Six years and counting – A flashback

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As I complete six years of work, I thought I’ll share my progress report with you. I lost interest in making truck load of money while in tenth grade itself when I saw my parents losing their sleep, life and all the good things that life had to offer. Watching them go through the same motions on daily basis struggling to meet the daily ends, taught me two contradictory things about money – that having money to survive is essential yet one should not run after money.

 

Until tenth grade, I didn’t have a clue what money and daily life struggle is. Having a mandatory pizza every month and a toy or game as per my wish was a norm. If someone were to think of a spoilt brat, I would have easily made their list – and may have very well topped. People, who have seen my public figure, will find it hard to digest this fact but those who know me well will say ‘ye toh kuch bhi nahi hai’! (its nothing)

 

Anyways, as I look forward to touching 6 digit monthly salary mark, I realize its almost equal to both my parents’ yearly salary put together in their respective career twilights. Yet the extra digit hardly matters. Six years back when I started off working, I used to earn about one-tenth of what I earn today and even that seemed freaking too much to me. As I said, even when I started working, I had lost all my desires to accumulate money. Thus, every increment that each year brings me, it takes me back to ground zero, from where it all started in grade ten of school.

 

But as I look back now, it seems it was all fated – some helping hand at each crucial step somehow coming up. I was not supposed to continue in the same school after grade ten as we went broke. As they say, when it goes wrong, everything goes wrong. Adding woes to the penniless situation was the fact that all the savings that parents had went into re-constructing the house in addition to home loan that we had. Further, this was the time when my brother got into a reputed engineering college. Though only saving grace was the fact that college was walking distance and hence we saved on hostel. Engineering college meant a minimum of forty thousand to be paid at a single time. Requiring forty thousand odd from a family that was at that point of time earning a monthly figure of four to five thousand was unimaginable. That’s when someone from outside the family decided to help – paying the entire sum. This is when I learnt the first harsh fact – family relations are directly linked to your bank account. People will desert you, if you don’t have enough money but will throng at your place if you are doing well.

 

But government school was a certainty given the scenario. Though against all expectations, I did well in grade ten and got a decent score in science but having seen the cost of taking up science as a subject in grade XI and XII, in addition to the realization that good grades in science was a fluke, I had made up my mind on taking commerce. I do not know about today, but at that time not taking science was frowned upon. I distinctly remember talking to one of the uncles, who asked what subject I had. When he got to know about commerce, he simply remarked, “Oh, poor thing, not enough marks to take up science, is it??”

 

Having seen me – the guy who could not even get to 65 percent in last 9 years, score well was hard to digest for my family. Perhaps, it hit my dad at that moment. He suddenly resolved that if I could be given a decent schooling for last eleven years, why not give me another just two more years. With this level of optimism, he put me back to the school, where I had went all my life. Having matured so suddenly within a span of months, I realized it was a huge investment that my parents had made in me studying in same school, which had a high monthly fee instead of a cheap Government school.

 

Watching my parents walk on a thread was a miserable feeling and not being able to help them monetarily was even worse. I remember that even in 46 degree heat, we didn’t have a fridge as the old one gave up its life and we could not afford its repair. Similarly, television became redundant as there was no cable. As opposed to a monthly pizza a few years back, getting a decent meal each day was a struggle. But we didn’t have any option and carried on hoping it will be better soon. That when I started taking life a bit more seriously. I now realized what toil was and I embraced it along it with my family. Going to school and study was the only thing I could have done at that time and that’s how I chose to assist my family. Against all expectations – both within family and among peers, it was a shock as I turned out to be among the best from the first periodic tests itself. From being kaun TD?, the tone now changed to kaun, TD????

 

But it was a cruel world and my dad realized it well. It was not going to be easy to sustain a family with one son doing engineering by taking a study loan with another home loan hanging on the head with a meager five to six thousand only each month to support it. Mom had stopped working. My monthly fee alone was one thousand. We were virtually left with nothing for buying monthly provisions. Debts with even vegetable vendor started. So it was a web of money lending that my parents had made, that is, taking a loan from one and paying the other and continuing a cycle. This continued till my brother started working.

 

As I determined myself to improve myself each passing day and dad realizing this, it made him feel even more pathetic as he realized he can’t fund my studies further without getting any assistance. That’s when we applied for a fee waiver. Obviously, the request was rejected by the Principal. It was sent again and it was rejected again. I wondered what it required to get a fee waiver as I had done everything a student could have done for school. But somehow carrying on with this helplessness, my dad went to one of my school parent-teacher association and after listening to few praises, he just broke down. That’s when few of my teachers realizing the situation stepped in and lobbied with school. Though I couldn’t get a full waiver, yet teachers succeeded in getting half-fee concession. That was sufficient to keep our boat floating for another year – 500 off each month was like a lottery!! That’s 6000 saved for a year. This taught me the value of each rupee that my parents were spending.

