Sunday, March 15, 2009

Maktub...

We were sitting in a dimly lit pub at Alibaug,laughing at the jokes that Ajay was cracking. We had met him at the induction programme for our first job, and most of us had taken an instant liking to him.Without fail he would come in exactly 10 minutes late to every class,look at his watch and shake his head as if he couldnt believe he was late,then wink at us as he occupied a seat in the last row.From time to time he would pass an outrageously witty remark while class was going on and maintain an innocent face while the rest of us struggled to hold back our laughter.Outside class he was always interacting with someone or the other,spreading his good humour.

It was our last evening at Alibaug,the following day we would be going back to Mumbai to start our careers.The conversation turned to what we had done previous to joining a B School.There were a few stories passed to and fro,none vaguely interesting in any manner, then Ajay told us his story.

Ajay grew up in a small town in eastern Uttar Pradesh,the eldest of four siblings.His father worked in a small post in a government job and spent most of his time worrying how he would raise enough dowry to marry off Ajay's sisters.Ajay was written off as a no gooder a long time back by his family and relatives.He had flunked his board exams in the 12th standard,somehow cleared it the following year, and managed to complete his 3 year B.A degree in a span of 4 years. His friends comprised of mostly local hooligans and by the time Ajay scraped through his graduation,he knew more about country made revolvers and the intricacies of booth rigging than the subject he had graduated in.

One day as he was recuperating from a bad hangover brought over by the excesses of the country liquor of the previous night and his father's shouting the same day,Ajay chanced upon an article in the local newspaper which mentioned about the salaries drawn in by freshly recruited MBA graduates. Ajay thought that the figures were mind boggling. He began to imagine himself doing a MBA, earning a lot of money,helping out his father financially,redeeming himself in front of his family and relatives.The article had mentioned of some coaching instutes in Delhi which prepared you for MBA entrance examinations, and Ajay made up his mind to go to Delhi and join one of these institutes.

Ajay's father burst out laughing when Ajay informed him about his plan. A bad egg is always a bad egg, he said.A person who found it difficult to pass college would never get into a MBA college, and he was not willing to spend several lakhs on the whims and fancies of a son who had never done any good in his life. The money would be needed for finding a suitable groom for his daughters, Ajay could as well forget about this silly notion of doing a MBA for all he cared. He advised Ajay to apply for a government job as a clerk somewhere.

Ajay ran away from home the next day. He was carrying two thousand rupees in his pocket which a friend had lent him and set off for Delhi in an unreserved compartment. He had the phone number of a friend in Delhi who had promised in the past to help him in case he needed anything. Ajay reached Delhi and called up the number his friend had given him. It was that of a PCO.Ajay asked for his friend,and when he came on the line, informed him about his situation. His friend said that he busy and asked Ajay to call back in a few hours time. When Ajay called up again, his friend did not receive the call. Ajay kept trying for the next few hours, but didnt manage to get through his friend. Slowly realisation struck that he was standed in an alien city where he knew no one and had nowhere to go . For a brief moment Ajay thought about returning back home,but the thought of the sneers and the caustic comments of his relatives was enough to make him drop that idea.

Ajay called up another friend back home and managed to get the number of someone his friend knew who lived in Delhi. After another phone call and a bumpy bus ride to the outskirts of Delhi, Ajay landed up in the place where this person lived. The gentleman gave Ajay dinner and promised to help him out,but told him that since he lived in a one room flat with his wife, Ajay could not stay there. However,there was a godown next door, where Ajay could take shelter for a few days.Borrowing a bedsheet to put on the dusty floor, Ajay set off to make the godown his new home.Ajay spent the next two weeks roaming the streets of Delhi knocking from door to door at the offices looking for a job during the day and listening to the rats scurrying all over the godown at night.

After getting bit by the rats one night,he moved in with an acquaintance of the person who had helped him to stay in the godown.Ajay stayed in a small room with three other people,who made their displeasure very evident at the fact that he was staying there as a free lodger. They would order him around at will. He was told that he would have to sweep the floor,wash their clothes,do the dishes in return for staying in the flat. Ajay bore all this silently. He had no choice till he found a job.

A couple of months passed before Ajay finally managed to get a job as a salesman in the direct sales agency of a credit card company.His office wardrobe consisted of two shirts , two pants and a pair of shoes, all bought second hand from a pavement in Delhi. He would stand in the hot sun whole day pleading with passerbyes to sign up for a credit card. Ajay lived on a budget of 30 rupees a day for a couple of months. He would have puri-vegetables from a roadside stall for breakfast,lunch and dinner.At other times when he felt hungry ,he would have water.

Slowly Ajay saved up some money and moved into another room on his own. He was doing well at work, and got a promotion shortly.He allowed himself the luxury of buying a Reliance mobile phone to keep in touch with his family.The first time he made a call from the phone to tell his parents that he had bought a mobile phone with his own money, there were tears in his eyes.

The MBA dream still on his mind, Ajay went to a coaching institute and enquired about enrolment.He was told that he would have to pay an amount of twenty five thousand rupees for the course. Ajay was heartbroken. There was no way he could gather so much money to prepare in time for the MBA entrance examinations. Ajay went to another lesser known institute the next day and explained his position to the manager there. He asked for a discount and after a lot of haggling was allowed to join at a fee of ten thousand rupees.Ajay paid this in four instalments.

After attending a few classes at the coaching institute, Ajay realised that he would have to put in enermous effort to even come to par with the weakest of his fellow students. His major problem was that his education had been primarily in the Hindi medium, and communicating in English was a pre-requisite for getting into a MBA college.The teachers at the institute used to openly riddicule his accent and his shabby appearance,a few even wondered why he was wasting his time trying to become a MBA. Ajay fought on inspite of all the discouragement. He started reading english newspapers and magazines,underlining any word he did not undertand to look up in the dictionary later,kept on pestering his teachers to help out with any problem he was facing. He would wake up early in the morning to attend the coaching classes,then head off to work.At night he would stay up till late working on mathematics,data interpretation and english.

Ajay sat for the entrance examinations that year.The application forms itself cost close to a thousand rupees per institute, so Ajay just filled the form for the Common Aptitude Test conducted by the IIMs. He gave in his best effort, but was not able to make the grade that year.

He decided to give the examinations another shot the following year. He re enrolled at his coaching institute paying the same fees he had in the first year, and set off working harder than ever before.He started skipping meals in order to save up money to buy books for MBA preparations. He used to walk several kilometers a day in order to save the bus fare.That year he filled in applications for two more institutes apart from the IIMs.

Ajay got into one of those two institutes that year.When he gave the interview for the company which had recruited us, the interviewer commented on his English accent. Ajay replied that he could carry on giving the interview in chaste hindi without using a single word of English, and challenged the interviewer to do the same. He got the job. The years of struggle were over at last.

As Ajay finished his story, there was a silence in the table.As we went back to our hotel that night, we felt humbled thinking about his story.None of us had had to struggle even one hundreth of what Ajay had to in our lives.We felt happy that he had the courage to fight it out in order to realise his dream. Maybe it was written.