Reflecting on the Indian student life...


Let’s rewind time a bit. 10 years ago to be exact. I was a shy, 11-year-old nerd who loved going to school. Yep, I was that guy. My typical day in the life would be:

  1. [6:30] Wake up in the morning for school,
  2. [9:00] Attend classes and solve the Rubik’s cube occasionally if I’m particularly bored,
  3. [15:00] Complete any/all homework early on so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it later
  4. [17:30] Watch TV, study or sometimes - play(I didn’t have a lot of friends since I wasn’t comfortable around people and I wasn’t sure if anyone liked me either)
  5. [22:00] Sleep

At this point, I’m probably describing the approximate schedule of a lot of Indian students. I’m not sure if different countries face this, but a lot of Indian students are now asked - “What do you want to do when you grow up?” This is a serious question and people asking this aren’t just throwing such questions around because they’re trying to get to know you or make a casual conversation, they’re waiting for your answer so that they can predict and map your path for the next two decades - including the subjects you’ll study, universities you’ll study at, the salary you might earn, etc. Now, growing up with no siblings or people slightly older than me that I can talk to and look up to, who have been through this mental state at some point, I had no idea about any of this - quite literally!! I did not know what it means to work or choosing a major. Having perspective or at least, the concept of knowing what it means to have perspective on topics like this is not often talked about or looked for. The working assumption with the current Indian society is that kids have perspective, are mature and informed enough. Do keep in mind, it’s not a question of being forced into mainstream Engineering or Medicine study, it’s more to do with the circumstances that come with this i.e. lack of self-awareness, perspective, and more importantly, lack of any maturity. While this issue looks like the parents or teachers who most influence our lives must be blamed, it’s more systemic than that. The scary part is no one seems to understand it or work on solving this.


Every year the competition grows linearly, with the current pandemic compounding the pressure students face now more than ever. The part of life when people start understanding different aspects of life - from what it means to tackle more responsibility to developing meaningful relationships, this growth is shadowed by the pressure to work hard in order to achieve a status in society - studying at a prestigious university and working for a billion-dollar company. Somewhere between this hustle, students forget what it means to live a life. I can vividly remember only one feeling through my years of preparing for JEE - I felt robotic, unenthusiastic, and worst of all, uninspired. There was only one thought on my mind, and that was making sure any test put in front of me, I had to be in the top 1 percentile, which is ironic because being in the top percentile is not in your control, and yet you’re judged based on how good or bad everyone else has performed relative to you. This had changed my personality significantly - I can barely remember if I ever smiled freely without being reminded of the high stakes every day. I can only be grateful for the fact that I would’ve felt worse if I was a teenager now. With this mindset, one continues to lose their sense of being human - the ability to empathize, inspire, critical thinking, etc., and turns towards making life a monotonic passage where only death can end their misery. The reality of the current educational society is this:

In the two decades of life that shape the human, we’re never once asked to pause and reflect on what it means to be human and what it means for each and everyone to live a life. Living a goal oriented life only leads to a binary outcome - a temporary satisfaction of success or a lifelong reminder of the failure.

Good Rant. Any solutions?

Frankly, I’m not sure about the solutions myself, at least at an individual level. Society is headed towards a dark path, with more and more people working toward a status rather than teaching human values. I hypothesize that human values are slowly fading away in the current society not because they’re not being taught(they never have been), but rather life during the time that’s supposed to shape our humanity is being repurposed on trying to achieve something that’s temporary.

The solution in my opinion is to influence our immediate neighborhood and hope that it has a snowball effect. If you’re a parent reading this, ask yourself: when is the last time you’ve asked your kids about what they think a happy life means(irrespective of the age), what it means to be excited about something(ice cream is not a valid topic), what does it mean to empathize with someone. If you’re a student reading this, ask yourself: when is the last time have you’ve had an original thought. No one in our society incentivizes an original thought, ironically the thing which makes us stand out in a crowd is being oppressed in the hopes that we’ll stand out later in the future. If you’re a teacher reading this, I apologize but I’m out of ideas - that’s how helpless I feel thinking about the current scenario. I’ll probably update this post once I have some clarity, but until then this has been my thoughts.

Let me know how your experiences from a point of life where societal pressure dictated your life affect you now.

Vaibhav Balloli

Vaibhav Balloli

Ph.D. student at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, MI, USA