July 05, 2020
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Roads Less Travelled

A job that requires you to taste 500–600 cups of tea a day for a handsome ­remuneration—doesn’t it sound ­idyllic? But to ­become a tea ­sommelier, you’ll need to do a properly ­accredited course at a university or institute. In this ­package, we look at 10 of the wackiest courses ­offered by educational ­institutions in India, from certificates in puppe­try (no masters there, ­sadly) to doctorates in food ­flavouring—and what doors they could open for you.

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Roads Less Travelled
Photographs by Getty Images
Roads Less Travelled

Public Health Entomology

What has entomology—the scientific study of insects, a branch of zoology—got to do with public health? The connection between the study of insects and the development of human society goes back to prehistoric times, or at least to the rise of agriculture, which demanded the discovery of pest-control by deployment of other organisms, with human management of their natural behaviour such as predation and parasitism. Then, in the summer of 1895, the “dappled-winged” mosquito on the wall that British army doctor Ronald Ross saw at Sigur Ghat near the hill station Ooty set him on an investigation that led to his seminal observation of malarial larvae growing in a mosquito stomach two years later. He wrote: “I find thy cunning seeds/ O million-murdering Death/ I know this little thing/ A myriad men will save…” Ross’s discovery was a landmark in the application of entomology in the field of public health.

The budding Ronald Rosses of our time can aspire to become public health entomologists, professionals who study insects and arthropods that impact human health. Their work involves research on the behaviour and ecology of the numerous such species, with the aim of contributing to preventive and therapeutic healthcare. Many universities, government agencies and chemical industries look for trained people to hire. The Vector Control Research Centre (VCRC) at Pondicherry University offers a two-year post-graduate degree course in public health entomology, the most reputed programme in this field.


Call it a good thing or criticise it, corporatisation of our public domains is slowly becoming an accepted reality. The Dalmia group has already taken over the Red Fort. This heralds the general direction in which things are going—corporate conservation. It might not be such a bad thing—now that it has happened—since the ASI hasn’t really been pulling off a sparkling job in all these decades. Soon, museums will be seen following this private trajectory. “In India, the course is set to take off with an increasing growth of private run museums. Global museum consultants have already started working in India. The profession is rife for the takeoff,” says museologist and oral historian Rama Laxmi, Curator of the Remember Bhopal Museum. This privatisation trend is also bound to make things competitive. Thus, we may well see (we sure hope to) ASI springing up in act­ion to hold on to their domains.

Important to us is that all this will create a considerable demand for professionals in archaeology and curation. Lucky for us, the study of museology in India has a somewhat rich history. Way back in 1965, while on a UNESCO tour, educationist Philip Rawson had observed, “India is leading the world in the university training of museology students.” We know things didn’t go as they should have from then on, but there is a perfect opportunity now to explore these courses. You’re not hard pressed for options either—MSU, Baroda, has been offering an MA in museology since as early as 1952; the University of Calcutta has been offering one since 1959; then there is the Nat­ional Museum Institute of Art, Conservation and Museology in Delhi, among many other places.

Pet Grooming

Back in the day, pet grooming, even in representations, almost exclusively seemed to be for the Disney poodle, who would carry her manicured puffs past drooling, shaggy mutts. Disney’s class and gender metaphors aside, pet care was seen as a very ‘high-society’ thing until a few decades ago in India. Fortunately for the gen-pop of pets and animal lovers, pet grooming is now a legit career, and, yes, it pays too. “Thanks to the internet and various media channels, people in India are now very aware of the profession—we get tons of requests from people who want to take pet grooming up as a career,” canine behaviourist and pet groomer Shirin Merchant, was quoted as saying. Merchant runs Canines Can Care, a non-profit organisation which, as the name suggests, works for dogs.

With the bizarre acclimatisation expectations pet traders and buyers have from animals these days—think of all those huskies exasperating under the South Delhi sun or the St Bernards who’d give anything for the smooth, tropical coat of the Bangalore mongrel outside the house—we think it is a relief to have grooming as an available option. Currently, a number of grooming centres dot the metropolitan map of India and, taking into account the demand for pets, more are expected to come up in the future.

Pet grooming professionals will tell you to be careful while making the choice: this is a career meant only for those who are passionate about animals. If you are, you can apply for courses at various institutes, most of which are also pet grooming centres themselves. Canines Can Care, based in Mumbai, is one such institute. The Delhi-based Scoopy Scrub is another salon that offers courses in pet grooming.

