When I was eight years old, all I wanted to be is a Tonga driver, with not the usual two but five horses, to be the emperor of Tonga drivers. I was unwaveringly committed to the cause. I would sit at the window and watch the thin yet muscled Tonga drivers navigate deftly through traffic. It was an informed career choice. I prepared well for it, fashioning whips out of clothing lines and imitating the driver’s garbled horse-tongue. I abandoned my dream when I first saw a pilot, choosing uniformed elegance over rippling bare chests.
I made my third and the most planned career choice when I was ten. Even for the most precocious of kids, ten years is a bit of stretch to make a life-changing decision. I chose to become an engineer. It seemed like a sensible choice to make. The lack of available role models in other fields eliminated other possibilities. I didn’t have aunties who had made a name in music or that distant uncle who was a successful veterinarian. I was no longer looking in awe at pilots and Tonga drivers wishing to switch my life with theirs. When at 17 I enrolled in Delhi Technological University, it was me overcommitting to the engineering cause. I had put in two years of sleepless nights, solved registers after registers of M.L. Khanna questions, and filled up unending notebooks scribbled with inorganic chemistry to not see it through to the end. I had to be an engineer. It was too late to check-out from the plan. And back out to do what? I had no alternative dreams to be fulfilled. College was a duty to be performed, a stepping stone to the future. That’s what I saw college as.
Of course, there was a lot of fun to had, freedoms to exploit, new friends to make, things to experiment with, but by the time the first year rolled by, I realised college offers an experience more wide-ranging than the liberty to be stupid and learning what the course offers. Homogeneity is no longer a strong suit and being different is rewarded and encouraged. There’s no need to hide behind crisp uniforms and painted shoes. You leave behind school, a regimented and a predominantly individualistic process, and move to a more collective and collaborative experience that is college. For the first time, your friends’ qualifications are not the same locality, the same desk or the same class, but the way you think and feel, your insecurities, your hopes and dreams, your weirdness, the same ideologies. You choose to bond over the food you like, your choice of vice, your religious and political proclivities, or the books and authors you love and hate. That’s a freedom that’s underrated. College may or may not decide what field you’re going to work in for the rest of your life but it will make you the person you will be. Your influences will change. No longer will it be only your parents or relatives who you would look to emulate. You can pick and choose role models and go the path they went on. You can hop between personalities, shed them like clothes if it isn’t you. College is not an economic transaction where you trade in fee and an opportunity cost for long-term prosperity. It’s an immersive experience which sculpts you and moulds you for life. Learning is important, no doubt about that. I wouldn’t want medical students to prance about doing endlessly stupid things college students are prone to do and barely pass their exams. But it’s important to realize that these bunch of years are the last ones where you can behave recklessly, passionately and more or less without economic consequence. These are the years where you can branch out, delve and introspect, and know what you want to do, what you want to be (and also find out if the career decision you made at ten or twelve or fifteen was correct.) I am asked countless times why I did engineering if had to be a writer. The simple answer is that when you choose non-medical, you’re fifteen, and that’s not an age to decide what you’re going to labour on for fifty years of your life. So if you’re starting college this year, keep your eyes, ears and heart open, experience new things, meet new people (lots of people), don’t be afraid to change, to shift the status quo, to lose yourself to find yourself, rave, create, protest, cry and laugh, be woke, wreck yourself and build yourself, and do binge-everything.