thoughts and observations
musings from February 2023
Winter in Vienna can be depressing at times. I was not feeling very good this afternoon, so I ran around the Schönbrunn Palace Park, perhaps one of Vienna's most popular tourist spots. It was 6°C outside — something I realized only after leaving my room. Determined and unwilling to back out, I continued running in the freezing winter. I felt quite good about the run and started reflecting on the last few weeks. It made me feel so much better that I sat down to write a new issue of The Windmill. I procrastinated so much in writing these words; I feel guilty, meaninglessly staring at the screen, not knowing what to do. It turns out that I was just missing my Logitech keyboard. Once I started typing on it, the words started flowing. This issue will discuss what I observed and reflected on over the last four weeks; hopefully, the next issues will be on time.
I went back to India in February. Having spent a few months in Austria, I saw things with a new perspective. The first thing that stood out to me was India’s emphasis on the G20 summit. G20 posters were the first thing I saw when I arrived in New Delhi and the last thing I saw on my way back to Austria. First, I went to Haldiram’s at Connaught Place, New Delhi, to have paani puri and chhole bhature. I overate food and drank all the spicy paani. The food poisoning afterward was worth it. The journey on the Delhi Metro made me realize a couple of things — first, the Delhi Metro system is world-class, and second, it is over-crowded, especially during peak hours. However, that probably also means that more Indians have access to great public transportation, which is lovely. (unless people try to pick-pocket)
People spoke to me in English, assuming I’m a foreigner, which is becoming more common lately. I do not like speaking to many people, especially strangers, and I have my earphones plugged in most times. I wonder if that and how I look contributed to their assumptions. I do not mind it — people are usually nice and helpful to me. On my way back to Austria, the immigration officer proudly declared to one of his colleagues, “Austria, padhne ja raha hai ladka!” (The boy is going to Austria to study). His colleague said, “Haan toh jane do.” (Yes, let him go then). While transferring from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 in New Delhi Airport on the Shuttle Bus, the person checking the bus tickets said this to a co-passenger about me — “Haha! Inse toh kya hi puchu?!” (What do I even ask him?)
I find it amusing that a “foreigner” is deemed more trustworthy. He went ahead and examined the bus tickets of everyone else except mine. (Yes, I had a valid ticket, duh). On the same journey, I missed getting off at Terminal 3 and ended up at Terminal 2, a little farther away. I did not wish to walk back to T3, so I asked the driver of the carriage service (it was empty!) if he would be kind enough to drop me off from T2 → T3. He said in English, “My boss will not like it if he finds out, but I’m doing this just for you.” Such a nice gesture! I guess the carriage was meant for people who needed special assistance.
Sometimes people are surprised that I can speak Hindi at all. At least people who don’t know me are surprised. On the contrary, I mostly don’t talk to my friends in English. Speaking of friends, I’m so grateful to call so many people friends. I found a tight-knit group of friends at IIMA who treat me like family. Time and again, they stepped up for me when I needed them the most, making me trust humanity a little more. Be it by asking simply, “how are you?” to researching various companies before a job interview, so it at least appears like I know something. They were not obligated to check on me or wait up for me during interview days, but they did. I suppose that is what separates good friends from acquaintances.
I remember my friends waiting for me from morning till evening on the final day of the interviews. That is a gesture I will never forget. They even summoned my girlfriend, who looked so beautiful, dressed up in formal wear. And they all waited. I would have cried if so many people were not around me. It was a beautiful evening. That was one of the most beautiful evenings at IIMA. Not for the sunset or the weather. The overall mood of the friendship crowd was warm and amazing. The murgir jhol (chicken curry) dinner was delicious as well.
I feel loved, cared for, and peaceful, knowing that there are people (even if not a lot of them) who would step up for me in times of need. Going home only reinforced that feeling. Even though I was at home only for about 48 hours, it felt like the best couple of days; so many things changed — I went to a nearby eatery with my sister, taught her how to withdraw cash from the ATM, and went to the market to buy coconuts (mom said the shopkeeper over-charged us). Seeing my sister grow up has been one of the best feelings for the elder sibling (yes, that’s me!). As usual, mom cooked delicious meals and overfed me.
The journey to and from Tripura brought back so many memories. I flew to Agartala via Bangalore because I had so much free time. That meant a few extra hours to reach home, but the flight experience was pleasant. I have been to Bangalore only once so far (during my IISc admission counseling days about six years ago). It reminded me of walking around the beautiful IISc campus with my cousin, who recently became a father. Catching up with him and meeting the baby felt so nice.
