Growing up with parents and an elder brother in a 350 ft2 flat of suburban Bombay was memorable in many ways for myriad reasons not limited to lack of privacy or a private room to adorn with Tintin, Phantom and Mandrake comics, posters of Samantha Fox & Duran Duran etc. But it was certainly memorable to see two human beings showing their commitment in providing things to their offsprings with a sense of integrity & selflessness from infancy to adolescence. I don’t remember having many things growing up, partially because there was no place to store and partially because seeing one’s parents work sincerely towards providing for us, there was no need to ask for more than what was given. Schooling brought its usual boredom along with the family’s demands to be doing well. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I could manage to stay amongst the first 5 rankers in the class, everyone around me would provide the necessary space for myself without them having to remind me everyday how “I need to study harder & be on the top”. In hindsight, that seems like the first insight towards personal freedom I must have had at a young age. With this unique insight, I managed to traverse the rigmarole of high school studying with steady colors making my parents and relatives proud, as they never had to stress about my falling off the curve. School lead into junior college and into the formidable ghettos of Engineering where once again I was supposed to do well if I wanted to do well in life.
It was a four year program designed by the almighty University of Bombay in which many were enrolled and we were supposed to compete, race ahead of others in our subject scores so as to be picked by profitable companies during campus interviews after the grueling four years were over. Armed with the same insight picked up at an early age, I realized quite soon that it was much better to clone the skills & aptitude of fellow students rather than competing with this huge group who were waiting to join the companies coming to pick us up at the end of the four years. Friends turned out to be much more useful in this endeavor than I had expected and am very grateful to them for their help in clearing all examinations, once again with steady colors. No fuss, no rush. Simply clearing with decent grades, once again ensuring everyone around me remained undisturbed, not having to worry about my inability to survive in this supposedly dark world.
Money is a necessary medium for survival and getting the first job seemed like a necessary chore. I remember, taking roughly about half an hour to strategize on how to find the first job, where I get paid in return for some services provided. I simply picked up the newspapers and started collecting company names which fit my skill-profile, which was carefully cloned from my scholarly friends and which the companies need not know. In a week’s time, I mailed all the 250 applications I had kept ready with a very brief yet decently glorified resume, ensuring to subtly mention the quality of service their company would receive based not purely on my skills gathered from my cloned four year program but also on the strength of my integrity I would bring to the job, a “perceived skill”, picked up through my innocent observation of my hard working parents who were first generation migrants to Bombay. This kind of “perceived skills” usually remain unmentioned and I was not amongst the now adult who was not going to bring it forward as an ornate skill when given a chance. After all, within myself, I had no inhibition in showcasing my university skills as a direct inheritance of my friends active and rigorous efforts at staying on the top. It seemed right to write in the resume of a much subtler quality of life picked up through sheer observation & humility.
Only one out of the 250 companies I had applied, wrote back for an interview and that was the first time I realized that the marketplace is ruled by flashy extroverts and keeping up appearances is one more skill I’ll need if I want to go to that foreign land they called America. So, I started working in teams and doing my assigned duties with tolerable finesse and always ensuring the credit for a hard days work gets properly distributed amongst the entire team & the spirit of working together is adequately cherished. It was very clear that what I had to pick up at the job beyond the obvious professional skills was the ability to observe the behaviors, motivations and prejudices of my colleagues, clients and customers which kept them coming every morning to the same work with the same people day in, day out. It was important to know the motivation behind such fervor if I were to take any significant step out of it in the future. It took me roughly 3 years to learn the professional skills to apply once again to almost 30 companies in America to see if my skills could be useful there. It didn’t take long for one company to pick my resume, which did not have a mention of my perceived skill in integrity, as my first resume did, for a very different reason. Since, I was going to a popular land, with a gregarious culture & fanatic work ethics, I felt compelled not to mention any subjective realms to be displayed on resumes but rather exhibit them in action to gather the same support which had worked everywhere else in my growing up years until now. A different land deserved a different strategy and was much needed for the flamboyant milieu I was about to join.
Nonetheless, with 5 formative years of waiting to join school, 16 years of grueling formal education, 3 years of honing professional skills, here I was that fateful day of July 25, 1995 bidding farewell to family & friends who were so instrumental in making my first flight happen, right from bustling Bombay to scintillating New York in Air India 101.