It’s a hot and sweaty Saturday morning and I'm standing at the gate of the institute, waiting for an important alumnus to arrive for a meeting. Being part of the alumni committee has lots of perks but this isn’t one of them. The alumnus had said he’d be here in ten minutes. That was over an hour back and I curse my luck as the full sleeve formal shirt complete with a tie gently cooks my body to medium rare. I don’t even like the tie. It isn’t mine and I'd been forced to borrow it. It’s bright red with garish yellow stripes and it makes me stand out like a beacon to passerby’s who need directions. With my broken Hindi, I try my best but I get the feeling they don’t have a clue as to what language I’m speaking.
The security guard is amused and he calls out from time to time, “ Not come yet has he?
I shake my head in remorse and he grins. I guess it’s nice for him to watch a student sweat in the sun like him instead of dozing in an air-conditioned classroom. As a drop of sweat runs down my nose, I spot a small thin man with a battered suitcase make his towards me. Another lost soul, I presume and I decide that I will talk to him only in Tamil.
“ Why are you standing at the gate?” he asks me in crisp English and for a moment I’m surprised. He looks like a man who lives on the street and the last thing I expected was faultless English.
“ Is the institute open today”, he asks his next question and before I can reply, he answers himself “Oh yes, you have students in the hostel who will be here on weekends too.”
“What is the fees they charge?” he asks the next question and I find myself getting a little annoyed. It’s not pleasant being assaulted with questions by a complete stranger. The fees is fairly steep and not something you feel comfortable disclosing to someone you don’t know.
“You may ask at the admission office.” I reply and look away. He smiles knowingly and shifts himself in front of my gaze.
“What is your educational qualification?”
I look into his eyes. They are large, bright and have a maniacal gleam in them. The security guard looks on with avid interest. I don’t want to answer him but don’t know how to avoid a direct question. I struggle inside and finally mutter, “ Engineer.”
“Electrical and Electronics.”
“What specialization have you chosen here?”
“ I will decide in my second year.”
I hate every moment of it. I don’t have the guts to ask him to stop bothering me and I hate the way he’s wringing answers out of me.
He senses my discomfort and smiles.
“Listen to me. In two years you will get a job that pays you a nice fat salary. Then you will get married. But remember this! Keep your wife close to you!”
I look at him in confusion. I don’t know how to react. He comes close to me and looks penetratingly into my eyes. His smile disappears and is replaced by a fearsome scowl.
“Only ten percent of your salary to your brothers and sisters. The remaining ninety percent goes to your wife. If you don’t do that, you’ll end up like this man, a divorcee, a pauper who walks on the road with no chappal.”
He turned around and began walking away rapidly. I didn’t know what to make of the whole thing but it bothered me. I looked at the receding figure and wondered. Did he have some place to go? Was he walking with a great sense of purpose towards a place, which did not exist? Was there anything at all in that broken suitcase? Did he have any food or clothes in it? I wish I’d asked him his story. What had gone wrong with his life? Could the same thing happen to me?
When you studying in a B school, you completely forget the world outside. You assume everyone will earn a six-figure salary, everyone will drive an expensive car and everyone will travel the world. You party, you get drunk, safe in your knowledge that in the near future that some well known company will scoop you up.
As I stood at the gate of my B school, I realized that I was standing at the line that divided two very different worlds. I turned to the security guard.
“Call me when the alumni comes, I’m going inside.”