Hopelessness is a situation, a mental state of mind that I sincerely do not wish for anybody to experience. We have seen some examples in recent Hindi movies of characters that are literally at the end of their tether struggling with life, and their story is heart wrenching to tell ' be it Iqbal or Michelle in Black or Ishan in Taare Zameen Par. The interesting point that is common to all these characters is that whereas it would have been so easy to simply concede defeat- to be blown away into life's oblivion- they fought back and prevailed eventually.
What is often not recognized is that each of them had a helping hand ' and that comes with pure luck. I consider myself to be very lucky (even though I have never won anything on these TV dial-in programmes) to have been able to climb out of the pit of dark thoughts and uncertainties twice in the space of the last 7 years.
Being from typically middle class backgrounds, my horizon seemed pre-destined. School, college and then probably a job as a doctor or engineer- that cherished stereotypical dream of every Indian household. The problem was that the education system back home stifled me- I detested every aspect of it- memorizing, writing chunks of mostly irrelevant things, the sheer volume of books, tuitions- all of it. As a result I have been an average student ever since Class V all the way to Class IX where I even flunked in a subject.
I wouldn't have failed my board exams- I wasn't that daft. But like one of my relatives suggested, I was simply mediocre in my talents. I would've hobbled through the system and found myself lost amidst the hundreds of millions of nameless nobodies that roam around India 's alleys- not without a decent job, pay or motivation in life.
I had a dream. Each time I picked up a school story by Enid Blyton, I had stars in my eyes. The grass seemed so much greener on the other side of the world. The variety of adventures that seemed in store for me in a British private boarding school seemed so much more than what the 900 paged Class X books had to offer me. But the '15,000 (approximately Rs 13 lakh then, as the sterling was stronger against the rupee vis-'-vis now) a year fees meant that this was a fool's hope.
Notwithstanding me having won a scholarship, the balance of the fees were still a few times greater than the annual income of my parents combined. This was a very low point in my life- I could see my cherished dream about to be trounced under the realities of life. After dreaming so big and high, I was just not prepared to come back to those mind numbingly boring maths equations at which I was and would never be any good.
Then came the helping hand. My jethu (uncle) who is settled in America bafflingly decided that I was pursuing something worthwhile and that he would help me. Till today I haven't been able to figure out why he did extend his helping hand, and what exactly I was doing that was different and deserved his blessings. In typical Indian manner, I have never quite been able to express my gratitude towards him.
It was as if I had sprouted wings. There may not be an event ever again that would turn my life on its head like this.
Motivation began to flow through my veins just like that. Yes I was still lazy, but this was my chance. I must say I did grab it with both hands. Suddenly I was a good student. OK I did have subjects of my choice and the opportunity to venture into the real world out of the books which strangulate the minds of our kids back home. The midnight parties in the boarding house, trying not to wake up the housemaster, were just as Blyton described them. The racism was not quite as enjoyable, but it was a minor blip in what was a hugely enjoyable experience.
Whilst going to university costs the same as school, I was in denial thanks to a loan that I took to cover the expenses, and the fact that my parents somehow managed to push me through those 3 years (only they know how they afforded it and what they had to give up in order to do so). I spent the time deciding what my dream was going to be- to be a professor of Indian political philosophy. Degree was in the bag, and offers from Cambridge and Oxford universities on my table. Life couldn't be easier.
Think again. I ended my stint at Warwick with Rs 15 lakh in debt (thanks to the student loan). The degree at Cambridge or Oxford would cost a further '18,000 a year which even after the '6,000 scholarship I had would not have been possible for my family to afford. I hadn't bothered to apply for the jobs for which you may get a work permit in Britain (such as finance or accountancy), and some of the investment banks I did apply to rejected a History-Politics graduate with a haphazardly completed application.
I would have to come back to India . Even though this is my home, I wanted to be as far from it as possible. Going back to India would mean attending university in Calcutta , which eventually rejected me anyway (a topic I have written about in The Telegraph). It would mean having a Rs 15 lakh loan with a Rs 5,000 per month salary (based on my experience and skills anyway). It would mean forgetting my dreams of hobnobbing with the elite in the backyards of St Edmund's College, Cambridge . My dreams crushed, my future bleak- this was again a dark hour of my life with no one to call for support.
I delayed the disaster for the time being by applying for a temporary work visa in the UK which allowed me to work for a year to try and figure out what I could do to avoid this cul-de-sac. This opened a whole new side of life to me- renting property, paying bills, taxes, meeting office deadlines and so on. More importantly, I could reorganize my papers and apply properly for a few top jobs in finance and accountancy.
Lo and behold! Today I have a job with a Big Four accountancy firm that applied for my work permit. Even though I didn't have a helping hand this time, I took the situation by the horns and dealt with it. I now have a chance to repay the loan that has been haunting me for very long. I have a chance to build a lucrative career in this industry.
Sure it wasn't what I flew to England for. But if there is one thing that hopelessness teaches you, it is this ' make the best of the situation, take what you get, and just think of what if the worst had happened.