Carpet Technology

Legend has it that it was some Iranian master weavers who, for some reason, took a liking to Bhadohi city in UP to set up India’s first loom and weave the first carpet in these lands a few centuries ago. The rest makes up the intricate history of Bhadohi, the city which is now the ‘carpet capital’ of South Asia. Carpet history also completed an interesting full circle recen­tly, with Iran calling India its new main rival in the international market for handwoven carpets. So that’s some valuable grounding for our next course—a ­degree in carpet technology. And where else but in Bhadohi would you find the centre for learning the industrial aspects of this artisanal industry? Seen as run largely by business families employing cheap, skilled labour, the carpet trade always had a feudal tinge to it. That image may be fast changing too. Professional education in textile is getting more specialised. A course in carpet technology promises to be viable and break long-held perceptions.

The Indian Institute of Carpet Technology (IICT), set up by the Ministry of Textiles, has been functioning in Bhadohi since 2001. It offers a full-fledged bachelor of technology course in carpet technology and textile design technology, and also offers various related short-term courses. One can also opt for the more circuitous road to carpet tech—a BTech in textile technology from the Department of Textile Technology, Delhi. A carpet technology institute was also established by the textile ministry in Srinagar, Kashmir, in 2004. As of now, it is involved more with harnessing the local skill in carpet weaving and further developing it.

Illustration by Kshitij


Mapmaking has come a long way since the days of those beautiful medieval pieces where the cartographer’s imagination was let loose to spawn krakens and dragons all over the page. Nowadays, it’s “a blend of art, science and technology” as Prof R. Jagannathan, Madras University’s geography HOD, told a newspaper. The field is growing and offers attractive career possibilities—many opened up by geoinformatics, which uses information science to approach the problems of cartography and related fields. To become a cartographer, you’ll have to combine formal instruction with autodidactism and hands-on experience. “Making professional-quality maps requires strong education in geography with a focus on cartography and remote sensing, mathematics through basic calculus and statistics, introductory computer science including programming and database management, and basic graphic design,” says Prof Jagannathan.

Relevant qualifications include BSc and MSc degrees in geography, and there are PG programmes in cartography itself, Spatial Information Technology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics. The more specialised courses are available at a few universities, including Madras University, as well as institutes like the Hyderabad-based Indian Institute of Surveying and Mapping and the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing in Dehradun, part of the ISRO. Careers for graduates can start at the level of junior cartographer or mapping assistant, while a PhD in one of the relevant fields opens up research posts and jobs such as geomatics consultant and GIS analyst. You might work for the military or the private sector, and could find yourself mapping out tribal areas or simply using new data to improve existing maps. Salaries can start at Rs 50,000 a month for someone with two years’ experience, and could be twice that for those working with overseas employers.

Illustration by Sajith Kumar

Tea Tasting

Whether you call it tea (a word that spread by sea from coastal southern China) or cha (which spread overland from other parts of China), a proper brew needs a proper sommelier. Tea tasting is a career that demands a bit of nature—in the form of sensitive taste buds, which you’ll have to safeguard by avoiding activities like smoking, drinking and eating too much spicy foods—as well as nurture in the form of courses and actual experience. You can expect to taste 500-600 cups a day, and the standard expected is quite clear. Anindya Sanyal, manager of a tea garden in West Bengal, was quoted as saying, “Each level of valuation has degrees and just by taking a few sips, a tea taster should be able to grade it right.” An undergraduate background in a subject like botany, horticulture or food sciences may come in handy, but the only generally required course is a specific qualification in tea tasting. These range from three-month certificate courses to one-year-long diplomas, and are offered by several institutions, including Assam Agricultural University, the Dipras Institute of Professional Studies in Calcutta, the Darjeeling Tea Research and Management Association, the University of North Bengal in Darjeeling, the Birla Institute of Management and Futuristic Studies in Calcutta and the Indian Institute of Plantation Management, Bangalore. A masters in tea estate management will also stand you in good stead with recruiters. As a fresher, you might start off earning in the region of Rs 20,000 to 25,000 per month, but this can go up to Rs 50,000 for full-fledged tea sommeliers.


Marionettes and their dalliances have long had a place in the Asian imagination, including traditions such as Indonesia’s Wayang puppetry, which is famous for dramatisations of the Ramayana. In India these days, puppetry is seeing something of a revival with more stage shows taking place, and has been adopted enthusiastically by new patrons such as schools, who use it to impart educational messages. And institutions are offering formal courses to cater to aspiring puppeteers.

