To B.E or not to B.E

As if my mother’s smiling approval each morning of the various little children who bagged single digit CET ranks this year, and reading aloud of their newspaper interviews (in which each of them invariably extol the virtues of boring things such as ‘perseverance and hard work’) weren’t enough, the household phone has been ringing off the hook. Little cousins I didn’t know existed have been dialing in with a frequency and gusto that puts fans of NRI American Idol contestants to unspeakable shame.

The competitive exam season post the twelfth standard/II PU exams may be the most seemingly pointless/endless, excruciating, trying and frustrating parts of most of our lives. But like a Shaolin Monk will testify, pain is but a rite of survival. Just as our Kung-Fu exponent counterparts complete rigorous tests of skill to finally earn their monk-robes and kick some bad-guy-posterior; having survived to tell the tale after half a dozen competitive exams, each of us is automatically given the glorious status of ‘career expert’ and wear ‘on-call academic counselor’ hats.

It’s nearly June, and a horde of kids I know who’ve just leaped across Board exams hurdles and sailed past Competitive Exam finishing lines are busy making what will be the most important decisions of their young lives. And they want my help, which I am all too willing to provide. Isn’t it only fair that we take their hands and gently lead them away from the alleys we got lost in?

Spare a thought for the little ones, for, their prolonged agony over abbreviations is anything but abbreviated. "Is my (2 digit number) CET rank too less (more?) for XYZ college of Medical Sciences? Oh no!"

"What will I do if I don’t get a B.E- Comp Sci(ence) seat? How ever will I fulfill my destiny otherwise" they wail over phone lines, as I attempt to strangle myself with a telephone cord.

The smart reader will notice both from his surroundings and this highly scholastic essay on young people’s academic choices that the dilemma is tastelessly two pronged. Could somebody please tell me why the children of today can’t seem to look beyond conventional career choices? Yes, this is as rich as a tub of Chocolate mousse, coming from me, but that I goofed up is no big secret.

Call upon call, by distraught child after distraught child, I’ve suggested ever so subtly, attempting a straight face and without breaking into guffaws, that ‘times have changed’ and it isn’t a bit like ‘in my time’ when ‘there weren’t enough choices’, to these little fools who are all trotting about the same cliff, we old war horses idiotically galloped off from. "Are you telling me I’m not smart enough to be an engineer?" one countered, sounding a tad bit hurt. It began to feel a little like talking to a time traveled version of myself from a few years ago, and I retreated, tail between legs.

No offense meant. Medicine and Engineering, the courses de rigueur are both wonderful to study. But then, of what good is a world with 20,000 CET ranks dedicating their valuable lives only to ‘curing cancer’ and ‘building bridges’? True there are only two kinds of people, but those, kids, are the Mars and Venus categories.

Literature… Economics…. Design…. Physics…. Journalism… there’s so much else you could do, I persuade the just-there-adolescents. They listen politely and then ask if they could come over and check my ‘1st semester Course in C programming’ textbooks out.

Through these remarkably enlightening years of studying Engineering, I’ve met lots of people who share my sentiments over not having made ‘the best choices’. These are all very intelligent people, mind; and ones who will make great engineers too. Only, they’d have made greater artists, zoo-keepers, political revolutionaries or reality-tv-stars.

When a few of us discuss why we didn’t take the leap of faith out onto unfamiliar territories ourselves, past all the fluff, all of us silently agree that there are far too few credible routes one could take to pursue ‘unconventional courses’. I may crib about having to study an absolutely sleep-inducing course on Linear Integrated Circuits but, between you and me, I admit, it’s rather that than waiting four gleeful months chewing on fingernails, for my results at another famously lax university.

"Look at me. I resent what I study a great deal! So much, that I shamelessly write about it on public blogs; that is my atonement" I plead, as a last ditch attempt. They pretend to not hear. Heaving a despondent sigh, and knowing that fate answers fools and cowards for their follies in equal measure; I let the tots harvest the rewards of their own phobias and myopias as I did mine.

