An inside story of how young talents are being rendered redundant in Kashmir.
By Muskan Yousuf
Days changed into seasons that melted into years. Yet, perched on his room porch — unchanged and unabated —Ali still moons over the Civil Service Examinations (CSE) he took three years back.
With the day breaking and the break-in of Ali’s erratic slumber, most of the dailies await to be greeted by Ali’s stale sighs, suffused with the annotations of what went wrong two years back.
Waking up to the English, Urdu, and Kashmiri greetings of all these dailies is Ali’s daily dealing. Yester blotches of blue ink unwashed, slouched on his table, flicking quickly through pages with unsettling haste, Ali yanks on the page with job advertisements — overwriting, underlining, and highlighting all the vacancies and posts as if affirming not to hum and haw at any opportunity coming by.
Routinely puckering with the same concoction of emotions, this affirming attitude was nothing new. Scribbling information on a notepad amassed from all the adverts till mid-day was a routine task. Sitting out on the iron balustrade of his balcony at noon with eyes peering at the skyline scrabbling for unfound answers in the waving clouds and soaring birds makes the other half of his day.
Critique of Pure Reason, which he was laureled with after winning an essay competition, was his resort to escapism. He would’ve it by his side—the last of his darlings, or perhaps a relic of his dreams.
Chin wagging with the neighbouring ladies, Ali’s mother had aired that every night before hitting the pillow, Ali reads the same book over and over. Perhaps baying the pent-up qualms in the guise of small talk of the fateful morning of June last year—when she had unintelligibly junked her son’s long kindled flambeau of existence lighting glee in the eyes of the ragpicker.
Critique of Pure Reason, always tucked away in his closet got saved as a splinter of solace for Ali, hence the last of his darlings, the relic of his dreams. Flustered in a flood of emotions, Ali’s first response was to run helter-skelter looking for the ragpicker only to know that his trove of philosophy books was at a far-off factory being read with a new fate. Ali had been away for two days collating an important dossier for a job interview. Returning to the unfurled mishap, Ali confined himself to his room for a week, stifling his family with his silence and leashed anger.
Times, when the student populace of Jammu and Kashmir are flocking into the rut of a handful of career avenues, an impertinent question regarding their proclivity arises. How practical and pragmatic does it sound that scholars are exponentially diving into not more than just three or four conventional career paths? Needless to mention of kinds being alluded to.
Is there a genuine disposition towards these professional choices, many wonder — or, are they just wrought to plop into the herd adducing the success stories of the formers? What’s the framework students stand on to decide about their careers? For a long, it’s believed, this has been an unattended lurking shadow, and people are mindlessly turning a blind eye.
The fact that Kashmir has been producing only a few select luminaries repeatedly in more or less the same spheres, that too long gaps after should serve enough food for thought.
Philosophy and Ali were like water to the ocean. With an uninhibited spark for philosophy, Ali had read everything from Confucius to Plato to Tao and on and on. Otherwise a timid lad, Ali would be the first one to partake in debates throughout his school and college years. He was the go-to person for anyone wanting to have a striking monologue written for an oration competition, or for a critical analysis of a literary piece. Much of Ali’s persona shone with the fountaining light of a philosopher. As much as he wanted to tune into the innate opera of philosophy within him, so much was he drawn away by the hum of CSE that had been looming large ever since he was a kid.
Ali was in grade 6 when all three daughters of his uncle got through the much-coveted CSE. Huge pomp and show followed that feat and also followed an unsatiated current of desires. Beguiled, Ali’s parents were no exception and fell in the line of desires. Desirous of hosting such glittering gathering when their son also cracks CSE, they drew the curtains of oblivion to what the son desires.
Ali was too young to even know the meaning of CSE but was being fed on the fantasies of a civil officer. While he was being lulled with the lullabies of becoming an officer, his parents called the shots on his part that he would pursue his graduation in Arts and Humanities. Complying with the popular fallacy that ‘Arts and Humanities’ is a walk in the park and that it would provide ample time for Ali to prepare for the exam and appear for it soon after completing his graduation.