 

I distinctly remember one of teacher once asking me why I come to school without fail each day and I answered without thinking that my parents were paying my fees. I guess I grew up pre-maturely. In later years now, I recall what one of my class teachers of earlier years said of me, when asked of my future progress. She said a child will automatically do well, when he or she realizes the purpose of what he or she is doing. My concepts were clear in last two years of schooling – do well and somehow get both my parents retire from work. This was a distant reality at that time.

 

At the end of the schooling, I didn’t wish to top but just wanted a good college, so that future could be better. With 91.25 percent, all looked good except for the fact that I was not the only one with such a score in this vast city. In fact, my score was so low that I couldn’t get any of the top colleges in first list. With despair, I opted for a second rung college and waited for next list so that I could switch over. Sadly, nothing in second list either. I lost hope and thought if all the efforts were in vain. And then came the third list and I got a good top college and we opted for it immediately. But same problem again – no money. Thus, we had to resort to taking a loan from a friend and pay for first year’s fee – which was about 5 grands.

 

I was out of school now and I was allowed to earn money by taking tutions. It was then that I started to earn money for the first time. Teaching children and taking tutions for a meager two thousand bucks for 4 children each day after college is what I did. For remaining two years of college, I saved money and paid for my college apart from giving something at home. These three years of college taught me to be a miser and make every penny count. I rather took it seriously. I used to wait for hours just to take that government bus back home, which cost me total of four rupees both ways compared to thirty bucks charged by private bus operators. Rs. 375 was the six month bus pass and I had to bunk classes to stand in a long queue to get that pass. Canteen food was a rarity those days for me and outside food was even rarer. It was on first day of second year that I went for a movie for that first time after going to McDonalds for the first time. I didn’t tell me parents about the movie as I was sure to get reprimanded. Dad somehow got to know subsequently. Things were quiet thereafter. It was then that I first started to ‘splurge’ on myself.

 

Getting chided for slippers and torn shoe was something I had to face in college but didn’t have an option. I didn’t have a phone till I entered last year of college. It was then I was also caught in telecom revolution and the magic that SMS’s did – connecting with friends on the go. This phone got me few of the dearest friends that I still have  – and the good old phone is what still connects me to them. Prepaid is what I had and I used it wisely.

 

As college drew to a close – I saw half the class doing chartered accountancy and remaining half doing MBA. I didn’t have money to pursue either. That’s when I thought of giving a shot at civil services – Just fifty bucks and with decent general knowledge. For obvious reasons – I failed miserably as I realized it was not a quiz competition. But call it fate or whatever, it was the proximity of my college to my future office (present office) and my weird decision of civils that introduced me to my present boss – an ex-civil servant himself, who called me in to give tips. Call it again fate or whatever, it was he who arranged for my 4 week internship in my last year of college.

 

That internship was an experience in itself for two reasons and holds significance for variety of reasons. It was an experience because it was the first time I worked in an office. I didn’t get a single penny but found confidence in myself to just say what I felt. On that first day when the HR asked me to simply sign the dotted line of internship agreement, he was not expecting a 19 year old to reply back asking time to read the contents – which he had to allow. I wasn’t expected to do any ground breaking research there in my 4 weeks but what caught every one’s attention was the fact that I worked like any of other guys there and by the end of it, few workers even thought I worked there. It was there when I learnt that you should not look for money for your efforts and struggle like anything without asking for any return. My dad used to say to me to stay late there and keep working. He just wanted me to embrace struggle. Though I was not offered any job there, but the report did apparently go back to my future boss, who was pleasantly surprised by what I did there. I used to remind myself of the accounting principles that I learnt in school – anticipate no gain, provide for all losses. That became my funda.

 

So as my last year ended along with strings of failures in campus recruitment, I had no job in hand with no planned future. I had absolutely no idea what to do next. It was then when one fine morning as I came out after my bath that my dad suddenly gave me some sugar to eat as an alternative to sweet. Surprised at this strange reaction – I asked what happened. He said my future boss called him to ask if I am doing anything till the time results of civil service exams are pending and if I would like to assist him till then. I realized money was required and I was doing nothing – so I went to that place and joined.

