29th August 2008

If you are from a low-income family and a student of humanities with high aspirations, then you are bound to hit some major roadblocks in India. Something happened on 29th August 2008 which made this deeply entrenched in my mind. Those who know this, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture (RMIC), Golpark offers a 1 lakh rupee fellowship every year to a few students who have successfully been selected for any university abroad. There is no subject restrictions, or at least there weren’t back then. At the time I applied for the fellowship in March-April 2008, I was already holding unconditional offers for MA Archaeology from 6 major UK universities. This was even before I completed my final BA exam, so an unconditional offer was quite something, and was beyond my expectation. My father asked me to apply for this fellowship as it would help us fund the airfare and pay the deposit and advance for the University accommodation. I applied for the fellowship and waited until the end of August for a decision. In the meantime, I had accepted the offer from the University of Exeter.

On 29th August 2008, my father and I went to RMIC Golpark to ask the concerned monk whether I have been selected. He told my dad and me that I wasn’t selected. Now if he only stopped there, it would have been fine. I understand the competition of these are intense and of course, there is over 50% probability of not getting selected at all. This I was prepared for and had already made backup fund arrangements through education loans.

But I was not ready for what the monk said next. He started telling my dad off in front of me. He accused him of misguiding me and “letting me” follow my fool’s errand of studying archaeology abroad. He predicted that I would not even get a job after the course, and he clearly told my dad that the RMIC doesn’t fund people who will be potentially unemployed after their courses. He told my dad that he should have guided me better and make me do an MBA, or pursue an IT or even an architecture degree. He made it clear that day that the only reason I did not get selected despite putting in a strong application was that he and the panel thought that my prospective MA degree from one of the top Archaeology departments in the UK wasn’t employable.

Fast forward to March 2012. I already held two fully funded unconditional offers of PhD in Archaeology, one from UCLA and the other from Exeter. I had not yet decided which one to accept. Again the RMIC fellowship advertisement had come out, and I was adamant that after the humiliation that my dad and I had to go through the last time, I wouldn’t apply for that, even if it would help fund the airfare. But my dad pressed me and cajoled me into applying for it, and I told him he needed to be prepared for another round of humiliation. But things were different this time. There was a different monk in charge and he made sure to include people from the humanities in the panel of experts. I was interviewed, something I wasn’t even given an opportunity for, back in 2008.

On 29th August 2012, I collected the cheque for the fellowship from the RMIC office. It was a sweet victory and 29th August has since then been etched into my mind for these two experiences, one for the humiliation, and another for being able to prove myself.

If you are a humanities student in India, do not stop short of dreaming big. You can reach the skies and beyond, by being honest, and by persevering for perfection every single day. No one has the right to tell you, your dream doesn’t matter, or your dream will make you unemployable. People will try to break you. They will try to make you go with the herd, but you do not have to. Be bold, dream big and be different, and make it happen!

Featured Photo from the University of Exeter.

Published by

Tathagata Neogi

Dr Tathagata Neogi is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Leader of Immersive Trails, a purpose-driven company based out of Kolkata, India that converts ethical, in-depth research into immersive experiences. Tathagata is a vocal advocate of empathic, ethical, community focused business practices.

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