Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Answer of the 'Rebel'

Many of my friends and acquaintances, especially the ones from my undergrad college back in India ask me,
Tu abhee bhi padh rahi hai?
Aur kitna padhegi?
Kitna research karegi?
PhD kyun?
Kitna time hai tujhe graduate hone mein?
Tu bore nahee hoti padhai se?

The translation being,
You still in school!
How much more you want to study?
How much more research do you want to do?
Why PhD?
How many more years to go to graduate?
Don't you get bored of it?"

These folks are the ones who are quite 'settled' in life right now: earning a decently fat salary, with or without an MBA from somewhere in India. Now they are desperately looking for some pretty and hot girl whom they can date for sometime and then marry. Dwelling in the Fool's paradise that they have achieved almost everything in life, they loathe the very idea of continuing an academic career. To them, probably, being in school at 25 is so uncool! To the girls, the time is ripe to find Mr. Perfect, a guy who is reasonably handsome, earns a fat salary, owns his own flat and/or a car in India, or lives in US or been to US for considerable time and has reasonable bank balance so that he can buy her a diamond necklace every year on her birthday.

I am not being mean describing them this way: some of them are people with whom I have spend quality time in the past and I like them. Also, I totally respect their decision to feel complete with a bachelors degree. It is after all, a personal matter of choice and everyone has his or her liberty to take decisions for themselves in life.

The conflict occurs when the personal decision accrues the shape of a generic judgment which they seamlessly attempt to fit into one and all. And that is what flows out from these questions that they have been uttering all this while.

Joining the PhD program and the decision to go for research has been one of the best decisions in my life. I have forever been a risk-taker, right since I was 16 years old: I loved to do things which no one else would do; I loved the joy in doing those things and marking myself as different from the commonplace crowd. But just the desire to be different was not about it. As far as my mature conscious takes me back, I remember I liked pure sciences, I loved to question things around me and think crazy if any of the established truths weren't true today. When I was in 4th grade, I came to know about something called a 'scientist'. I participated in a painting competition and came out first rank holder when the organizers gave me an interesting prize: a biographical account of several renowned scientists in the world. I would read that book for long, discuss those scientists with Dad and then feel so happy that certain people can rise against appartently impossible odds and still be so much successful! I also wanted to be a scientist from then onwards, and make a mark in the sands of time by thinking the world from an altogether different facet!

Half of my dream has come true the day I joined the PhD program! While this feels so placated to me several times, I know each new day brings up a new vista of challenges to me. In an academic program spanning over at least five years, you are answerable to several people and several questions: ranging from these friends, to parents, to relatives and to professors and the advisor. Nevertheless, therein lies the real charm of life!

Research has taught me several things larger than academics and sometimes larger than life. It is no longer the pre-conceived notion that those friends possess about studies: research transcends studies. It connects you directly to your soul: a means to think beyond the constrained realms of mundane world. It teaches you perseverance, teaches you tenacity; above all, teaches you there is something beyond earning a fat salary and marrying a pretty girl or a handsome guy, and so called living happily ever after. The meaning of life has more to it: and research reveals this truth to you.

After all, life is not an algorithm where you execute certain steps and finally terminate into a stable state. It is stranger than fiction, as you know. And research and PhD just add a new degree of zest to it: you learn life, beyond books, alcohol or credit cards. Research is the tool of the rebel of today...


Anonymous said...

Great Thought !
Even made me think about what I want from life....
All the best :)

Nikesh Rathi said...

Nice one!

Though I am nowhere close to being a researcher, I agree with all the thoughts mentioned. (In fact I have tried to show some loosely similar thoughts in couple of posts!)

And yes ... sometimes it becomes too irritating when people apparently ask about what/ how/ where/ why we do these and these things, while actually they wish to tell you what all things to do and how !

Abhinav said...

I can't help it but this post can actually inspire an essay in a response. On the for side, you represent the enlightened individual made famous by Ayn Rand and José Ortega y Gasset. On the against side, maybe it's your correctness and anguish that makes you look down upon the teeming bourgeoisie. That's good but there is something wrong with anguish in any form.

BTW one does not need to do a Ph.D. in order to be learned, (though I've actually decided on a Ph.D. in CS myself). What about Tagore (who hated such stringent disciplined education), and Ray? To employ, a cliche, education is an ongoing process. And I remember someone in a seminar saying that the number of degrees you notch up is a mark of your insecurity with regard to your abilities.
Nice post... Great food for thought!

Munmun said...

@ Abhinav,
Thanks for throwing some light on the other side of the coin! I agree: the number of degrees don't matter. And though not blatant in the post, I never wanted to mean that a formal degree is required to "learn" in life.
However, education can a great tool- a tool for learning about life. And for me at least, it has always worked wonders to gain insights into my everyday life. Those insights were developed naturally by Tagore; while others more mundane would take the help of a tool like a PhD to do so. I definitely belong to the more mundane class. However, I am placid that I have those rare insights in life and acredit the decision to do a PhD in my case.