I was born and brought-up in typical Indian middle class family in Bangalore. We are four children to our parents. I was third son of Mrs. Vedavathi Acharya and Mr. Ranganath Archarya. I have two elder brothers and one younger sister. To my parents luck, we were all bright in studies and that presented a new problem when we started going to college later. My father was a school teacher and my mother, a house wife or home maker.
People say, children are innocent and they live in their fancy imaginary world and don’t realize the problems of the adults. But at early age I experienced and understood my family’s financial constraints. There was just enough money to pay school fee and no money to buy toys, story books, new clothes or my big attraction, bicycle.
In school, everyday we had to wear school uniform, blue shorts and white shirt, except on Wednesday. Wednesday we were allowed to come in clothes of our choice or as we kids use to say ‘color dress’. I used to look forward for Wednesday with lot of embarrassment, as there would be a clear distinction of social class we belong to. Although not many rich children were there in our school, but their dominance was such that we could see them all over the place. Their high class in society was acknowledged one way or the other by teachers, school peons or head master himself.
As a kid, I used to wonder why some people live so comfortably and we live with so much financial restriction. Why government is not paying big salary to school teachers?
One day after dinner when my father was in good mood, I asked him “Father, why don’t you do some business and earn more money like others?” He was puzzled by my question and then laughed and said “I don’t have big money to invest in business and your grandfather left me with lot of loans as inheritance but not a property!” I did not give up, I knew we could take loans and do a business and said the same to him, to which he said no one including government gives loan for a school teacher like him. Then he tried to make issue light by making comic statements. I started wondering that “Oh God! Then there is no way to get out of this rut?”
My question was answered soon. One fine day, Viswanath who was my maternal uncle’s eldest son, visited us. He had just completed engineering and had got a job as lecturer in the same college where he studied. He was a star or rather a superstar among our relatives. He was bright in studies and good looking and he seemed to know everything in the world. Everybody used to adore him and longed for his company. Every mother and father among our relatives used to quote him as a shining example for everything. Not to mention about his gold medal in engineering.
Viswanath had got a wonderful offer from Bombay engineering college for a Research Assistance Engineer post, from well know Professor Dr. Bhave. Dr. Bhave was well known scientist and even prime minister of India used to take his opinion on every science and technology matter. Then Viswanath promptly resigned to his lecturer job in Bangalore University and was getting ready for his new job in Bombay. Before moving to Bombay he wanted to visit all the close relatives. So he was visiting us on that Sunday.
That day my mother prepared special food and mainly sweet ‘Obbattu‘, which was Viswanath’s favorite.
Viswanath came to our home on Sunday afternoon. My father greeted him and asked him about his parents and new job in Bombay and all that. As a kid I was mesmerized by seeing Viswanath. My brothers and sister went out to play after few minutes. But I stayed on and sacrificed my Sunday evening play time to spend time with him. I snatched water jug and glass from my mother and served Viswanath before offering coffee. When my father and Viswanath were having coffee I stood in front of them smiling ear-to-ear for no apparent reason.
Everything and every moment about Viswanath seemed to be so graceful. I just stayed in hall and was listening to the conversation between my father and Viswanath. After sometime he said he wanted to go out and meet his friend. When he was back, he bought big Dairy Milk chocolates for all us children. Needless to say, my parents would never buy us anything more than éclairs. And then we had festival dinner with everybody competing to eat “obbattu”. Before leaving, Viswanath had some kind words for us to study well and earn good marks to become successful. I listened to him with my eyes wide open and decided to become like Viswanath.
After Viswanath left for Bombay, it took three months of hard work to get 2nd rank in quarterly test and six months to get 1st rank. Once I had hold on 1st Rank, I never turned back. I wrote a letter to Viswanath to inform my achievement, he wrote back praising me for the success and encouraging me to continue my effort in studies.
I went to join the same engineering college in which Viswanath studied. When I completed my engineering I was happy to see my name on topper board along with Viswanath. In fact I had got 12% more than he had got. I wrote to him teasingly about that. He replied saying marks are like money, due to inflation I have had more marks than him but of less value!!!
By the time I joined engineering my elder brothers had finished their degrees and diplomas and had started working. This had considerably improved our financial situation. Coming first rank in the school and colleges had its own benefits: one scholarship, concession in school/college fee and respect from fellow mates and teachers. If I have to be honest I enjoyed scholarships more than anything else. Like Viswanath I too became popular among friends and relatives.
