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A life out of the ordinary for him



“Physics, I want to major in physics,” my son declared while in his ninth grade as I raised a quizzical eyebrow from the newspaper I was reading.

“What? Physics?” I question. “Can it provide a living?”

A rational question as we, his parents, were both doctors owning a hospital. The rational choice of course would be to become a doctor and take over the hospital, I reasoned. His father declared that it was but an ephemeral whim that would not stand the test of time.

We chugged along and lo, the same whim surfaced after tenth grade. I reasoned with him that as a doctor you would be your own boss. Be one and you have to just step into our shoes and have a cosy and secure future. Being a physics professor is not a glamorous proposition, I reasoned. Peanuts in terms of salaries, research on what you love first and later on what gets you a tenure! You may while away many years and end up with nothing much!

Not an easy path. I discuss all the cons. “My dear mother, unravelling the mysteries of nature holds the key to the world,” he replies. And, “quantum physics one day will power the entire nation and indeed the entire world.” I nod sceptically and we went along with his choice of mathematics. I comforted myself with the thought that maybe he would choose the engineering stream later.

After he secured a rank in the IIT joint entrance examination, the same problem surfaced again. Against all opposition he chose B.S. Physics. Efforts to coax and cajole him to reconsider his options only strengthened his resolve. My partner comforted me with the thought that we had brought him up on a healthy diet of books, to be a free thinker, to question and never accept anything at face value.

We were in for a rude cultural shock as he came home on a visit from campus. Hair that hadn’t felt a comb for months, slippers full of holes, unkempt T-shirts, and always clad in shorts. Intellectual pursuits and no time for the ordinary. The iPad full of books like Plato’s Republic... a shock for liberals too!

He declared we were steeped in luxury and were ignorant. Studying all night and sleeping during the day, complaining about the slow Wi-Fi, disdain at the ignoramuses around.

His grandfather doubts whether he is interested in stuff that boys his age are interested, like… girls. Polished way of asking whether he was straight. “Don’t worry, grandpa, my hormones are intact and I’m normal,” he says. We now dread his visits rather than cherish them.

In Andhra Pradesh, where only two career choices, medicine and engineering, seem to exist, societal pressure builds on us. Who will run the hospital? How could you bring him up like that to oppose you? We roll our eyes in anguish as our liberal parenting techniques, which we had prided ourselves on, themselves were coming into question. Pangs of envy engulf me as my friend’s children choose the coveted path of medicine. What do I tell my friends when they ask me? Nobody understands B.S. Physics and a PhD in Physics. “Tell them I want to be a condensed matter theoretical physicist,” he reasons. “Sounds exotic,” I reply wryly. “Whatever, don’t dial M(mother) for M(money).”

As he is waiting to graduate from the portals of an IIT, the media are abuzz with exorbitant compensation packages being offered in campus selection, running to crores of rupees. Fifteen years into the practice of medicine, and we were gasping too.

Of course, as time went by we admired his focus and his unflinching quest to rise above the ordinary, and we learnt to support him realise his dreams. A family friend remarked that we had earned name and fame through the pursuit of science and he is our gift to science.

The pursuit of knowledge indeed is a noble career option few people would indulge in, and creative society has its healthy share of eccentrics. Long live… eccentricity!

drsridhar@me.com



A young man chooses the path less trodden, and ultimately realises his dreams





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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 3:29:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-life-out-of-the-ordinary-for-him/article8326405.ece

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