We talked about my ideas for Tripura, our families, and what I’m up to now. I realized that I talk and present my views on things quite a lot around people I’m comfortable with. This cousin helps me speak my mind — I feel heard and respected. That is in sharp contrast to a few years ago when my opinions would get discounted because I’m a child. Going to IIMA did have some outcomes after all. It also meant that Bangalore still remains a city waiting to be explored. I did not go to IISc but decided to go to IITK, and after undergrad, I chose to go to IIMA over IIMB. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I made different choices.
Nothing probably speaks more about choices than my linguistic abilities. I discovered that I can express my thoughts best in English, followed by my mother tongue and Hindi. It hit me that I’m having difficulty discussing the state of Tripura with a driver. We conversed in Bengali, but I had trouble using the appropriate expressions. That is because life choices led me to converse more in one language than another — I speak English at the university, Hindi to my friends, and Tripuri with my mom. Clearly, I haven’t spoken Bengali in quite some time. However, we had a productive conversation, and he told me many things. Drug abuse is on the rise, and unemployment is on the rise — youths of the state lack access to opportunities, forcing them into despair. He told me that many of these drug users share syringes, and an epidemic such as the HIV epidemic is lurking on the horizon. Hearing all that made me wonder about many things — how small factors can lead to huge outcomes.
Had my parents not pushed me to get out of the state for better opportunities, I would have remained in Tripura, unaware of so many things. I would not attribute everything to luck or good fortune, but both of them had a huge role to play. So many factors outside of one’s control can impact one’s life massively. It is mind-numbing to even think about these externalities. For instance, if I had opted to stay in Tripura instead of going to IITK, my life would have turned out quite differently. Hence, I try to think of these circumstances whenever I feel like I’m not doing something right or generally feeling low. Early on, during a casual interaction, a Professor at IIMA said, “No matter how much salary you get, some of your batchmates including you will not be very happy.” I observed this firsthand in February.
The campus sometimes feels like an echo chamber filled with negative feedback. “They got ₹ XYZ package; they’ll be based in ABC city.” Your worldview gets distorted hearing about anyone and everyone. It is very easy to get trapped in that vicious chamber, honestly. People start questioning their abilities and their self-worth because of benchmarking themselves against other people. I try not to do that, but it’s inevitable sometimes. When such feelings come to me, I write about the good things in life and read one of my essays. That is not an excuse for mediocrity. I think my friends are amazing — they do a lot of things so much better than me, but there are also things that I do much better than them. I don’t have many friends who have more newsletter subscribers than me or have more essay readers.
I’m not bragging or anything. And I think one should make comparisons against their own self. How much progress do they think they have made? Compared to that shy schoolboy in 2017, I have come a long way. I am happy about that. And I’m thankful to everyone who helped me get here. This is not the end, of course. In fact, I’m only getting started — I’m looking forward to my first-ever full-time job sometime later this year. My mother asked me if my job will require me to physically lift heavy loads. That made me quite emotional, to be honest. My maternal grandparents did not have enough food, so they would sell china grass (used for roofing, usually) and procure wild yams to feed their children. My mother being the eldest child went through quite a lot because as the eldest you’re supposed to be the “responsible, and caring one.” Going from that to her son working a job description that is hard to describe in simple terms is quite spectacular. So, no I do not have complaints at all.
My summer semester has started here in Vienna. I look forward to living here for the next few months and working on my thesis. The city feels familiar now — the streets look familiar, the coffee smells amazing, and walking and running around the city is good for the soul. I know my time here is limited, but I am happy here. On the day after the last day, I will fly to India, eat airplane food (strangely, I love them!), and journal on the flight; to return to my girlfriend waiting at the airport, and meet family and friends to catch up on the latest happenings. I will take a much-needed break from academia, dedicate my time and efforts to solving business problems and learn a lot in a non-academic setting. In the process, I hope to grow up a little more — to be a contributing member of society, be a good brother, a great friend, and a kind boyfriend. Most of all, to grow up and learn a little more so that I can explain what I do for a living to my mother.
**waits at airport**
Loved this Debashish! I am only in 1st year of college but I already feel the same things as you do - comparing and loosing happiness everyday. But to counter I always try to come up with things that I am unique in and tell myself - this world needs what I have to offer no matter how small my contribution be. Loved this journal. I also write a newsletter but it's very practical after reading this I am thinking to write a public journal too. ❤️❤️