In 2012, my son Agneya, then 19, was doing Bachelor’s in Commerce while simultaneously studying to be a Chartered Accountant.
To become a CA, the first step is to pass the Common Proficiency Test (CPT) and the second test is for the Integrated Professional Competence Course (IPCC). The number of students that pass the CPT is less than 40% and those scraping through the IPCC is around 25%.
He had passed the CPT with distinction in first attempt and was now preparing for IPCC, studying 12 to 15 hours a day.
Like normal middle-class Indian parents, we were very appreciative, and busy dreaming our middle-class dreams for him. We debated between a government job versus a private company versus an independent practice.
Then one weekend, I noticed the boy was going around with a furrowed brow and a sombre look, like a puppy in deep thought. I supposed he was not feeling well. Knowing, that for a strapping teenager, the disease was more likely to be Loveria than Malaria, I asked him, “Is all well?”
“Yes.” He said with a shrug. But his expression said, “Ignorant Parent, you don’t know nothing!”
So I didn’t ask any more questions.
After he hibernated into his room for studies, I asked his Mother, “Why is he going around with that look? Is he in love?”
“No! My little baby is too busy studying to have time for all that.” She replied.
I wondered if she had had any disagreements with him. A disagreement with her, I know from experience, can be pretty unpleasant for the male of the species in the clan.
“Have you said something to him?” I asked.
“Not at all. What is there to say? He’s such a good boy! You must have said or done something! No wonder the poor fellow seemed so upset.” The finger pointed straight at me, the eternal villain in all the family dramas.
“Oh, come on, I wasn’t even home the whole of last week!” I protested.
So, after lunch, we sat him down and I asked him, “Do you want something? Anything?”
He looked at me in disbelief and simply said, “No.”
“I’ve noticed that you’ve been working hard. You deserve a break. Want to go out for a picnic with your friends? Need some money?”
Now he was looking at me with unconcealed suspicion, but the money bait seemed to have hooked him. As a bright, budding CA, he immediately smelled the money and perked up a bit.
“Shall I tell you frankly what I really want?”
“Go right ahead. We’ll give you whatever you want!” I stood up and announced, rather like a politician before elections.
“I don’t want to be a CA.”
“What?” I felt like that politician losing the election despite all those promises and slumped into the sofa. “What do you want to be, then?”
“I want to be a professional percussionist.”
I thought I hadn’t heard him correctly.
“Professional perfectionist? What in the world does that mean?” I couldn’t help but raise my voice.
After decades of being married, I know wives try to be perfectionists, especially when dealing with their husbands. But how was he ever going to achieve that with himself?
“I want to be a musician who plays percussion instruments. I dream of becoming a drummer!”
“A drummer? You think that would be easier than becoming a CA? Isn’t there a tougher competition? Won’t that require hard work?” I roared.
“I know it will. But I enjoy playing Drums and Djembe. My heart is not in Accountancy and Taxation, it is in Music. I will happily work day and night to be a percussionist. Don’t you see the difference?”
I was too shocked to respond and sank deeper into the sofa.
Since the time they introduced him to drums in Vidya Valley School in Eighth standard, he had been playing as a hobby. He had also taken lessons, and we knew he was often ‘jamming’ with friends as a break from his studies.
But a professional musician? My own Son? Without a college degree? Without a steady job? Is he even good enough? What will he earn? What will he eat? Who will marry him? Which family will accept him as a son-in-law? What does a starry-eyed teenager know about life? And what if this so-called dream turns out to be an impulsive infatuation? How will he make up for the wasted money and, more importantly, the lost time? How will he compete with the younger mice who would by then have joined the rat race?
The Wife was giving me the silent stare, so I didn’t voice my worries. She told him we would like to think it over. Then he disappeared into his room, leaving us to deal with our shattered ambitions for him.
We took a week to mull over our options, asking friends and elders in the family. Meanwhile, he went around with a sad and accusing face, looking more forlorn than a Romeo separated from his Juliet—as if I, myself, had kidnapped her!
