Friday, July 26, 2013

Those Days...!!

When you are 25 years old and have done nothing substantial in your life (the odd job aside), one does tend to think what exactly has he been doing all this time. I did that too a few days back, while on a flight, primarily because there was nothing better to do (the carrier was Air India). Just ten minutes to myself and the realization of how much life has changed in the last one decade hit me like a bolt of lightening. I never had enough time to introspect about personal stuff because I was busy planning other things, important things..things that my family cared for and the society gave importance to. And as time flew, I barely noticed the changes within myself. But that day, on the flight with overpriced food, I delved deeper into my memories, ironically for the first time in the last 10 years...

There are basically 3 important stages in a person's life in his transformation from a teenager to an adult. They are -: high school, college and job! Of these three, I guess everyone would agree that the last one is the least enjoyable. High school for me was the transition period, the turbulent period, when I had changed schools and was preparing for IIT-JEE exams. Which reminds me of a question that my boss had asked sometime back-'Why did you join engineering?' The fact that I was stumped by his question had made me realize that I had actually not given a good thought to it, even after becoming a practicing engineer. Not that I regret being one of the million engineers of India, but I was disappointed with myself for giving my boss the impression that I went along with the tide (and the sadist bastard's smirk still lingers in my mind). 

I remember it all started after finishing the 10th boards exam, when parents sit with you and ask you to decide your career path, and sometimes force you to select their preferred career path (not in my case though). What they don't understand is how the fuck is a 15 year old supposed to decide something so important, something which they are supposed to do for their entire life (no one does that though, but this is what goes through the mind when parents have such conversations). I remember deciding my fate over a game of daily evening cricket with my best buddy Sharad. When asked, he said unflinchingly that he wanted to do engineering and get into IITs. There was awe and respect in our minds when we thought about the IITs. It was the time when facebook was just born and quora (the best place these days apparently to answer all your IIT related stupid questions) was just a word in the dictionary. Our knowledge about the famed IITs were based on the triumphs and stories of the neighbourhood bhaiyyas who (or whose friends) were studying there or had failed trying to get into it after years and years of preparation. So began the quest for the unthinkable-cracking the JEE! Tuitions, admission to the best school and practice tests, these dominated my mind for 2 years.

After having spent 12 laidback years in a school for middle class people, I found my new school (Delhi Public School) to be a bit overwhelming. Filled with intelligent and good looking people, and with the indiscipline all around, I use to feel out of place. My definitions about friendships and discipline changed more rapidly than the value of rupee against the dollar. All of us in the school, as well as in the coaching class, were nothing but competition. It was the first time my self confidence had taken a beating, but I remember crawling out of the mess somehow, primarily because my best friend was also in the same place as me.

The DPS experience transformed me from an introvert to an extrovert, and I will always be thankful to it for this sole reason. I tasted my first big success and failure simultaneously at the end of 2 years of high school, an event that definitely did change my life. Most of my batchmates cleared the revered JEE, but I couldn't. Probably the only reason I recovered from this disappointment was again the same reason-Sharad couldn't make it too! (I guess it's general tendency to find solace if your friend fails along with you) My decision to take a study break, even after clearing other national competitive exams was followed by mixed reactions from family and friends. I decided to move to Bokaro from my hometown Ranchi, basically to avoid unnecessary questions (and mostly unwanted advice) of relatives and neighbours. I will always be grateful to my father and Kittu, my sister-cum-friend, who understood the personal turmoil that I was going through for having failed myself, and made me strong enough to continue on my path.

I did clear JEE the next time, with an allergy problem arising unceremoniously during the exam, affecting my aggregate rank. It was disappointing, but not disheartening for long, since this became the reason I joined the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), my alma mater, where I spent the best and most enjoyable 4 years of my life. There are some memories that stays with you forever, and my counselling for IIST at hotel capitol remains one of those incidents (I still can't say with conviction that its a good memory or a bad one). Some may think that going as the first batch to Asia's first space institute required some guts, given that most of my friends had preferred opting for an established college, thinking that they would do an MBA after finishing engineering. But to me, the decision somehow came without any hesitation, and later on, without any regrets! One article is short to write about those 4 years in God's own country, a place which we hated at first, and now each one of us misses in some way or the other...

