It is unending, isn’t it? Right from the time we were relaxing inside our mother’s comfortable womb, until today, we have been always wanting something. Furthermore, something is never just enough. And this is one of the reasons for making the so-called “Journey” of our life so interesting.
I got trapped in this endless saga of wanting as well. During my undergrad, one afternoon I was sitting in the canteen. I was waiting for my friends’ lectures to get over. It was one of those moments when you get tired of waiting for someone and you just start thinking of something random. Though this time, it wasn’t random. “What do I even want after graduation?” Was the thought that just ran through my mind while I was waiting. And the moment you start thinking something productive, of real importance, your friends will show up. But I saved that thought for next time.
In India, engineering is like a prerequisite course for registering your dreams. As parent’s say, do whatever you want, but you will have to complete engineering first. I have seen engineers making it big in the fields not related to engineering. To a certain extent, Indian parent’s may be right, as it ensures you a job after graduation. It may not be the best job, but it is a job that will pay the bills for a decent living. But forcing your child into any field for status quo can have negative impacts on the child. It gets difficult and stressful to generate interest particularly when they have other goals. Luckily my parents didn’t force me into it. I hold myself responsible for signing up for it. There are different fields that need to be explored and appreciated. Nowadays whenever I meet a person who is not an engineer, I start respecting them automatically. It is just that you get to hear something different, something new. But that afternoon, when I came home, I was still stuck in the enigma.
I started inducing this thought into my friends’ mind. We started looking for options. The best advisors are your seniors. Some of the suggestions were to get a job through campus placement, getting a higher degree in the same field in India or outside, getting an MBA, prep for Public sector entrance exams. I was not very keen on getting a job, as I knew that it would be just enough to make a living. I strongly believe that we are responsible for our destiny. And I didn’t want to settle for just enough. I was more inclined towards getting an advanced degree or public-sector unit job. During my primary school, I was a part of our school’s National Cadet Corps (NCC), Air Force unit for 2 years. Every Sunday we used to train for it. I had developed an interest in Armed Forces then. I like the discipline involved in it. I wanted to pursue it after my engineering as well. Indian Air Forces conduct entrance exam under the SSB (Staff Selection Board) for Air Force officers. I was eligible for it. I appeared for the exam and cleared it in my first attempt. The real struggle was to crack the five- day rigorous interview or screening process. In my first attempt, I was screened out on the very first day. I did make it through the first day on my second attempt. In one of those 5 days, they conduct a physical round. You have to clear about 20 different obstacles wherein each obstacle is assigned individual points based on difficulty level and everyone has a certain time to do it. The goal is to get maximum points. I didn’t have any sort of professional training for it. I managed to clear about 10. I was so desperate for this job that I even jumped from a platform, which was 3-floors high, onto a rope to climb down without even giving a second thought because that obstacle had maximum points. I got blisters on my hand but that was worth it. I was not able to crack the interview in that attempt. But, in the meanwhile I kept looking for other career paths as well.
During the same time, it was also the season of college festivals. Most of the college was working on something, so as to get some extra-curricular activities on their resume. Others, they don’t care. They study and also gets the jobs first. I was amongst the one who wanted to impress the recruiters with my extracurricular activities. Also, the fact that I had nothing else to show. But in the hustle bustle of organizing and coordinating events, I came across one of the sponsor’s ad. This sponsor runs a counseling firm for students who wanted to pursue education abroad. It had pictures of students who got higher degrees and were employed in world’s some of the most renowned companies. There were pictures of people standing in front of world-famous universities, Headquarters of Google, Facebook, Ford and many more. I was impressed but more than that I was inspired. I was not very familiar with how to get there and what needs to be done. With little research and some guidance from my seniors and friends, I got some directions. I prepared a list of pros and cons in my head and I constantly used to think about it. I talked with my parents about it and initially, their reactions were okay, we will decide after the test scores, give it a try. I joined the consulting firm. I started prepping for GRE and TOEFL exams. With my broken English, it almost seemed like an impossible task. Even my English tutor gave up on me by saying “Aditya whatever you think is the right answer, please tick on the exactly opposite option”. It hurt, but I had a crush on her so it was alright 😉 But, I started reading English novels, newspaper, watched TV series, movies and prep stuff from the internet. Coming from a middle-class family, the biggest hurdle I could see was Money. But that was also the biggest motivation for me.
