Thursday, 22 September 2016

Mumbai Diaries - A Monsoon Memory

"You must have all sorts of experiences in life", were Bonsai's infamous words to me when I came face to face with my first failure -  I had managed to fail an exam! A grade A student till then, I was in a state of shock and shame when the wise one enlightened me.
Driving home in the rain today, I am not sure why I am reminded of that day. Maybe because it is a grey, rain soaked, Mumbai Monsoon day; that was after all another rainy afternoon when I had gone to the university to check my results, only to find that my roll number was not on any of the displayed lists. That meant I had probably failed in at least one subject. I maintained my composure through the journey home. I was strong, I could not cry in public; but once home, the dams broke as I sat alone, my head hung in mortification.
My mother tried to tell me that as long as I continued to use the grey matter nestled in my skull, this one setback would mean nothing in the long run.  Sequoia comforted me by pointing out that asking for revaluation was always an option I could exercise. But Bonsai did not understand the fuss. For her, it had happened, I had to accept it, and rock on the road ahead. I was unable to swallow the bitter truth and chose to keep mum about the entire situation. It was my doing and I had to deal with it.
I was trying to find comfort in To Kill A Mockingbird when Spectacle called me. It was Ganesh Chaturthi he reminded me. Lord Ganesh, the remover of all obstacles had come yet another year to bless us all, spread cheer and guide us forward. I had to be at his home for the evening aarti (prayers) and he would not take no for an answer. I did not know why I had to go, when with his arrival, the Lord had put a gigantic road block in my future plans. All I wanted was to be by myself and lick my wounds. But Spectacle does not back down easily and I had no energy to put up a fight.
I wore a mask of bravery, my favourite white salwar kameez and stormed into the rain to face my friends. The bravado melted half way through and I arrived with a subdued smile that showed all the effort it had created. There was not one person wearing kids gloves in that house and yet it was the most peaceful time I had that day. I was pulled up for being late. My peculiar mannerisms were made fun of; but there was not one person who spoke about college or of results.
It took me a few days and a few friends to get over the lump in my throat. Once I had kicked myself for being so pathetic,  I started to try to unravel the mystery of my dismal performance. As the layers peeled away, a realisation began to form; hard work had to be accompanied with smart efforts too! So troops were gathered and individual friends were tasked with explaining different aspects of Engineering Drawing; including the bizarre concept of imagining an object lying right in front of you to be at infinity. Why would anyone want to confound their brain with this insanity was beyond me! So I decided to understand the rules instead. They made sense and gave a framework to the otherwise ridiculous exercise.
The gradual process started giving me a context. As I began to comprehend the subject, my confidence grew. The layers of the mystery started coming off more easily. Soon I realised that my failure had been a composite mix of a closed mind, being too hard on myself and a lack of confidence in my own abilities. At some point I had stopped understanding the fundamentals. Instead of getting someone to explain things to me, I was hard on myself for not being able to keep up with the others. I had moved from Maths Honours to Engineering. I had taken admission in the college and vocation of my choice. I had to be able to stand up with the rest. That I did not enjoy Engineering Drawing, made me less  capable, suddenly, in my own eyes! All these pressures led me to create a scenario where I was not just good enough at Engineering Drawing, and my results ensured that my hypothesis was proven.
My first failure taught me that all of us have our strengths and weaknesses.  Planning and asking for help to supplement a weakness always improves chances of success. But most importantly, integral to every victory is self confidence. I guess it was overcoming that one hurdle that laid the foundation for my future risk taking ability and every achievement going forward.
I guess Bonsai was right after all! We must have all sorts of experiences in life! Or in Randy Pausch's words "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer."

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