Friendships were forged based on different criteria, like the floor on which you lived, the sport you played or the interests you had. People from different parts of the country, speaking different languages and having different upbringing mingled freely. Somehow, religion, region or caste wasn't a deciding factor. For the first time, I understood the concept of living in India and the complicacies it involves. First year went like a whiff of a storm. Celebrities like former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited our college. But it was the one on one interaction with Rakesh Sharma, India's first (and only) cosmonaut that had an impact on me. New friends, CET practicals (and Mar Ivanios too..whooff!), the tiring (and sometimes enjoyable) journey to the academic block  by buses, the Kanyakumari trip, Veegaland, sleeping at the back rows like a bunch of sleep deprived daily labourers, the daily adda in my room, the excellent mess food (including the stolen ice-creams at nights) and my first ever crush, these were the what defined my first year in college.

Second year was more meaningful, in the sense that I found out a lot of things that I was good at, like organizing events and leading from the front, playing cricket, writing stories and enacting them on stage or through movies (one of them being selected in top 5 short films at Mood Indigo, IITB being a highlight), being a good friend and eating like there was no tomorrow! Oh yes, and I was in love too by the end of the 2nd year, and like so many other people in long distance relationships, I had my own cheapest mobile set (thanks to Reliance mobile) with a monthly plan.

Third year was more of defining, both on the personal as well as professional front. I went to Wayanad for holidaying with my entire (or almost) group for the first and last time. The trip was fun, but such an endeavour could not be taken in future again due to broken friendships and soured relations. I came of my own as a co-ordinator for both annual technical and cultural festival of IIST. I understood that my strength lay in my communication skills and man-management. But everything comes with a price, so this new found abilities came with the baggage of having to stand up against friends at times. I had a minor health scare when I pulled a muscle near my spinal chord that year while trying to play rugby for the first time. I can never forgive myself for that freak accident as my cricket team lost out in the semi-finals and I could not bat. This, and the outcomes of the fests made me more responsible towards my duties and my personal life, but probably not towards my health as booze and the occasional weed became a part and parcel of my life. My music tastes were now larger with Pink Floyd, Guns & Roses, Creed etc. making to the music folder in my laptop. But the main highlight of 3rd year were my frequent trips to Pune...

I tasted freedom to live in the city of Pune. I never knew college students could have so much fun until I went there. I somehow managed to get an internship in Pune, so as to be able to spend some time with my lady love. But I ended up doing so much more, like making new friends, visiting new places and doing stuff I hadn't imagined I will ever do in my life. That time will always remain with me, although we are no longer together, because it was a life I wished to live, but could not because I had bigger plans...Those late night coffee/ice-cream shop visits, dining at different restaurants everyday, the trips to Khandala, Lavassa and KhadakVaasla, celebrating my birthday and hitting the badminton court (and the tasty snacks after the game), who can forget these ever! Back to college by the backwater, I was forced to wonder for the first time whether I was missing something in my life at IIST, Trivandrum. No amount of Baskin Robins ice-cream at Technopark, Sharma Dhaba's delicious and cheap food or the sun-kissed beaches of Kerala could match the charm of Pune's life thereafter.

Shifting to our new campus at Valiamala was an arduous task, and settling there was even more difficult. But what was more difficult was recovering my academic scores from the deep abyss they were in. Thus began my quest to prove to myself that I am more than my marks. Thanks to an able partner, I found back my motivation to study. And it is when I realized that after coming to college, I had not thought seriously about what I was going to do after college. Of course a government job at ISRO was waiting for me, but then I had never imagined myself settling for a comfortable secured life with just above average remuneration. It was then that I seriously gave a thought about 'what after college' thing. This time I had more clarity than the last time, when I was forced to make such a decision. And this time, I had matured friends to take advice from. Alas, they were as clueless as me! I somehow came up with a basic idea about what I was going to do, hence I started working towards it and the result were a few good research works that were presentable in outside forums.

