Sunday, August 13, 2017

It was thirty years ago, today

It is the 14th of August in India as I type this.

On the 14th, in 1987, I was in the old country.  At my parents' home in Anna Nagar.  Packing my suitcase and saying bye to people.

The day had finally arrived.  I was headed to America.  To Los Angeles. To graduate school.

It was a long and winding road that I had traveled in order to get to where I was on August 14th, 1987.  A journey, that was mostly unhappy, after the Neyveli school years ended in 1981.  The important stops along the way included Nagpur, Coimbatore, Calcutta, and--of course--Sengottai.

It seemed like I had no choice but to take that winding journey ... all because I was good in math and science!  Math came easily to me; I enjoyed learning and doing math.  In school, I routinely did the classwork way ahead of the rest and then used up the remaining time to finish the assigned homework. (Which explains why my mother claims, and rightfully so, that she has never ever seen me do homework or study.)

Talented and able boys were expected to do engineering.  It did not seem like there was any other route for me.  

In my first year, I tried talking about this angst of being in the wrong place with Vijay.  But, I was not able to connect with him even when we met.  Only later did I know that he, too, was going through very similar emotions.  I heard through the Neyveli grapevine that he had dropped out of college, and that he had embarked on a road that was less traveled--journalism and poetry.

I did not have the guts to drop out.  I have always been a wuss!

I wrote to a couple of universities inquiring whether I might be able to join a program in economics.  One university responded; the letter from the University of Delhi informed me that I was not eligible.

I stuck around in engineering.  If ever I managed to get engaged with the subject, despite my lack of interest, I did well.  Else, I barely maintained my "first class" standing.

All through, I kept doing the hard work, asking myself what I really wanted to do.  I discovered the world of literature to be comforting.  I read Dickens and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn and more.  I clearly understood that it was the human condition, and not the computer chip, that interested me.   But, how would I make the change in the travel plan?


I was one of the few who got a job through campus interview, even before I earned my diploma.  I asked for a posting that would be far away from home.  I went to Calcutta.

All it took was a week for me to get all the evidence that I ever needed that I did not care for engineering.  I was now convinced beyond doubt that I had to get the hell out of India, study in America and make my home there.  I quit the job even before the third month anniversary!

The travel plan was slowly taking shape.

I bummed around for a few months in Chennai and Sengottai.  I logged plenty of hours in the library at the American consulate, reading newspapers and magazines and looking through university catalogs.  I selected a few programs and universities that matched my broad interests in the human condition.  I took the required GRE and TOEFL exams.

I went to interviews, mostly for an external confirmation that I was not an idiot.  My fragile ego was worried that people might think I was no good.  I took up a job, but ditched that within two weeks.

An uncle, a wonderful man, was worried that I was wasting away my time chasing dreams that might not work.  He pressed me to interview for a job where he worked.  I was hired.

I worked there, and followed-up on the letters from American universities.  The long and winding road was coming to an end.  I was now left with one major decision to make: Should I take up the admission and scholarship offer and live in Los Angeles, or take up the offer from Iowa because it would give me much more money.  I chose Los Angeles.

I quit my job.

I was now a man with a plan to execute.

And soon it was August 14, 1987.


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