For adults only: What it means to turn 21 in 2021

We spoke to six 20-year-olds to find out what kind of year they have had and what expectations they have for 2021 as they turn 21.

December 28, 2020 / 11:03 PM IST

There is something unique about those born in the year 2000. Theirs is the only generation whose age will march hand in hand with each year as the calendar turns. They turned 20 in 2020 and come 2021, they will turn 21.

While 18 may be the age when one legally becomes a major in India, it is only when someone turns 21 that they are truly considered adults, ready to head out into the world and build lives of their own. And that’s the threshold those born in 2000 are all set to cross in the 12 months that will follow from January 1, 2021.

Again, while turning 21 is something that 20-year-olds normally await with much anticipation, things are a bit different for this year’s batch. Given the disruption that Covid has caused to their lives and the sheer scale of the havoc it caused in 2020, there is a sense of trepidation that is mixed in with their anticipation.

We spoke to six of these 20-year-olds to find out what kind of year they have had and what expectations they have for 2021.

It’s a heady mix.

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They rediscovered the joys of living with family, of reading, overcame their introversion to make new friends, and their fear of being alone to discover solitude, learnt to make dalgona coffee, discovered a dormant passion in art, understood the value of healthcare, concluded that microbes, not missiles, are the biggest threat before humankind, and all we have is now.

Read on to find out what Taniya Khan, Gunjan Mayekar, Vikrant Patankar, Shivani Kulkarni, Sasha Ranganath and Aayush Panikkar hope for as they turn 21 in 2021.

Taniya Khan

I had a lot of plans, entering the final year of my undergraduate programme. But 2020 turned out to be a very challenging year. There was no assurance about how things would pan out and each day threw up a new challenge. This uncertainty made it very gloomy sometimes.

The year gone by taught me that it may not make sense to make long-term plans as they are unlikely to work out. As a journalism student, I have not been able to take up on-field reporting projects as part of my graduation coursework, something I think is necessary for our field.

Plus, my batchmates and I are missing out on our college's cultural festivals. I am also interested in public relations and have led my college festival’s PR wing in the past. I have not been able to participate in these extra-curricular activities.

The pandemic has also made it tough for us to get internships. ‘Work-from-home internships’ have only made it difficult for us to actually learn something. Before the pandemic, I was very clear about what I wanted to do next. I wanted to pursue higher education after graduation. But now I am having second thoughts about that. I am reconsidering my plans and hoping to work for a while before returning to studies at an opportune time.

Yet, I think 2020 wasn’t all bad either. I spent more time with my family, took up online courses and watched a lot of films. I also started writing film reviews and that is helping my writing skills. I am still looking at 2021 with optimism even though I am trying to figure out what will happen next. No one is clear about what 2021 holds for us, but at least we are all on the same page.

Quote Card 2 - Gunjan Mayekar

On March 21, when I left my college dorm in Goa for my parents’ place in Mumbai, I had not imagined that I wouldn’t be returning for the rest of the year. Before the COVID-19 pandemic reached India, my friends and I joked about the coronavirus resulting in a lockdown, not realising it would actually happen and make our lives miserable.

Being an IIT student comes with its pressures, so 2020 was supposed to be a year of achievements. But that didn’t work out. However, it did change certain things for good. The US elected its first woman vice president in Kamala Harris and the Covid outbreak highlighted the need to focus on medicine and healthcare infrastructure.

Personally, during the lockdown, I struggled with the thought of being confined to my home, but the situation improved eventually as I learnt how to make Dalgona coffee.

On a serious note, the isolation forced me to work on my communication skills. Being an introvert, it has always been difficult for me to connect with people. But that changed for the better. A few people I never interacted with in college are now my closest friends.

The biggest gain, however, was the time I spent with my parents. I moved away from my home for studies when I was 16, so the pandemic gave me a chance to live with my family after a long time. I also returned to reading thanks to the extra time I had. My friends have been raving about manga, so I am planning to pick one up next. I hope to continue reading even after I get back to my busy life after the pandemic ends.

For 2021, I am waiting for the Covid-19 situation to stabilise so that I can return to college and meet my friends. I also plan to focus on improving my grades and coding skills since I am a CSE student. Of all the things I learnt in 2020, the biggest realisation has been that all we have is ‘now’. We never know when another pandemic might hit us.

Also, I learnt the importance of being adaptable. There is no point in waiting for things to get back to normal because that ‘normal’ might never come. Lastly, I believe our healthcare system needs a major revamp because microbes, not missiles are the biggest threat to us.

Quote Card 3 - Vikrant Patankar

The year 2020 gave me a clear picture of what to do when I turn 21 years old on February 13, 2021. The lockdown worked out well for me because it helped me reflect on my real interests. It gave me time to introspect into what I want to do in life. I am not keen on a pure engineering career, but I want to get into filmmaking and UI/UX design.

