It's the proverbial question that's popped to you right through life - at age 3, in kindergarten, middle school, high school and then college. It comes barbed with the certainty that the asker knows you have no real clue, or rather, that you're delusional.
Why else do we have ads on national tv that show six-year-olds professing to want to be beauty queens, astronauts or engineers, followed by a discreet message to parents: what stopped your dreams was a little more than lack-of-talent - it was money/opportunity. Make sure that doesn't happen to your kids. It’s a familiar tale, all through time – remember the much-thumbed-through Great Expectations?
When is it that we forget that ‘what we want to be when we grow up’ is not necessarily definable in terms of a career?
I don't really remember what I wanted to be always. When I read Anne Frank's diary, I wanted to be a famous writer, but not necessarily a dead one. Although I promised my then diary, that I would never spill the beans on who I kissed. Then I wanted to be a open-heart surgeon or a neurosurgeon, or maybe both. I was reasonably good at math, but squeamish when it came to blood, but I'd read a major article in that monthly bible of the bourgeois - the Reader's Digest -about how rare it was to find a doctor like that (at least then it was!) and how I would be saving so many countless lives. I remember I quite felt like Joan of Arc as I told my dad about my chosen profession. In college, of course, I wanted to be a rebel, but telling it like it is, is hardly the hallmark of a good rebel. So I grunted in response to the question, sometimes quoting existentialists such as Sartre to say 'I want to be me'.
During my masters, I chose to major in documentary film-making, because well everyone else had chosen commercial cinema, and well, like, how commercial was that, huh? It was all about comrade days, khadi-hued and marijuana flavoured. I worked on six films, four saw the light of the day, if 4:00 am telecasts on Doordarshan can be called day-time prime time. I gave it my best, than I gave it all up for love and moved to the city where Nino's Dad lived, because well, I wanted to be 'whole and happy', and a broken heart is a lousy excuse of a career.
So what am I doing now that I'm grown up? Well, I write, which I kinda knew I always would in some form or the other, and I'm a mother. That last bit, I did not expect, nor did I hold it in the same esteem, as say, neurosurgeon. Of course, I now know better. I am also happy.
I trudged along with life, fighting the small battles, giving in gently to the big ones, shaping it as much as it shaped me. A few milestones achieved, a few that slipped by and a few that made way for a few others I did not anticipate.
Some guys, aren't however, willing to let life or destiny or pure laziness get in the way. Sean Aiken has chosen to try 52 careers in 52 weeks, all because his dad asked him to choose 'a career he felt passionate about'. So he's tried his hand at being 'bungee-jump operator to talk-show intern to snowshoe guide to florist to yoga instructor to dairy farmer (the stinky job). Marketer, caregiver, framer, talent broker, storekeeper, brewmaster, cancer fund-raiser, bartender, exterminator. He hasn’t been a butcher, but he’s been a baker and a pizza maker. Stock trader. Hollywood producer. Advertising exec. Fashion buyer. Firefighter, Air Force recruit, and cowboy.' He hasn't found his passion for life yet, but he's sure made some money for a few charities. Read more about him here.
I wonder if Sean represents what is referred to as the ‘now generation’, whether he represents me. I've quite a few passions - words, art, music, food - but none drive me, intensely, separately. All of these, jointly define me, mingling and merging with the other roles that have also come to be a passion of sorts. Are we more likely to answer the 'so, what do you want to be question' by saying one of these: Rich or Happy?. And does that splinch us into two categories - the end-means-more ones and the-journey-means-more others? And what about wanting them both – aren’t they interchangeable?
I’m glad no one asks me that question these days. But I did pop it to Nino the other day, despite promising myself I would never ever ask him the loaded wish that it is. I mean I want him to be successful, and happy, and a good human being, and a non-chauvinistic male, and a well-read person, and kind, and gentle and a good singer, someone who can cook with a smile, has great taste in music, films, knows his art from the trends… But of course, I’m a democratic parent, I would never tell him about my great expectations!
‘So baby, what do want to be when you grow up?’
He’s still stubbornly weeding out the imaginary plants in the moneyplant pot.
‘You know, like mumma is a journalist, S aunty is an artist, Foi (bua) is a designer, Maharaj is a cook….’ I added what I thought were his coolest professions to the list - driver, mechanic, fireman, engine-driver.
Met with unrelenting silence, I give up thinking I’m not getting through, that he’s not yet looking at role-playing as keenly as a choice-making procedure yet.
‘Maare Karanbhai jetla thavu che.’ Roughly translated into, ‘I want be as old as, or like, Karan bhai.’
Karan is Nino’s Dad’s nephew. He is also six years old, has a big bike and runs faster.
3 hours ago