There is a scene in 3 Idiots where newly born R.Madhavan is in his crib and his dad proudly proclaims ‘Mera beta engineer banega’. Though I am not sure about the rest of the movie,I think this particular part is pretty close to reality. If you were born in one of the IIT-bearing cities of India or cities like Kota, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I was  born in one such city and was a part of the majority that, accidently or by divine intervention of Lord Vishwakarma, lands in an engineering college.

Not that I wanted to be an engineer. In fact I tried really hard not to become one – which shouldn’t have been too difficult considering my hatred for mathematics. You see, me and mathematics share a yin/yang, team anna/non-team anna  or Sunny Deol/Balwant Rai kind of a relationship. Still we managed to stay together till class 10th like an unhappily married couple considering divorce. When I moved to Class 11th, I had the option to say ‘Talaq x 3’ and choose between Commerce stream and Science stream. The choice was easily made – Commerce had Maths plus Accounts(another subject that involves numbers) – opting for it would been like playing a villain in a Bobby Deol movie where Bobby Deol has a double role. So I decided to go for Science. To counter the side-effects of Mathematics, I chose Biology as my fifth subject(thus getting access to a wonderful lab that had a reverse-Haryana-sex-ratio and photosynthesis lamps that would keep you warm in freezing Kanpur winters).

Now in Kanpur, you don’t take the science stream unless you want to be an Engineer or a Doctor. In my case, I could have been either. So to narrow my career choices, my neighbors and our numerous family friends decided that I join something known as IIT-JEE classes. I, being the clueless teenager(something I still am), fell prey to the cruel will of society and enrolled in one such class. It was and is, one of the worst decisions I ever took.

IIT-JEE classes are a one-of-a-kind experience. Imagine a marriage hall filled with benches. A central surveillance system to monitor students during classes and tests. A line of Four hundred(plus) students. Four hundred(plus) students, ready to trample each other to get a bench in the front row(I wasn’t a part of this race). Classes that started at 2 in the afternoon and went up to 11 in the night. Classes on weekends, weekdays and National Holidays. Tests, assignments, more tests, more assignments. It was a crazy time. Of course, all this wasn’t meant for me.

The only thing that I learnt from these classes was that I sucked at more things than Mathematics.

I gave up on these classes soon. It is easier to quit when you are not getting paid for doing something. I gave my class 12th examination and scored more marks in Biology than Mathematics. The next logical thing was to drop an year.

Don’t be surprised. That was a time when dropping an year to prepare for IIT-JEE was in fashion. So much so that I knew a few people who had been dropping an year, every year, trying to get into IIT-JEE. Most never reached beyond the ‘Pre-qualified’ tag. I didn’t even make it to that.

You see, I hadn’t learned my lesson. I still kept fighting a losing battle with mathematics.After that year, I appeared for all possible examinations – Engineering, Architecture, Medical entrance. I even went to the Delhi University, seeking admission in an English Literature course(I missed the first list at Hindu by 1%). I wasn’t cool enough for Delhi anyway. By the time the second list arrived, I was in Nagpur trying to wriggle into an engineering college. I eventually got into one and after a few more battles with Mathematics, I graduated as an Industrial Engineer.

The point is that in India, an Engineer is one of the coveted species. They(we) keep the marriage market active(you see, Doctors usually marry doctors, Engineers will mostly marry anything). They keep Manmohan Singh happy. Give them a few malls and pubs and Engineers will settle in any city you want. They’ll also leave the country for a few years and then come back and buy a nice house and a car with their ‘on-site’ savings. It is a nice scheme of things with an ‘Engineer’ at its center.

But all that is a thing of the past.

Earlier this month, some of the IIMs announced that they’ll be awarding ‘grace’ marks to girls and non-engineering students. Their argument, if you believe Times of India, is:

‘For years, every class at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) was boringly uniform. Students were mostly boys, with only a sprinkling of the other sex. In class, these young men thought similarly, used identical logic and took decisions that were alike, for they were all hardwired to behave in a certain fashion at the engineering campuses they came from.’

Now while I support IIMs on the ‘MOAR GIRLS’ part, I am a bit skeptical about the ‘Non-engineer’ bit. Now I understand how America felt when they downgraded her to AA+. I hope the IIMs don’t start hanging placards saying ‘Boys and Engineers not allowed’ on their gates. In fact, I am not even sure what they mean by ‘Non-engineers’. Most engineers produced in India are Non-engineers anyway.  The argument that they are hard-wired to behave in a certain fashion is mildly confusing. Confusing because most people who clear the CAT are hard-wired to clear the CAT. They are hard-wired to clear to the GDs, hard-wired to behave themselves in personal interviews. We are a hard-wired generation. What to do?

Thanks to this move, the IIMs have successfully quashed the dowry-benchmarking-abilities of the engineering degree. Not only that, they’ve labeled engineers as this mob that thinks similarly and behaves similarly. They have also, I feel, shifted the onus of encouraging creative thinking from themselves to under-graduate institutions(a fancier term for college). They have somehow indicated that they’ll not bother to re-wire a hard-wired brain and instead prefer pre-non-hard-wired cerebrums.

I sincerely wish the IIMs achieve what they are trying to achieve with this. I hope diverse non-male non-engineer people from diverse backgrounds appear for CAT and qualify for IIMs. I hope they bring non-hard-wired ideas to the table, behave in unique ways and achieve true Brownian properties in thoughts, behavior and ideas.

If you are a male, engineering student contemplating a sex-change/fake B.A degree, I suggest you try for some other management college which is more MNS-like in its approach and still has some affection left for engineers. And if you are a ‘female’ engineering student rooting for the IIMs, well, something is better than nothing. All the best for CAT 2011. May the grace be with you!

(Psst. Here is Pagal Patrakar’s take on the issue)