I sold my dreams, wasted the best days of my life, auctioned my self-respect and kept dead-quiet while I was emotionally raped and mentally depleted. You may wonder why. I wish I had a great alibi, a proud story to tell you, but I fear that I would disappoint you. However, it won't be too bad if I can disappoint you in return for the disappointments I have received. In plain, non-assuming manners, to avoid any sympathy that I might unintentionally command, I want to make it clear that I am not a patriot or a humanitarian. If I was one, I wouldn't have left my country for a wild goose chase. I didn't even do it for my family. They never wanted me to leave them. I didn't do it for my own self either. I was fine living on a decent monthly salary in India with my few near and dear ones. There was just one reason for everything I did, and that was my grandpa. He was my only support, only ray of hope, only straw I clung to in the whirlpool of my life. He didn’t want me to settle down with a mediocre life like he did. He wanted me to live my dreams. Somehow, sometime during my adolescence, I had started to feel, probably due to my grandpa’s conditioning, that my dreams didn't lie in materialistic pursuits and the only thing worth achieving was knowledge. The dream of seeking knowledge, being too unpopular among Indian youths, would have lain buried in my young brain if the world would have reciprocated well to my newer, popularly dreamed Indian youth’s dream of getting into an Indian Institute of Management (IIM). It wasn't meant to be. I had fought with others in the group discussion stage at three IIMs. I had kept quiet in another because a very hot girl had silenced me and I couldn’t counter her. I managed to get into the interview-room in two IIMs but there was no place for an unsocial, misanthrope-manager like me there. You will soon know that I am not made to be interviewed. I hate it when people try to figure me out. Consequently, the only gateway for higher studies that didn’t need me to go through a Personal-Interview was graduate studies outside India.
My grandpa had struggled hard to borrow some more breathes from God to see me a doctor. He had tried his best to see another spring so that he would die knowing that I had finally finished the highest education a man can get. He had followed doctor's advice with all sincerity; he had taken all possible herbal medications to slow down the growth of cancer in his body. "Hold on", he had advised me countless times I had talked to him on phone. "Patience is the greatest virtue and it bears the sweetest fruit", he had reminded me time and again. I wanted my grandpa to be there on the day of my thesis defense. I wanted to see him hear me talk with pride, incising the envious eyes of many, decapitating most formidable questions with ease and emerging out a victor, a doctor. But my wishes were not to be fulfilled. Grandpa’s life fell short by about four million breaths. He died six months before my oral defense.
As I walked towards the presentation hall for my thesis defense, I felt numb, in my heart and in my head. I held onto the horseshoe-ring in my right-hand middle finger. My dad had given it to me to ward off the evil effects of the planet Shani. It reminded me that seven and a half years of Shani's ruthless astrological reign on my life, which began in 2009, was still not over. At least for the next one year or two, I would be risking my life if I did anything wrong to anger Shani. As per my dad, during the reign of Shani, both karmic rewards and punishments increases manifold. If I would not be careful and righteous with my words and actions, I would risk my health and prosperity. As far as I know, I had tried my best, almost all my graduate life, to control my anger and tears but it seemed that it was impossible to please Shani. The price I had paid for my occasional trifling indulgence was exorbitant. The biggest loss was my grandpa, and all I could do for him was to acknowledge him in my thesis for his constant support and faith in me. Only if I could have acknowledged my unfulfilled dreams too, the acknowledgement page would have been a good epitaph of my grandpa’s expectations.
It was a formality that needed to be finished and signed on paper. I felt like a fool orchestrating a drama in front of my PhD committee in a room that was supposed to seat not more than ten people. Two chairs were still vacant. Big life-sized pictures of famous engineers and scientist adorned the walls and I am sure I saw one of them smile, sarcastically. A sense of guilt overcame me for a moment. They didn't deserve to be tortured with my mediocre scientific capabilities and sub-mediocre presentations skills. None of my committee members had ever been a good mentor to me and now they had come dressed in their wedding suits to hear me talk about my work. They didn't deserve to judge my work; but that day I had decided to let myself be played once more, one last time. "One last time", I shouted repressing any audible sound, with the same conviction with which I had shouted the phrase aloud on the last day of my work in India, the day I had resigned from the job I had hated so much, ten years ago. I punched my heart thrice and entered the presentation hall.