The first such programme was launched by world-famous puppeteer and children’s theatre director Meena Naik at Mumbai University—and she’s now officially the university’s Head of Puppetry. It’s a four-month course, conducted annually, that covers theoretical subjects such as the history of puppetry, as well as practical matters (which are weighted far more heavily in the assessment) like voice modulation, scripting and staging issues. Former student Madhuri Kale was quoted as saying, “Many believe that a puppetry course only teaches you how to make puppets. But writing a good script, visualising the show and manipulating the puppets is equally important.” Both traditional puppeteers and modern experts have joined the faculty. The Calcutta Puppet Theatre is also reportedly setting up such a course.

Puppets may be deployed in a number of ways outside traditional theatre—for televised entertainment and advertisements, for conventional educational purposes such as language teaching, as well as to convey social messages in relation to the environment, awareness of sexual abuse etc. As a versatile and deep-rooted, yet accessible, form of storytelling, it may have a strong appeal as a career creatively inclined.

Illustration by Sajith Kumar

Alcohol Technology

Did you ever think of your favourite drink as a major contributor to the world economy? Alcohol is big business. A huge amount of money is spent across the world on alcoholic beverages, which have been a part of most cultures for millennia. And that means there is a lot of money to be made in the industry, with lucrative jobs at interesting places ranging from vineyards, breweries, distilleries and winemakers, to bars, pubs, restaurants and hotels. Lots of people make their living creating, selling, recommending and serving alcohol. Unique to the industry is the option of becoming a brewer or a distiller, which involves a lot of technical skills and demands a background in science or engineering.

Alcohol also has many industrial uses and a close link with the sugar industry. One of the most sought-after courses in the field in India is the four-year bachelor of technology in sugar and alcohol technology for those who have done physics, mathematics, chemistry or any other technical subject (computer, biotechnology or biology) at the higher secondary level. Offered by very few institutes such as the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, it is a comprehensive programme covering every aspect of the production of sugar and alcohol. Admission is through state- or national-level entrance examinations such as AIEEE or JEE, though some institutes also offer direct admission based on marks obtained in the qualifying exam. With India gearing up to become a major ‘ethanol hub’ of the world and the demand for biofuels guaranteed to rise in the years ahead, a BTech in sugar and alcohol production is a good investment for a bright future.

Illustration by Sajith Kumar

Art Restoration

Restoring works of art involves touching up, cleaning and repairing damage caused over time, in order to make paintings, sculptures and manuscripts look less worn out without losing their original essence. A bachelor’s degree in archaeology or history and some knowledge of art and artists are indispensable for making a career out of art restoration. Most of the learning happens on the job and it takes plenty of experience—usually at museums and art galleries—to be taken seriously as an art restorer. Art-lovers keen on making a living from their passion can do courses in art restoration from National Museum in New Delhi, University of Mysore, University of Allahabad or Kurukshetra University in Haryana. The most sought-after jobs in the sector are offered by the National Museum Centres in Lucknow, New Delhi and Calcutta, and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which provides its art restoration and conservation services to private collectors and other institutions for a fee. After building up a reputation in the field, professionals can also try to venture out on their own by floating their own art restoration agency. Though the cost of running such a business can be quite high, the prospect of lucrative returns can be motivation enough to embrace the risks involved.

Food Flavourist

Everything is molecular. Everything you put in your mouth too. Processed food, now more than a century old, is all chemistry—the chips you are addicted to, candy, processed meat. It’s the biggest ­industry around. Then there’s a new branch in culinary culture, direc­tly labelled ‘molecular gastronomy’. It’s putting in flavourful injections in edi­ble compounds, displaying outrageously coloured things on a plate, not as sinister as it sounds. There are cocktails too, the molecular kinds, but let’s not get too far. These are exciting times for a food flavourist to live in. Food who? Yes, the ones who get tongues ticking at an industrial scale.

All you need to get into this unusual way of making a living is a ­penchant for taste and an interest in equations. These two are a delectable combination.

A science background in school is, of course, a must for enrolling in these courses. You may also be required to do a BSc before venturing into the more specific domain of food chemistry. As of now, the tailor-­made, specifically food flavourist course hasn’t been crafted in India, but a number of allied courses can help you get there. Loyola College in Chennai offers an MSc in food chemistry and food processing. A number of IITs have master’s courses in food chemistry. IHM-Aurangabad also offers a course in food processing.

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