An Open Letter to Every Pretentious Science Kid
When I tell people that for the next two years of my academic life I have chosen to study the seemingly bizarre combination of English, History, Psychology, Biology and Math (a rare occurrence in the Indian sub-continent), I invariably am bound to end up making the following clarifications. No, I am not crazy, neither an idiot, nor am I confused. I am, however, someone who has been taught from the youngest of ages that it is either science or humanities. And I am someone who despite being told so, proudly claim that my passion for both is equal and unwavering.
Clearly, subtle introductions have never quite been my forte.
Ever since I have found myself stuck somewhere right in the middle of this constant war of science versus humanities, the amount of interestingly hostile interactions I have with people has increased manyfold, one of which I would like to share. Backtrack to a few months back, on the warm autumnal morning of my first ever Biology Lab practical exam, and I, someone who is almost always grouped with the humanities students, find myself in room full of hardcore Physics, Chemistry, Biology kids. Amidst some hardcore Physics, Chemistry, Biology conversation they’re having on their own, I hear a girl pompously declare, “Waise ye jo humanities section ke bacche hain, unmein se ek do hi hain jinka future bright hai (translation: among the section of the students who wish to pursue humanities, there’s hardly one or two who have a bright future).” No adjective seems adequate to convey the essence of the pretentiousness and entitlement in her intonation. I coughed then, making my unwelcomed presence known, but stayed silent as she awkwardly moved on to discuss in excruciating detail the transverse section of mammalian pancreas.
Made by Esther Larisa David
In the space-time continuum of appropriate conversation, silence has it’s own time and place. Satrang is never one of them. So here’s an open letter to every pretentious science kid who has ever condescendingly talked of the humanities.
Dear pretentious science kid,
Do not mistake my eagerness to make a point with any intent to offend.
I assume that as an evidently avid fanatic of science you are aware of the simple notion that science is about facts, data, statistics. Allow me to cite data from the Planning Commission which states that every year about 5.4 million Indian engineers are enrolled in undergraduate education only about a fourth of which graduate. Not to forget, only about 20% of these graduates are employable in what society would deem “respectable jobs”. You wanted facts? Data? Statistics? How’s that for quantification and a bright future.
Another fact, one that is so much a part of our reality that we don’t even need statistics to back up is that the majority of the students who opt for the sciences in 11th, do so either because of parental pressure, societal pressure or because they want to keep their “avenues open”. I fail to understand how you perceive the future of a dedicated, willing humanities student as less bright than a doctor forced into the profession who wears the stethoscope around his neck like a noose to symbolize the death of his dreams.
As opposed to that, I can proudly declare that I go to class everyday with a bunch of passionate intellectuals aspiring to be lawyers, civil servants, psychologists, politicians, artists, journalists. In a world that is so obsessed with everything that is mainstream, aspiring to be something like a journalist or artist or politician takes courage, so maybe, just maybe you should give us a little credit.
As for the question that is thrown around in rhetoric, “Humanities mein padhne ko bhi kya hota hai? (translation: is there even anything to study in the Humanities?” I take offence, I have plethora of things to offer in our defense. We study political ideologies that existed before your great great great grandfather was born. Speaking of great great great grandfathers, we study the very history that has led up to your very entitled existence at this very point in time. Through linguistics, we have a better understanding of language, without which you would be incapable of comprehending my inked rage this moment. As students of psychology, we study aspects of behaviour, cognition, the very memory you use to cram your Nootan Physics book.
And if you think learning all the stages to the Citric Acid Cycle is the only thing that can classify as “difficult” then try learning all the events leading up to and of the First World War, on the eastern front, on the western front and at sea, in chronological order along with all the terms of the Treaty of Versailles including all of Germany’s territorial losses and imposed military sanctions and maybe then we can have this conversation. Trust me, I’ve done both.
Thing is, I can go on and on all day. But I am not going to. I repeat, do not mistake my eagerness to make a point with any intent to offend. No, I do not believe that the humanities are better than the sciences or that studying the former will guarantee you a “bright future”. Because one, that would be a foolish, inaccurate implication and secondly, because I’d be doing the same exact thing that you are doing, what millions of people all over the world are doing, every time an Arts degree is deemed lesser than a Bachelor of Science without any context of content, course and college.
This war of science versus humanities persists out of a cobweb of unnecessary differences that we have not only woven to begin with but also gotten too caught up in. No wonder, I’m so afraid of spiders. With Donald Trump’s win of the US Presidential elections, the existence of ISIS and people who put elaichi in biryani, science versus humanities is not a war we need. This notion of science or humanities has been drilled into our brains to such an extent that the idea of science and humanities seems bizarre to us and we miss the obvious signs that are indicative of just how interdisciplinary and interdependent they really are. Practicing medicine is not an application of science, it is an application of ethical science, ethics which is an established branch of Philosophy, which is, you guessed it, a humanities subject. The sciences and humanities are just two different means of studying the same world. Be it theoretical physics or history, are we not, in essence, just studying time?
It is my firm belief that the sciences and the humanities have their own equal role to play, in the world and in each other, that is integral for the wholesome understanding of our complex existence. It is imperative that this equilibrium of roles is respected and most importantly, maintained.
After all, you science kids would know, there is no correct reaction without balance.
the science and humanities kid who refuses to watch her dreams of pursuing both be reduced to collateral damage in this war.
Aditi Wakhlu, The First Of Her Name, Breaker of Societal Norms, Queen of Sarcasm, Master of Puns, etymology freak, debater, videographer, violinist. This spoken-word-fanatic, who is an unusual combination of a lazy perfectionist, has a wonderfully appeasing sense of aesthetics. Her sense of political correctness and taste in music is in its most literal sense of the term, award-worthy.
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