When I was reading this story behind the latest Vicks ad about the transgender mother and her daughter, something felt very familiar. Two adopted daughters by transgender women : one wanted to become a doctor but didn’t, and the other one’s mother wants her to become a doctor. Even at Mentor Me India, the municipal school where we volunteer, there are about 30 students in a class, all of them from financially weaker sections of society. Whenever the young girls and boys of 12 to 14 years were asked what do they want to become when they grow up, 90% invariably said ‘Doctor’. A very few kids say a teacher or perhaps a policeman. But thats it. And historically if you see less than 1 % of kids from economically weaker backgrounds go on to become doctors. That education is very expensive and simply unavailable. But those kids (or adults) rarely come in contact with people from other professions. They don’t require a CA to file tax returns, they have no idea about an automobile designer, what is an astronaut, or an anthroplogist or even a chef?! In fact, last time when I took my mentee Gauri to a local mall she was very surprised to find out there are so many people working in the mall or that there is a person specially to clean up tables after people leave the food court. Its another thing that the 12 year old girl went to a mall for the first time, was shivering with fear when standing on the escalator, was amazed seeing the tall mannequins in each shop and absolutely refused to take the elevator because it frightened her.
When we started the mentoring relationship, I had a hard time explaining her what I do for a living. I told her I am a Chartered Accountant running our own company selling capital equipment made in Switzerland. I broke it down into easily understandable parts, but when I met her family, she hadn’t been able to explain what her mentor does. Finally for lack of any other terms, I settled on telling her that I work in a bank. And now every-time I go to her house, different family members come to me with their banking problems which generally involve not remembering the bank account number or unable to find a passbook. When this is the level of problems we are dealing with, aspiring to become a doctor becomes unachievable right from the beginning.
Gauri’s elder sister Manisha had her 10th board exams a few weeks back. Whenever I called her or went to their place, the girl would be doing housework or tending to her younger cousins. Sitting and studying for the board exams was not a priority, in fact it wasn’t even on her to-do list. The silver lining is that her family had promised to make a gold chain for her and distribute sweets in the gully if she passed the exam. So atleast they know the importance of clearing the exam. But when I asked her how how well did she answer the papers, I was met with silence. Either she skipped a paper or two, or the exam went really bad.
Sometimes I worry at my pragmatism. I want Gauri to dream and strive for something bigger, but something which is still within her reach. If she says she wants to work as a clerk, or as an accountant, or work in a factory that makes say cars, I know what to tell her to get there. But these 7th graders who barely know the English alphabets, how are they to study for highly complicated exams and professional degrees ? But hey, you always got to aim higher in case you fall short, right? May be yes, or may be no.
My year long mentoring relationship is soon coming to an end. Just two more months which are mostly holidays and the kids disappear to their native places. I don’t know how much it has been of value to her, but it has immensely enriched my life. It is almost as if I have a new set of eyes, a new vision. Looking at the intricate levels at which kids function has made me a better parent. All my decisions are now more carefully evaluated with a wider view of the world. As for my mentee Gauri, she is an artist, loves painting and decorating. Evey time I ask her about studies, she manages to steer the conversation to her latest art project. May be I can convince her to become a baker, she can whip up gorgeous and delicious cakes. In MMI annual day a few weeks back, we decorated 100 cupcakes. Each mentee had a hands on experience in frosting a cupcake and decorating it with sprinkles. Gauri was thrilled. I should enrol her in a baking workshop. Or show her the basics of designing. Or elementary, intermediate art exams? She should do something that she enjoys, but is still within her reach.
Becoming a doctor can be for another lifetime. Standing firmly on her own feet and being financially independent is what we will strive for in this janam.
MMI encourages people to continue the mentoring relationship beyond the one year period. But our work is getting very hectic, my toddler is very demanding, and there will be a lot of business travel this year. So it looks difficult to continue mentoring like last year, meeting her every alternate week, but I will definitely keep in touch with her. Atleast once every 2 months. Till the end of time.
P.s : MMI is hiring for the next cohort. You can contact them here.