Our society’s craze for engineering as a career has spawned a multi-crore coaching centre industry, student suicides and childhoods sacrificed at the altar of parental ambitions. Debarghya Deb (Class XI) of the Levelfield School, Suri, captures the madness in this imaginary conversation.

(My mom just finished talking with my aunt on the phone. I am watching ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ on my laptop when my mom walks in.)

Mom: Your cousin has cleared the IIT-JEE and is soon going to IIT Bombay. And look at you! Whole day I see you watching movies and reading storybooks.

Me: That’s not true. I study enough.

Mom: Study what? History and English? Do you think they are going to get you anywhere?

Me: What do you want me to study then?

Mom: How do you think your cousin got into IIT? By studying Physics, Chemistry and Maths. Now he is going to become an engineer and get a high-paying job.

(At this point I remember the conversation I had with my cousin, Sounak, when he came here last month.)

Sounak: Hey great news! The IIT-JEE results came out today and I got through!

Me: So what are you going to study?

Sounak: I don’t know, really. It depends on your rank. If I had a choice, I would study Electronics.

Me: What is it?

Sounak: I don’t know exactly what one studies in Electronics. But it is typically preferred by better-ranking students.

Me: Oh! But how do you know you are going to actually like it?

Sounak (looks surprised): Liking? Is that important? All my friends will be dying to get into Electronics. And my father also said that I must get into either Electronics or Electrical Engineering.

Me: But your father is not going to study it, right? Have you ever looked at any Electronics book to know if you are going to like it?

Sounak: Come on, man. Who looks at books after the exams are over? Whenever I get some free time, I watch cricket.

Me: Only cricket? Don’t you watch any movies? Have you heard of this great movie called ‘The Shawshank Redemption’?

Sounak: No, never heard of it. I like action movies. I watched ‘Bahubali’ six times last month.

Me: But you must watch some international cinema too.

Sounak: Come on, man! You are too serious – always talking about learning this and that! Give me a break. For the last four years, I have been studying for this exam. Enough of learning! Now, I will only chill out.

(My mom interrupts my thoughts.)

Mom: Learn from him! Study the Science textbooks.

Me: Don’t talk about Sounak! He thinks IIT is his final destination. Don’t have so much hope about his future.

Mom: I have even lesser hope about your future. At least he got through IIT. Soon, he will be a well-paid engineer just like his dad.

Me:  Let me tell you there are plenty of career options other than coding.

Mom: What are they, may I ask?

Me: Economists, journalists, bureaucrats, writers, teachers, lawyers – and in the end, there is always the option to be a corporate slave if one fails in everything else.

Mom: What is this corporate slave?

Me: People who do insignificant jobs in large companies – just cogs in the wheel.

Mom: You don’t seem to respect anything. Millions of people are just corporate slaves?

Me: That’s precisely the point, because they are among the millions.

Mom: So Mr. Know-it-all, what do you want to become?

Me: I don’t want to decide right now, without having enough information, unlike your Sounak who wants to study Electronics without having any clue about what it is.

Mom: I don’t want your decisions. You better study the science textbooks so that you have all your options open.

Me: Don’t worry about the science textbooks. I’ll study them for the board exams. But don’t expect me to pursue engineering, which I will not.

Mom: Just now you said you don’t know what you want.

Me: But I know what I don’t want. I don’t want to be part of the herd who only memorize sums for these engineering entrance exams for many years.

Mom: I’m fed up of arguing with you. You do what you want!

Me: That’s exactly what you should have said right in the beginning.

(Mom storms out of the room and slams the door shut.)