‘The black sheep of the family’ is a famous English idiom which describes a member of ill-repute or identity damage within a family or community. It very cannily describes me. I am an abnormality compared to the academic brilliance that my parents and brother are.
They went to Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Roorkee) – a cluster of premiere technical institutes in the country. I, on the other hand, breezed through most of my school years and a good part of my engineering student life as an inexcusable degenerate. One is only considered to be a true engineer if one goes to any of these universities, which are spread across the country, east to west and north to south.
To get into such a distinguished university, one has to prepare all of one’s life to crack the ultimate entrance exam, which may or may not compel an ordinary, average student of science to give up on their dream entirely. It requires one to attend strenuous classes through most of one’s high school life – a life of partying, getting drunk, doing drugs and having lots of unprotected sex – and causes one to reconsider one’s life choices, at least a million times while one prepares for the biggest exam of one’s life. Larger than life, imaginably and funnily so. In lieu of making light of the situation, we must mull over the headlines of some of the most prominent and esteemed newspapers of India.
“27 students in IITs committed suicide in 5 yrs, IIT Madras tops the list”-Business Insider, 2019.
“IITs see 50 student suicides in the past 5 years; 14 deaths in IIT Guwahati” – Business Today, 2019
‘Sorry I turned out to be a waste’: IIT Hyderabad student commits suicide, leaves haunting note’ – India Today, 2019
Terrifying. Haunting. Dark. Cynical. These are the words which spring to mind as we read these headlines and wonder to ourselves, “Is it really worth it?” Is it worth losing our minds and sanity over attaining education for the sake of achieving a brand tag attributed to our names?
The idea is manifested within the system of a precocious 11-year old child by their parents from the moment they learn that their aptitude lies in Science or Medicine. You’re disparaged upon failing to score A+ in your Physics/Mathematics. You’re made to submit to your parents’ unfounded demands by agreeing to take up a field of study, which pertains to their matters of interest. Anything apart from it is met with laughter and flack. They use mild reinforcements such as a reward-based system, which decides what you get next birthday: that savvy blue dress you liked at Zara or a stern session, expressing disappointment in your lack of refined workmanship and dedication for the art of mugging up a thousand formulae in one night.
In an era that allows you to invent and revamp the show lying ahead of you, you’re expected to stick to the traditionally renowned professions for the sake of your parents and society. And to survive in such a claustrophobic society, one must comply. But I refused to give in. I decided to chalk my own path out.
I went to a local private university to pursue civil engineering. When compared to the magnanimous IIT Roorkee, my university was a meek excuse for an educational institute. However, I carved a sizable niche out for myself by availing the opportunities at hand and scaled my progress in this field of study while countering the plenty challenges that lay in my path. As a daughter of two IIT graduates, I was expected to go to one as well.
My high school teachers would often denigrate me by using my parents’ brilliance as an example. My brother, the Einstein of my family, went to Stanford and earned two degrees in the field of Science. While no one in my family makes me feel as if I’m a model minority, my stomach churns ‘anxiety’ juices when I have to present my average performance cards to my parents at home. They congratulate me, regardless. I am blessed with the finest pair of oldies, who are above and beyond life’s fallacious game of show. They snicker at the thought of forcing one’s child through gruesome and tenacious years of hard work, something they may not even be cut out to sign up for!
We, as a society, must dispel any and all form of brain conditioning, which could force an Indian teenager into thinking that any field apart from Medicine and Science is bogus and baseless. Going through life as an average engineer is not exactly easy, but that is the very concept we must do away with. This flaw in our system must be mended. We need to incite the Sachin Tendulkars, Adeles and Roger Federers within ourselves to break out and change the scene, once and for all. It is time for the black sheep to claim its space and shine
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.