I was 22 when I was packed off to the United States from India (again… against my wishes – is it just me or is anyone else noticing a trend here?) by my late father to pursue my graduate degree. Now, you need to know this: Before this move, I had never left the country or flown internationally, but I was from a big bustling cosmopolitan city – Bangalore. Hence, the Pastoral College Station, Texas, home of them Aggies seemed like a demotion for me.
But the truth is, all that didn’t matter for Appa, who JUST wanted his son to pursue the American Dream. You see, Appa was not from a small town or village, he grew up in a hamlet in Southern India – a row of 50 something houses surrounded by farmlands with a temple at the end (cause… India? Duh?). I can still remember: to visit my grandparents, we took a train to the nearest big(ish) city from Bangalore, then a bus to the nearest town, then a rickshaw / horse cart to my Appa’s hamlet. (P.S. Indian Postal Service, god bless you!) Guess I was subconsciously ‘seeking’ my roots in the agrarian College Station?
Now, back to Appa: the hamlet couldn’t keep him long and the rebel he was; at 20, he ran away to his grandmothers’ in Chennai to pursue his graduate degree. This was very much against the wishes of my grandma, who didn’t ever want him to leave (Yup! There are patterns in our family and they are not even subtle).
He then moved to Bangalore, found a good job as a bank manager, grew into a prolific investor, bought two houses in Bangalore (even today, I can’t think of buying one house in Bangalore, let alone two!) – and achieved more success than you would believe, stemming from a boy who grew up in a hamlet! One would think that he was a fairly content man, right? Nope!
You see, as a young man, he wanted to make it to America, the land where you can be anyone you want to be. But that kid from the hamlet (at this point should I just start quoting Shakespeare?) despite all his ceiling shattering deeds, had hit a plateau when it came to coming to America: There were just no chances for him to do so. Was all hope lost?
Enter – his son (Hi Little Raja!). Born and raised in an erudite old Bangalore neighborhood, he decided his son (still me!) would be his torch bearer. Though I can’t confirm from him anymore, I’m pretty sure the day I was born, he told himself, ”My son is going to America”. Was it that straightforward? Hmm.. Not quite. Read on.
By a lucky roll of the dice, I was very good academically in high school, even topped my school (meh!) and ‘had’ to pick a science stream – cause God forbid the arts were for ‘low’ achievers, and it didn’t matter that my favorite subjects, even to this day, are English & History. The science stream made you eligible to write multiple entrance exams to get into engineering & medical colleges (wonder where that stereotype of Indians in America stems from???).
Back then, I was certain I had no interest in slicing and dicing people, but little did I know that fast forward 20 years and I would specialize in doing exactly that, with people’s psyches! So, I dutifully wrote the test, got an ‘okay’ rank of 2000 among 100,000+ applicants and picked the college and the engineering major my father told me to pick.
Lest you jump to the conclusion that I went to Indian Institute of Technology for engineering school let me clear that with a – ‘‘Hell no”. I was smart, not dreadfully smart and that my ‘two’ failed attempts at cracking that exam whose admission rate is worse than Harvard, is the subject for a different article. But hey hey.. Hold on. I didn’t go to a bad college: if you think IIT is like Harvard, I went to a school that was an equivalent of Texas A&M for undergrad for engineering in India.
Engineering school was a disaster, I hated it and consequently sucked. I studied only to pass exams with no intention of ever learning anything. And it showed! I remember stuff from high school – English plays & History, of course, but not a single lesson from engineering school! I couldn’t tell you the difference between RAM, the Hindu God and the RAM that goes into computers if my life depended on it. And yet, somehow, I managed to finish the degree without flunking a single course – one of the first miracles of my blessed life!
I killed my GRE, while it was predetermined that I have to go grad school in America, I was determined to not pursue that in ANY engineering discipline (Thank you Mrs.Farias), much to the disappointment of my father of course. But it was small beans: his son was going to America for post grad Business degree, at that point, he wouldn’t have cared if it was in Impressionism specializing in Monet with a super speciality in his water lilies series from a nondescript school in Idaho (No offence!). It was America and it was happening!
I quite enjoyed business school in America, where the focus was on learning rather than just getting grades that decorate your resume. I did very well in B school which led to a cherished and successful career in management consulting and now at the age of 39, in the year that I’m turning 40, I decided to kick the ‘American Dream’ away to pursue MY Dreams – bringing authenticity and calm to business leaders, in the middle of the pandemic nonetheless (If only Appa were alive!). Is this what he felt like at 20, running away to Chennai to start his new life? I suppose nothing else could come closer.
What changed, you ask?
The rabbit hole of healing & spirituality which I fell into made me question everything I believed in. In my first Ayahuasca retreat in the Peruvian Amazonian jungles, I came out with only ONE certainty, “that my mother was my mother”, everything else was a false pretence or an illusion at best. With the pandemic engulfing the world and work actually scaling up tremendously, I doubled down on my mindfulness practices and the message was clear: “I need to escape the Matrix”. While you may imagine the exit from the corporate world to be as dramatic as the feeding tubes being severed from Neo, it was actually more like a prolonged Indian family goodbye (cue choice of Bollywood music).
While nearly dying a few times in the Amazonian jungles drinking the Ayahuasca concoction that might lead you to discover the truer YOU – which might not be your cup of tea (pun certainly intended), I urge you to start small with consistent mindfulness practices of: gratitude, breathwork and meditation to see where it takes you. And if you need a coach to guide you through this journey, I might know a very good one! (wink)
So, let me ask you this today: Whose dreams are you living? If they are not yours, what are you doing about it?
PS: I found Mrs.Farias recommendation in her beautiful handwriting, it was actually written in the month of August, 18 years ago. So much of this is still true…although my logical skills have traded places with my linguistic ones, not complaining