Today, the news broke that Sundar Pichai has become the new CEO of Google, following a major company reshuffle which will see one of the world’s most iconic websites become a subsidiary group under Alphabet Inc. It is a fantastic achievement and one which fills me with so much inspiration to see Pichai join a list of other Indian-born CEOs heading up influential tech companies.
It reminded me of a conversation I had had with my family at the weekend about careers, Higher Education and who had studied what at university. To cut a long story short, there’s basically a lot of engineers, lawyers and people working in finance – it’s a nasty stereotype of South Asians which I abhor but many of us grow up being ushered into such fields for a plethora of reasons. Some range from wanting to secure jobs with financial stability to going into a field which an older generation is familiar with and obtaining a job title which will garner respect within certain families/social circles to other reasons I may not ever know.
After about 20 minutes into the conversation, I realised that I was the only person in my family (in the UK) who holds a degree in Literature, which is strange considering that I come from a family which has had four generations of writers. I am always surprised to see South Asians sneer at those who study Literature, the Arts, Humanities or Design. We come from a heritage which is steeped in art, creativity, dance, music and literature that has shaped the variety of cultures within the sub-continent. Why would we choose to shun it purely because it won’t make us millionaires?
In 2013, the British creative industry created over one million jobs
Even when I was studying at university, I was one of a handful of Asians who were doing the same degree as me, and it was funny (and quite sad) to see how similar our family experiences were. I remember the embarrassment that my family felt whenever someone asked them about my degree and what kind of job I’d end up in. I remember the anger I felt when I said that I didn’t want to become a lawyer. I remember the snide comments made by my extended family who said that I’d never have a ‘proper job in the City.’ And I remember the shame my family felt when I decided to become a journalist and the confusion when I became an entreprener. But I will always remember the support that they gave me regardless of whatever I chose to become.
In all honesty, the arts and creativity are not renowned for producing CEOs and thought leaders who will implement change on a large scale in the way that tech products do. Despite this, in 2013, the British creative industry was responsible for creating over one million jobs and exported £17.9 billion’s worth of services across the world. Now, I don’t know about you, but that is a heck of a lot of jobs and money being generated which stems solely from creative people who have supplemented their talents with technical knowledge.
Artists, musicians, writers and those who work within creative fields are given bad press – cutting off ears, being alcoholics, hooked on drugs and generally not being mega successful in their lifetime. The shroud surrounding creative South Asians is one which has been consistently hemmed and re-adjusted in favour of careers with money and prestige attached to them. For practical reasons, I can understand why more people (regardless of race) are sucked into careers which will make them big money fast – after all we live in a society which works hard, plays harder and lives fast. And in order for us to maintain such a lifestyle, we need sacks of money.
“I come from a part of the world where
Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Pritam
and Anish Kapoor
Started life and
Sowed seeds of creativity,
So that we could see see the beauty of life in their work.
I live in a part of the world where
I wonder why we have no modern-day Pritams,
Tagores and Rumis.
I sit and for the life of me
Can’t work out why.” ~ Avid Scribbler; Chayya Syal
It is borderline hurtful to see various South Asians (of different generations) dismiss creativity as a folly and something which is not important. Have we truly forgotten some of the most distinguished South Asian writers and artists whose work changed the hearts and minds of people across the globe and throughout time?
I believe that in our haste to hit it big time, we have let something inside of us wither away and die – we hail from a piece of land mass which produced Amrita Pritam, Rabindranath Tagore, Anish Kapoor and other incredibly talented South Asian creatives. That talent continues to run in our families, our communities and through our veins as we make our lives in the Diaspora and various motherlands. Creativity is as natural as breathing, yet, we behave as though it were a strait jacket depriving us of life and constricting us from being free to express our inner thoughts and feelings.