|In front of the House of Science with my classmates at school. I'm seated, second from the right.|
Decades ago, when schooling was different (and 10 + 2 was a haze in the future), we had to pick an optional stream for the Indian School Certificate (ISC) exam once our Std. VIII exams were done. That meant we could study either Science or Arts in the last three years at school, culminating in Std. XI.
At 13-plus, the choice loomed larger than a monster in our lives. How was I to choose? Should I base my decision on my marks, which showed soaring scores in English, Biology, Geography and Health Science, while the numbers took a drastic dip in Physics, Chemistry and Maths? Or should I give priority to my close bonding with my best friends ~ the very essence of residential school life in Jaipur ~ most of whom were opting for Science? Did it make sense to consult my class teachers, who kept pitchforking me into every inter-school or inter-house contest for dramatics, elocution, debating, even panel discussions? No, that would be insane. I’d probably talk circles around those sane souls.
Confused by the profusion of potential directions, like stray shafts of sunlight in a forest thicket, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t permitted to opt for just English poetry, medieval history, cartography, pottery, theatre ~ and perhaps hockey! There seemed to be no school course on earth that made that combination possible. But why?
What made the choice even more difficult was the fact that the brightest girl in our class (our icon of sorts) excelled at everything ~ athletics, hockey, art, every subject under the sun, even the popularity ratings! And she had opted for Science!
Science seemed by far the more glamorous option than mere Arts. Somehow, Einstein and Galileo exuded as more radiant aura than George Orwell or Jane Austen; advanced maths appeared more alluring than Shakespeare. Or so I thought then….
A bad bout of fever just before my Std. VIII final exams put paid to my chances of allowing my teachers to evaluate my talent, no matter how shadowy. Stuck in a bed in the infirmary, doused with green syrups and red, I wasn’t allowed to appear for my finals (perhaps the only time I wanted to). So, what was I to do?
Back home in Madras (not yet Chennai), promoted on the basis of past performance, the looming decision threatened to ruin my winter vacations. Science or Arts? Which was it to be? And how was I to choose?
And then, my father decided to take the matter in hand. “Have you made up your mind?” Baba asked one day after lunch, just as I was all set to plunge into the pages of Gone with the Wind.
“Not yet, Baba,” I said, “but I think I’d like to take Science.”
“Why?” he persisted.
“I don’t know. I just feel like it,” I responded.
“It’s a good idea. But it only makes sense if you choose a career that is science-based. What would you like to do after college?”Baba explained patiently.
“I haven’t yet decided. I still have a few more years to go…”
“Do you want to be a doctor?” he said, helpfully.
“Never. I hate the sight of blood.”
“What will I do with all those machines and gizmos?”
“How about architecture?”
“Too much of maths in that…”
“What do they do?”
And so, after we’d progressed down a list of 40 professions, Baba asked a final question before giving up, “Then, why do you want to take up Science?”
“Because all the clever girls are taking Science!”
And that’s how I came to study and celebrate Arts for the rest of my life….
(Sunday Herald, 1998)