Our Children Who Are Not Trained to Suffer

YOU have moved up the social rungs if you do not know anyone who has made it to the Indian Institutes of Technology this year, or to the Indian Administrative Service. Once, this hypothesis was true only if you did not know a national-grade athlete personally, or a man who can bowl faster than 130 kilometres per hour, or a politician. There are some obvious reasons why this is so, but the most influential reason is not that apparent.

A mainstream career is the creation of parental tyranny. Thus, a person begins preparing “for life” in teenage sorrow, in dreary generational training to go to some dreary hot small-town where there is somehow an institution of excellence. But many parents today wish to be kinder. In the urban upper middle-class and above, generally the target market for air-fryers, parents are giving children the option of choosing enjoyable paths to an uncertain future, probably leaving the next generation of air-fryers in the hands of a very different social class. Homes that can provide the best opportunities to their children to succeed in the most competitive arenas are also the homes that give them a chance to opt out of the most coveted fields. Among the beneficiaries of this act of kindness are children who excel in maths and the sciences, including boys. There are some children who adore the sciences, whose careers are then sorted, but a majority who are good in these streams find them terribly boring and wish to escape them. And their parents sponsor that. So what will they do?

Some drift towards cooler branches of science. For instance, students who in another era would have endured a decade of studying mainstream medicine are today becoming marine biologists; those who would have studied electrical engineering in another time are starting early in rocket science. But, generally I think there are going to be more arts graduates than before who will be telling us about the evils of inequality.

Even if students from air-fryer homes pick conventional mainstream courses, they do not have the motivation to suffer the rigours of the first phase of their career. Most professions are tedious and boring, especially at the start. The modern Indian student from the affluent family is not trained to endure so much suffering, or the daily humiliations of a daily job. This phenomenon was evident in the previous generations too, but then the rich were very few and in those days only the rich behaved like the rich. For instance, in my early 20s I noticed that the posh crowd of Madras who migrated to Bombay could not take the city’s low living standards for too long. They lasted just months; some just days. They fled, seeing no point in enduring a second-rate life in the name of a career. They chose to be in easier outposts than in the head office. This form of quitting is going to become more rampant in the next generation, especially in the air-fryer-home segment. They will be quitting before they give themselves a chance to become so good at what they do that they make their jobs interesting. That is the strange beauty of a career; its foundations are dreary, the training is hard and terrible, but then everything falls in place. If the young who have the potential to become fine scientists, oncologists or civil engineers choose not to realize their talents, what is to become of these fields? Their lack of ambition will benefit others from more modest backgrounds, as is the case today, but the fields would be impoverished in abstract ways.

Just as there are gems in the slums whom the world never knew because they had no opportunity to shine; there are gems among the elite who had an excess of choices to escape the arduous road to greatness.

For decades, science stole artists; now the arts are stealing potential scientists. There is a view that a career is a flawed idea of the modern world, that it makes clerks out of free beings. Whatever might be its flaws, it is the best way in which the world pays people to get better and better at what they do. And everything beautiful that people wish to do requires years of repetition and training, most of it being drudgery they can endure only if they are forced. That is why, the way I see the lives of my peers, those who had to suffer the worst aspects of their careers because they had to send money to their families were in the long run luckier that the free who decayed in the rot of a good idle life. In any case, no working person ever escapes a career. What the freed children of today are hoping to pursue is a “an enjoyable career.” They believe this involves “doing what you love.” This is possible, but only for those who have exceptional talent. Those who are in the arts with no special talent, or have nothing new to say can be assured of a living hell.

From what I have seen in the writing profession, many people confuse their love for reading with the ability to write. Yet here they are, cursed with enough family stipend to pursue their delusions. If sports were a subjective field, it would be filled with sprint-lovers trying to make a career out of running 100 metres in 60 seconds, and networking every night to be voted the best.

In their pursuit of “an enjoyable career” many air-fryer children will find fake professions. If my generation is any indicator, they will find professions that involve empathy, or they will do some abstract research in a safe haven of intellectuality, or they will try to imitate their peers and create “a startup.” All these lines of work do attract exceptional talent, but, like the arts, they also help many pretend to have a vocation.

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