A favourite question that most Indian adults ask especially to unsuspecting kids is “What do you want to do in life”? The tone of this question is typically patronising and accompanied by an expression that encourages the worry nerve to spring to life. Sometimes the curious adult moves on to do something else as the poor child is drumming up the enthusiasm to come up with an answer. The answers are usually uncomfortable and create a dialogue that only reinforce the generational divide.
In my childhood I use to feel that the world had made it their mission to ask me what I wanted to do in life! Everywhere I went I would find someone with this question hanging from their tongue. From drivers to random aunties and uncles this question would magically pop out leaving me perplexed. Why were they so interested? Why was it so important for them to know what I wanted to do?
Then I realised as I grew up that for some Indians this is a standard conversation opener that adults tend to deploy to engage with kids. Little do adults realise what a disturbing question this is. Most of us live our lives finding an answer to this question and a lucky few find theirs. For many the lack of a clear answer to this question becomes the story of their lives!
As a ten year old all that I wanted to do was to fly kites. My ambition was to build this magic box that would attract all the kites in the sky. The wide choice of kites available would give me the opportunity to share them with the poor kids in the neighbourhood who could not afford to buy them. For many years I dreamt of this box and then I gradually grew out of this dream to the next one. When I tried to explain this I only got puzzled expressions while some construed this as an early sign of engineering talent! The fact that I never went on to become one is another matter..
So next time when you see a child and want to strike a conversation then please do not terrorise by asking this question unless you have found your calling in life or are willing to make an attempt to comprehend answers that are beyond the realm of your current imagination. Remember to give a high five since it takes a lot for a child to answer this question. Perhaps doing yourself a favour by not asking the question may be a smarter alternative. In the meantime I am still looking out for the magic box..