrating the myth that science is somehow better than humanities?
My sixteen-year-old cousin firmly believes that the only way to do well in life is to do engineering. And too, only computer science engineering. All through my teenage years, I was told incessantly by my extended family and sometimes even my close relatives that the only way I could hope to live a good life was by getting into a good engineering college. Even medicine was discouraged because it takes longer to “get settled” in the profession. When I chose not to take the engineering entrance exams, my decision was met with a stoic but disapproving silence from all parts of the family. The only saving grace were my parents who simply let me do what I loved doing. Even later, after I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in History, I was actively encouraged to do a management course in the fond hope that I would get back into the mainstream and see the world “practically”. Today, with a bachelor’s degree in History, a Master’s in French and a second Master’s in International Relations, I still get free advice from anyone and everyone around me on how best I can get into the IT industry. I mean, give me a break! I don’t want to get into the IT industry. Why does it not strike anyone that I might just enjoy being a teacher? I don’t want a big fat pay packet and no time for myself or my friends and family. I want to live my life the way I deem it fit.
This general idea that science is somehow better than humanities is perpetrated in this discussion I found on Nita’s blog. In the discussion, discussants have implied that being a science student is somehow better than being a non-science student. I hear all kinds of justifications for the statement. They process quantities better, they understand the industry better, they are more at ease with management roles…etc..etc… What I cannot understand is this. Is the worth of a human being measured only in terms of the quantity of money you make on your job? I earn, on an average, one-tenth that of an IT professional. So, I am in some way, inferior? What the hell? Even by that definition, I am probably paid more than the average IT professional if you looked at the per-hour fee I am paid. As a teacher of French I am paid nearly 200 rupees for every hour I work. If I were to work 10 hours a day, like anyone in the IT industry would, I would be making 2000 rupees every day. In a month, I would be making nearly 60,000 rupees, more than most IT professionals do in a month. Still think I am worth less?
Having said that, I think it’s unfair to compare professions solely on the basis of the money people make. There are other things to life. Like love, like enjoyment, like interest, like hobbies and like the desire to do something different. Not all children need to become tomorrow’s Abdul Kalam or Einstein to be successful. If they do, it’s great. But, if they don’t manage it. If they prefer to take the less-trodden path, are we not, as a society responsible for giving them the support and encouragement they deserve? I think we need to change. For the better.