“What do you do?”, not “How do you do?”, has always been the defining question asked of someone. I, for one, have tried to answer this, in ahem, so many ways! After nearly 15 years of meandering along a winding path with many dead ends, I am now looking back at it, with a laugh here, with a thought there and I invite you to join me in my walk backwards.
Mind-Voice: “You see, my sister is a doctor. She’s always roaming around with books, heavier than her. Why on earth, would I go through all that pain? Besides since I’m so great at Maths, always scoring centum in all my exams, undoubtedly, an engineer and where else but Anna University.”
Obvious: Being the topper in school; Scoring a centum in Chemistry (I forbid you to ask me any formula!)
Precious: Scoring high in Tamil and English
Actually: Anything and everything in the world
Really: Engineer and Doctor
Electronics and Communication Engineer:
Mind-Voice: “What am I doing here? All these machines, line drawings, workshop, ICs are freaking me out. I shouldn’t be here. I am going to be a psychologist… mmm no wait, writer… mmm no wait IAS officer… no, no, no, social activist…. Okay, okay, I hear what you’re telling me, I’ve started this, so I should finish it…. I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do, but here is this software company calling me for an interview, let me attend it and see what happens. ”
Obvious: Having no arrears in all of my 8 semesters (I still don’t understand how I achieved this feat!)
Precious: The only S(Excellent) grade I got, was in first semester in English; Meeting the guy who would put up with me through all my crazies!
Actually: ME, MS, MBA.. again many things under the sun
Really: Electronics Engineer, Software Engineer, Software Engineer, Software Engineer (Not a typo!)
Mind-Voice: “I am just sitting here reading novels and newspapers. Just running these test scripts. Everyday I come and sit before this computer and the world thinks I am in a great job, but does this really make me happy?… When will I go abroad? … Now, I am here in the US, travelling, doing all the things I’ve always wanted to, but then why this emptiness that does not seem to go away, no matter what I do”
Obvious: Gaining 5 years of software experience
Precious: Gaining the friendship of clients in Minnesota, USA.
Actually: Law, Journalism, Theatre, Business, Gemstone Appreciation… (This is not fiction, but fact. Software has this unparalleled capacity to bring out from deep, the wild desires of people!)
Really: Program Analyst, Manager, Center Head, President
[I ended this phase by meeting and marrying the guy, I mentioned before. From this point onwards, I seemed to do nothing “real” or “regular”. I kept running fast in seemingly bizarre directions.]
Director, Mellinam Education:
I had quit Software for deep reasons like didn’t have any meaning for me and on-the-surface reasons like too long a commute. Newly wed, I took on Madhan’s wings and thought I could fly with those. It was later I realized, that if you want to fly, you have to grow your own. He wanted to start a school. So, I wanted it, too. From school to pre-school to creating our own educational material to a new-age Tamil rhyme book, we ended up with this novel product called iPaatti. With Haiku in me, we put in passionate and hard work to release this product. It got rave reviews. But what’s more important in business is not the ability to produce, but to sell. And I didn’t have that skill. As Madhan became busy with other roles and responsibilities, I, the new mother lacked the drive to keep this company going. A feeling of I’m not really doing much while having the great-sounding title of “Director” kept nagging me.
Obvious: Setting-up a company; Being everything from the director to the office-boy!
Precious: The lesson that to truly be somewhere, I have to seek and chart my own path.
Qualified Education Agent Counsellor, Australia (QEAC)
When I realized that iPaatti wasn’t doing it for Mellinam and me, tried to explore other options. One of it was taking up a QEAC Exam and helping Indian students choose the right course of studies in Australia. As I had been so confused about deciding my path, I had this noble intention of helping others decide. But then I finally got the meaning of the statement we hear during every airline travel, “Before you help others, please help yourself.”
Obvious: Clearing a difficult exam with very short preparation
Precious: The confidence that I can take up any exam
Again having started an Education company with just ideals, I wanted to equip myself with knowledge. So, on a twilight evening, walking in IIT, I decided to take up this MA(Education) course from IGNOU. A baby was to be born shortly but I decided to take this course bravely. Learnt a lot of great stuff. Was inspired and motivated by the IGNOU material. No person taught me, all my learning was from books and it happened to be the best education I had got so far in my life. It also introduced me to qualitative research, that I completely fell in love with. Exploring meaning from words was something after my own heart.
Obvious: Raising a baby and completing 10 papers in 1 year; Producing an original research work for my thesis.
Precious: The truth that it doesn’t matter where you study, with whom you study, only how much you enjoy what you study.
So fascinated I was, by my MA(Education), that I wanted to pursue higher studies and this exam was a requirement. Many people I talked to, said that I had to write the exam, multiple times, to clear it. I decided to give it one shot. Prepared 4 months for this exam.
Obvious: Cleared it in the first attempt; Ability to be a lecturer anywhere in India for life.
Precious: To tell from personal experience, “You can prepare your way even to the moon.”
International Journal Publication
Having truly enjoyed my research work, Madhan encouraged me strongly to publish my article. So pruned my 100 page dissertation to a 15 page journal article and submitted to an international journal. They accepted.
Obvious: Getting published in a international peer-reviewed academic journal.
Precious: The joy of writing, editing and being published.
As in the beginning, when I wanted to take up engineering in Anna University, once again I made the mistake of wanting something for the sake of an institution. Now it was a PhD(Humanities and Social Sciences) in IIT(Madras). After endless reading about action research, water pollution, I mixed a cocktail with these elements and my good intentions of cleaning up my city. Thus, I ended up with a very clear image of a very fuzzy idea! Surprisingly, I was shortlisted for an interview. My research proposal was very dramatic. I had envisioned doing action research with students of IIT and other Arts colleges towards cleaning up Chennai. They are not professors of IIT for nothing. After having the good fortune of entertaining them for a short while, I wasn’t selected in the interview!
The first time in my entire educational journey, I had failed to get something I wanted. I crashed. Completely. In my scheme of things, I never saw this happening. There I was in my mind’s eye, studying in IIT, doing some amazing research… I had put in so much hard work, sacrificing the time I had for my husband and my son. This shouldn’t be happening to me, I thought. It took a very long while to get out of the feeling of dejection. Slowly, I climbed out. I saw all the reasons I didn’t get into this. It was not about getting an education. It was once again for the wrong reasons and life knocked me out rightly this time. This was the best thing that happened to me, in this entire path.
After this long and complicated journey, turning back at every dead end, thinking it’s towards something huge, I have finally discovered it’s not about the magnitude of the degree you get, the institution you study or the place you work. It’s about how you feel deep inside about the work you do. It may be a very small thing that fills you with immense satisfaction!
At this point, I feel I have found that small thing and unlike the rest, I feel this one is here to stay! Well, partly because, Madhan has threatened that if I don’t stick to this chosen path, we are going to have five children and I am going to exclusively take care of them. No……….! But seriously, I am now growing my own wings to fly in my own sky…. and soon, I will take you with me.