Around 12 a.m on Dec 31 the new dawn breaks though in the dark womb of the night. Its birth is heralded by the burst of fire crackers if you are fortunate enough not to be pulled up by law. The sliver of the morning peeps out long after the festivities are over and the revelers are embedded in slumber. People take varied vows with an upturned chin that they would observe them for the year. Most of them forget it the next day and give an escapist grin when reminded of it. “I didn’t mean it, of course….was done on the spur of the moment when I was too tipsy.” Either this or some other refrain like “come on buddy….365 days are too long a term for any abstinence, right?”
Mahendran, a speck in the generation of aspiring youth in the present times, knew that the birth of the new year made him grow a year older. He entered the 25th year knowing that the day had broken through but his life led its own pace. Somehow it never crossed his mind that he should take a vow and see whether he had the tenacity to see it through. He didn’t need to as he was not known for any kind of addictions such as smoking or drinking for which impressionable minds always looked for alibis. He had seen them take pledges, struggle painfully to keep them for a brief period or exasperatingly renounce with a resigned grin. Mahendran always stuck to his routine of a long 45 minute walk, took bath immediately and said his slokas before venturing out to work. And there rested his saga.
His father, a revenue officer in IT department, used to recall to his son that he too was at a loss to see which dignified or credible job he would be placed in. “Mahendra….those days it was a toss between banks, central govt. services and private firms whose recruitment capacity in a year was out of sorts invariably with the jobless numbers outside. No one wasted time analyzing why it was so because the pressure to find a job took priority over anything else. It is the same now perhaps the opportunities are wider but fraught with risks. “ He paused for a while, knowing that his son was as worried about his placement as he was in his youth. “It will be so, son but the ultimate truth is to find a stable, paying proposition.” Mahendran, who spoke his mind always, cut in. “Yes father. Is it in the government service where you got in finally or private colleges for teaching which fetches far less than one would imagine? Don’t give me the usual pearl of wisdom that one should be committed to what he does. I knew it well around the time I did my post-graduation. All these clichés lose their relevance at one point of time or the other.’ He looked hard at his father and said “Remember, I am like any one of my age who would settle into a challenging job, just for its own pleasure and the fizz it generates in me. “ He raised his hand to silence his father when the latter ventured to cut in. “Times have changed, father, so have we. It is tougher now. But leave it to my own ways. One thing. I will plough my pursuit, earn money over the next two years but you should never ask what I am doing to earn it. You will hear when the day strikes, father. “ With this he went back to his room with the newspaper.
His father, momentarily dumbstruck by his son’s candour and stinging, albeit sarcastic riposte, nodded and smiled. He muttered “yes….it is his way and so long as I don’t meddle with it I will be doing him a service. But his determined looks give an indication of the shape of things to come. Let me wait for it.”
Mahendran was not a lotus eater aiming for something big or exalting once he completed his MA in economics. To him doing well in the subject did not mean anything exalting either as the sensation had its shelf life for only two weeks. He knew he would have to find his space related to the subject in the job he did. His close friend and batch mate, Surendar also had similar views though his performance in the subject was marginally less spectacular than his friend. But their minds were united in pursuit.
They worked in a consultancy firm as researchers which envisaged preparing research inputs suggesting for a number of clients a market growth plan based on balance sheets, product profile, tackling financial levies and competitiveness on a yearly basis. It was meant to be a small firm with small staff but the list of clients was widening. There was reason for it. Most of the small and medium firms did not want to indulge a separate department to examine these parameters regularly which entailed financial commitment. “Leave it to a consultancy firm, let them rack their heads over it…..” was the wry comment of a branch manager of one of those firms.
Their salary was good enough to last their expenses and they were satisfied with it. Their area of work however turned out to be routine though not monotonous after a year because it synchronized with their subject. “Mahendra….we cannot be here for ever. A day will come soon enough when our instincts will tell us to look for something better,” said Surendar.
Mahendran rubbed his chin. “Yeah….I feel the same. But our sights are set on something big. You can earn this salary, perhaps more, working for an online food delivery system which will be exacting but secure. Online food delivery chains are in a big way in the market employing scores of people. But wont we tire of that too, Surendar?’ Surendar grinned. “yeah….the easiest and most predictable thing in life is to tire of everything soon. But you are right, any way. We can easily land a job there, earn a good sum and rove around every corner of the city on scooters. They have their work schedules too. Ultimately we return to what we are pursuing with our hearts in it. If we make it to IES* nothing like it. “
A pall of silence ensued then as the enormity of the challenge and the immense hard work they needed to invest in it weighed on their minds. Mahendran spoke. “‘We have to do well this time and it is the maiden attempt. We have another six years to try our luck, Surendar.” His friend cut in. “We should have tried last year itself but we found this job and became laidback. That’s what happens. Once you land a job your immediate concern is to dig yourself in it while other considerations fade away. We have completed two years already.’
