No free lunch

This incident is still fresh in my mind although it occurred over two decades ago.

We were in the journalism school and the Platinum Jubilee session of the Indian Science Congress was being held in Pune. It was, therefore, decided to bring out a special issue of the students' newsletter on the occasion of the Science Congress.

It was decided to solicit advertisements for the newsletter. There was an allurement - the students who managed to collect the advertisements were to receive a percentage of the revenues. As college students we were always short of money and, so, the allurement was too much to be overlooked.

Though the task of collecting advertisements was voluntary, I jumped into the fray at once. I needed some money!

Without even waiting for the department to bring out the printed requests for advertisements, I visited a prominent builder's office without carrying any identification. The builder's wife was the editor of a local newspaper and, therefore, I was confident that he would be sympathetic to the cause of the journalism students. A flourshing builder, a few hundred rupees will not matter to him and he would pay up at once," I thought.

I presented my case to the receptionist and sought an appointment with the builder. The receptionist was an acquaintance, so without much ado she allowed me into the builder's cabin.

The builder, thinking that I was a prospective customer, welcomed me with a huge smile and even offered me a cup of tea.

However, when I narrated the purpose for which I had come, his brows creased into a frown. The smile vanished to be replaced by a ferocious scowl. He asked me whether I was carrying any identification, all that I could show him was my identity card. But that did not satisfy him and he thundered, "Get out".

That was a huge shock. But I meekly walked out of the cabin. I do not know whether the builder had taken the receptionist to task for allowing me inside.

But after that incident, I did not make any further attempts to collect advertisements for the college newsletter. As I look back and think about the incident, I get the feeling that it was I who was in the wrong. There is no free lunch in this world and I had no business disturbing the businessman for a "donation".

True friendship or docile follower?

Freedom! Boundless freedom! That is what we experienced after stepping out of school and entering the portals of a college.

Our school was strict in discipline. We had to wear the same uniform every day. We had to sit on the same bench every day and that, too, on the same side. We had to ensure that our nails were clipped and hair properly combed. We could not keep our hair long. We had to sit in pin-drop silence through the periods else face punishment. The list of "Can't do's" was endless. So, it was but natural that we longed for some freedom. The day finally arrived and we passed out of the school and took admission in college.

Things were different now. We could wear whatever dress we felt like wearing. We could sit anywhere in the class-room and we could even bunk classes without fear of any punishment.

To tell the truth, the freedom had got into our heads. We began to miss lectures, we made noise in the class-room and disturbed the teacher, and we played all sorts of naughty pranks.

The students had all formed their own groups, and we from the same school had formed our own. Every group had its own self-appointed leader and we too had a leader whom we adored and stood by him at all times (now, come to think of it, I find this very disgraceful).

This fellow had become a leader by virtue of his being a year older than us (he had once failed in school) and being the naughtiest and boldest.

He would make the most noise and we would lend ample support. The teachers were really tired of this chap but they endured him nonetheless. One day, the leader had become quite boisterous during the physics lecture and the teacher could not tolerate such behaviour. The teacher ordered him out of the class. The leader was only too willing to walk out as he had no interest at all in physics or any other subject.

But as he walked out, he beckoned to me to follow.

What could I do? As a disciple, I had to follow him out.

However, as I walked out, I heard the teacher remark, "That is true friendship!" The class roared in laughter and my ears burnt in embarrassment.

This was an insignificant incident and yet it remains clearly etched in my mind even three decades after its occurence. Whenever I recall that incident, I still feel ashamed that I was such a "follower" who had no mind of his own but preferred to be led by others.

My brush with fame

After a few months in the university, I decided it was high time I began some serious studies. The first step in this resolve was to enrol myself as a member of the library.

I dutifully visited the library and completed all formalities that granted me the right to borrow books. I was issued a library card that carried my name and details of the course of studies that I was pursuing.

The card was large in size and half of it portruded out of my shirt pocket. I borrowed an impressive-looking fat book (which, incidentally, I returned back unread on the due date) and headed for the canteen. I was feeling rather important because of the portruding card and the book in my possession.

The canteen was the favourite haunt of Thomas and I was sure to find him there. Thomas was a friend from school but was pursuing a different course than mine here at the university.

Sure enough, I found him at a corner table and joined him. Very soon, a friend of Thomas also came over. I had not met this person before and, so, Thomas felt it appropriate to introduce us.

"Meet Umesh," Thomas told me.

He was about to introduce me to Umesh when the latter thrust his hand to me for a hand-shake and said, "Hi Prakash, it is nice meeting you."

My chest swelled in pride. It seems I was quite famous in the university and people knew me. Thomas had not yet told Umesh my name but he knew it!

I tried to appear modest but a "superior" grin played on my lips. Umesh was a brilliant conversationalist and spoke on a wide range of subjects including geology (his course of studies), sports, politics and others. After a while he excused himself saying he had to attend a lecture and left.

Following his departure, I turned to Thomas with the famous grin still playing on my lips.

"Hey, I appear to be quite a famous personality in the university and everyone knows me," I said with a superior air after Umesh had left.

"Shut up, just reverse the library card that is sticking out of your pocket," Thomas said.

I looked at the card. True, it was the side with my name and other details that was projecting out and anyone could read it as if it was a nameplate. I quietly removed the card and reinserted it so that now the blank side was open to public view. The grin, of course, had disappeared. I was not a famous personality after all!


Some useful links for
your career:

  • Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
  • IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
  • Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
  • Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
  • IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
  • Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
  • Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
  • Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
  • Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu

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