On The Ruins Of Defeat
On The Ruins Of Defeat10 mins 373 10 mins 373
Not again!! I groaned to myself, when my infant’s nanny called in the morning to inform me she will not be able to turn up for work that day or the next few days. This meant that I have to really rush and pack all her morning jobs into my already packed routine household chores before I deposit my infant in the day care and myself in the bus stop on time to catch the last bus to my office for the general shift. Not to mention the little one’s misery of being bunched with a pack of kids sans individual attention and the risk of contacting all sorts of infections typical of the season.
But on hearing her reason for absence, I felt a rude jolt first and then small for thinking of my own inconveniences.
Lingamma was wailing on the phone, “Madam, nanna hudugi belige belige visha kudidhu bitlu.” (Madam, my daughter drank some poison in the morning).
“Yaake? Enaithu?” (Why? What happened?), I managed to ask after trying to absorb and make sense of her hysterical sobs.
“Punitha eshtu channagi kalithalantha nimige gothu Madam. NEETnalli olle mark bandillantha thumba bejaaragi bitlu. Engineer agubekantha thumba aasey avalige. Ella kanasu halaayithu. “ (You know how well Punitha studies, Madam. She didn’t get good marks in NEET - entrance exam - and therefore was very upset. She wanted to become an Engineer. Now all her dreams have died.)
Punitha was in hospital for a miserable week, struggling with the after effects of consuming poison. After a week, when Lingamma came back to my house for babysitting, she got Punitha along. Since I knew Lingamma’s trepidation of leaving Punitha alone at home, I didn’t object to her plan. I hid all cough syrups and sleeping tablets out of sight of Punitha and checked with Lingamma if they had provided any counselling therapy to Punitha during her stay at the hospital. Lingamma had no clue. It was sad to see the bubbly teenager wilted and withdrawn. I knew she was at one of the worst cross roads of life not knowing which way to go, now that the path she desired to take was closed for her...at least for a year. Coming from a hand to stomach existence background, it was a tough decision for Punitha to make up her mind about continuing in her desired path and focus on clearing the entrance exam next year or opt for an alternative study path so that she doesn’t lose one whole year.
Lingamma got Punitha along for the next few days with her. Punitha not wanting to hang around without doing anything, started to help me out in cooking. After a couple of days, she loosened up enough to strike a conversation with me.
“Ma’am – Akka – where do you work?”
Punitha’s mouth fell open when I mentioned the name of a topmost software company in India.
“Are you a software engineer?”
“No Punitha. I support software engineers. I am a business communicator.”
I could see my answer had piqued Punitha’s interest sufficiently for her to continue the conversation.
“But I thought one needed to be an engineer to get into a software company. How did you manage to get your job without an engineering degree?”
“There are many other functional jobs that require people other than engineers to run the business, Punitha. Not everyone in a software company are coders or engineers. And I didn’t get this job overnight”, I said with a smile.
“This is your first job Akka?”
“Illa (No). This is my sixth job.”
“And where all did you work Akka and for how many years?”
If it had been someone else, I would have by now got irritated at the relentless “getting to know you better” conversation. One sided poking conversations from people who didn’t want to volunteer information about themselves but wanted to know everything about another person usually made me taciturn. But with Punitha, I knew she was trying to come to terms with her set back in life and wondering how to navigate her future. So I went on to answer her hoping secretly that my answers would help her to pick up the threads of her now disillusioned life.
“I have been working for around 10 years Punitha. It will be hard to categorize the companies I worked for or the jobs I pursued.”
“That long!!! But in your time, people must have sought to settle down and not job hop so much. I thought changing jobs is a trend that characterizes our millennial generation.”
Her naiveté made my heart ache for her.
“Sometimes you don’t have a choice, Punitha. I worked initially for the money, then for duty and love to fulfill the needs of my family, and finally now for gratitude and broader obligation towards people who helped me become what I am today. I may hop again if my heart tells me to stop working for my immediate circle, look at the larger world out there, and do something that I enjoy doing.”
