The little boy was seven years old and attended class two in a prestigious school in the city. His middle class parents, a software-engineer dad and content writer mom who lived the daily grind juggling EMIs, credit card and fuel bills had secured his school admission in said “prestigious” (read overpriced) school after pledging three quarters of their life savings, thereby discarding any hope of them ever graduating to “upper middle class”. However, they were content in the hope that their little boy and girl were getting “good education” which would hopefully help them get someplace meaningful in life, unlike they who despite “good education” ended up in the middle class trap.
That day, the little boy on arriving from school seemed to be a bit lost and confused, unlike his usual joyful self. Sitting at the dining table, the boy asked his dad rather mournfully:
“Daddy, I have a doubt”.
“Go ahead, ask!” Said the dad, noticing the absence of the cheerful eagerness that usually accompanied junior’s such questions.
“Daddy why am I studying? Why do children go to school and big kids go to college and study all these things?”
Dad put down his coffee mug, looked at his son and smiled. “We have discussed this before no? By studying you can learn lots of things which when you become big like Daddy will help you to work in a big company and earn good money with which you can buy lots of nice things. If you don’t study, you will end up like Ramu, our apartment watchman who lives in that one single room with no Playstation.”
The child nodded as if he expected this answer, but this time he seemed far from convinced. He kept his sad face and drew doodles on the table with an imaginary pen, still looking all confused and forlorn. The dad said:
“I know there is something really bothering you, dear. You look sad, gloomy and dejected… What is it that is troubling you? Tell me.”
The kid looked up from the table and stared at the magnetic ABCDs stuck on to the Samsung double door refrigerator and asked:
“Daddy, you studied a lot no? You say you studied something MBA and all?”
“Yes, son. I studied for a total of eighteen years! And so we have this nice house and your nice bicycle and the PS3 we bought last week!” Dad said, trying not to think about next month’s Aisi-Waisi Bank credit card bill.
“Hmm mmm. And our Wagon R car also no?”
“You know what Daddy, today my school friend Krish came in a new car. It was big and blue. It was BMW.”
“Oh. Nice. What does his daddy do?” Asked the dad nonchalantly, sipping his coffee and looking at his Twitter stream on his phone.
“We were all talking about that today and what our daddys are doing. I told my daddy works in a biig company, and my daddy has studied a lot, and we have a nice house on the third floor and a Maruti Wagon R and a Playstation 3.”
The child usually beams when he says this, but today it came out in a monotone. His apparent sadness was beginning to trouble the father. He looked up from the phone while the child continued:
“I asked Krish what his daddy was doing. He told me that his daddy studied only till tenth class and is doing business. He has a big house with a lawn and three cars!” He held up three fingers.
Deep inside, the dad was hit by a bolt of lightning but did not show it. He smiled through the pain and said:
“Son, some people get good things easily. Some people need to work hard to get them. We will also buy a BMW one day.” The dad said unconvincingly, trying to convince himself more than his son, knowing very well that in all probability the BMW day would never come.
The child poked at the plastic sheet covering the tabletop of the small dining table and continued with his monotone which was now getting more inquisitive as it sounded sad:
“Daddy, you studied for 18 years but we have only a Maruti. Krish’s daddy studied only till 10th and they have a BMW. That means if you don’t study well you will get a bigger car, no? And still, Krish’s dad is at home most of the time and plays with him. You are always at work or with your phone. Daddy, why did you study so much? You should also have studied only till 10th class! Then we could’ve had much more nicer things like them and you could’ve played with me a lot more! There is no use studying and all!”
The dad was stunned and speechless, partly because he was surprised by his son’s shocking awareness of the harsh realities of the real world but mostly because he saw all that he thought he had achieved until then in life dissolve in front of him in an instant. His son’s words had laid bare before him the fact he and his family were living in a bubble made up of perceived assets nonexistent in value which did not even belong to them, such the apartment which was in reality just a concrete box in the air, the Wagon R and the Playstation, all owned by banks, what he always knew deep down but had refused to acknowledge for fear of facing the truth that he had nothing, by shutting out the thought and living in denial of it. But now, everything seemed suddenly pointless.
He managed to mumble: “Go play with your sister, son.”
Unlike the thousands of uneducated Krish’s dads who have really made it in life by hook or crook and had tangible assets to show for it, the dad had nothing to show for what he had achieved in life, just like the millions of other degree holding literates toiling away for some perceived benefit they think will probably arrive in the future, though they don’t know what that benefit or the future really is, both which will never come anyway.
The dad just sat there, lost in the sadness of a life that once held a lot of promise but ended in a trap, a swirling vortex from where there was no escape now.
What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldn’t you consider that to be insane? – Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi), Con Air