Wasted resources, missed out roles

When I was sixteen years old, I got admission in an engineering college and ended up joining a class where I was the only female. This was back when people did not even know that women were “allowed” to become engineers, and just about everybody who talked to me about it was critical about my “wasting” a seat that a boy could have taken and become an engineer (all except fellow female batch-mates and my parents and a few of their very close friends).

Relatives told me the course would be too tough. One cousin who was studying engineering told me that I would never be able to do “workshop”. And just about everyone told me I was wasting a seat, I was wasting the nation’s money, the taxpayer’s money, because after all I was a woman and I would never take up a job, and even if I could, I would leave it for my “family” later, and for bringing up my kids. I was told again and again that I should quit the seat so that a “deserving” boy could become an engineer instead.

In my class I encountered two species of classmates; one, the silent ones who never said anything, so I never knew whether they were hostile about me or just cowed down by the second species, and two, the hostile ones who reminded me that being a female I was incompetent and also wasting a seat.

Now I can use this post to write about many things that have happened since.

I could write about how many of my engineer classmates went on to sell soap and colas or read balance sheets in banks, careers which possibly don’t need knowledge of Fourier Transforms or resistor color codes. Or I could point out that many chose to be part of the “brain drain” in the days when leaving the country was considered unpatriotic (but of course, now pravasi bharatiyas welcomed back open-armed, because times do change, and society does become more mature and open). Then again, amusingly, some ex-classmates are sending their daughters to IIT coaching classes, and I doubt if they remember how hostile they were towards the female engineers when they were students.

Hey, I could even write about how unfair it felt at “sweet” sixteen to be viewed as a potential housewife (housewives became “homemakers” decades later) and a potential mother and not as someone able to contribute using the brain. It also induced suffocation about my future.

But strangely, it is another angle that strikes me when I look anew at the past.

What strikes me now is that, in all those comments about how I would give up my job when I had a child to bring up, people were clearly recognizing child-rearing as a task that needs intense work and attention.

But no one talked that way about the intense work and attention that goes into tending to humans at the other end of the life curve.

No one ever told me, for example, that I would be wasting national taxpayer money when I quit my job to tend my parents. No one said, you will end up doing so when you are at the peak of your career, young enough to be productive, yet experienced enough to really add value to the field you are in, so everything everyone has invested in you will go waste. No one recognized the elder care work, the role, the criticality of the role.

I wonder why.

Again and again, I am puzzled at how a society that prides itself on its respect for elders and the need for families to rally for their care does not register that if such care has to be given, it has to be planned for, factored into life choices, and so on.

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