The silver lining though, is that word has quickly spread about the counter-productivity of my mentoring and parents have forbidden their wards from talking to me until their CET-Counseling dates have passed. Imagine the dent to their pride if their wards (in whose ‘natural talent for Electronics’, to borrow a joke, they have immense faith) were to grandly arrive amidst a handful of friends and family and declare they just chose a course in English Literature. Heavens, that is enough to give a bunch of old people I know gruesome palpitations.


  1. padmashri rajagopal says:

    Apt timing.You have been in the receiving end of these calls? I,for one have been tracing long forgotten friends from schools in medical colleges.
    I still think i would have done better, studying history and politics in DU.
    should we put up a desk in front of the cet cell?

  2. Pavan Sirsi says:

    An awesome write up… tell those kids they will end up doing something entirely different to what they have studied. So any natural talents in electronics can end up becoming good brick-layers

  3. Sarath Balachandran says:

    Brilliant article. Very droll. And insightful. Although, speaking from the point of view of the engineering front perhaps all this is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Something akin to the need to make a choice between commerce, arts or science after 10th. You see it is quite simple, engineering is fast becoming the new PUC! Engineering is no longer a professional course worthy of the tag. On the contrary, it is so much more! First of all, it gives everyone 4 years to figure out what they really want to do. So which field is off limits once you have completed your engineering degree ? Nothing ! “Artists, zoo-keepers, political revolutionaries or reality-tv-stars” Why ever not ? In fact it’s been done. And will be to an ever greater extent. So go ahead kiddies, join engineering in hordes. Then spend the oodles of free time figuring out something better to do with your lives…

  4. Poornima Dasharathi says:

    you nailed it:) & drove home the point. but sad thing is it still exists. so students can crack the skewed system and get single digits and even educated moms go ‘ooh la la’ over the results.
    but i still hope. one day we’ll have over abundance of docs & engineers that the govt will give special grants & jobs to others.

  5. Narasimha Vedala says:

    JIVA of The Promise Foundation people are indeed working towards breaking this hackneyed path. They recently launched it.


    I was involved in creating cartoons for career counseling worksheets πŸ™‚ They target children in schools, along with parents, I guess. They try to educate children about various other exciting fields and prepare them well in advance.

  6. Siri Srinivas says:

    Sarath, oh yeah. Prep school of sorts eh? 4 years isn’t too much time to sit about and twiddle thumbs. Engineering school is crazy fun, besides. Hmpph.

    Poornima, We’re heading there really fast.

    Narasimha, Wow. Can I help/attend? But I must admit. Making the right choices is only half the battle won. People will shoot me for this, but even if one did choose courses other than engineering, medicine or law, there are too few decent places to study them at that could really take one anywhere. All said and done, engineering graduates have (a rather unfair) advantage as far as opportunities are concerned. Sigh.

    It feels like I don’t have an opinion anymore.

  7. Ramprasad says:

    Your article is very timely and well compiled. Your english takes the reader to a different height. Its great. Points – appropriate….May be a simpler language might make it more appealing and at the end of the day usefull in the true sense. May be you can try this in your next article….at this point of time this is a great article and an eye opener to many of your generation…great job.

  8. Narasimha Vedala says:

    Siri you may contact Dr.Gideon Arulmani, head of TPF, if you want to help. Their contact number is on the website.

    One more thought of mine: 18 years of age to enter a university is too early. You have not seen life yet and cannot make use of university to the fullest extent. I now understand Kreyzig’s Mathematics book better than I did during my Engg. Perhaps one should work as apprentice a year or two and then go to the university.

  9. Srikar says:

    Nice article.

  10. Merin Mandanna says:

    Oh,loved the post! πŸ˜€ Ultimate!
    I remember visiting over ten professors and talking to even more seniors, asking them to help me make a decision! Took the wrong one in the end anyway.

  11. Suhas Prakash says:

    hmm… The very fact that I read through your whole article and got what you wanted to convey :)… I like your writing.

    I would want to see more writing from you on what could be the bylanes in which all knowing teens, treading the golden path towards the doorways of salvation and embarking on soul searching in engineering and western medicine, can proudly look at their smiling and content reflections satisfactorily.

    I am really curious of your ideas, if at all, that could hold the directed attention of the flash crowd of all the `know it all` teens and then getting the point through to them obliviating the headstrong and stubborn outer shell of certain hormones.


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