Yesterday I came across this line on one of the blogs I read every day: “Stick to what ever you love to do. How ever quaint it may seem. It will take you to where you have to go.

Maybe because I have just finished reading Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers, the inherent privilege in this statement and the assumed privilege of the audience it is addressed to jumped out at me and made me want to strip it down a bit.

A while ago, a much-read blogger had pointed out how this noble sentiment of letting our kids follow their dreams, now much cited as one of those unarguable tenets of life and good parenting, is actually only possible once you’ve reached a certain economic status. For our helpers, for example, having their children follow their dreams is a luxury they cannot afford. They can and will only encourage dreams that come with some sort of tried and tested guarantee to a better life and hence the popularity of engineering in its heyday. Can we really fault them? Are they bad parents?

The scavengers who people Katherine Boo’s book also dream hard. It’s one thing that most of them they don’t even have the choice of getting a toehold on the road to their dreams. If options are limited to pawing through waste to ensure a half-full stomach (which is the best they can hope for), then that’s what they will do. Nevertheless, some of them do try to stick to what they love. Mirchi, for example, aspires to be one of the waiters in the hotels near the airport. His family backs him and lets him off garbage collection duty. He even gets some sort of start. But, well, life does not take him where he has to go. He lands up collecting garbage with the rest of his family. Or maybe that’s where he had to go.

So one could say, stick to what you love…

…IF doing so won’t result in the financial ruin of your entire family (which, of course, then becomes very subjective and most Indian parents will argue that choosing Arts will indeed result in this very eventuality) or starvation and death.

AND there are no guarantees where life takes you may be where you wanted to go. (But at least you tried? Not sure if this would be of comfort to someone who poured their entire family fortunes into a dream though)

Doesn’t sound so heartwarming now, does it?

And what if what you love is, like Asha, coming up with schemes that defraud other people for one’s own gain? What if your dream is to be slumlord? Would that be fine too?

The funny thing is that I believe in some version of this dictum. It’s just that I’m not naive enough to turn it into an aphorism for all people.

I believe that one should stick to what one is good at, particularly if one is more or less happy doing that as it would come more effortlessly, and one stands a better chance of excelling and hopefully thus making some money out of it. Thus, for example, Abdul in Boo’s book (that sounds really weird right?) sticks to the garbage business, and  drops out of school because he realises he’s not very good at school but he’s good at sorting waste. And he manages to raise the fortunes of his family and give his brother Mirchi the chance to pursue his dreams.

But what if what one is good at is something that is 90% going to be a dead end. Like aspiring to be a film actor? Or a sportsperson? Given the nature of these fields and the poor odds of making it, even with great talent, is it worth it to even give it a go? Should I tell my children, do it but I will underwrite only XX sum? (Which, of course, presumes that I have XX sum to give in service of their dreams.) If I don’t have any money for them to fall back on, should I encourage them to go it on their own, common sense be damned? I don’t know.

There are some people that eventually make it. There are others that don’t but are happy enough struggling and doing what they enjoy. But I suspect there are many many more in financial dire straits as a result of this unswerving pursuit of their passions. I wish someone would do us a study of the percentage of success stories among those that went for their dreams against the odds in different economic environments instead of presenting us with the odd Olympic example.

All sticky questions. And I think we need to foreground them and engage with them instead of repeating nice-sounding aphorisms because not everyone has the luxury of believing in unicorns.

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