Hopping on the Mewar Express back to Delhi is usually an adventurous experience. Every other passenger is keen to ascertain where I am from: “from which country you?” and why I am here. However, last week when I got on the train, a slightly intimidating bunch of teenage guys from the next berth were being untoward and annoying, and repeatedly proposing marriage.
My saviour came in the form of a charming, well-spoken and evidently intelligent boy named Chetan. From Mumbai, but pursuing his sixth form equivalent in Kota, Rajsathan, he had impeccable English, which he told me that he had learned in his Catholic Convent school, and respectfully (though slightly worryingly given my twenty four years!) called me Auntie.
After my ranting and raving about the ways of some of the young men in this country, Chetan inspired in me a renewed confidence in my attitude towards the boys of India. He asked me politely what I was doing in India, working, studying or traveling and enquired without being impertinent about my life.
He told me that he was on the way home from sitting his IIT exams, something he was clearly nervous about, and that he was now awaiting the results. The IIT, the Indian Institutes of Technology, are a group of autonomous engineering institutes all over the country and admission is extremely sought after. What followed opened my eyes to the experience of education amongst the young here. He told me that his older brother had tried to gain entrance to the same institutes four years previously and sadly failed to gain admission to the prestigious colleges. The tragic result had been that Chetan’s older brother committed suicide.
Chetan told me that the familial pressures had simply been too much and his brother had panicked on results day and taken his own life. He did though continue to tell me, in a thoroughly refreshing and I suppose very mature manner, that good things had come of this for his family. He and his other brothers have now been repeatedly told by their elders that there are and should be alternatives to such competitive higher education options and the traditionally revered career options of medicine, law or engineering, which in some families appear to be the be all and end all of life. With some 14 lakh students applying for just 75,000 places yearly, his attitude naturally reassured me somewhat. He has been encouraged to follow his dreams and not the crowd.
I proceeded to jokingly mention something about my English Literature degree and it potentially being worthless in the vocational sense. He self-assuredly corrected me and instructed me, ‘Nothing is worthless, every life experience has worth".
I liked Chetan and chatted to him for a delightful couple of hours. As we sat there, half of the aforementioned idiotic ogglers continued to eve-tease and snigger, and generally bugged us incessantly. I sincerely hope that young men as intelligent, honest and engaging as Chetan are able to motivate this country in the direction it needs to go.