Avoiding the road to perdition: The conundrum of choice

September 20, 2019

There are few junctures in life which are as significant choosing what you do right after school. Your parents have told you this, your teachers keep telling you this and deep down, you either believe them and slog your way through the two final years of school, or if you are like me, don’t believe a word of what everyone else is saying and hope to wiggle your way into the adult world some way or another. The second approach — my approach — isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it carries with it a bucketful of enormous risks. I wouldn’t advise it to myself if I could travel back in time. But in an odd way, I am thankful for the way things turned out. The thing about taking risks is, if it pans out for you, the reward is the justification, but paradoxically, the promise of the same reward is not enough to risk it all. This is the story of such a journey: a teacher who was so good, he almost ruined my life.

I was never the smartest student in class, and looking back, I perhaps wasn’t even trying to be one, in spite of my mother’s hopes and dreams. I had to be forced to sit down to study, and even if I was sitting down, I would rather daydream about the “Swat Kats” cartoon show or think about my Pokemon card collection while I was forced to fixate on reading the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or solve compound interest problems. I just didn’t get the point of studying anything. That was until class eight, when we were introduced to the subject of Computer Science.

In the beginning, I didn’t really understand anything that was taught in class. Later, I realised, much of my disconnection from classwork was due to unmotivational teaching methods, but one could always argue against it. After all, there were still kids excelling subjects in the class with the same teaching methods. Anyway, the mystery that shrouded subjects like Mathematics and Chemistry, also cast its shadow on this new subject of “Computer Science”. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why there were no computers used in the class of “Computer Science”. After months of getting twos and threes out of fifty in class tests, my father, in a desperate attempt to make something positive out of my schoolwork, started teaching me Computer Science, recalling his early days of programming as a Physics student.

Over the next six months, he showed me how to express logic in a way a computer would understand. It was then that it dawned on me that this seemingly tasteless subject is actually very interesting, because here and here alone, I could create something out of nothing. I found solace in it from the dry nature of the rest of my coursework. Being able to apply lessons to a whole different problem had gotten me very excited. What the confines of the classroom and limits of textbooks could not contain, the promise of embarking on an adventurous quest certainly captured the interest of my non-studious mind. I felt the first sense of vastness of the subject, like a sailor at sea and in the vastness, a sense of exploration, when my father would ask me to write a computer program that I had never even thought a computer could do, like talking to a human being and having a back and forth conversation. Though it was the same conversation every time, to my young sailor mind, which never knew nothing outside of questions at the end of chapters, this was nothing short of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to the East. As I look back now, my most rewarding failure was perhaps that class test I scored two out of fifty, because of which my father took me under his tutelage. The rest, as they say, was supposed to be history.

But life went on. From class eight to class twelve, I found my love for computer programming, but I still had to study other subjects. Growing up, especially during those formative teenage years, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between influence and interest, and I got caught in the middle of it. In class eleven, we had Mr Andrews as our English teacher. He was unorthodox in his teaching methods and focused on not just explaining the piece we were supposed to be taught, but also the state of the mind of the author or poet and the thought process that led him/her to write the piece. In a sense, this was similar to the thrill of solving problems through computer programming. I remember this one section from “Macbeth” where Banquo talks about how “instruments of darkness” betray us in times of “deepest consequence”. While it seemed like just another English essay, Mr Andrews’ explanation of how Shakespeare wanted to portray the internal struggle and mental state of a man who is about to commit treason took me to a whole new dimension. This became even more captivating to me in times when he would ask us to go home and write a “critical appreciation” of a piece. One such sultry pensieve summer evening, critiquing Shakespeare, Yeates and Wordsworth, I decided to take up English as my subject in college. Little did I know that I was about to make the biggest blunder in my life. As poignant as it can be, in the words of Shakespeare, “violent delights have violent ends. The sweetest honey is loathsome in its own deliciousness. And in the taste, destroys the appetite.”

I had been told that taking up language studies in college was a humbling and character-building experience, as one would step into the shoes of bards and authors, and as if through the moulding effect of fire, become like the glass that provides the reflection of society through literature. However, within a month of going to English honours classes in college, I started feeling the disconnection from what I had been promised by the likes of teachers like Mr Andrews and what it really meant to study English as a subject. During the breaks between classes, I would meet my friends from the Computer Science department. Hearing them talk about the courses they were taking reminded me of the thrill I felt as a child conquering the uncharted waters like Vasco da Gama. Those breaks between classes made me hear a voice that wouldn’t whispering inside me, telling me that I belonged there.

After a long battle convincing the Dean and the Vice-Principal, I was permitted to change my stream from Humanities to Science, and on to familiar ground of Computer Science. And I never looked back since. Finally, I was finally home.

My quest has taken me from the careless student, to the joyful explorer to the easily-influenced teenager to the college student who could finally sit down and enjoy a subject in its most enthralling form as well as its most unforgiving form. Unlike many people, I was extremely lucky in finding a subject I truly loved. If I have any advice to give to young students, it is that finding one’s calling is as important as not being led to believe someone else’s love for something as one’s own. A teacher can be a guide in helping you find your calling or alienate you from your calling or project their calling onto you. It’s up to you to distinguish between the three and find your true calling, without which you might end up taking the road to perdition in the rat race to a “good career”.