The dictionary says the word 'future' describes things yet to come. According to everyone else, the future is what my peers and I must plan for now. There is absolutely no other choice. Perhaps the eternal question 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' represents the best example of how the future is nothing less than our present. For some, the answer is quite unfairly predetermined, with no options other than the one thrust upon him/ her. In my case, the situation is almost the exact opposite.
I distinctly remember wanting to be an author since I was five year old. Unfortunately, that decision is the only one of several aspirations still withstanding my fickle mind. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- countless childish stories I have written about talking deer and crystal balls, that one dream has never faded.
But it has changed form.
Romantic ideals of sitting in a large mansion with a laptop in one hand, a college degree in the other, and with time only for writing have morphed into reality. These changes may have come with maturity but, in the end, it's all about the parents. I recall enthusiastically discussing my future plans with my mother one day.
"Ma, I want to be an author," I announced royally.
"That's great," she replied as she peered over her newspaper. "But what else do you want to do?"
I froze in my tracks. What else? What did she possibly mean by what else? Couldn't I just sit at home and write?
"You're always going to be able to write. But it's not a stable profession. You'll need to find something else to do, as well. If nothing else, it could provide material for you to write about," she added, and returned to her newspaper.
'Baffled' could not possibly describe my state of mind. My 10-year-old self had encountered epiphany. Her answer, though clear as water, could not have been more tantalizingly vague. A stable job? Something else? Since when had that been a priority? From that moment, I began my eternal quest for the golden job, the stable job, the inspiration that will eventually lead to becoming an author.
My first thought during that panic-stricken phase was to become a teacher. It couldn't possibly be that difficult. As a fifth grader, I recall countless recesses spent in the art room discussing the possibility with my best friend. This friend of mine can always provide sound advice to any one. Even at that age, she was ridiculously wise, and she never seemed to agree with my opinion.
"You could do so many other things," she used to say. "I just don't think you're made for teaching. Why not science? Medicine?" At that point, I would laugh it off defiantly. What a ridiculous suggestion! Medicine? Doctor? How cliched can you get? After living through endless jokes of Indian doctors and engineers, I had fiercely decided to take a stand. No medicine for me. And that was that.
Well into junior high, I changed my future plans. I began to understand that even the idea of me teaching was as absurd as an elephant wanting to become a ballerina. I realised I had neither the patience nor the compatibility. Furthermore, I just didn't want to do it. The idea had grown stale. It was time to take a new path. Once again, my mother offered a suggestion. It would be a rare day indeed when my mother has no advice to give, and even rarer a day when she has advice but fails to speak her mind.
"You should be a lawyer," she told me. "You make good points in arguments. Lawyers have to construct words well, and you want to be an author. You can make use of all your talents."
At first, law seemed boring to me. Crimes, criminals, justice and such didn't appeal. Besides, the very thought of standing in front of a huge courtroom, giving a lengthy speech to cold, stony people made my hands turn clammy. But after much consideration, I realised law could be interesting. And not all law was dealt on a cold stage in a courtroom. So, for a while, I decided to become a lawyer.
That decision did not go without its share of reactions. I remember a day when my parents mentioned it to my neighbour's dad. He responded with a hearty laugh. "A lawyer? She's not mean enough to do that," he exclaimed. And that wise friend who had so kindly pushed me away from becoming a teacher merely raised her eyebrows. It was true I didn't know much about law. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to be an ill fit for me. So, becoming a lawyer went to the backburner.
Much later, I came up with an idea myself. The moment it came to me, it was pure genius. What an idea! How could I have not thought of it before? I remember pondering over it for a few days before mentioning it to my mother.
"Journalism?" my mother exclaimed. She was completely aghast. "But... but... that's not exactly stable, Gargi! You have to go to remote countries... or you have to chase people around, looking for answers! You don't even ask people how they're feeling! How would you be a journalist?"