After engineering I had job offer from private companies and engineering colleges, including the one I studied. Then I consulted Viswanath, who had married and settled down in Bombay by that time. He advised to go for higher studies. Although I wanted to do that, I was more eager to achieve economical independence. Against Viswanath’s advice I decided to take-up a job as a lecturer in a famous engineering college in Ooty. College management had promised me to send for higher studies with salary after completion of two years of service, which eventually they did.
When I was 28 years old my parents starting looking for a bride. I wanted to delay marriage as I wanted to make as much money as possible before getting married. I wanted to provide sufficiency of everything to my family. But, once when I was in Bangalore for holidays, my parents asked me to accompany them to a relative’s house. When we reached their house, there was something odd in the environment, I only realized later, on what was happening. That is when Ranjana came with coffee and snacks and kept it on the table. Ranjana was very beautiful, and my heart started beating wildly.
I realized that my parents had schemed, for me to meet Ranjana. My mind was confused, and my heart beating wildly even after we reached home. My mother came to my room, when I was reading magazine and slowly started talking to nobody in particular. She started talking about how beautiful the girl is, how good the family was, how good natured she was even after she doing engineering, not even a touch of ego etc. etc. After talking for about 10 minutes, my mother went away to do her chores. I was a mixture of anger and confusion, but didn’t tell anything to my mother.
Next day morning, my father called me and told me about the family and Ranjana formally. He told me “Things have to happen at a right time, money etc. will come later, and you cannot stop your life for that”. After all this lecture and formality, he asked me if I am ok to marry Ranjana. He waited for 3-4 minutes, before walking off. I was still confused. Just after my afternoon nap, mother came to my room with coffee. She asked me the question of marrying again. I agreed.
After marriage I took Ranjana to Ooty. She was a very mild and good natured person. Although, her cooking some times was awful, I had missed the home food from last 8 years, it didn’t bother me much. Before marriage, I was worried about my wife cribbing, crying and her asking for the sky every now and then. Ranjana was a gem; she adjusted to me very well and my lifestyle. She never asked for anything special and always adjusted with the things available at home. I was well respected in college and was easy for me to get a job for Ranjana in the college. She took up the opportunity without much fuss and questions. She was very good.
One day she announced that she is carrying. I was shocked, and answered “Ranjana! We didn’t need this now”. The whole night and next day I was thinking, my plan had toppled again. I wanted to have a certain bank balance, and the plan was to wait 2 years before having children. Next day when Ranjana, didn’t come to office I realized what had happened yesterday, and she must have felt very bad with my response. Who will not? I had given such a cold and bad response, even worst; I blamed her as if it was her problem. I didn’t know how to comfort her; I called my parents and told the good news. Luckily, my mother instantly told she would be coming the next day to visit us. After going home, when I told her about my parents visiting and helped Ranjana in her work, I could see she was returning to normalcy. My mother stayed on and helped us with the whole process of having the kid; I forgot my toppled plans and became ecstatic when I saw “Ranjini” for the first time in the cradle. I need to say, my mother was pain for me, pointing mistakes in me every now and then. I didn’t understand what was going through her mind; she had never been like this before.
I didn’t care much as I thought, “women and their sentiments, who can understand?”
One fine day I got a call from the Principal of the college. I was selected for an educational program to be done in an American university. The program was sponsored by Government of India and would be for one year. My college had proposed my name and I was selected based on my knowledge and credentials. I was proud to be selected for such a program and was ecstatic about the thing. The excitement was to go to USA and also to earn in dollars. Lot of my colleagues got jealous as my status inside the college increased and I obviously felt proud for that.
Once I was home, I broke the news to Ranjana with happiness. She looked perplexed but didn’t say no or argue or even question about it. I understood her worry and slowly explained her need for me to go to USA. I explained her from the money factor, how it will help Ranjini’s education, how it would increase my status in the community. The way I will get bigger/better salaries and how our lifestyle can change because of it. After all it was just for a year and all our dreams would be fulfilled after that. She didn’t show much happiness towards this, but didn’t negate me in any way. I was very happy.
Before leaving for USA, I made all arrangement so that Ranjana would be able to run the house with out any issue. I was very happy with the way she showed interest in learning things. I needed support from her during those days, and she provided that without complaints.
