tanaypratap's letters

Terrorism or Tourism?

Published 3 months ago • 4 min read

Have you watched the recent movie 12th Fail?

There's this scene in that movie where the protagonist, Manoj Sharma writes an essay on "Terrorism in India" in his UPSC Mains paper. He is confident about his chances after the exam because the topic was familiar and he had also been appreciated for the same earlier in his tuition classes.

But the tables turn when a friend makes him realize that the topic wasn't "Terrorism in India" but "Tourism in India". I loved this entire scene; how they built the energy up and then the drop when Manoj realizes his mistake and falls on the stairs.

There's one reason why this scene personally hit me much more than any other scene. As good as the movie and its intentions are, this scene is a representation of how this movie might affect the youth of the country.

To explain my point, let me bore you with some of the characters and details.

the 4 "heroes"

12th Fail is a typical hero's journey, where the hero goes through ups and downs and finally comes out victorious. And the main hero of 12th Fail is Manoj Sharma, a student from Chambal, Madhya Pradesh.

He did not have an affluent background or the resources to complete a proper education, let alone prepare for one of the toughest exams in the country. But what he did have were the ability to work extremely hard and dedication towards his goal. He works in an Atta Chakki, studies at night - even under the street lamp - and finally clears IPS in his 4th attempt.

The next hero in the movie is Shraddha Joshi, a medical student who turned to UPSC to bring a change to the system. She has an affluent background and is diligent enough to make it to the position of Deputy Collector by clearing the PCS exam.

Next, we have Pritam Pandey, the person who actually brings Manoj Sharma to New Delhi and helps him out with literally everything in the initial days. Pritam is shown to be taking things lightly, and that's evident in his exam results. He is unsuccessful in all his attempts, yet he does end up becoming a journalist.

Finally, we have Gauri Bhaiya, the one who couldn't clear the UPSC exam in 6 attempts and ended up opening a tea stall.

4 heroes and 4 completely different outcomes.

The movie ends up showing a success ratio of 1 out of 4. Out of every 4 UPSC aspirants, one Manoj clears the exam. And this does make us feel good about our chances.

However, it is far from the ground reality. Only one out of 615 students who take the UPSC exam can manage to clear it.

Let me put that in perspective for you.

1 out of 4

1 out of 615

This is where I strongly feel that the topic of "tourism" has been misunderstood as "terrorism" as shown in the movie. We might get inspired by Manoj's story, after all, who doesn't like a hero's journey? And we all think of ourselves as the heroes of our lives. That does not mean that we will make career decisions based on an exception, not the norm.

The norm is that students attempt UPSC for years, fail, and end up like Pritam or Gauri Bhaiya, or even worse.

The missing conversation around privilege

Another major piece that I found the movie to have misrepresented is the role that privilege plays in one's life. Yes, Manoj belonged to a poor background, he did not have the required resources and had to support his family along with his preparations.

But how many Manojs in this country get a random stranger to take them to New Delhi, and start their UPSC journey? How many Gauri Bhaiyas leave their room, allow a Manoj to stay there, and even support his family financially so that the latter can prepare? Again, how many UPSC aspirants get a 1:1 with a previous topper, even for 10 minutes?

There is a privilege in every success story, we choose to avoid looking at it. Or we turn the lens in such a direction that the privileges land on our blind spot.

Let me take my example. I was born and brought up in Bokaro, Jharkhand, a town many of you might not have heard of. My parents did not know English, and I had to take an educational loan for my engineering degree. I had to travel in sleeper trains for 3 days to return to my home. Despite that, I ended up at Microsoft and now run my funded startup. Hero's journey, isn't it?

Now let's turn the lens. I studied in a private school that had computer facilities in the early 2000s. That was a rarity even for cities back then. My parents were educated and gave immense importance to my education. I studied engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology, one of the top 50 colleges of the country, the one where Satya Nadella studied too.

Doesn't seem so much of a hero's journey now, does it? Because the privilege is visible to you.

the ground truth

"About 42.3 percent of graduates are struggling to find work in India..."

We watch inspirational movies in our comfortable high-rises and home theatres and feel that everything is fine with our country. Or even if it isn't, there is a system where anyone from any background gets a fair chance to succeed.

But is the chance fair? What about the privileges at play? What about the data? What about the ones who do not clear the exams?

We cannot think of one-in-a-million success stories as the norm, or the success of our country. That's a misrepresentation. And that's the "tourism" we think of as "terrorism".

moral of the story

So the one takeaway that I want you to take from this newsletter is that go, watch the movie (because it is genuinely a great piece of work) but if you are inspired to make a career decision based on what it shows, make sure you look at the statistics, and the privileges.

till next time

This might have become a slightly heavy issue, but I did feel that this perspective of the movie needed to be put out there. I hope you can understand the viewpoint I have tried to explain, and I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Please share what you think about the movie by replying to this email, and don't forget to subscribe and share it with anyone who may need it.

tanaypratap's letters

I write about mentorship, education, tech, career, and startups.

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