“I know. My worry is it must not make us complacent. Any way, how is your preparation going this time?,’ asked Mahendran. His friend spoke in consternation. “Damn me…I was just whiling away my week ends watching the latest Bollywood movies on TV. My father probably thinks I should know better because he rarely admonishes me on anything.” Surendran laughed. “May be, he is happy I am placed in a job and I do not pester him for monthly allowances. He is far too unconcerned, buddy. Or I have not understood him.” Mahendran smiled and patted his shoulder. “Come on man. Don’t think about it. I told my father only yesterday that he should never ask me how I earned my money so long as I didn’t bother him by asking for some dole. There is a complete barrier between me and him. We communicate only on essential things but otherwise there is a vacuum. I told him he would come to know when the day of reckoning came and he must brace himself for it.”
Surendar put an arm around his shoulder. “Bro…that’s it. We drifted from our chat when you asked about my preparation for IES. Rather I did. We must spend our week ends from now on about mock interviews framing tough questions. Last week we did and it came off well.” Mahendran nodded. “let us skip coaching institutes for it as we are capable of doing it ourselves. Going there is a waste of time and money. There too they are going to put us through rehearsed sessions and expect a fee for it. “ He lapsed into a reverie. After a long, meaningful pause, he opened out. “Surendar…it is our maiden attempt and we will make it at all cost. Let it be a new year gift for 2020 man….”
They clamped their fists as a symbol of pledge. Days would keep fading from that moment but will the momentous occasion ensue?
They threw their heart out into it trying their best to keep away any web of fears which would inevitably gnaw in them about succeeding in it. It was logical also because mind had a way of straying into unrelated things like a monkey swapping branches. Mahendran knew that to develop a singular mind and pursuit was easier said than done. Surendar was a film buff and just could not be kept away from new films especially as their glamorous and glitz laden ad blitz always hogged one’s attention.
“Bro! Keep away from films for the whole year.” Mahendran warned. “I say this more for you than me because you are too adulatory about one or two super stars. You are academically brilliant but your mind is a prisoner of some fad or the other. I don’t blame you but remember, these stars have made their lives. We are yet to.” Surender understood and also had to. He knew the challenge they took upon themselves was almost like a penance and must be seen through with full harnessing of resources. They worked on a large pile of the latest theories on economics floating around, poured over vital progress made by some states in certain areas with stats, studied the exponential growth story of a city state like Singapore and whether it could be replicated in Delhi and the growth profile of essentially South Asian economies.
“Bro! we do all this on a wild hunch but if we ever make it to the interview stage will these make any difference?” Surender had a twitch when he posed this query. “For all you know it may or may not. But let us go on with it.” Mahendran gave a knowing smile. “Man…I understand your misgivings. Only in our last rehearsed interview session at home you ripped into me with searching queries on these very issues. I loved it. I blundered here and there but you corrected me. I got a feeling then we are on the right path. All that we have to do is steer the conversation at the real interview with panelists to these areas. It is a way of talent projection, buddy, and placing the resources we have.”
They didn’t worry and were focused. When the intimation came they had got through the written exams they were composed, not thrilled. The dates too were announced. Both had to do their interviews over a schedule of three days in New Delhi. It was then that they felt the twitter in their stomachs. They spent a long time in the nearby park checking and cross checking all the preparations done over the months and also marshaled their knowledge of allied subjects. They conducted mock interviews at home with Surendar apprehensive whether their decision to prepare for the interview on their own was sensible. “Have they missed out on anything from the coaching institute?”
Mahendran stamped his foot in slight annoyance. “Man….we took the right decision and I see a conscious enhancement in our capacities. Never have second thoughts as it would put spokes in the wheel.” He was silent for a while and then stared into his friend’s eyes. “Let us go ahead, man…and win.”
“Bro….we made it. I got your SMS just now and was slightly worried. Even half an hour’s silence from your end would break my heart. Thank God! You confirmed it immediately.”
Surendar, for the first time in many months, gave vent to his emotions. For too long they were on some kind of a peregrine journey where even minimal expression of any emotion was ostracized. It seemed austere to a surrealistic degree. Ever since the personality tests they had maintained a scrupulous silence on it because any talk about reaching the peak’s crest when one was a few steps away would be meaningless. Mahendran too was equally excited.
“Man…I cannot wait to see you. You come over here at once. Your lunch will be here and we are going for some movie in the evening, even if it is bull crap.” “Buddy! You put me in a cocoon for almost a year without any space for entertainment. I should curse you the whole day for it. I am ready even to whack you for it.” Mahendran laughed. “You will have all the time to do it in the next two months before we get our postings. But, man, for the first time we are going to be in different locations, doing a job that had been close to our hearts and getting into a service that was central to our thoughts.”
His meditative flair never left him whenever he spoke unlike Surendar who answered his heart’s call with spontaneity. But he was reflective now. “Yeah Bro….we scaled a peak. That’s how it looks when looking back, no exaggeration. I may sound a bit overboard because still there are many ifs and buts in life, inevitably. We may be in different locations but when I have to meet you sometime I have to just hop over.” “Right now you hop over here. We will have to plan for a rollicking 2020, Bro….”
*Indian Economics Service.