Despite all the sense she made, I couldn't help but feel that was the job for me. I could write, I could travel, I could be informed about the world and, most important of all, I would be happy with my work.
Meanwhile, my mother must have become panic-stricken; not even a week later, she sat me down and quite seriously listed reasons why she did not want me to go into journalism. Then, she introduced the topic of business. I scoffed before she could even begin to say 'entrepreneur.' The idea of stocks and money and corporations made my skin crawl. There were pros, my mother argued. I could travel. It was well-paying. And who knows, it might still be interesting! I simply rolled my eyes and walked away.
Less than half a year later, I began to watch the television show Grey's Anatomy. It was the most emotional, most touching, and most intriguing show I had ever seen. It was not long before my earlier decimation of medicine seemed to be a hasty decision. After watching two entire seasons on DVD within two weeks, I was quite sure becoming a surgeon was the way to go. Of course I knew television shows and movies were dramatised, but the actual medicinal element of the show was extremely exciting. It seemed quite different from what I imagined. On the other hand, every time I thought about the ridiculous amount of time spent on educating myself for it, I couldn't help but wonder how much good I could do with another job.
After discussing my newfound interests with my mother, she seemed slightly more relieved. But she wouldn't drop the topic of law. Or business. Every time she brought it up, I ran away from her fast. One time, however, it was literally impossible for me to do so.
The eye examination room was cold and slightly clammy. Ma and I waited for the doctor to arrive. He entered the room and, after some chit-chat, finished taking a look at my eyes. Before I could even sit up in my chair, my mother jumped into an extremely dangerous conversation.
"So when did you decide to become an optometrist?" my mother asked. I winced inwardly, knowing exactly where this conversation was going.
'Actually, I was a business major first,' my doctor said. I was sure my immediate fear could have filled the entire room. This was getting to be worse than I imagined. And so, for the next 20 minutes, my eye doctor sat in the room with us, telling us his stories as a business major. My mother's smile grew wider by the minute. It hit its widest as he explained he switched only because of a scare of depression in the market weeks after one of his last courses. I couldn't help but wonder why he didn't have any other patients to attend to.
"Did you hear?" my mother hissed as we walked out of the doctor's office with much more than an eye exam under my belt. "The only reason he switched was because of a little scare in the market. He was talking about how he enjoyed it a lot, though. He didn't say it was boring!"
So far, it must be quite obvious the role my mother plays in determining my future, but my father has his say once in a while, too. However, he has always insisted on only one thing: Computers. It is a fascinating business, I'm sure, because otherwise, my father would not be involved in it. But I shot that idea down quite quickly. It didn't really catch my eye. Though my father still tries to slide in the quick word about it, and I do respect his ideas, it doesn't seem to be my 'thing.'
But if there is one thing my parents are adamant on, it is my happiness. Never have they asked me to go into something because of the 'demand.' Perhaps it is because of my mother's own experience in choosing economics as her major because it was 'in' at the time. Whatever the reason, I could not be more grateful.
Their unconventional attitude has not gone without its share of discord. Many a bone has been picked at dinner parties with other parents who talk about what professions should be pursued because of the demand. As much as my parents bicker over my future, I know ultimately it's up to me and it's within my hands. I could not ask for anything more.
So what do I want to be? Though writing will undoubtedly be a part of my life, I do understand I can find many other things to do. So far, my journey has led me from teacher to journalist and from law to surgery. And yet, there are still other parts of me that yearn to be a singer, to act, or to go into the movie business. It is inevitably what comes from having too many interests, limitations from no one, and encouragement from everyone: too many options, none of which are set in stone at all.
If there's one thing I'm certain about, it's that my search for the said golden job is far from over. After looking back on all the drastic changes I have made in my life, I feel comfortable in saying that I honestly do not know. I don't know what I want to be. I don't want to know what I want to be. The best adventures in life come from discovering something new for yourself. For now, the search itself is quite enough for me.
Gargi, 15, lives in Texas.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh