December 21st – the end of another week. Nothing very unusual about this day except for the fact that today was supposed to be the end of the world. This was also this first day of the 22nd year of my life and to top it all, it was the last working day of this year for us. I was very excited because for the last couple of weeks I was really tired of work and badly needed a decent break and this ten day getaway promised a perfect way to relax and spend some quality time with myself. There were many unanswered questions, waiting to be dealt with. I was all packed and ready for my flight back home. I got to the airport and into my seat with minimum fuss. A young flight attendant assisted me shove my luggage into the deck above after which I made myself comfortable in my seat – the middle one of a three seat row somewhere towards the middle of the plane. As the tiredness of the previous weeks settled in, I lay back on my seat and got a little nostalgic.
About six months ago when I got this job, everyone who knew me well was happy for me. My uncle said “So, you say this is a big company you will be working for.” “Big? Not big, it is the best in the animation business.” I said with some sense of pride. “Animation, cartoon network and all”…spoke my dad. This whole CGI and animation thing was all a black box for them and that reaction did put me off a bit. “Ha ha”, my brother, as always watching my back said “its a lot more complicated than that dad. It is a billion dollar industry and one of the fastest growing fields in the global market” this made the elders happy. Well someone spoke their language, I thought, and my brother and I exchanged a subtle smile. In all this anxiety surrounding me, there was one person who looked a bit sad. My mom, came close to me and I could tell something was on her mind. And she was quick to read me, as usual. “I am happy for you,” she said.” But I am sad as well. When I was in college, I was the best all-rounder for 4 years in a row. I was a director, a writer, the college women’s representative and also the best academic performer. I had many interests back then. When I got my first job, I was 21. Just like you. It is a very big burden you know this job. I am sad that this burden fell on you at such a young age.” I was still recovering from a mid-life crisis, kind of; from a major femur fracture by then and this was not a small challenge for me. I could understand her feelings. But that was also when I promised to myself that come what may, I would not let my interests fade. I held her hand and replied with a reassuring smile. Now, six months later, though there were many tough circumstances, I had not given up but didn’t know how long I could take it.
Ten minutes to take off. I was now all but drooling in my sleep. I felt some rustling to my right. So I do have some company I sleepily thought. A couple of minutes later, the seat to my left also got filled. “Just two hours” I said to myself as I sunk in my seat. “Kalyan!” I heard a yell from my right and before I could open my eyes, the one on my left replied – “Hey! Kalyan, how are you man!” “Wow, I am stuck between two Kalyans! What are the odds of that happening”, I thought. The two guys I was stuck in between exchanged pleasantries. They seemed to know each other pretty well, I figured from their conversation. I am in for one bad chatty ride I thought. “It’s been a long time. Like what…20 years?” one said. “Yes, first time after company X,” the other said. Now this is where we can name our characters, because this is where things get interesting. See, company X is where I work and here sitting beside me were two employees of the same company and if I decided to stay in this job, these were potential switches to the bulbs for my brighter future.
Righty – “Yes, first time after company X”
Lefty – “Ha ha, yes…company X. Good days those were – all the beer parties and late night coding sessions.”
Righty – “And you rewrote the entire client code in one night when you were half asleep- half drunk!”
They shared a laugh. I was breathing through my blanket and eves dropping on their conversation. Nothing very useful I thought. But yeah, the mid night code jams still persist and are great fun when drunk!
Righty – Coughs a bit, clears his throat and says “So, how have you been? What have you been up to?” – in a serious tone. “You left the company after a year. There were all sorts of speculations. What actually happened if you don’t mind me asking?”
Whoa! A rebel ex-employee who left my company for greener pastures… I was all ears. The lefty took a little time to reply. Probably, he had not expected this part to happen so early in the conversation or he had not expected it to happen at all. And honestly this seemed too involving for a couple of guys who just met after 20 years. Putting the awkwardness behind, the guy to my left broke his silence.
Lefty – “No, not at all. In fact, let me start by confessing that, different from what the speculations were, I was not fired. I decided to move away from the company because of a personal conflict I was facing every day at work there.”
And he paused to take a sip from his juice I presume. The flight attendant had served fruit juices but I did not take one as I was pretending to be asleep. I thought if I woke up, they might ask me to swap a seat and that would ruin the exciting conversation for me. “Speak soon” I whispered urging my lefty to speak but I was audible to no one but myself.
