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“The company does not want any gap in between studies and job, and you have a year’s gap before you joined MBA”. My heart sank and I sat down with tears in my eyes. Yes,… I didn’t know how to justify the gap of loss of a loved one.
The flight attendant inside the flight walked up to me for the second time and asked, “Ma’am are you sure you don’t want to eat anything. Are you fine?” My answer was no different from our first interaction as I slowly reiterated, “No thanks”. I wondered was I even listening to her, because Papa’s phone call yesterday was still reverberating in my ears when he said, “Can you please come home, Pratham is no more”.
I was standing there completely insensate losing my purpose and questioning myself, did I hear right? Pained, distressed, bereaved and trying to go into denial mode, I leaned against the wall in a complete state of shock. My younger brother, who had just turned 17, was no more. 1530 kilometres away from my home I just didn’t know what to do? The only question I remember asking Papa was, “how is Mama?”
Coming from a small town in Eastern India, with boundless dreams, it was just 11 months in my first job after completing my Engineering from one of the premier engineering colleges. My place of posting was a remote industrial town in South India, 1530 kilometres from my hometown.
The job was not easy since I was the only female engineer trying to make my place amongst 1000 male blue collar workers. Besides comprehending bauxite, refineries and power plants in the company; I was trying to cope with language, culture, and accent. And most importantly, I was managing the whole spectrum of emotions arising in the minds of men when they saw the only woman working in a factory with a yellow helmet and grey uniform, trying to confidently jostle into the unknown territory which was perhaps reserved only for men since the last decade.
Perhaps I was successful in breaking this stereotype in their mind, and also passed some kind of test in the eyes of the men watching this girl from a far-away land, because I still remember my last day when all the workers got together and got lunch for me along with a learners’ book of Tamil and said, “Ma’am – come back soon”.
My last day, yes the day I received Papa’s phone call, the day Pratham breathed his last.
With no direct flight from where I was working to my hometown, I had to board a bus which took 8 hours to reach the capital from where I would catch my flight; actually my first flight ever. Yes, suddenly it dawned on me that I had never ever entered a flight. The fear of altitude, uneasiness of being in an unknown zone and feeling of being off land was still sinking within. How I wished I could turn back time and be with Pratham to ask those unanswered questions! Flashing memories of the day he was born, to the day he first entered school, his smile, his laughs, his friends, his first bike ride and the last look on his face when I had left him 2 months back, little knowing that this was the last time we are meeting.
The flight landed on time, and surprisingly only two words kept ringing in my ears: “Be Strong”. Now it was only me, their daughter, who was at the moment fenced with background echoes as she reached home which said, “It’s part of God’s plan”, “Look at what you have to be thankful for”, “He’s in a better place now”, “This is behind you now”, “It’s time to get on with your life”.
All this seemed meaningless when I saw his serene face and motionless body lying on the steel cot waiting to be moved away for ever. I was 23 then, and not prepared for this in my journey of life and I really didn’t know whether to sit and cry or put a strong face. I knew the loss was irreparable, and it seemed worse when I saw Mama sitting on the bed and fabricating that smile upon seeing me. We hugged each other and not a single drop of tear rolled from our eyes.
His cupboards were emptied, his school bag cleared, his books given away, his friends informed, his plate was no longer kept beside us for lunch, his games kept aside; I don’t know from where I amassed the strength to do this without a morsel of pain in my voice or tears in my eyes.
I didn’t want Papa and Mama to break down, very well knowing that I was not returning to my place of work, 950 miles away leaving them forlorn. There was one month left for me to complete my Graduate Engineering Training but it all seemed meaningless and at the back of my mind was the melancholic gaze of my parents.
That was the time I realized that evading the problem will not help and we needed to communicate. Nothing will mend this loss but perhaps communicating enough will wade through this grief and help move ahead in life.
If Pratham was there, would he love to see us like this?
“No” was the answer, and that was the day when Papa told me to think of all those days when I woke up in the night to sweat for my engineering entrance exam, and how I had ranked 53 in the state among girls to get admission in a premier engineering college. Those days were not to go wasted, and his words of encouragement rang in my ears as I started filling forms for my MBA entrance exam which was the next step.
A year later, I remember my MBA interviewers asking me why a shift from Engineering to Human Resources, and complimenting my Chemical engineering degree coupled with work experience. I got admission in one of the premier business schools located in the western part of India. Childhood in the East, Engineering in the East, first job in the South and now MBA from the West; I was enjoying this journey and finally my dream of entering Mumbai, India’s largest and buzzing city seemed closer.
