Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Dreamers Clause

Having just moved into Coimbatore from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, I found the city and the newness reinvigorating. I was an associate professor at the Mechanics department of a well-known and reputed technology college at Mumbai. Having lived in Mumbai for the past 25 years and seeing our two boys grow and leave home to tend to their own dreams, quests and lives, my wife and I had sensed a restlessness that comes with the feeling of empty-nest syndrome. When I had got an opportunity to come back to my roots at Coimbatore to head the department at one of the new colleges, I gladly took it. I had moved in April, found the cosmopolitan nature of the city quite to my liking and the pace was much different compared to Mumbai. Also, the fact that we were in the new city, was refreshing and there was some unlearning and relearning involved in that; more than anything it kept us mentally engaged in the discovery process.

We had found a nice apartment that was in the quieter part of the town and settled down. As we settled down, we got to know people around. Over the past six months, there was one family that endeared itself to my wife and I. It was a family of a mother, her son and the daughter. The son was in the final year of the engineering, but in a different college from the one I taught in and the daughter was still in the 12th. The lady of the house had lost her husband quite early and worked in a government position and had brought up her kids with a sense of decency and responsibility. We had liked the kids immediately; gradually, the kids – Dilip and Deepa started frequenting our home. There were lot of times when I came home and found Deepa helping out my wife. Dilip too had gotten familiar with me and called me “professor-uncle” and discussed with me on various topics. For us it was nice to have kids at home and we actually welcomed them into our house and kind of gave them unfettered access to our house. I found Dilip to be an extremely nice kid with simple tastes, wanting to keep his mother happy and wanting to do well. He was also a dreamer, who constantly dreamed and aspired to greater things. The only problem being, I found his efforts really did not commensurate his dreams; and he seemed to have set his boundaries around what he actually knew or what his circle of friends told him; to me there seemed to be a big gap between that and the reality out in the world. As Dilip came to me for advice, I came to know him better and deeper. It was not uncommon that Dilip would say that he had done his exams very well and end up getting around 60%, that too in a state where 80% and above was normal - I found out that he actually had done well for the questions he had attempted. For the rest, he always dismissed it with a wave of his hands and explain why the other portions weren’t important and how his seniors had told him that people who come in for in-campus interviews did not ask any questions around that and why it was important to know the portions he knew very well as they were key to a job! As a teacher and as someone who was well-versed with on-campus hiring, I found his point of view bordering absurdity; The fact that getting higher scores will get him above the baseline cut-off required for meeting the job-eligibility completely missed him. I tried to get this into him, but he had this disarming smile of a simpleton that was just impossible to get angry at him.

About 2-3 weeks ago, he had come home seeking some clarifications, just ahead of his semester exams. We got talking and he told me that he had been quite unlucky. After a bit more back and forth, I had found that he missed on an on-campus job interview. He just missed the eligibility by about a 2%. The cut-off was 65% and his aggregate was just below it. He continued that his friend who had gotten much lesser than him in the past two semesters had made it, while he missed out.

“I find it strange, how come?” I had asked him.
Dilip explained, “No, professor uncle, he had actually scored more than me in the earlier semesters; his aggregate is just over 65%. Now, he has gotten through the first two rounds and most likely will have a job by end of tomorrow”
After a pause, he added, “I am just plain unlucky”.
I had felt exasperation slowly build up in me. “Dilip, so what in your view is Luck?”
He was surprised at the question. Finally, after some thought he had said, “Uncle, it is about finding something by chance that one wasn’t expecting”
I helped him out, “So, it is about being in the right place at the right time and unexpectedly finding the opportunity”
He agreed, “Yes, yes”.
I continued, “Dilip, this is where you are wrong – it is not just about that – it is about being in the right place at the right time with right preparation”. I stressed on the “right-preparation” part one more time. “If you aren’t prepared well enough, there would be times when you would not see the opportunity, even if you are around at the right place and at the right time”.
I added lightly, “For all you know, the opportunity can come, stare at your face, tap you on your shoulder and then knock you over; and without the preparation, you will just get up, dust yourself and walk-on and let the opportunity slip-by. So, essentially, lucky people are those who had worked hard putting in the right preparation”

Dilip became thoughtful and slowly nodded his head. I had hoped that I had gotten to him.

That was several days ago. Today, I had no lectures and settled down at home to work on the research paper I was helping a PhD student with. Earlier in the morning, Dilip had come home to say bye to me and told me that he had his 7th semester exam start today. I had wished him all the best and had hoped within me that he has prepared well. As I was immersed in the thesis, I heard Dilip’s voice – it was early evening and Dilip walked into my home-office.

I looked up at him enquiringly.
“Uncle I did my exams quite well – There were about 4 questions that I really knew well and I’m sure I would have max’ed it. I am quite contended about what I did”
I was glad, “I’m happy for you Dilip, so what do you expect?”
“I should get around 70%, uncle”.
I was surprised – I’d peg his score at 60% then. “But I thought you did very well…”, I trailed off, enquiringly.
“Yes uncle, I did very well on the 4 questions that I had answered. There were 3 other questions that I answered so-so. Those questions were from the syllabus I had not really prepared on – I heard those topics are un-important”
I was aghast.
Dilip concluded, “Just did not expect this; I was really unlucky, uncle”


ramesh said...

this is true even in career planning cases with many...

Srinivasan said...

I call this a culture of entitlement versus one of enablement. I am evangelizing this in my lab and have found similar responses no matter how much I belabour. However, I am encouraged that some people get it and that is what matters in the end.

EnGeetham aka "My Song!" said...

4Ramesh: True, true. Basically, its got to do with the context I have (or my reality) and based on that, what space do I want to fill in and what role to play...

4Srinivasan: Its always spread across. What we are is only a reflection of our demography ! :)