This article was written by Ayush Puri of Campus Law Center, Delhi. This is being republished from A First Taste of Law archives.
Stumbling upon law as a career prospect dawned upon me quite unconventionally.
It was a decision that no one expected me to take especially after graduating in science. Most people were shocked by the path I had chosen. But my experience so far tells me that this decision might turn out to be a masterstroke. In this day and age of competition for college seats, jobs and pay packages, I like to hold my own view and I believe, this makes my story all the more riveting.
I belong to a typical middle-class Punjabi family. We are known to have large hearts but not so much known to have a strong study oriented approach to a career. All bread earners in my family have either been into business or jobs and nobody has ever pursued any degree except for a B. Com. or a B.A., But my approach has always been different. Being an adolescent with limitless dreams, I wanted to become a multi-millionaire scientist. Since I started studying science, I was truly fascinated by it. In fact, in class 5, I once told my teacher that I only wanted to study science and no other subject.
At that point of time, I could think of nothing but science. I read extensively about the works and achievements of many researchers who were champions in their respective fields like Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton, Alexander Fleming, Hargobind Khorana, Marie Curie and Homi J. Bhabha to name a few. They inspired me to the core and I dreamt about becoming a legend like them someday. Years rolled by, but my fascination for science never declined. Although I am blessed with extremely supportive parents, yet I never knew about how actually such renowned scientists reached the pinnacle of their careers and the ground conditions involved as I had no one pursuing this field around me who could provide some guidance. So with all those dreams intact, I was continually enchanted by my science textbooks.
I was really good at academics at school. After securing a 3rd rank in my class in 10th standard, I chose biology as my stream. At that moment, I never thought about what I wanted to become after taking up science. I only thought the excitement those subjects generated in me.
On the very first day of class 11, I remember my friends coming up to me asking about my stream. As soon as the word ‘biology’ came out, they all had a common remark, “Oh! Physics, chemistry and biology, you must have chosen them to become a doctor.” This career centered approach was new to me. I had just chosen my subjects out of interest but had never given a passing thought to what I would exactly do after studying them.
Being naïve and immature, I almost unknowingly entered the rat race without even thinking if I ever wanted to be a doctor. Soon, like many of my classmates, the major topic of discussion revolved around colleges, the number of seats, recruiting hospitals and the pay packages. My parents as well never questioned my choice and were happy in whatever I chose with my own volition. Subsequently, I was admitted to a medical entrance examination coaching centre as per my wishes.
For two long years, my life was more or less confined to school and the coaching centre.
After a series of low scores in exams, I realized my approach would never fit in the larger scheme of things. The extremely competitive atmosphere for a handful of college seats demanded a very different methodology for ‘cracking’ the entrance exam. Every second question in class was turned down by the coaching centre teacher saying that ‘it is not in the syllabus’ or ‘this question is not asked in the exam’. I tried really hard to change my method but in vain. Consequently, I felt demoralized, disheartened and completely demotivated. I had little time to enjoy the subject. Instead of the fascination, the competition was now the major driving force behind studies.
After CBSE 12th Board exams, I performed poorly in some of the entrance tests. I had cleared all exams for private colleges, but I did not want my family to take the burden of exorbitant fees exceeding INR 40 lakhs. Being fed up, I went up to my parents and told them about my plan to shift to law. It was the first time I mentioned law as a subject to them, let alone telling them that it was a subject of interest. Even for my cooperative parents, it was a difficult pill to swallow. They told me to take my entrance exams first then we could think about it together.
By the time my entrance exams got over, the percentage cutoffs were declared by Delhi University. I had got good marks, owing to which I was fortunate to get admission in Zoology Honours at Sri Venkateswara College. In the first year, I was one of the toppers in the University exams. Meanwhile, my father insisted that I appear for the entrances once more. This time, a difference of 1 mark from the cutoff stopped me from taking admission to a premier medical college. It was as if the Almighty had indicated that although I was good enough, he didn’t want me to follow that path.
The next 2 years of college was a life changing experience.
The next 2 years of college changed my life. Now I had ample time to enjoy the subject. Also, the fact that I had already studied more than 1/3rd of the college syllabus during preparation for entrances only helped. This was a blessing in disguise indeed. I did not feel any need to study at home. I could just attend classes and many of them were like revision classes for me. My school’s vice principal once told me that whatever we learn might seem to be a waste of time and energy at that point of time, but that very knowledge comes to our rescue at some point or the other in our lifetime. I was now realizing how true her words were.
This extra time enabled me to become an active member in the core team of the social service society of my college – ‘Parivartan’.
I got the opportunity to interact with students of different fields. Consequently, it improved my communication skills, organizational skills and current affairs. I realized how much there was to learn from different people. Through Parivartan, working for various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) provided me with a first-hand experience of various problems in our society. I got to understand the hardships of poor children, stray animals and abandoned pets, leprosy patients, differently abled and the abysmal state of our degrading ecology. As a result, I gradually started reading newspapers and watching news daily which made me more aware.
Simultaneously, I also got engaged in a research project funded by the University of Delhi.
I worked on the 16S rDNA and Hsp60 chaperone protein sequences to trace the evolutionary history and relationships of 10 clinically and economically relevant species of Helicobacter through in silico analysis. Helicobacter, a genus of epsilon-proteobacteria is recognized as a Group 1 carcinogen known to cause many diseases such as gastric adenocarcinoma, peptic ulcers and MALT lymphoma among many others in both humans as well as livestock. I learnt many concepts and techniques unknown to many of my classmates. Moreover, I learnt how to gather and analyze information from various research papers, teamwork (as I was a part of a team of 9 students + professors as mentors), how to make and give presentations as well as how to extract every bit of knowledge from learned mentors. Through the project, I also attended many seminars and an international conference as well.
