I remember him clearly – the only other Tamil in my class. It was the much-anticipated annual school concert; an occasion that gave you the opportunity to show yourself as being worthy of an invite into the inner sanctum of the cool kids. Being of an ethnic origin made it that much harder to gain acceptance. He got on stage with his cool hair, athletic build and winning smile, with a guitar in hand – I hated him. I was in the crowd, wallowing in my averageness, willing him to fail. But the gods were against me; they gave him a voice of a rock star. He strutted around the stage, belting out one hit after another. The crowd went crazy. My heart sunk. I knew it then – he was going to be a famous pop star. Travelling the world, with beautiful women throwing themselves at his feet wherever he went; he will live life the way I could only dream of living. My only hope was that I will be on a lifelong pilgrimage to the Himalayas so I didn’t have to witness any of his success. School finished, I said my goodbyes and hoped to never see him again.
Fast-forward ten years; there he stood in front of me. My pilgrimage to the Himalayas didn’t materialize, so instead here I was at a wedding reception, devouring a mutton roll. He strolled over to me – all smiles, like we were best friends. After an awkward hello, I was waiting for him to reel off his list of successes and tell me about his exciting musical journey. But then the unthinkable happened. I couldn’t believe my ears. Here he was, the multi-talented musician who had wowed anyone (apart from me) who had the pleasure of seeing him perform, the boy who told anyone who was willing to listen that how he was going to become a platinum selling artist, telling me that he is now a dentist. A DENTIST???
I couldn’t believe it. A sense of joy overwhelmed me. A dentist? Really? Please don’t get me wrong; the dental profession is a respectable and rewarding career choice but no one ever dreams of becoming a dentist do they? So after wiping the smile off my smug face, I asked him what happened to his musical ambitions. He smiled and said that it was never really going to happen for him and that his parents insisted that he attend university and get himself a good job before doing anything else. I asked him if he was still in a band. He shook his head and said that he doesn’t really get the time anymore. At that very moment, my joy turned into this cloud of sadness. I was sad for him. I was sad that this talented musician didn’t pursue his boyhood dreams.
This made me think about being Tamil and our complicated relationship with dreams. My parents tell me that they or their family didn’t have the luxury of having dreams. They were faced with the reality of living in a country that was torn by a civil war. The only dream was the collective one of living in a land where you have the same rights as a fellow human being of a different faith and belief. When this dream became a nightmare, they were forced to flee to another land, where their primary focus was to plant roots so their children can one day prosper. This being the norm of most of our parents’ journey, it is fair to assume that the chances of them knowing anyone who had dreams of becoming a rock star, footballer, artist or an actor were very slim. They were brought up with the ideology that education was the key to gaining respect and a certain quality of life. They grew up in an environment where doctors, accountants and engineers were revered. It is only natural that they want their children to pursue these professions.
So, I look at my family now – there are doctors (a lot), accountants, engineers, pharmacists and more doctors in the making. Where are the politicians, musicians, artists, Filmmakers, philosophers I ask myself? Where are they? Well the answer is probably that they are hiding within the person they have adopted to be. Have we let our parents’ fear of the unknown make a possible dream into an unachievable distant illusion? Are we walking in someone else’s shoes on someone else’s path to someone else’s destination?
It may be that someone’s ambition is to become a doctor, lawyer, accountant or even a dentist (really?). That’s fine. But I am guessing that they are in the minority. Our parents have done their part; they have safely navigated us to the safety of a democratic land where there are far more opportunities than they ever had. We owe it to ourselves and to them, even if it means going against their wishes, to pursue our dreams. It is our responsibility to broaden our horizon, and build on the foundations that they have laid, with a sense of duty, and more importantly, with imagination.