Laying the groundwork

It is amazing how much pity I’ve garnered in the last three decades just by virtue of being an only child. From relatives to friends and acquaintances everyone has given me a fair share of sympathetic support. It has been endearing while at the same time amusing to be the object of affection of such an assortment of people over the years. My parents, however, have never been a part of this pampering brigade and it is because of them that I am a self-reliant, responsible, independent and gregarious young woman today.

As much as I owe my parents, I have to give a major share of the credit to my teachers at La Martiniere Girls’ College, my second home for 14 years. My mentors were always there to provide educational guidance and emotional support. They made sure that all of us excelled academically while grooming us to become athletically robust and aesthetically sound. Making career choices while in school is never easy. My teachers’ guidance and my own interests led me to pursue science in high school — what attracted me most was its systematic and factual approach. This knowledge area helped me build an analytical, logical and evaluative bent of mind and, I think, in some ways a stronger heart (dissections were a nightmare!). I am also proud to say that school helped me blossom as a debater, an elocutionist, an athlete and a painter.

I was 16 when my poems and short essays started getting published in various magazines and newspapers. Fueled by my teachers’ words of encouragement I wrote many thought-provoking pieces — not the norm for teenagers, especially not for Bollywood-besotted females in those times. These became a regular feature of the school and, later, college magazine. UNICEF awarded me a prize in 1994 for a poem on the sexual exploitation of little girls in India. Impressed by my inclination towards social causes, All India Radio, Lucknow, invited me to recite some of my poems on a regular basis on their weekly youth program, Yuv Vani.

My scholarly interests, coupled with my active extra curricular life, perhaps, influenced my election as a prefect in the last year at school. The responsibilities I was entrusted with were many; the upshots manifold. It definitely resulted in my emerging as a more confident college sophomore.

College was an eye opener for more reasons than one. After more than a decade of following a particular dress code and adhering religiously to disciplinary rules under the strict supervision of non-indulgent teachers, I stepped into a world where rules were meant to be broken, not followed. It was hard to maintain a studious composure in the midst of all the fun and frolic. I, however, managed to maintain my good academic record and decided to major in psychology and economics, with English as a minor for my B.A.

Interestingly, Freud and Jung’s contributions in explaining the complexities of the human brain, and consequently those of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious levels of the human psyche, have influenced my interactions and my writing style. The study of economics, on the other hand, proved to be a monetarily gratifying experience. The class on budgeting was perhaps more interesting than studying the dynamics of the macro and micro approaches, mainly because it taught me how to plan a monthly budget for myself (which is essential to do when your pocket money is $2 a month)!

A valuable lesson I learned in college was that education could not be restricted to the four walls of a classroom. My final year project on the need for achievement in Indian women was an attempt to translate theoretical knowledge into a practical handbook. My writing abilities, psychological inferences and knowledge of economics helped me research and document my findings. My diligence and interest in my field of study resulted in my obtaining a distinction in psychology. The same year I received a certificate for scoring the highest overall marks in B.A.

Next, I found myself working…first as a freelancer and then as a full time writer and copy editor. And in 2002, I arrived in Iowa City to get my master’s in journalism. Read more about why getting a master’s degree is worth it over here.

As I look back, I realize what a critical role the experiences at school and college played in my life. Had it not been for the encouragement I received from my biology teacher in class 11, I wouldn’t have pursued writing seriously…I would’ve probably tried becoming a doctor and failed miserably. Everyone told me I had the brains to become a lawyer, an IAS (Indian Administrative Services) officer, an engineer or anything I wanted, but I chose to be a writer.  It doesn’t pay as much as all the other “choices” I had, but it’s satisfying. It’s where my passion lies. It’s what challenges, motivates and inspires me. Had I not had those teachers or those experiences, who knows how I would have utilized (or underutilized) my “talent.”

Even though it should be a right for all, education is still a privilege for a majority of the people in the world. The takeaway lesson? Be thankful that you’re one of the privileged and make the best use of what you’ve learned…the paths you choose in the future have a grounding in your past.

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