I got married at 24. Career would be a priority for the next 4 years was agreed upon by the both of us. I have a thing of pulling numbers out of a hat. For instance, during a job interview, I’d asked for a CTC of 4.8; not 4.5 or 5, but 4.8. My alarms too make no sense to anyone at all; 7.57, 16.13, 18.39, like that. Wonder if there’s anyone else who’s a weirdo like me. So, 29 was the age I had in mind to start a family.
I’d been a Human Resources professional for a major part of my career spanning 11 years; working mostly in Insurance and Entertainment. For a girl of 29, I was drawing a pretty good pay. More than good I’d say. I pursued Human Resources as a vocation because it identified perfectly with my personality – emphatic, interpersonal skills, good listener, problem solver, etc. – traits necessary to be a people’s person. I found fulfilment doing everything I did; payroll, appraisals, training and development, recruitments. My favorite part was grievance handling, the most human thing about Human Resources.
My calling however has always been Medicine. Surgery, rather. Even today, when I see them, pleasant demeanor, walking proud with an aura of intelligence always hovering over their head, stethoscope hung around the neck, this feeling takes birth. I could have been one of them. I had the scores; what we didn’t have then was money. My father, a banker, had 5 mouths to feed in a salary of one. We’re three siblings, 2 after me are twins. Mum cared for us all and the house and finances. They did the best they could while raising us. There wasn’t luxury, but we were happy in what we had. We had each other.
A decade in HR and one fine day I reflected about getting a management degree. I still had 2 years to devote to my career. An MBA in Human Resources would add value to the experience I had, I thought. Accelerating the course helped finish two semesters in one go, thereby reducing the duration by 6 months. Only two semesters were left.
4 months after Gangtok, on a very wet and windy July afternoon, I was huddled up in an auto-rikshaw, balancing my bag and umbrella with one hand and drawing the curtains with the other, while the auto maneuvered the craters on the road. It was the last day of my third term exams; also the first day of school which doubled as the exam center.
Anxious children and their equally anxious parents, some walking, some in cars and others on bikes, the street was a madhouse with these creatures unleashed after two months long vacation. The street leading up to the school was too narrow to accommodate this mayhem.
Clock was ticking. One eye on my watch and the other on the road, I urged the driver to hurry. But nothing. The vehicle didn’t move an inch. Pedestrians were pushing their way, hailing curses on this hapless passenger thankfully hidden behind the curtains.
8 minutes for the alarm bell to ring. Walking was the only option. So that’s what I did. Hopped off, paid the driver, left him all the change and started walking. Few minutes of shoving and mumbling and frowning later I managed to reach the gate. What lay beyond the gate however, was far more intimidating than I thought. The school building was more than a kilometer away.
On any other wet and windy July afternoon, I’d have enjoyed this leisure walk, lush green grounds on both sides, dotted with swaying palms and the rain pattering on the umbrella above my head. But now wasn’t the time for nature. After redirecting my focus on a rather important task, which was to take my harrowed self up to the classroom, I started running.
Oh that run! that tormenting, debilitating task I’d abhorred all my life. I was running, barely. Suddenly I pictured my mum and her whacks for always ducking out of sports in school. I remembered myself as a fat little spectator with a short bob and poker face, clapping and cheering for everyone who participated and won. Sports were never my thing. I grabbed every opportunity that presented itself for opting out of any kind of physical activity and participating in singing or elocution instead. Working the mouth was always convenient to working the body.
Not that I always ducked out. I did participate once. When force of every kind was used by my teacher. The result was devastatingly shameful. While everyone else had already crossed the finish line, I was only few meters from the start, but few feet ahead of a girl who was chubbier than I. “Fat” in today’s times is deemed derogatory; people are called down for body-shaming. But that’s what I was called then; also a duck, for obvious reasons.
It thus boiled down to a competition of just us two. I don’t reckon whatever my competitor and I were doing, could fit the definition of a run, but it surely was an entertainment to our spectators; some cheering, some filled with pity and the major lot, with mockery. That scene of two fat girls doing something called a run, must have gone down as an epic moment in the history of St. Anthony’s Convent High School. It’s unfathomable how most irritating memories are also the most persistent!
Back to the exam centre. An open umbrella was more nuisance and little help; I folded it to pick up pace. But nothing. Blaming the rain and winds, I gave up the idea and began walking as fast as I could. Few steps later I felt I was choking. I couldn’t breathe. There was a pain in my chest I’d never experienced before. I felt my heart thud against the ribs like a prisoner trying to escape prison. I sought the help of my grandfather umbrella and using it as a support I began dragging myself. Classroom was on first floor. I stopped at foot of the stairs, mouth ajar gasping for breath, throat a parched desert, hand on my aching heart and tears making their way down my cheeks. I’d heard the bell chime long back. How much time had passed, I know not.