Papa had come to drop me and as I entered the gate of my MBA college; a breeze of fresh air swung onto my face and all those dreams which were latent suddenly came to life. I knew I always wanted to be here, independent, ambitious, positive and making my place. The place had everything – ensemble of cultures and more so investigative eyes on my “desi clad avatar” – the salwar kameez, specs and simple sandals which eventually did not do much harm. Twice, I was voted as the ‘Placement Secretary’ of my college, my professors loved me, I took several tours for placement across the country, I got good grades and also found the match I desired.
I vividly remember the fresher’s day in college when I saw Karthik walking the ramp for the fashion show, oozing loads of confidence while the entire crowd was cheering for him. He won the fashion show competition, elocution, quiz, mimicry and came out of the classroom with flying grades. Yes, my heart did miss a beat for him only to realize that he was dating somebody since last 8 years. Today, when we celebrate our 9thmarriage anniversary, I feel everything is fair in love and war; guess this introvert salwar kameez clad girl did steal the extrovert’s heart.
Time was nearing for campus placements in our MBA campus and especially for me, I had clearly decided to apply only for those companies which would base me in Mumbai. The pulsating desire of essaying into Mumbai just wouldn’t die. One, two, three… 24 companies came and went by, and none was matching my criteria.
I paused to think – am I asking too much? But my abiding passion did not die. There was one last company left to come and I was delighted because this was for Human Resources and it was also posting us in Mumbai.
The penultimate day approached and we were all very excited till our Professor informed us that we needed to travel to Mumbai for the interview, and the company won’t be coming to our campus. With bated breath it took me time to realize that this would be my first trip to the land of dreams. We were 20 of us applying for this job, and the excitement, energy and enthusiasm flowed end to end as we awaited the shortlisting.
The same day I got a call from my Professor who was supposed to accompany us to Mumbai for the campus placement. He said, “Listen, your name isn’t featuring since you are not fulfilling the criteria of placement”.
For a moment I felt the world coming to a standstill as I asked, “Which criteria Sir?”
He said, “the company does not want any gap in between studies and job, and you have a year’s gap before you joined MBA”.
My heart sank and I sat down with tears in my eyes. Yes, there was a gap of a few months and I didn’t know how to justify the gap of loss of a loved one. Pratham reappeared in my memories leaving many questions unanswered.
I did not want to give up so easily and let go of my dreams, so I mustered enough courage to go and relive the moment of grief and explain to my Professor the year gap. He understood and said, “let’s go to Mumbai and give your best there. If you get selected we will see how to take it forward”. Call it tenacity, persistence, doggedness or luck; I was the only one selected among the 20 people who appeared for group discussion and personal interview at this global conglomerate in Mumbai. My joy knew no bounds as I was stepping into my next stage in life coupled with the anxiety of relocating to my dream city.
I had stepped into this city to join my new job 10 years ago. Life seemed like a dream as I first entered the city and for all those who had told me about its traffic, rentals, congestion, power cuts, safety etc., I just couldn’t see any of those. For me, my dream was important and my spirited journey as they say from a small town to Mumbai was not dampened by these words. As I stepped into the swanky blue building of this sprawling lush acre global conglomerate with neatly arranged chairs and a suave lady taking calls at the reception, my thoughts swayed from exuberance, elation, happiness and pride to a feeling of triumph. I always wanted to be here and this was it!
We were guided for orientation and resumed our first day in office. After ages, I felt that I had left my vacuum behind and found vivacity and elan in these 4 walls of office. All the questions of why have you shifted from Engineering to HR were inconsequential and I was happy in this star studded city where I still maintained my no-risk attitude of wearing “salwar kameez” and specs, yet carrying my unglamorous and unconventional look with effortless grace.
Today as I stare at the trophies on my table for ‘Future HR Leader of the Year’, ‘India’s HR 40 under 40’ and ‘HR Professional of the Year’ and the two magazines; one which has my interview and the other which has my article published – I realize that life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. Be it coping with the loss of a loved one, being the only female engineer in my first job, being that small town girl never ready to give up, moving base from a small city to the city of dreams; all I knew was that in life’s assessment with an unknown curriculum, this girl never gave up.
With my wild and precious life, I always say: “The future is calling you – Run to the Horizon. I never said it would be easy…..I said it would be worth it”.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the Muse of the Month February 2019, but not one of the winners.
Image source: videoblocks
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