He was sitting in a classroom that could hold close to 100 students and only 35 were currently inside. If you had a black and white vision and were watching the room from a distance, it would seem that there were 35 people who were clones of each other. They were all dressed the same way. A full sleeved light coloured formal shirt and dark trousers with a belt that matched their shoes. In their hands, they held a file which they would claim it to be more precious than their lives. That is until the time they are forced to make a choice between their life and the file and they would concede that their life is more important. They all looked the same. Only their faces were different.
He wore a neatly pressed light blue full-sleeve shirt and black trousers. He had borrowed the trousers from his brother who studied there. He did not have time to purchase a new one. In his hand, he held the file containing all his certificates – everything he has done his whole life.
Five of them had gone in by now. His nervousness and excitement were slowly giving way to boredom. His mind started drifting and he started daydreaming how it would be if he got selected here. “Ah!” he thought. “If I get selected here, life will be set. I would be doing my doctorate in one of the top institutions of the country.” And he started thinking about his fiancé. He was to get married in two months. His parents were worried as to what he would do for a living. They had tried convincing him to take up a job abroad for at least a year, but he was stubborn that he would go only in the research field and finally into the teaching profession.
He had had a decent job in a construction company in Chennai. He was the planning head of a high -budget project. But one fine day, no one knew what got into him, he submitted his resignation. “Why are you doing this??” his supervisor had asked. “You have a bright future here.” He had replied, “Sir, it was an honour working for this company and I have learnt a lot. But I realise that this job is not for me. I wish to do something more. I wish to contribute in some way to the society and the best form of service is teaching and I wish to go in that line.” The supervisor had looked at him thoughtfully for few seconds and asked, “Are you sure?” “Hundred percent, Sir.” he had replied. And that was that.
He had come a long way from there. He had completed his Masters from a top university and now he was going to pursue his doctorate. He was trying for a better university. In fact, one of the best in the country – IIT Bombay. It was his dream to study in an IIT and IIT Bombay was obviously on the top of his list of dream colleges. When his daydream was about to reach the point of finishing the doctorate and trying for post-doctorate, he stopped himself. The long wait in the hall was messing with his head and he was getting influenced by his daydreaming fiancé. He was a realist after all. Optimistic, yes. But he always preferred to keep reality in check. He knew it would be difficult. He just had to give his best and leave the rest to the selection committee. And once he is done with the interview and judging by their responses, he would decide – whether to continue with the daydream or not.
His boredom started taking the face of impatience. It had been three hours and only 15 people had gone in. He wanted this to get over soon. He was about to get into another round of daydreams when suddenly, the man at the entrance of the hall called out his name. He hurriedly got up, smoothed out his shirt, grabbed his file and walked towards the interview room, which was opposite to the room where he was sitting. His boredom and impatience were replaced instantly with anxiety and nervousness. But as he walked towards the room, he saw a man going in with a tray full of sandwiches and tea. It was snack time for the selection committee. He was told to wait for some time and go in once they were done. Seeing the snacks being taken inside, his nervousness decreased. It seemed to remind him that they were also human beings, after all.
He sat down once again, this time near the man who was calling out the names. For lack of a better thing to do, the man started a conversation with him. He started doling out free advice. Unlike the norm, this time, the free advice seemed to be helpful. “PhD is not like other courses”, he was saying. “Dedication plays a bigger role than talent. Only if you have the determination to do this, you have a chance. You have 10 minutes to show the level of determination you have. And if you manage to impress them in these 10 minutes, you are set. All the best.” Hearing this, our hero of the story regained his confidence. He knew the level of dedication and determination he had in him. “Thanks, bhaiya”, he replied with a smile.
The snacks tray came out and it was time for him to go in. He took a deep breath and stepped into the room with confidence. There were eight of them seated with stacks of papers in front of them. As he entered, they looked up and he smiled. They asked him to be seated and it started.
It took around 20 minutes for the technical interview. They asked him enough questions to assess his knowledge. He answered whatever he knew and accepted frankly the things he did not know. He was not sure how he had performed and if they were happy with it. The next 10 minutes of the conversation showed him what they felt.
“You have performed well.” one of the professors was saying. “Get married soon and settle here.”
He could feel his hopes rising. “I am getting married in 2 months, sir”, he said with a smile.
“Wow! Congratulations! Will you be calling your supervisor?”
“Yes, of course, sir.”
“Won’t you call the rest of us? We will come to the marriage with the call letter.”
There was a rush of happiness. They were hinting that he might be getting the call letter. “Yes, sir. I will.”
“But I have a doubt. You do not have a job; you have not joined PhD yet. How did they accept the marriage?”
“Yes, sir. But they trust me completely that I will surely join PhD somewhere.” And he thought, ‘I should. Somehow. Or else, it will become very difficult.’