Life in USA was methodical and easy; according to my tastes I should say. It was difficult for me to adjust to food in the initial days; there were other Indians in the university and helped me in finding places to get Indian groceries. I quickly got impressed with the education system in the university and the facilities available to students and teachers. Education program was to understand the research methodologies in the American universities and I was also involved in a research project in metallurgy area to understand on-the-job scenarios of research.
The research group involved people from various countries, some students, some professors, some lecturers, etc a team of 35 people. I was supposed to be the temporary member of the team, as the research was panned for 3 years and I would be involved only for 6-8 months. Metallurgy was one of my interest areas and I took to the problem at hand with full energy and vigor. Back in India, I wouldn’t get the facilities to test my ideas in my college. I had made up my mind to make use of the facilities provided by the university. I started putting 15-16 hours a day of effort. I used to get frustrated, when I had to attend other courses, seminars, visit facilities, as part of main objective of being there in America.
I was in my dream land, and things like food, recreation never mattered to me even before coming to USA. Funnily I noticed my worry of making money slowly went into background. The research lead James was professor and had PHD in various areas. He was well known in the area of metallurgy and I remember one of the authors of my engineering text book was this guy. It was pleasure working with him, though he wouldn’t spend much time with me as I was doing not-so-important work. I used to call and talk to Ranjana and Ranjini once a week. In just a month are so after reaching USA, I used to get an urge to talk to them, but once I start talking to them, I realized their life and stories didn’t interest me much. At that point of time this didn’t worry me much, as I realized that there was something else which was dearer to me and I could survive my whole life learning and studying the nuances of science.
6 months into the program, I had made major breakthrough in my area of work. James was very impressed with my work. James got more impressed, when I proved some of the assumptions under which the research team was working were wrong. I was surprised by the positive response, when James accepted and appreciated me for my work in front of everybody. Back in my college my HOD had chastised me for arguing with him, though I was correct on a subject. There was no scope for ego or jealousy with James, an I felt happy for his appreciations. This breakthrough completely changed the track and plan of the research program. Happiest day in my life was when James asked me to stay on in the program till its completion. There were obvious problems of VISA, my government sponsorship, my college etc. James was heavily respected guy, and the research program was sponsored by one of the Fortune 100 companies. Once I provided my acceptance, which I did in no time, James could pull all strings and get the operational things covered for me. I was in dream land and started putting more energy into the research.
I never cared for money after this time, I never spent money as most of time was going into research, and most of my earnings directly into savings. There were no weekends for me and my social life was next to nothing. I had some good friends in the university and I used to visit them for lunch or dinner once in a while. James was a workaholic himself and with all the renewed energy we came to a very definitive answer to the problem we were researching on. Everybody in the core and the external team was thrilled that day. James took us all to a Pub that day. Though people had forced me to drink during my initial days in project, they had left me to be myself seeing my non-drinking resolve. This day, James was heavily drunk and was literally shouting appreciations about me. Somebody came up with the idea of forcing me to drink, James in no-time pushed a bottle of beer into my mouth and I couldn’t say no. James dropped me to my apartment at 10, my head was spinning a bit and I was struggling for air. It was a beautiful night with Moon clearly visible in the sky. I sat outside thinking about my whole life. About my child hood dreams, Viswanath, finishing engineering, craving for money, coming to USA, and I had not realized it was nearly 5 years and felt a satisfaction for my life. The acceptance and the respect I got from Americans, especially James was overwhelming.
The next 2 weeks, we had to do minor tests and the junior members of the team was writing the report. Most of my time went in guiding the members and finishing up with the job. Yeah, it was the day report was out, I remember. James came to me and took me for a coffee, he told me about another opportunity of research and asked me if I can join him for that. He will take care of all the other things and I could even bring my family also to USA. I told an instantaneous “Yes” to him. I called Ranjana the same day, sharing all the happy news with her. If I need to guess, I had talked more with her today than any other day, Not even when I had visited India 2 times for a holiday. I got an urge to talk to Ranjini, Ranjana called Ranjini but she didn’t talk to me. I felt irritated.