Earlier I was in the bubble of getting into a good company during campus placements, wanting to either go to the US or Europe to pursue my higher studies. But I now realise that is not what I want to do. Instead, I want to enrol into FTII Pune for film studies or get into a Master’s programme for design.

I have been doing freelance design projects. I used to write for EOTO Tech, a technology news platform. Between 2016 and 2019, I wrote reviews and content for them, so I do have some practical work experience. I also helped them run their YouTube channel. Similarly, I have also been writing scripts during the lockdown, and I am hoping that they see the light of the day next year.

This year was easier than expected because exams were held online and we got easily promoted to the next semester with minimal effort. But I don’t know why I chose electronics and telecommunication engineering, which has zero connection with what my career aspirations are. I still have time to work on my interests and that is exactly what I will be doing next year. After finishing my engineering degree, I will work on preparing for higher education in design and/or filmmaking.

Quote Card 4 - Shivani Kulkarni

I was all set to travel to Vietnam on a voluntary programme in 2020, but that was cut short by the pandemic. 2020 changed everything. Before this year, I was convinced that I had everything sorted. I had plans to study further and when everything happened it caught me off guard.

In a way, though, I’m glad all this happened. It was after my initial plans got disrupted that I realised they were really in sync with what I want to pursue now. It was during this period that I realised I enjoyed being in front of the camera and making videos. In fact, I’d wanted to make videos since I was 13 and finally, this year I did it. I’m really happy about that. I now have my own YouTube channel, where I post videos about anything I find interesting.

However, while things have been looking up on the career front, they haven’t been so rosy on the social front. I finally felt like I found my social group and the people I liked hanging out with. But then I couldn’t do much of that because of this blasted pandemic.

Like most people, I spent a lot of time indoors by myself. This journey with the self was new for me. I was someone who always hated being alone and enjoyed being with people. Now, I find myself enjoying the solitude. This would have been impossible even a year ago.

As for next year, I am looking to keep things simple and find something that will continue to drive me. I want to be more responsible and self-motivated. Turning 21 can bring a lot of external pressure with it, especially on the social media front. There is a lot of pressure from family and everybody else to get everything sorted… but it’s okay to take it slow if you need to. That’s what I tell myself.

Quote Card 5 - Sasha Ranganath

2020 awakened a dormant passion within me, and I hope to pursue it further in 2021 and in the years ahead. You see, I haven’t really felt stable in any job until now, be it journalism or social media. But now, with art, I’m finally finding some footing.

I missed out on a lot of social experiences because of the pandemic. But spending time by myself helped me to awaken my passion for art, something I did not know was within me. Around August-September, I started exploring art. It can be scary to explore your thoughts by yourself, but if you embrace them it can turn into something positive. And that’s why I have one message for all those turning 21 next year: do not limit yourself.

You see, I never had the confidence to think I could be like other artists. I spent most of my time looking at these artists on Instagram and other places and thought I wish I had that talent… it turns out I do. So, be ready for failure. But do not be afraid to try.

I have a simple yet complex goal for 2021: to gain self-discipline. I need to get out of my comfort zone. I want to take forward my new journey with both digital and traditional art. I want to be an artist.

Quote Card 6 - Aayush Panikkar

Well, I had originally planned a party in a villa with some friends for my 21st birthday, on January 31, but that is now out of the question with the new lockdown in Maharashtra. I still have one more year to go for my engineering degree to be completed, so I am yet to decide whether to pursue a Masters in Computer Science or an MBA. But 99 percent, it will be abroad.

However, if the lockdown and online classes still continue beyond 2021 then I may have to revisit my plans. I am not keen to pursue an international degree if I will be at home in India studying via online classes. I had also enrolled for some e-learning courses, which I didn’t complete, because studying from recorded lectures after hours of online classes was very challenging. I am hoping to complete these courses in 2021 and also enrol for job-ready programmes in my field.

2020 has been overwhelming in terms of online classes and students tend to put themselves on mute and not pay attention. I hope that at least in 2021 it will become mandatory to switch on web cameras. I have attended 5-8 hours of online classes as part of my engineering course but I hardly remember anything. This is simply because the classes are very boring and the syllabus is outdated. I am hoping some changes are brought in that so that we study concepts that are in tune with what corporates need.

An MBA is on my to-do list but I have still not decided where to pursue it from. If it is in India, I would like to get into one of the top 20 management institutes, though IIMs are the first choice. Ironically, I said online lessons are boring, but I managed to learn to play the guitar online over the last few months. I am hoping to continue that even in 2021 and master the instrument further.

(Nachiket Deuskar and Megha Mishra contributed to the story.)
Akanksha Sarma
M Saraswathy is a business journalist with 10 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, she covers consumer durables, insurance, education and human resources beat for Moneycontrol.
first published: Dec 28, 2020 02:41 pm

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