 

I didn’t even know the name of the place, when I started there and what it did. It was then when my brother messaged me and asked the name, I took out a folder which bore the name and he was like “hmm…good law firm…have heard of the name”.  I was like, o ok….i didn’t know it was a law firm and the name was irrelevant for me at that time. Then he asked how much I will get. I again said, “no idea.” He joked that even five thousand was more for a guy like me. I took it seriously but felt happy that I would be earning so much. Home made food is what I used to get, whatever taste it may have…whether with or without salt or burnt up, it just didn’t matter. It was food and I ate it. I had lost taste buds by then. Any food was good for me and mum made it early morning. That still continues till date. It was fifteen thousand-my first salary and I was like, “are you kidding me??” It was just too high. I hardly had any expense. Though dad had retired earlier as my brother started working, but it was three or four months thereafter when I started working that I achieved what I sought to achieve after tenth grade – both parents retiring from work.

 

With dad working for more than 50 years and mum working since the age of 14, we brothers wanted them to take it easy atleast now. Being a mere commerce graduate in a law firm was of not much use. Then came the law entrance and I clearing it easily. A month back, I didn’t have a clue that in future I would be a lawyer. That’s fate.

 

It still wasn’t easy. I remember the day when I took admission – dad struggling for life in a government hospital, sharing his bed with another patient; I going to college and getting myself enrolled for evening college, so that I could work in mornings; and returning to hospital in the evening again. Struggles of daily life – to run the house also now continued. For some reason, evening colleges are frowned upon or taken lightly by those traditional people who believe that IITs, IIMs and National Law Schools are the only ones, who give the best students. It’s a myth!!

 

Anyways, Law first year was a mess. I barely passed the exams with one paper back in each of the semester. I had simply no idea what I was doing and what law was. My good friend next to me was worried that she could not get a first class and asked me if I was worried about what dad will say about my horrible performance. I had replied that it was I who took admission here on my own and as long as I am trying, my dad cant say a thing. I knew my dad will support me in this. After all, I have been in this situation before in my earlier years of school, when failing a paper was a common phenomenon. My dad even then used to say that I will do well. He continues to say that. That taught me to remain positive and know that my family will back me as long as I tried. When it came to my boss, who only asked me to take law entrance, he simply said that I will do well next time and gave me a foreign coin saying its under a belief that next time I will improve. He also suggested me to try a different method next time – I followed and almost topped the next time! I had found a mentor. Its important to find a mentor early in career and just blindly believe in whatever he says. That’s what I did taking my boss as my mentor. People mistook it as being Chamcha or chaaplus, but I couldn’t care less for I realized that I was not in a position to take on anyone at that time.  This period taught me to remain calm and wait for my turn. That time is now – remember a colleague who used to literally call me a beggar when I started but as is fate, I will be taking over his position in coming months.

 

It was at the end of law college, as I sat with other classmates listening to their worries about future, that I realized that my patience paid dividend as I was to be inducted into the law firm (ofcourse after mandatory interview and tests). With all loans paid off during three years of college-cum-work, it was time to consolidate my position. I was still considered as a para-legal for first year of being an Associate. People found it difficult to accept the fact that I was now a lawyer and not a helper. I had to prove myself and it took me another one year to make others realize that I indeed was a lawyer and not a para-legal. I even heard one of our partners saying how could I write an article for the magazine – was I that good. But as articles kept on coming and I toiled, not one could muster up courage to say a thing against me. That taught me to believe in my hard-work and check anger and reply by doing more work.  

 

Its present day now and I continue to take bus, eat the food that my mum makes. Though I splurge on my travels, going to far off places but I ensure that I have enough money left for other expenses at home and meet contingencies. But even then, I have enough resources to take steps to start my dream project, which I started informally few months before  – to lend a helping hand to those in need, who like me, may be left behind if not helped on time. Inshallah, that shall happen soon. As one of my dearest friends used to say, while prompting me (jokingly though) to start my practice independently, that money should never be a problem to realize the potential.

 

Six years hence, I still feel the pull of the gravity below my feet, bringing back to ground and not letting me fly in air at sight of hefty bonuses that I get. Though sounding prophetic, but it has been the case with me as I follow the policy of ‘Seek not and thy shall get’. What ever I am supposed to get, I will get. But I am human, so I do have some expectations but that expectation is not the only thing that makes me work each day. It’s the love for work and willingness to sweat it out, not the love for workplace, that has kept me going.  

 

Lets see what seventh year brings. 

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