Growing up, Ali came to realize his calling to philosophy and could not stop stoking the embers inside of him. Oval square face with pronounced profound eyes, Ali’s peculiar persona holds one’s sight either tenaciously or goes completely unnoticed. The uncanny placid expression and the slow fast gait make Ali look like a calm soul in a restless body. Throughout his time in school, he downed like an elixir, a plethora of books diverse in themes and content. More philosophical than anything. Wrung the nectar out of those books and soaked himself in.
Getting to college and exultant thinking about having philosophy as one of his subjects, Ali had a departure from reading to writing. Ali found himself ardently critiquing several essays, commenting on several philosophists, and drawing parallels between their belief systems. While many would slip away, only a couple of his peers would attend the philosophy class, and at times he would be the only one. Often his professor would not show up. All the things that Ali worked on were largely due to his own interests and in part to his annual project submissions.
While Ali was so invested in philosophy, his parents were busy engineering his future with the machine of their own dreams. Perhaps, his dreams with the machine of their own eyes. But Ali had found such a realm in the firmament of philosophy, that he was riding on the moon, rubbing against the stars.
While Ali was all aware of what he had fed on ever since he was in grade 6, he found himself in an atrocious dilemma. He lulled himself to sleep every night with the reverberations of the hum his parents harped on at dinner. He knew how his parents were so swayed by this customary routine of reminding their son of what the future shall hold for him. He consumed more reaffirmations, more unattuned knowledge, and tasted more of others’ success stories. At times, he would also see his father sneering about him spending more time reading books that were aberrated for him.
Ali knew it all and also knew the drive of philosophy that enraptured every bit of his existence. Whenever faced with prolonged spells of anxiety about the same, he would set himself right by writing down his favorite excerpts of all the books he had read — a defense mechanism that he would escape into.
Going by the roadmap designed by his parents for preparing for CSE throughout the term of his graduation, Ali was at the helm of hopes, aspirations and dreams that were not his own. He knew his parents were diminutive of the degree he was pursuing and they had asked him to enroll just for the sake of it and were unaware of Ali’s smoldering amour. Whenever at the study with a scatter of current affairs, general knowledge, history, polity, and much more, Ali would keep yanking himself out of the musings of the assignment he submitted, the book he has been reading, or his counteractive thoughts to popular beliefs. Toward the end of the day, Ali would be left feeling treacherous. Treacherous toward his time, his parents, his zeal, and of all towards himself.
Ali seemed to lose his sanity to this dire state of affairs, fixed in a disputing state about his existence. Unable to muster together the courage to reveal to his parents, his love affair with philosophy and his strong desire to pursue it further, he was now hatching plans on how to get it across to his parents. He was now in the final year of his degree and, per the script, was supposed to appear for CSE the following year. Knowing that the aspirants of CSE would get dropped or selected by the skin of one’s teeth, Ali’s parents had decided for him, that if not this year, he shall keep trying and reappear. Reassured that one fine day, Ali shall crack it, and hence was not a big deal for him to reappear as he was young.
The craze for civil services in Kashmir is astounding. After doctor and engineer, the pursuit of becoming a civil servant is engaging several students in a grueling coaching every year. But in this blind pursuit driven by “career glorification”, many students are losing their proactive calls and are being rendered redundant. Since the rate of absorption in these exams is very limited, many aspirants find themselves at the crossroads after the results. What’s further adding to the aspirants’ anxieties are the poor results from Kashmir.
In the recent CSE results declared by Jammu & Kashmir Public Service Commission, Kashmir performed poorly. Though the administrative service has historically not attracted Kashmir youth, the latest result is said to be one of the lowest performances of the Kashmir division in recent years.
Out of the 187 selected candidates, 90 candidates were selected in Open Merit, while the rest of the successful candidates fall under different reserved categories. Only 31 candidates from Kashmir made it to the finals and Ali wasn’t among them.
Unaware of his parents’ planning, Ali was still busy hatching the plans, having dismissed a number of them already. Quite sure of not making it through, Ali finally decided that he would sit for the exam. In his head, he thought that his parents would be naturally disappointed in him for not faring well and would make peace with the fact that CSE is not his cup of tea. Consequentially, Ali thought of budging with his prospect of philosophy and showing his parents how well he could do in it. He wanted something substantial to present to his parents that could drive them away from the melancholy of CSE.
