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An Age of maturity? After 2 years of ‘specialized’ study, an Indian millennial is asked to specialize even more. 

“Growing up in 21st century India must be quite thrilling? Ain’t it?”

Yes, it is indeed. It is thrilling when at the age of 16, a mere class 10 passout, is asked to choose his/her field of ‘specialization.’ One could go for science, commerce, or arts, but what if one has an interdisciplinary interest? At least I had.

I loved mathematics and would have happily pursued it had the Indian custom of ‘specialized’ curriculum not restricted me. I was keen on exploring the social sciences and maths. I wanted to understand how Napoleon patterned his army’s presence on the battlefield because there isn’t just history in there but there might be some geometrical brilliance hidden in it as well. If drugs are a sort of chemical, then would studying chemistry enable us to understand the consequences of legalising it? But then, is the 3rd law of Newton applicable to our political economy too? Too many interests and hence, too many questions yet no one answer or maybe no one ‘to’ answer.

Just a while ago you had to ask for your teacher’s permission to go to the toilet but now, all of a sudden, you are left all on your own to struggle with conflicting ideas, stare at a blank wall for hours because that’s where you see all your confusions taking shapes, yet still have absolutely no idea what to do.

With your parents barely being helpful since most would force you to go for a stream ‘they’ deem to be the best and your teachers encouraging you to follow your equally conundrum-stricken peers, you start feeling like that sheep in the herd who knows it is always safe to follow the herd but also knows that the herd is going towards the fox. “Safe,”  isn’t it? Now that the deadline nears, you rush your random thoughts in haphazard directions and blindly tick one of the 3 boxes – science, commerce, or arts – because you ‘had to’ do something.

There you go! One tick and your life had its first significant turning point. A juvenile, who is not even punished for most crimes committed at this age, is liable to be penalised for life for ‘that’ one decision made at 16 which alters his/her life forever.

Being an Indian millennial, I went through a similar dilemma 2 years back. I chose arts, since I was keen on pursuing economics and political science. Bu,t that way I had to bid goodbye to mathematics.

After 2 years of ‘specialized’ study, India wants you to specialize even more. At the age of 18, one is faced yet again with the same dilemma, which ‘subject’ to further specialize in? Should I go for a professional degree like law? Or should I pursue research in pure sciences? Or maybe start preparing for the Chartered Accountants’ Exam?  The same story to be told again, panic and anxiety characterize your mental state. Some people are able to decide, either happily or by going with the flow, burdening their destiny with choosing their life path and embracing their fate, if any. There are others like me, who beg their parents for an additional year to ‘think’ because I ‘think’ it is better to die regretting ‘your own’ decisions than live cursing your virtually non-existent fate. Sometimes going out of the way to find the way is perhaps the only way.

In the world’s largest democracy where a plethora of political parties with their myriad claims & promises confound the voters during elections, where even grocery shops can puzzle you with pulses of at least half a dozen varieties, where the people residing in one of its 29 different states can befuddle you with the 1652 different languages they speak, a mere 16-year old is expected not to be disoriented and thus, ‘specialize.’

Just because the minimum marriageable age for a girl is 18 doesn’t mean that every girl at 18 is prepared enough to deal with the daily chores of domestic life.

Just because the minimum voting age for a person is 18 doesn’t mean that every person at 18 is prepared enough to choose the right candidate to form the government and rule the country.

Just because the constitutionally valid age to become a parliamentarian is 25 doesn’t mean that every youth at 25 is prepared enough to grapple with the complexities of policy making for the country.

Similarly not every 16-year old is ready to specialise because at this age, some are not even sure about their identities and sexualities. How rational is it then to generalise that ‘maturity comes with age’? If maturity really came with age then, were the key minds behind the 2 world wars kids that they couldn’t calculate its drastic consequences?  If maturity came with age then, why are we still fighting over territories & waters like kindergarteners fight over pencils & crayons? If maturity really came with age then, why no amount of round table conferences among ‘intellectuals’ could ever produce a concrete way to establish peace on earth? And yet we expect under 18s to draw the entire map of their lives with just one ’special’ scale.  Maturity, the offspring of age?

So, growing up in India as a millennial teaches you one thing at most – decision making. Like it or hate it, approve it or rebel against it, accede to it or dissent it, you must pick a choice from among the many choices because you have no other choice.

Ananya Singh, the holder of prestigious titles like that of the 1st Youth Prime Minister of Odisha, is a 2-time winner of Silver Prize in the senior category of the International Essay Competition organised...

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