It was war!
The air was thick with dust and the acrid, metallic stink of gun- powder. The heat was scalding and steamy. Sounds of heavy artillery drowned out hoarse voice shouting orders; orders which carried an edge of horrified terror. My heart pounded uncomfortably in my chest; the lance of panic held me impaled. I felt a ball of dread rise in my throat, making me gag. I was a student, not a solider. What on earth was I doing in the middle of a war, for God’s sake?!
In cold sweat and throat hurting terribly as if I’d swallowed an elephant, I woke up in my narrow bed. It was a dream! Oh, what a relief!
I swung my legs down and sat looking at my feet, my breath coming in ragged rasps through my raw throat.
I’m nineteen years old and am preparing for my engineering entrance exams. I appeared for this exam last year too, but wasn’t able to get through. I mean, I got admitted to ‘a’ engineering college, but I wanted to study in ‘the’ college- at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). A lesser college was no use.
Getting into IIT wasn’t my parents’ idea. Unlike my friends’ parents, my parents had never pushed me into fulfilling their own unrealized dreams. I had the freedom to choose any career, any field. After going through a perfunctory career counseling session after I cleared my higher secondary, I had decided to go for engineering. I chose the Math stream for my senior secondary.
For two years, I kept debating which engineering college I would study in. I searched the internet for the best colleges in the country. My high expectations from myself forbid me from even considering a lesser institution. So IIT it was.
My parents had been surprised, especially my mother. She kept asking me if I was sure. I tried hard to assure them that I really wanted to be an engineer, but they were not convinced. My mother was particularly vociferous. She kept insisting that I was making a big mistake. I got exasperated and I am ashamed to say that I snapped at her.
I know she was more than a little hurt. In a small voice she said, “I only want you to be happy Gautam. Your career isn’t only going to be your profession- it is a means of self- expression. If you choose wisely, it will define you and become your calling. Yes, I am surprised you want to go for engineering. I always thought you loved to dance- you are so exceptionally good at it!”
My mom is really a tad naive! What kind of a career option was dance? Where would I find work except in the movies? Everyone knows how tough it is to get into the movies. People far more talented than I have languished at the portals of the film industry, never once having crossed the threshold! I certainly have no taste for a life of deprivation and unending struggle. All I wanted was a good life. Money- loads of it and the quicker the better- was certainly a pivotal part of my future plans.
In a way I could understand my mother too. I know I am a good dancer. With practice, I had the potential to become great. I forget the world when I dance. I feel as if I own the earth; as if she infuses energy into me through my feet. I feel neither hunger nor thirst; neither exhaustion nor sleep. I become one with the music as it flows through me, making me rise and fall with its melodious notes.
As a career option, dance was a dicey proposition at best. Not everyone could be a Michael Jackson. To make the kind of money I wanted to make, I would need to devote many, many years to intense practice. After that I would need to wait endlessly until some big- wig gave me a break in the movies.
I don’t want to wait so long to make my pile of money! I want to get rich- like stinking, obnoxiously rich- as soon as I can! Once I’ve made my pile, I’ll have the rest of my life to dance in! That was the only sensible thing to do. I didn’t understand why my parents couldn’t understand something so simple!
It took me awhile, but I managed to convey this to my parents. They didn’t really understand. Or rather, they understood but couldn’t accept my choice. According to them, I was making a huge mistake, throwing away my talent, as my mom said. Dad went tight- lipped and mom quietly wiped her eyes with the edge of her sari. Neither of them argued with me, thankfully. They’ll understand some day, I’m sure of that.
The clink of money is a comforting argument.
To be continued…