My participation in extra curricular activities went up, now that I was a 'super senior' and my job, like my other friends, was to just guide our juniors for organizing fests. And did I thoroughly enjoy it! I amassed more than 20k winning events at fest of other colleges, some as far as Cochin. Most of it was splurged on food and drinks though as being the last year, all of us had got a bit touchy and tried to spend maximum time with each others close friends. Late night canteen raids and biweekly trip to Trivandrum city (through the windy kerala roads aboard the rickety KSRTC buses) became our hobbies. And we did visit a lot of places in and around our college that time as we had a lot of free time during our project semester.

Every good story has an end, and mine had two endings. College life finally came to an end, and so did 3 years of courtship. As a child I was prone to anxiety attacks due to anger, and I had a minor scare that I may go back to being the weird kid who shouldn't be angered. But thankfully, such a situation did not arise and surprisingly I took both the endings pretty well, because a new beginning awaited me. I really like this dialogue from the movie Batman Begins - "It's not who we are underneath but what we do that defines us". My next two years were defined by my decision to opt for Sriharikota as my first job. The decision baffled many, including my parents, since it's an isolated place (90kms north off Chennai) and I was used to the ways of cities. But I stood by my decision because for the first time in my life, I was clear in what I wanted to do. Although I still couldn't understand why I wanted to do it. Financial freedom is what I tasted in my first job (and the scotch too) at SDSC SHAR, and this place will always be remembered for that. Zooming around on my Yamaha Fazer, frequenting the highway dhabas (and sometimes the odd CCD) and learning new activities (the local language, swimming and lawn tennis), the Bangalore and Chennai trips; I truly re-discovered myself. The boy who had a break up and chose his job away from friends, transformed into a man finally, and of course not without flaws... There are few things about which I am pretty sure after my tenure of 2yrs at SHAR. One is that all my future bosses will be better than my first, and secondly, that I will never stay so far away from my social circle! :P

8 years is a long time. Lot of things have changed during these times. My mobile (my first being a Motorola C100) and its specifications (from black & white to the age of smartphones), entertainment (from gully cricket to social networks), my weight (I gained fucking 10kgs!), my family demography (I am no longer the youngest), my camera (Kodak KB10 to a sleek digicam) and my overall perspective of the world. I will be going to France in a months time for pursuing higher studies, and once again my world will change. But I have learnt to absorb changes in these years and I am sure that if I can live happily in a place like Sriharikota (an island basically), I can live anywhere in the world! I had set some goals for myself a few years back during a drunken introspection, and uncannily I have completed all of them till now. That sense of purpose, which I had lost after joining IIST, is back again. And it is this that gives me the confidence to explore the unknown.

By god's grace, I have been able to execute whatever I have planned or imagined in my professional life for quiet sometime. But one cannot plan everything, especially matters like falling in love or having to let go of it. Very recently, a friend asked me innocently-"Is there anything that you want and you do not get?" The conversation was over phone thankfully. I knew that to the world, I was this lucky kid who somehow managed to make correct decisions based on pure intuition. People usually forget to see that I put in a lot of hard work, but then it doesn't matter what others think as long as I am able to achieve my goals. I replied to her truthfully that I did not always get what I wanted, and like in that telephonic conversation, I will leave the this topic for some other fine day. But I too, like so many embraced the fact that everyone makes mistakes in their lives, and I was no better. Howsoever I achieve, I can't always get my way. All in all, I had my good days and bad days, but at the end I don't remember them by their outcome. I just remember those days as they came by and went...