Next 2 weeks were free and I didn’t have much work to do. I visited friends and had dinner with them. Only question running in my head was “Why did Ranjini not talk to me?” I slowly started realizing that Ranjini wouldn’t talk to me most of the times I called. I started wondering if I was going away from my daughter? Those days were the worst, when I used to sit and think for long hours without able to understand the reason of what was affecting me. I lost all enthusiasm for life, and didn’t talk to James with enthusiasm when he came to discuss about the new project. I had booked my tickets to go to India and I thought about finding the answer when I will be there in India. This didn’t satisfy me, and I was slowly drilling myself to find an answer to my un-easiness. Some of my friends asked if there is any problem and they couldn’t comprehend why a successful man at the height of his success is not happy anymore. Forget them; even I couldn’t comprehend why I was not happy.
One of these days, I started thinking about my whole life again. That is when I realized, I was seeing the world only from my perspective. I never considered what Ranjana, Ranjini, my parents thought or felt regarding things. With this new realization, I started wondering where I had gone wrong. In my dream towards becoming financially strong I had not considered and given importance to any of my parents, Ranjana’s, Ranjini’s feelings toward me. When I was happy and Ranjini didn’t talk to me, I am unhappy. But the same me, used to cut the discussion in short when Ranjini used to tell about some thing in her school. I never listened or put effort in understanding anybody. Only thing I wanted was my happiness and I expected people around me to be happy because of that. How does a 10 year old kid, understand and care for my scientific achievement? It doesn’t matter. I felt a sort of peace of mind because of the newer perspective I was thinking.
Next few days were pathetic, as I was sitting in home on evenings. I couldn’t do anything and I could only think of the negatives that I had done to my family. The lack of belonging I had with my family was just killing me. In the evenings as I was sitting in my house, I felt alone. The loneliness slowly started irritating me in college also. One day, James approached me and asked me if there was a problem? I don’t know why, James and me never talked about personal lives before. But that day, when he asked I just broke down narrating my whole life story to him. He was surprised by the out-burst. He couldn’t tell anything and he was startled I guess. I was in a way very relieved and ghosts in my head were sleeping. Not sure why though.
That day when I was about to leave home, James came along with me to my apartment. He told me “the day I talked about this new project, I told, I would make arrangement so that your family can come stay with you. Did you notice that? I have wondered some times, how you are so attached to your work, without a family, and I didn’t enquire about it as I thought it would be indecent for me to ask”. I said, “I didn’t notice that, but as I spoke and opened to you today I realized very clearly, I had been unjust to my whole family. It is not just my wife and daughter. It is my parents, my brothers and my little sister. Whom I have loved so much and but never cared for them in any way. I haven’t even talked to by brothers and sisters in last 2.5 years after I came back from my last holiday. The way I have been raised is with family values and with love for everybody in the family and extended family. But in my efforts to make money first, knowledge and fame later on I completely dis-regarded everyone’s feelings. I didn’t even care to say a hello to the folks who love me so much. I never thought my wife and daughter had individual thoughts. I was only behind my happiness without realizing that people around me had their own way to achieve happiness. Today when I broke down in front of you, telling my whole life story, I released how unjust I have been to my folks. I have decided to go back to India and settle with my folks. I need to compensate for the injustice I have done to my wife, daughter, parents, brothers and sister, if that is compensation at all.” I started crying again; James just patted me on my shoulder and walked-off.
Next day I felt fresh with the new found truth, there was a review of our project report and I participated whole heartedly in that. At the end of the meeting James asked me to join him in his room. In the room he told me that, the company who had funded the project had a R&D center in Bangalore, India and if I wish so he would put in a word to hire me. He told, “I think this will help you to be with Love for research and Love for family together”. I told my thanks to him. That evening, the offer for a job was there in my hand.
That evening I called Ranjana and told about my plans, she was a bit confused with my talking; I could feel. I was getting uncomfortable, and I was about to break down again. I didn’t want to concern her in any way, I can wait to go back and explain to her. I quickly finished the call.
My life always has been extremes; my eagerness to make money was overtaken by my eagerness to get knowledge, fame, social status, and be something in life. Now when I achieved certain status both with money and fame, and have an opportunity to achieve more, I feel, I just want to live with my family. That is all.
-- VidyaShankar Harapanahalli
-- Madhukar Hebbar
-- Madhukar Hebbar
Note to reader: If you want to know more about Ranjana, read "Me and my Friends" a short story.