Monday, July 30, 2007

The Reunion

Excited as a kid on his first date, I made my way up the slow airport escalators. Within minutes, I was abound the dinghy Ryanair plane bound for Frankfurt. I tried sleeping but the combination of anxiety and anticipation was uncontrollably intense. As the staff bawled out their usual announcements, I felt like I was watching the TV and ruing the fact that the remote wasn't working. Wish I could just fast forward through it all! The two hours seemed unending.

In true cheap-airline spirit, we had a not-very-subtle landing. A ruder shock was to follow- Frankfurt- Hahn airport was a misnomer, someone's idea of a joke- it was 2 hrs away from central Frankfurt and the Frankfurt airport where I was headed. The bus journey cutting through suburban lanes made me feel even more nostalgic.

My heart raced as if on an auto-bahn as I made my way to terminal 2 arrivals. And after a few minutes of hectic running around, I saw him, standing with 2 pieces of luggage, looking all harrowed. The fact that I'd met him only a week back in India didn't seem to make a difference- here was my Dad, moi Pa, in his first trip abroad, all by himself, except for his dutiful son who had come to help him. The joy and pride of that moment was unforgettable.

He was wearing a tee handpicked by my Mom, and his luggage was very heavy, stuffed with Indian food by my Mom, I presumed. I smiled at the thought of how my Mom's packing could be construed as a denial of the existence of food stores abroad. We made our way via cab to the hotel I'd painstakingly chosen and booked for him. I wished he would like it, but he immediately disposed any such notions- his acquaintances travelling for the same purpose had chided him for staying in an expensive hotel "Mehta, you are spending too much money on acco, yar!", he repeated their words bitterly. I swallowed my disappointment hurriedly, his Marwari-ness making me chuckle.

He was going to be there for a week, attending a conference on plastics (or smth like that). It had been his dream for years, and it felt good to be able to help fulfil it for him. I could see the happiness in his eyes- I'd never seen him so excited. He took in the surroundings like a blind man who's suddenly been given back his vision, but I could see there was only one thing on his mind- the conference. He rattled off some attendance statistics that portrayed the scale of the event- I just hmmm'ed away. Inside though, I marvelled at his passion for his work, for his field. I was looking at a man, all of 60 years, who was more passionate about his work than his 24-yr young audience.

He had always been that way. He ran his small-scale factory on pure adrenalin, putting in 12 hrs of work daily, punctuated by all-nighters and travel. He never let adversities dull his resolve- perhaps that's why despite repeated occasions of hesitance, he always decided against selling the factory. As kids we always joked that the factory was more important than the home, but it was actually where his heart resided! Probably, we never understood how much it meant to him. And never will. But a first hand experience of the vagaries of entreprenuership was enough to keep us away from it when choosing our own careers.

It was Saturday, and I wanted to sightsee but he would have none. He wanted to reconnoitre the exhibition before it opened on Monday! He would start conversing to every random stranger who crossed our path- the receptionist, a security guard on the road, asking them their names even! We took the local transport, so that I could ensure that he knew the route he would take during the week after I left Sunday. His apprehension worried me. It was obviously a big ask of him to master that in a new place, where English was not the preferred language. We reached the venue, and he roamed around everywhere, fascinated. He spent the rest of the weekend in the hotel room poring through the member kit they had handed us there. Sunday dinner was at an Indian restaurant nearby, but he refused to eat much. I tried explaining to him that it didn't matter to me because I now earned in pounds, but he was stubborn. It was so frustating, me wanting to do everything for him but him not wanting any of it. He was very quiet too, surely missing Mom. In 30+ years of marriage, I can count on my fingertips the number of times they havent been together for more than a week.

