This boy (let’s call him Heshan) is a brilliant student. He’s almost 18 now and will sit for Advanced Level exams next year. His parents want him to be a doctor. He plays the cello, goes for tennis classes, and spends his waking hours studying hard so that he can qualify for medical college from Colombo, always a tough proposition.
No one has asked him what he wants to be in life. His parents want him to be a doctor.
His father failed to get into medical college by just one point. Now he’s a successful businessman who frequently goes abroad and is able to afford a lavish lifestyle for his family. But there’s nothing like being a doctor, right?
He’s facing his Grade 8 Royal School music exam in March. He showed every sign of being a brilliant musician all along the way, but he’s struggling now and his teacher is despairing, with serious doubts whether he can pass this very tough exam.
If he’s despairing, no one wants to know. His parents want him to succeed according to their vision, and there’s no place for despair in that.
And why shouldn’t he despair? Despair and fatigue are two very different conditions, one more to do with the mind, while the other can be more physical. But at some point both merge into one self-consuming quality. This boy despairs because he’s fatigued, and the worst part is that there’s no one he can talk to about it.
He doesn’t even have a girl friend because, adding to his misfortunes, his parents are extremely conservative. He’s rarely allowed to parties and when he does attend one, his mother waits in the car park and keeps phoning him constantly. We are talking about a young man who will be eligible to get married, drive a car, pilot an aircraft and do so many of the great and wonderful things that adolescents keep dreaming of.
A typical day in Heshan’s life is tough – school, tuition, homework till past midnight, and not enough sleep. The worst is Wednesday, when he has tuition classes after school from 2.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m., covering five subjects. And then, after dinner, he must tackle the day’s homework, and it’s usually around one am when he goes to sleep. But the next day, he has tennis lessons, which start at five thirty, and his mother wakes him up at four in the morning.
This young man faces a strenuous tennis lesson after a murderous day of studies and only three hours of sleep, and he must face another of school. And then, there is the weekly music lesson. At this level, with the terrifying Grade 8 exams looming, he should be practising a minimum of an hour a day. If he has any dreams of playing at concert level, he must practice at least two hours a day.
But he no longer has the heart for it, even if he had the time and the energy. Heshan is so tired. Failing to get into medical college will be much worse than failing to pass Royal School music exams. So he’s pushing himself beyond acceptable limits, and eats from restaurants often as he doesn’t have time for home meals, going to classes with sauce and pastry crumbs on his clothes.
Sooner or later, he could end up with a serious health problem.
It used to be different. When Heshan started learning music, his mother truly appreciated his talent. His teacher called him a prodigy.
But priorities change with time. Music? Musicians don’t get to do channel service. Besides, the son must make up for his father’s failure, even if he becomes a nervous wreck and an indifferent doctor. Unfortunately, neither parent can see that Heshan has the talent to be a concert musician. The number of Sri Lankan concert musicians known internationally can be counted on one hand. There is a crying need for one, two, five, ten, or a hundred more. The number of doctors a country has is an indicator of basic development. The number of concert musicians, on the other hand, an indicator of a more sophisticated level of cultural development. They have understood that in places like China, South Korea, and Japan. There, parents who spot this kind of talent would say: “We have the money to support you. Become a world class musician and make us proud. “ But this is Sri Lanka.
Heshan isn’t going to be a concert musician. He won’t do very well at the Royal School exams, but he’ll pass. Then it will be medical college, and goodbye to music. He will join society as a doctor, able to make money (never mind he’s going to inherit lots of it anyway. Money’s never enough) aesthetically dulled, and full of resentments. He’ll resent that he was never allowed the time to be young. These are the kind of doctors who won’t leave the nurses alone.
Parents should not make children pay for their failures. But who’s going to convince them otherwise?