To Ali’s mind, getting a funded research scholarship from a well-ranked university abroad would elate his parents, and they would concede, though he was not too interested in moving so far to pursue his interest. He wanted to fuel his passion for philosophy by living in his homeland and doing some pioneering work in line with his culture and heritage. Nonetheless, his higher motive had now become to appease his parents.
It was the day of CSE, and Ali went for the exam after his mother performed all the credulous utopian rituals for abating all that could go wrong. Unscripted, all went wrong. Ali flunked the exams big time. Back home, there was a breeze of anticipation about how good he must have done. The house was reeking of burnt chilies and sacred rue so that any evil eye would choke and ward off, choking Ali as well as he returned.
As Ali looked at his parents, whose gaze was fixated on him, waiting to hear the words of glory, he went mute. The shine of hope gleaming in his parent’s eyes pained him deeply. Waiting for his parents to understand the circumstances without him having to speak, Ali as if hypnotized kept staring at his parents. Perhaps, he felt that they too would read the language of his eyes. After a short, deep, and screeching silence, all Ali could utter was ‘Mmm Hmm’ moving his head in negation from side to side. The elicited response of his parents was ‘Ah, it’s okay… not at all a problem’.
This response was no less than an unprecedented astonishment to Ali. He could not fathom that his parents were not disappointed in him and even if they were, it was not even an iota of what he had imagined. He was curtained about the reason behind such a mild reaction. This was the same day that he was going to get the outcome of the research scholarship test. Deep down, he had been sure he will be getting his hands on the scholarship.
While Ali could not contain the joy of not seeing his parents that disappointed, in the fit of the moment, he decided to brush aside the scenario with the news of his scholarship. He assumed that the stage was set perfectly. Quickly jumping to his feet with excitement surprising his parents, he blurted out that he has a funded research scholarship in Philosophy at a great university abroad. Ali departing from the surprise, sent his parents into one, not necessarily a pleasant one.
Unable to make anything out of his words, Ali’s parents had an expression that yearned for details. Things, Ali had never revealed to his parents were now at their disposal. He could not believe the moment, could not believe that he can talk about philosophy to his parents, could not believe his dream becoming a voice. Thus, began Ali’s tracing of all the anecdotes. He told his parents of his long-found love.
After Ali was done with his long-awaited monologue, he found his parents cloaked in different emotions altogether. Different from what he had imagined. Ali had missed the flashing change of emotions and expressions because he was too lost in his world, delivering a monologue. No sooner Ali had realised the intensity and gravitas of the scene, his parents unleashed.
Ali not faring well in the exam was immediately attributed to his frivolous love of philosophy. He was hurled with jeers for being deceptive. He could no longer keep his calm and let his long-held rant lose. Ali was furious about not knowing what and when his parents decide about the life that he was living. He felt cramped that his parents had made peace with him reappearing for the CSE without even consulting him. After a distasteful and disdainful altercation, Ali’s parents asked for his scholarship letter. Enraged Ali, quickly turned to his phone, and opened the mail inbox, only to arrest himself in debilitation. Ali had not gotten the scholarship. His only laxity was the grade of A+.
The rotten system of marks, grades, and merit scarred Ali’s unsurpassable pool of creativity. He was benumbed while presenting a garland of reassurance to his parents that they were right in engineering his dreams with their eyes. Ali was not able to decide what he should be angry about, it was not his great aspiration to study abroad but was his escape.
Ali’s parents were proven right but in the wrong way. They were concerned about his future and stability but compromising on his peace and solace. While plunged into himself roving his boat hysterically through the tides of emotions, his parents were busy putting together the bits and pieces of him to sit in the CSE next year. In their mind, that was the only right way to set their son’s future right, the future that no one knows, the future that no one has seen, and the present that is slipping away like sand from the fist.
Two years have passed, and Ali is still not an officer after two failed attempts. He lost his father to cardiac arrest a month back, but has long forgotten to live. Caught in Kashmir’s career problem, Ali has already lost his call.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.