He was up very early Monday morning, I think he probably did not even sleep. For a man who's dress sense could be described as accidental, his question of "Sumit, is the tie knot proper?" as he shook me awake astonished me and I was soon sitting up on the bed. I doubt if he had cared abt his tie on his wedding day. He left for the conference an hr before schedule, and I spent the rest of the day with a friend. I didnt ask him how it went when he was back- he told me, in fits and bursts of narration, boasting about all the new people he had met and the latest technologies he had witnessed. He had made quite a few plans for the strategic expansion of his business on the journey back, and he proceeded to explain to me his 5-yr plan. My heart filled with respect at the hope within him, at how bright he foresaw his own future. I thought, how many of my friends now have even 10% of his enthusiasm to life? But unbearably sad was his rare moment of regret, when he wished he had attended it a few years ago. I didn't know what to say, where to look.

Distance and time always give you a different perspective to the same old things. I was reminded of how as a kid I envied my friends' fancy toys and clothes and wished my Dad would do what their fathers did. On that Frankfurt evening, however, there was one emotion, that of unbrindled pride. Pride of being a son to someone who had lived with and imbibed in me such a refreshing attitude to life. Pride of finally having arrived as a son. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What were you born to do?

This entire concept of choosing the right career has always been loitering around the cradle of my thought. For quite some time, it tormented me, teased me at every decision-making node- and then after each time that I piggybacked on the comfortable concept of the "herd mentality" disguised as "why reinvent the wheel?", it sowed seeds of doubt in me. At every step, the dilemma haunted me- study further or work? MBA or MS? Finance or Marketing? What did I want to do? What would be I good at doing? I went through the motions, having taken the confusion in my mind as an eternal truth, and letting fate take its vicissitudinous course.

Then one day, it struck me that I had spent 6 months in a firm without being unhappy- I searched for the discontent, but it was no longer there. I realized I'd accidently stumbled upon my calling! But the idea has still fascinated me- I looked at the transition in my own commitment, and I looked at others, and I wonder, does it exist at all? Does everyone necessarily have a calling in life? Is the theory relevant in today's framework? Does anyone ever "find" their calling or does it just happen to you?

Writers' minds work like magic- the moment you think of a good idea and DECIDE that it will be the fodder for your next bestseller that will pick up Harry Potter by the scruff of his neck and throw him off the bookshelves, some obscure author across the world has already read your mind 3 yrs ago and has shamelessly released a book on exactly the same topic. So it didn't come as a surprise when my friend sent me this: Interesting read (worth the length, you lazy people!), and I was happy to see confirmation of some hunches I had.

Well, is it practical to find one's calling? Most people view work as a means to an end, and hence choose the best paying jobs outta campus. The idea is that XYZ's calling in life is sound engineering, but it would pay nowhere as close to MBA's, so is he mad to even think twice abt signing the dotted line with Mck? I agree somewhat with the practical logic behind that. But has the inequality between jobs widened so much in today's world as to make the concept unviable? I think not, jobs were always unequal. And as always, there are opportunities today for doing smth that you like, like entrepreneurship and if you succeed you will make much more money as compared to a top banker. Most people overlook the fact that the top bankers are the ones who are insanely driven and very good at what they do- most probably because banking IS their calling in life. It may sound cliched, but if you do what you love, the money will come. In the rare case that it doesn't, happiness always will.

How does one go about finding it? For people like me, with no clear skills sets in any particular domain, its even more difficult. We were the Carpet bombers in IIMB- our motto was "Have CV, will apply". But I genuinely liked every course I took. And loved none. But one fine day, I asked myself, forget the work. What aspects of the working environment would be important to me? And the answers came strongly enough- high intellectual quality of people, dynamicism and a certain bit of luxury. I knew instantly that Marketing wasn't for me, and went headlong into Finance, despite having done badly in it always. Bronson has solved the riddle for me- I guess most confused people like me suffer from misunderstanding what they are good at with what they want to.

I subjected my office friends to a long discussion on this topic, and was deeply disappointed to know that they didn't believe in it at all, or in the fact that it was practically possible for one to find her calling. They opined that your commitment to work should be 100%, irrespective of how much you enjoy it. And I thought how lucky was I, to be incapable of doing that, else I would never have found the answer to a riddle so critical to my happiness. :)