We asked his music teacher, who replied, “I believe this boy has the ability and could become a professional – if he works hard.”
That was a Big IF, I thought.
But the teacher continued, “And if he gets proper training.”
Yet another BIG IF, I mused; but the teacher was not done yet.
“And if he has a little luck.”
That, I silently opined, was the BIGGEST IF ever, for anyone and everyone.
By now I half expected the teacher to add a few more IFs, like, “If Auntie had moustaches and if pigs could fly!”
Thankfully, he didn’t. Maybe, like the Meteorology Department, even he thought three IFs were enough to cover all probable outcomes.
Confused, I sought my CA’s opinion, hoping he would glorify and recommend his noble profession; but he resignedly replied, “Let him do what he wants!”
That surprised and disappointed me, till, much later, I came to know that his son too didn’t want to be a CA, despite having an established business ready to inherit.
You might remember that scene in the movie ‘Three Idiots’, when these three friends get drunk and Rancho says, “What if Lata Mangeshkar’s Dad had asked her to become a cricketer or if Sachin Tendulkar’s Dad had wanted him to be a singer? Where would they be today?”
It all sounds very logical and convincing while watching the movie, which, we know, is certain to have a happy ending. But while pondering over our son’s uncertain future, we sure were worried and undecided.
From my friends, the advice was vague and contradictory. A few were encouraging, but most were disdainful and derisive.
One elderly friend said, “Many years ago, my son wanted to become a guitarist. I told him nothing doing. Shut up and do Engineering like me or get out of my house. He obeyed, and now he’s a big shot in a big company.”
That, finally, helped us come to a conclusion.
The conclusion was – don’t ask others for their opinions.
The only opinion we sought, was that of our elder Son, who helped bridge the generation gap. He expressed his beliefs frankly, if not always politely. Plus, he kept the youngster in good humour, while we were busy in painful decision-making.
A week later, while the younger Son was out in college (hopefully!), Wife and I sat together one afternoon and, after much agonising over the pros and cons, made our decision.
When he returned home that evening, we made him sit comfortably and gave him something to eat and drink. While he watched us warily, we sat together opposite him and, smiling, said, “Go do what you want.”
“What?!” He exclaimed in disbelief.
“Better a fully committed, meagre earning musician, than a half-hearted, rich CA.” We told him.
The boy grinned, sprang up and hugged us.
He then gleefully dumped his study materials and immersed himself in music.
He went to Mumbai and studied with some greats, formally and informally.
For a more structured education, he applied to a Music School in a European country – which denied him a Visa. I hope they’ll regret it someday! 🙂
Then he met some Canadian musicians who suggested that he apply to Humber College. He applied, did well in the Auditions and was selected for a four-year course in Jazz Percussion at Humber College – School of Creative and Performing Arts, Toronto.
He was concerned about the high cost of the course, but I reassured him.
“If need be, I’ll miss my lunch.” I told him. What I didn’t tell him was, alarmed by my rapidly expanding girth, my Doctor had already advised me to do so rather emphatically!
In 2015, we dropped him at Mumbai Airport with a lot of luggage, including a Tabla, and came home, hopeful yet fearful and beaming yet tearful.
I reminded my wife of the last stanza from the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, saying it aloud on our son’s behalf:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
At the end of his third year, he had to arrange and present an hour’s show as a part of his curriculum. The finale of that performance is here. In the video below, he’s wearing a blue Kurta and playing the Djembe.
There’s still another year before he graduates and then the wide open world full of equally talented musicians to compete with, but no matter what happens in the future, I am confident that we’ve made the right decision. Wouldn’t you agree?
You can clearly see that he’s happy and enjoying his work.
His Mother and I will be long dead, but when he’s 99 and looks back upon his life, that will have made a difference!
© Avinash Chikte
On demand from friends and relatives, I’ve translated this post into my mother tongue, Marathi, and posted it as ‘वाट वेगळी…’