My hour-long, awkward unrehearsed talk was tiring and boring and I was relieved when it was over. Tom Sneider, my thesis advisor, told me to go out and wait in my office. I walked out, past the break room where graduate students were scavenging through the snacks I had brought. None of them had bothered to attend my defense. I didn’t blame them because I was like them. Graduate school is one place where the longer you stay, the stranger you become. I had thought that I was going to be famous by the end of my graduate life, while the truth was, half of the people in my own department didn’t know me. The slender receptionist, Betty, greeted me from her desk. She was as old as my grandmother would have been if she had been alive, but was more energetic than a child. She hugged me and told me that she always believed that I would make it through. I could feel pity in her voice but she was one person in the world whose words sounded genuine to me, whose empathy didn't seem fake. I offered her to take her out for lunch afterwards and she agreed.
While my PhD committee members completed the formality of accepting that my work was indeed genuine and worth a PhD, I sat in my office staring at my colorless reflection in my PC monitor. I felt peaceful. The once burdensome and overwhelming office-room now made me nostalgic. I felt more in control, more powerful and fresh, just the way I had felt at the New Delhi airport, when I was leaving for the USA, for the first time. My grandpa had accompanied me all the way from my hometown, Dhanbad, to see me off. He had his usual, faint, blissful smile on his face. The proud glint in his eyes was the most precious thing in my life and when I think of it, it still seems to lighten up my heart. I wish he had held my hand when I had touched his feet that evening, and had said, "Don’t leave, let's go home". My heavy heart wanted to shed all the tears and pain it had held onto since the day of my grandpa's death but they seemed to have frozen in time. I wondered if I could ever get rid of them. The flash cards of my sacred memories and emotions were flicked away by a knock on the door.
"Congratulations!" Tom said extending his hand. I stood up faking anticipation and was ready for him with a big smile. "So now I can officially call you a doctor." He said with an irritating grin.
"Thank you, thank you." I had a hard time figuring out how to react. It was probably one of the best times for me in recent years and I was hearing it from someone whom I despised more than God. It would have been much better if he could have sent me an email instead.
"You deserve it for now,” he said trying hard to look happy, “but remember that you still have to finish your thesis to officially get your PhD. Now get the thesis-committee form signed before the committee members leave. Who knows, someone might change his mind and decide against the decision we have come to." He walked away with the weird expression on his face, the expression of mixed feelings of anger, reproach and misery. How mean one has to be to destroy others with such apathy? I was so used to his insensitive words that now I couldn't figure out if he was really complimenting me or passing on a sarcastic remark. I had learnt to take them all on my stoic face and smiling lips. I had remained stolid till then but formalities were done and my brain wanted to withdraw to its original state. I observed myself in the monitor again. I had aged so much in the last few years. I used to be such a confident young lad. What had I done to deserve this?
"I am finally what you wanted me to be grandpa, and I am worse than what I was ten years ago." I whispered to my reflection and finally, a drop of tear appeared in my eyes. "But grandpa, you can finally call me Dr.Vaidya." The elusive title sounded like a mockery of my hard work now. That was all I had craved for and it had lost its meaning like my name, Jamshed, the person who was nothing but a lost soul, who had lost the meaning of his life, who had lost his real parents a long time ago, and more recently who had lost his loving grandpa, the man who had wanted to see him a doctor more than anyone else. Since long, I have created more and more illusions around me to keep my mind away from the questions of my existence, PhD was probably one of them. I wondered what would be the next.