I didn't need teachers or parents to tell me that I had enough and more in me to get into the prestigious IIT, for which there was an entrance exam. Though, there was one--and only occasion--when my father commented, indirectly, by drawing on the story of Hanuman.
In the Hindu mythology, as a child, Hanuman gets enamoured of the orange ball that the sun was in the sky and he takes off--as in flies--to grab the ball. And as a young one with way too much energy and immense superpowers, Hanuman plays too many pranks on the sages. All these result in a curse that Hanuman would remember his powers only if and when he were reminded about them.
My father, perhaps respectful of my off-the-beaten-track ways towards education and life, suggested that I was capable of achieving a lot and that he was reminding me of that as much as Hanuman had to be reminded.
Decades later, an email or two after informing me about Kiran's tragic and fatal accident, his sister recalled, among other things, my anti-engineering sentiments that she had gathered from her brother and how I had stopped preparing altogether.
Most fathers and parents are all alike--they think, they believe, that their children are all awesome. Parents live in Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above-average. Because parents and children tend to live in delusional worlds, even back then there were too many high schoolers writing the IIT entrance exams. Even classmates who were struggling in math ("maths" in the old country) and physics--the subjects that were fundamental to those entrance exams--prepared for IIT! As more "unqualified" students took those tests, well, obviously it seemed like it was getting harder and harder to get into those elite colleges.
If only students and their parents had a better and realistic understanding!
In the world that has gotten only more competitive since my high school years, in India and here in the US, and in the rest of the world too, students are finding it more and more difficult to understand who they are and what they might want to do with their lives. The IIT stories are then replayed over and over, more and more farcically "because anyone can apply to college, well qualified or otherwise."
Earlier this year, Harvard announced that it had accepted 5.9 percent of the nearly 35,000 students who applied for admission to the class of 2018. The next day, Stanford announced an even more exacting 5.07 percent admission rate, the lowest in the university’s history.If only many of those applicants had been slapped around with "I hate to tell you this, but you are not Harvard material. Don't waste your time and money."
Statistics like these have come to dominate the national narrative of elite college admissions, with each new batch of ever-more-minuscule success rates fueling a collective sense that getting into a good college has become a brutal, “Hunger Games"-style tournament that only the fittest survive.
That story is wrong.
It is like with love and marriage. My grandmothers always claimed, believed, that there is always a match for everyone--this was in the old traditions of "arranged marriage." When it comes to colleges, too, "there is very likely a place in the best schools for you." The key is not to worry about the "best school" but the idea of "for you."
Life is one long struggle to find our respective niche in this cosmos. A struggle that begins at high school. It is a never ending struggle, which is all the more why life is beautiful and exciting.
May you find a comfortable corner to enjoy it all!