“Follow the money.” The advice had become something of a catchphrase among journalists since it was popularized in the mid-’70s and reminded us of our unspoken commitment to hold those in power accountable. But when Abbaji, cross-legged in his shalwar kameez and glued to the television that seemed hardwired to play only one channel (Al Jazeera), said it during a Sunday evening chai session, he was, in a thick Indian accent that didn’t particularly hint at “All the President’s Men”, telling me to make more money in another profession than I was on my skimpy entry-level journalist salary.
Of course, we brown folk already knew this: the only socially acceptable and viable career paths were in STEM. Be an engineer, doctor, pharmacist, or — worst-case scenario — business(wo)man or lawyer, if you must.
Government jobs, non-profit work (unless it is taken up as a hobby, then it serves as a perfect accessory to embellish your corporate job and flaunt what a good person are. In this case, Rita aunty will be “so proud of you, beta.”), skill-based professions are all for the lower class and not worthy of the perfunctory praise that seems to swash inside gossip mouths before lodging behind their teeth like sticky candy.
On a hot summer Sunday morning, cicadas still singing through the kitchen windows propped to waft out the strong smell of parathas, my mother said between sips of chai, “She’s in business, but did you know she finished two years of medical school?” As if the real achievement were two years of half-assed medical school instead of the successful business career a brown girl chose to carve out for herself in a field of men.
“She’s in business, but did you know she finished two years of medical school?”
Back on the sofa, Abbaji sitting cross-legged still, was telling me to switch career paths to something more lucrative, because “You can’t donate to charities and really make a difference if you’re not someone like Steve Jobs.” “While you’re doing this journalism — or whatever it is you call it — people like Gates and Jobs have the money to build schools in Kashmir.”
I wouldn’t dare suggest that Jobs was also a dropout who followed his heart and the only reason he knew about the Kashmiri strife was because of journalists covering it in the news cycle that he followed like it was his true religion.
If someone asked the both of us — him, an immigrant who had to support a growing family thrown in the throngs of American capitalist society, and me, a second-generation granddaughter granted the luxury of choice and strong opinion— why we chose our careers, he would say, “Because I had to.” “To be happy,” I would respond.
So, whose is the real moral imperative?