“Are you ready to put your full effort and work with dedication?”
“Yes, sir. I was working in a construction company earlier. But since I am more interested in the research field, I quit the job and have come till here. I am confident that I will be able to work with complete dedication.”
“Ok. Good. So, have you applied in any other IIT? Will you be attending there as well?”
“Yes, sir. I have applied. But if you confirm that I am selected here, I will not attend there.”
“We can’t say anything now. You have performed well. But, only if the academic section has seat availability, you will get confirmed.”
“Ok, sir. I understand. But even if I get elsewhere and here, I will choose Bombay only since I wanted to do my doctorate only under Dr. Chamant.”, he replied, with a feeling of happiness. He seemed to have impressed the selection committee. There was a good chance that he might get selected here.
“Ok good. All the best. Get blessings from your guide.”.
He went towards Dr. Chamant, who stood up, feeling embarrassed. The rest of the professors laughed and said with a smile on their faces, “Okay. Bye.”
He stepped out of the room with an elated feeling. He felt very satisfied with the performance. He just hoped the academic section would have enough seats. He half decided to continue his daydreams.
He was to travel to Chennai that evening for the interview there. But he was more excited about meeting his fiancé. They were meeting after four months. They did have a lot to catch up on and do the wedding shopping. He couldn’t wait to see her. And given the fact that he had a pretty good chance of getting selected in Bombay, the interview became his second priority.
After what seemed like ages, he finally reached Chennai. It was the day of the interview. It was pretty much similar to the situation in Bombay. Similar classroom. Similar people. Similar file in hand. But there were too many applicants at the institute there. They also had a written test as the first round and clearing it was far from easy. And, he did not clear it. But he was not as worried as he should have been. He was almost sure he would get selected in Bombay. And he was going to meet her. Nothing could dampen his spirits.
He was to meet her in front of her office. She had already got permission and her excitement to meet him was evident by the number of times she kept calling to ask when he will reach. He finally reached the place and waited for her to arrive. The ten minutes that he waited seemed like an hour to him. He started becoming restless. “If only I was allowed to go inside, I would have met her faster.”, he thought, becoming impatient. He kept surveying the distance, looking out for her. And finally, he saw her. There she was. Squinting her eyes against the harsh afternoon sun, looking at him, walking calmly with a smile on her face. There were times when he had wished that she would show out the eagerness she felt to meet him. But now he was used to her not being over enthusiastic. Now he knew that the eagerness and ache he feels for her, she feels for him as well. Just like his heart beats a thousand times faster on seeing her, it beats the same way for her when she sees him. He did not feel the need to see her expressing it explicitly anymore. He just knew. And as he saw her walking towards him that afternoon, with that smile etched on her face, he forgot everything else. All he could see was her and all he could hear was his heart thumping loudly at the sight of her.
With the happiness of seeing each other overshadowing the worry of the failed Madras interview, they set out for the wedding shopping. They had gone to two to three shops when he got a call from Dr. Chamant, who wanted to make sure that he was still interested in joining Bombay and that he would be ready to work hard for it. He made no qualms in letting Dr. Chamant know that he would rather die than let go of a chance to pursue PhD in Bombay. As he cut the call, brimming with happiness, he decided that it was safe to continue his daydream. He repeated the conversation to his fiancé and she was happier than him. He felt that life was good. He was happy. She was happy. His parents would be happy. “Let me get the official confirmation”, he thought. “Then I will tell my parents.” The official list of selected candidates was to be released that night and he couldn’t wait.
After entering and exiting quite a number of clothes shops and not buying anything, they had dinner together. He then dropped her home and went to his friend’s place to crash for the night. He kept checking the university website every 15 minutes whether the results have been published. His friend was trying to catch up with him. Though he was physically present and responding accordingly, his mind was someplace else.
Two hours had passed. He checked the website again, without any hopes of seeing the link to the results. “This is the last time I will check for today.” he thought, as he opened the website. And there it was, a new link, which said, ‘Selected candidate list for Doctorate Program.’ This was it. His heart started beating too fast and loud that he could almost hear it. His parents, his fiancé, their wedding, their future – everything flashed before him. Everything that was dependent on this one link. With confidence, extreme excitement and subconsciously muttering a small prayer to the Gods he did not believe in, he clicked on the link. A PDF file opened, listing the names of the candidates who were selected. He scrolled over to his department and with bated breath, started scanning the list for his name. He scanned through the list so fast, the first time, that everything ended up being a blur to him. He forced himself to calm down and taking a deep breath, he was back to the start of the list. For every name that he read, his heart started hammering a little louder. As he reached the end of the list, it finally slowed down, as he felt a wave of disappointment and despair wash through him.