The following is a true story heard at a TED talk (TEDxIITKgp) by Arnab Ray (one of India’s top bloggers).
When the city of Kolkata celebrated its three hundredth anniversary, “Kolkata 300” became a very common essay topic. As if on cue, essay guide book authors wrote up eulogies of the city in florid difficult-to-understand prose. Scores of students diligently memorized these essays and regurgitated them on the exam table. Teachers dutifully gave them good grades.
One student, however, wrote an original line in his essay in the Bengali exam:
If you find a bunch of flies hovering over a piece of jaggery beautiful, then Yes, Kolkata is beautiful.
It was a well framed piece of constructive criticism. But the Bengali teacher thought otherwise. In fact, he had to think otherwise. Because original thinking was not to be tolerated. The student got severely reprimanded in front of the whole class. The class learned a lesson that day – speaking your mind/being original can not only fetch you lower marks, it can have severe negative effects.
This incident happened in Arnab Ray’s class. Arnab, like others, learned he was better off memorizing the guide books. As a result, he began to hate the idea of writing. And if he had done his complete schooling in India, he would probably still hate it. Luckily, he got the chance to do a part of his schooling in Canada (thanks to his father who was a Professor and spent his sabbatical year in Canada). There, the education system was different. Students were encouraged to think on their own feet. Arnab realized that writing could be fun.
After this invigorating session in Canada, Arnab decided that he wanted to be a writer. He declared this to his father. Now it so happened that a few months back, Arnab had professed to his father – his yearning to be a musician in life. Naturally, Arnab’s father took his son’s latest statement with a pinch of salt. He gave Arnab a piece of advice:
Son, I really encourage you to follow any career that you want. But if you want to make a career of music or writing, you have to be the absolute best in your field. Otherwise you will just not make enough money. However, if you become an engineer, and you are an average engineer, you will earn enough money.