In the final year, I was elected as the president of the Zoological Society while working for 3 different NGOs.
I learnt how to delegate work to different members of the society. For the NGOs, I taught abandoned and runaway children, promoted the cause of ending educational inequity and wrote various letters to many stakeholders responsible for the welfare of the differently-abled. Through them I learnt about PILs (Public Interest Litigation), Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, Environment (Protection) Act, Water Act and Air Act among others. Reading about them gradually instilled a keen interest in the legality of such issues. This is the point when I again thought of law though I was not very confident about it. I did not know many people who took such a decision after graduating in science. The uncertainty grew when my parent themselves weren’t convinced by it. Moreover, I had scored well till then in my graduation exams. My family and friends were shocked by the fact that I was departing from science and considering law as an option.
Meanwhile, after clearing an entrance exam for M.Sc., I was called to Mumbai for an interview to one of the most prestigious research institutes in the country.
While taking a round of all research labs in the institute, I was amazed by the infrastructure but just couldn’t imagine myself in place of other students working there. I felt uneasy and uncomfortable as if I was at a place where I did not belong. Later in the evening, I visited Government Law College that is situated just a few kilometers from the institute. Although the condition of the building was deplorable yet I felt light-headed and could breathe easy as if I was blessed with a new pair of lungs. After enquiring about the procedure for admission, I bought a vada pao and sat on the boundary wall in Marine Drive facing the sea. With the sound of nothing but the gentle sea breeze, I reflected upon what I wanted to pursue and everything pointed towards law.
On my way back to Delhi, the berth besides mine was booked by a Mumbai High Court lawyer. For most part of the journey we didn’t talk. Finally, when less than an hour was left, we started chatting. He told me about the bright and not-so-bright sides of the field of law in our nation. Having a knowledgeable lawyer giving an account of his own experiences while sitting beside you was quite a pleasant coincidence especially when you are facing a dilemma like I was. After coming back, I talked to many lawyers if I could take such a decision. Their answer was in the affirmative. They all unanimously said that academic background doesn’t matter. I got to know that one of my aunts (who is quite a successful advocate) herself graduated in zoology before she took up law. Consequently, my confidence grew and the resolution to pursue law looked all the more plausible.
But still, leaving out the option of masters in science with the only law as a career prospect was a risky proposition. So, I appeared for all entrance exams.
But, I was particularly nervous about the examination for Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.
I remember checking out their website and facebook as well two to three times a day for any news of the results. The tentative date for the declaration of results had passed yet there was still no update. The anxiety grew on a daily basis. Finally, when the results were announced a week later, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had scored well with a good rank. Law was now definitely an option.
Moreover, I was selected through interviews for a prestigious fellowship by an international NGO. To add to the confusion, I cleared all M.Sc. entrances and scored a high aggregate percentage in graduation. The anxiety grew every time I pondered over it. My parents did not say much but I knew they wanted me to pursue science. My friends were divided. Some said law others said science. In this chaos, I finally chose to go with my gut feeling that pointed towards law. After all, every accomplishment starts with a decision to try. Thus, I took admission in Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, Delhi University (DU) and eagerly waited for the first day of college.
I clearly remember that day. It was hot and humid with the sun beating down. There was ruckus near the information board as students tried to figure out which class they were allotted. There were long queues of students in black and white attire (which, I think, were second and third year students) and like every college in DU, groups of students hanging out in the garden or the canteen. After finding out my allotted section and time table, I went to my class at the top floor. I gradually realized that this class was very different from that in graduation. My classmates were from different streams, academic backgrounds and of different ages. Some were as old as me and others were as old as or older than my father. It took time, but eventually I got used to it.
The first semester has just concluded, so my experiences so far have not been that much owing to the paucity of time.
I participated in paralegal training organized by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority in Tis Hazari. It was a really good experience as I learnt about the state of the judiciary in the country and the immediate need of free legal aid to the poor and the vulnerable sections of the society. The Constitution of India, as well as the principles of natural justice, demand justice to be accessible to all. I was also selected for the Debate and Discussion Society as well as the Placement Assistance Council of the college.
The initial classes were introductory but later on when we started with the core syllabus, I gradually started to take a keen interest in the subjects. I particularly developed a liking for family law and criminal law. The teachers for these subjects were quite experienced as well. Meanwhile, I got selected for an internship as well in a law firm owned by a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court. I visited various courts and tribunals such as the Delhi High Court, Supreme Court, National Consumer Disputes & Redressal Commission, Company Law Board etc. I assisted lawyers in various cases and attended meetings too. It was a very good experience as there was a lot to learn from learned lawyers and I gained practical experience attending proceedings in various courts. The semester exams were conducted in the month of December and the results are awaited.
All in all, my experience till now has been great.
I don’t even once regret my decision to choose law, how unconventional it may be for a science graduate like me. In the words of Robert Frost, ‘I took the road less travelled by’. I do possess the confidence to do something substantial with my life even if I do not reach the apex of success in this field. Thus, I lack any insecurity that could pave the way for any apprehension regarding the choice of my career. NR Narayana Murthy said, “It is less important, I believe, where you start, it is more important how and what you learn.” Although I am not in a position to ascertain like Frost but I can definitely hope that my decision ‘makes all the difference’.
LL.B. (1st year)
Campus Law Centre
University of Delhi