Why do we fear ‘mistakes’ when they are the best teachers?
After I had finished speaking and the session of ‘career counselling’ came to an end, she walked up to me, shouting to her classmates to hold the school bus for a while.
“Ma’am, I want to be a journalist. But I love science subjects and want to take them in junior college (classes 11 and 12). The school counsellor suggested I opt for the Arts stream. Can I study science and still become a journalist?” she asked with young dreams twinkling in her eyes.
I smiled at the bubbly 15-year-old girl and replied: “I studied mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology till class 12 and also topped my school in a small hill town of Jammu. I never studied journalism, but I think I am an okay journalist.”
She jumped up and down with excitement, thanked me and rushed to board the school bus her friends could hold up no longer.
I walked out of the career counselling venue and got into an autorickshaw. Pushed earplugs into my ears to listen to some music during the forty to forty-five minutes ride from Bandra to Andheri in Mumbai, where I live.
But, the question posed by the young student did not let me rest.
Why are we so averse to children exploring things in life? Even if aimlessly? Why do we have notions fixed in our heads – like water-tight compartments? Why don’t we let our kids ‘find’ their own paths, or wander to explore? Why do we fear ‘mistakes’ when they are the best teachers?
Adults always have a favourite question to ask children, even those they meet for the first time: “So child, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I was also asked this question countless times. My reply kept changing from “a teacher” to “a doctor”, “a lawyer”, “a lecturer”, “a social science researcher”. Never, never, did I utter the word “journalist”.
In fact, some two decades ago, when my friend and an ex-colleague, suggested I try reporting, my first reaction was: “No way! I don’t want to be a journalist.” Fresh out of university, I wanted to research and work on books. Who was going to ‘waste’ time writing quick 500-1,200 words news stories? Or, push microphones into the mouth of a person who has just lost a child asking, “Aap kaisa mehsoos kar rahe hain?” (What are you feeling?)
But sometimes your friends can see things inside you, which are hidden, even from you. With no formal training or understanding of journalism, I took the plunge. It wasn’t easy. I learnt things on the job, wrote pathetic stories, made mistakes, learnt and moved ahead. It was a slow journey, but a journey I would not exchange for anything else in life.
We live in a fast-paced world where ‘slow’ is seen as lazy and unproductive, a loss, a waste. By the time children become fifteen or sixteen we expect them to know exactly what they ‘want to become’ in life, and remember, by life we mean professional life only; which company to work with and what annual package (salary) to draw.
If at seventeen, a student wants to study physics, but at twenty-five, or even thirty, they realise their interest lies in dramatics, or philosophy, all hell breaks loose and every possible effort is made, including emotional blackmail, to stop the person from making a ‘mistake’. Wandering, we are reminded, is only for the losers. Winners have their path clearly marked in front of them on which they gallop ahead.
After completing my masters, I wandered in the villages of Rajasthan. I wandered in the alleys of books. By ‘mistake’, I ‘lost’ my way and found myself in the company of reporters. I stumbled, but continued to wander and explore. And that is when I realised I loved being a reporter. It’s been two decades now and the passion for field reporting has only grown with time.
I get the best stories when I wander. When I wander without clear-cut story briefs in my mind. When I step out in the field and move around aimlessly talking to people. With each passing day in the field, the wanderings begin, effortlessly, to shape into narratives and stories.
Today while scrolling down Twitter, I read congratulatory messages exchanged between tweeple and figured some school examination results have been announced. Congratulations to all the students. And if you haven’t scored 98% and your parents are unable to declare your score to the outside world, don’t let fear or shame stop you from exploring the big world around us. And which has enough space for each one of us to grow and blossom.
Not all who wander are lost.
I am a wanderer. By choice. In this journey of life, don’t forget to pause, slow down, explore and wander.