I could make out that my philosophical viewpoint about my career was slightly beyond Punitha’s grasp. But she managed to rally back and if anything seemed keener to find out more about the options that are available in this big world.
“So what did you study Akka to get such a good job?
“Well, I don’t know how to answer that question. We desire for something, find ourselves capable of something else, plan for something, and end up with something else, Punitha. I knew I wanted to work. But I didn’t study for what I am doing as work today. Parental pressure was much more for me with educated and middleclass parents and relatives wanting to see their own desires fulfilled in their children. People would ask me about my preferential career choice. It varied from doctor, to engineer, to architecht, to agriculturist, to banker to what not. But careful plans fell off, when I wrote my Mathematics exam in my final year of school. Murphy’s law happened -- I didn’t study just one chapter and all the highest mark questions were from that chapter. It was a stressful time. I wrote entrance exams after exams in various states for various courses in different colleges under different quota. Those days, both the final exam as well as entrance exam were considered for the so called “cut-off” marks. I fell short by 0.02% or 0.01% as I was in the General category. My marks of 90% were not high enough and by birth my caste was not the right one to help me study a “professional” degree.”
“My desperate relatives sought recommendations. Someone said an engineering seat was available for just Rs 15,000/-. Computer science, applied science, physics, maths, - all seats were filled up. As I encountered “No seats” after “No seats”, something fell apart inside me. Through the blur, I had this resolution to study something, which sought me as against run behind something in desperation. My self-worth made me stick to this resolution and not be influenced by the shortcut methods to earn a seat. I went on to do Chemistry and later earned a post-graduation as well. And you know what? Today, people tell me “Chemistry is one of the toughest subjects. How did you manage to study that and score such high marks?””
“After more slogging during my five years of college, I ended up doing another year of B.Ed just so that my hard earned Master of Chemistry will make me employable. And I worked in that relevant line just for couple of years. Today, like you did Punitha, eyebrows go up when people try to find a connection with my education and my profession.”
“But, why did you change your line of profession, and so many jobs, Akka?”
“Monotony maddens me and that’s the reason I sought a job shift after the first couple of years. Thereafter destiny brought me to this place where I work today. In between, I worked without salary for six months followed by the closure of the company and losing my money due from that company. A near miss lay-off came just after that. Then, I happily settled into a respectable job in one of the most reputable product companies of the world and slogged there eventually working with the top management directly. Even as I was cruising happily in my career, all of a sudden, one day, I was asked to find another job. And the best part is, I didn’t know the real reason for my lay-off. Sometimes to this day, the question of why I was laid off, continues to haunt me.
Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. No anticipation, preparation or knowledge or wisdom can help us easily clear this exam, Punitha. There are no shortcuts and also no way out of the exam hall, without writing the exam. So we all try to write the exam as best as we could, in our own ways. Sometimes you only have one answer to situations life throws at you. Sometimes you have multiple answers. When I have the choice to pick an answer, I try and make my own decision, so that the result of the exam is only on me. I don’t regret it later or try to blame someone for things gone wrong. Over the years, I have also learnt to accept and live with the results, Punitha, as they are outcomes of what I give and how much I give to each exam. There were many exams and there will be many more. And not all of them will be related to studies and work. There are also many other things to care about in life. So that’s how each day goes….phew….Are you still awake?”
I finished with a laugh. Punitha was looking at me with wide eyes as if seeing me for the first time. I patted her head and headed out of the kitchen to begin my work-day.
Next day, Lingamma didn’t get Punitha along to work. When I asked her about Punitha’s whereabouts, she told me Punitha had gone to join an interior design course in one of the colleges. That knowledge and vision of Punitha conquering the world standing on the ruins of her defeat, made my day bright and beautiful.
I must admit I selectively talked about the lows of my life to Punitha trying to make her understand that everyone has difficult lives. With a wink and a smile, I chided myself for hiding from Punitha the fact that I did manage to convert my hobby into my profession and got a chance to pursue my dream profession, albeit for a very short while. Some exams in life do end up being most enjoyable too. Another story for another day and time, Punitha, when you are mellow from success in your life.