Very early in my life, I had realized the importance of money. It is always good to have more money. It eases your life. I personally don’t feel anything wrong in chasing money until and unless you are not stealing. Rather than calling it money, it is more of a reward. And, the only and the easiest way I could see to earn money was to get an advanced degree and that should help me get a well-paid job. Sounded like it was doable. During my prep, I had just one thing in my mind that I wanted to do it. My test scores were decent enough. My sister helped me a lot financially during the applications with the hefty application fees. Chasing professors and convincing them for recommendations required some advanced level marketing skills. Some of the professors gave me the “were you in this college?” look. I managed to get recommendations from them anyway. After all, it was a question of one’s future 😉 But the wait for admits was a test of patience in itself. Every morning, the first thing I used to do was to check for emails in every folder.
Finally, the wait was over, and the decisions started coming in. Some of my applications were accepted. I compared them based on my interests, coursework and tuition fees. Things started to move forward pretty fast. My Dad had retired from his job in the same year. Mom being a housewife, truly the fixed income was almost shut. That made things worse financially. In such times, it is very natural for him to make decisions cautiously. So, he used to keep inquiring from his friends and also some family members regarding my interest in going abroad for studying. It was also the first time in my entire family that someone was actually pursuing the thought of going abroad for studying. There is always a good chance of having some negative minds around. ‘How can you send your only son so far from you?’ ‘How one of their friend’s son went abroad for masters and never got a job!’ Were some of the ridiculous thoughts that were floating around. I understood the probability of it happening very well. He used to tell me those stories and that used to irritate me. I just wanted him to believe in me. I wanted to have that opportunity to prove myself. Mom, as always was very supportive. There used to be many loud arguments on this subject between me, mom and dad. It wasn’t a pleasant situation at all. No doubt it was going to be difficult, but I wanted to take the risk. Among the few novels I have read during that period, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho was one of them. It has made an impression on my life. I was glad that I read it during that time. One of my favorite lines from the book says “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I didn’t want money to stop the show for me. I wanted to be like the alchemist, who can just make wonders with whatever he had. I gathered information regarding education loan and tried to convince him and that gave him some confidence. We applied for an education loan and our only home was a collateral for it. That was another mountain ahead of me. Got that figured out and there was a rigorous process for visa application. I traveled to Mumbai for getting my visa.
I think the process itself prepares you mentally for what you are signing up for. In few months I was about to leave. I had really difficult conversations with my then-girlfriend. She wasn’t really happy with me going abroad but, I had a very clear picture of what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it. I don’t consider myself apathetic but being practical solves a lot of problems. The most important thing that helped me during that period was being realistic. I think it helps you make better decisions as it lets you think about the possibilities.
All my friends and most of the family had come to visit me at the railway station. My flight to the US was from Mumbai. I could feel the mixed emotions. I hugged it out with my friends and took blessings from my elders. I could see the worry on dad’s face, anxiousness in my mom’s eyes. I notice the tears rolling down my ex-girlfriend’s face as the train started to leave. I realized that it was not going to be an easy journey for me thereafter. I was not sure if I was making a good decision by putting them in such situations. My mind was filled with second thoughts about this whole situation. It was like entering the tunnel of worries with rays of happiness at the end. I gathered myself and remembered why started at the first. It even motivated me further so as to make all this suffering worth it. We reached Mumbai Airport and it was time for a final goodbye to my parents and the Motherland. I could still feel those moments, I could still feel those emotions when I think of it. I wanted to hug my dad. I and my dad had never had a friendly conversation. He is like a typical Indian strict father. As every-time, I took his blessing by touching his feet. I saved the hug for some other time.
It was time for my flight and final few calls. I knew I was on an adventure, looking for treasure!