Lefty – “You very well know about the coding assistance we offered and the client problem solutions…The first few months were fun and exciting and it was even better after I got to know the team well. But, I felt that something was missing in my job. I loved the place but not the kind of work I did there. I always wanted to be a designer – directing and designing video games and cinema. So, after a point, it was either my soul or my job and I chose the inevitable.”
There was a brief pause. “You did the right thing mate,” I thought.
Righty – “Hmm…so what happened then?”
Lefty – “Well, for the first six months no opportunity came by. I started working as a freelancer and didn’t look so good. It was evident that I had taken a great risk, trading a well-paying job for a dream…”
A remorseful tone reverberated from their conversation. Both of them were getting too involved and a bit too emotional with their chat. Now I understood that the attendant was not serving fruit juices but alcohol! Damn, what a fool I was to miss free alcohol. I cursed myself and returned to spying on their conversation.
Lefty – “It didn’t stop there. I decided to move to the west for the want of better opportunities. That is when the saddest thing happened. My girlfriend, who had supported me till then, did not want to move away from home for family reasons and I could not stay here for my own good. We broke up and I came to the states. I faced many difficulties before then and since, but that was probably the most heart breaking moment for me.”
Until then, the conversation was just interesting to hear but this was the moment when I started to empathize with my lefty. I felt connected with him, in some bizarre way.
Lefty – “I faced many challenges along my way and shifted a few jobs. But finally I worked my dreams. Today, I work as a director and creative consultant for a billion dollar company.” Somehow the pride in his voice regarding his achievements seemed to be overshadowed by the sorrow towards the sacrifices he had to make in order to achieve them. And this became evident in a second. “I dated many women, a couple of them even seemed right but nothing lasted, or nothing was as good in comparison with the one I left behind I suppose. I am 42 now, yet to find the right one. I hope its not too late now.”
He turned to face his right and smiled a sorrowful smile. He lifted up his glass and gestured a cheers to his pal and poured the heart cleansing elixir down his throat in one gulp. I was watching him, or glimpses of him from underneath my blanket. Suddenly it struck me – “Did he notice me eves dropping?” I thought. It seemed like he knew someone was listening but he didn’t care. The last few sentences he spoke seemed to be directed to me and not to my righty. There was some uncomfortable silence for a few seconds that coupled with my new tensions made it feel like a lot longer than it actually was.
Lefty – “That’s the whole truth. Sorry I got a little emotional.”
“No, don’t be”, I thought.
Righty – “No, don’t be… In fact, its really nice that you shared this with me.”
Lefty – “So, how has it been for you? A more satisfying journey than mine I hope.”
Righty – Gulping his share of the magic potion, “Well it has been good, certainly not as adventurous as yours; I have been with the same company X, resisting urges now and then to quit the job”, he chuckled. “I am the in charge of the entire operations team in India. I just dated one girl, whom I later married and have two wonderful kids with. So I can say things have been fine and stable for me.”
Lefty – “That’s nice.”
“Nice? Just nice? You gotta be kidding me! This guy is the boss to every boss I might have for the next seventeen years and you say that’s nice? It is fucking awesome! He married the one he loved and has everything he needs. Wow, its perfect” I was getting a little excited.
Righty – “Well, that’s where the problem lies. Its all stable, a little too stable for my liking. I have been journeying on the same path for twenty years now.”
“Man! Don’t these people know of something called happiness or being satisfied with what one has” I thought.
Righty – ” Its not that I am unhappy. I am happy and kind of content with what I am now. But I can’t seem to shake off a feeling of regret. I had a few dreams. I wanted to become a writer. I had all the qualities – the zeal, the enthusiasm, the words and the thoughts that would have made me click, I always thought. I even had a few half drafted sci-fi and fantasy stories with me. But I never finished them. I was waiting for the right time but it never came. Or maybe I was too comfortable with what I had and did not want to jeopardize my life chasing my wild dreams. I had a couple of opportunities but did not consider them. I got too busy with my job, trying to climb up the company hierarchy. Today, though I have everything I need, the things I really want seem to elude me.”
“You have everything you need now, why can’t you quit this and start writing now?” I thought.
Righty – “Sometimes I get so frustrated that I feel like leaving the job and dedicate myself to my passions. But then, I get reminded of my responsibilities. My wife earns well but that won’t be enough for my kids’ education and to secure their future. And I am not 22 to take the risks and face their consequences. Once it was my indecisiveness that prevented me from following my passions and now it is the burden of my responsibility.”
Now it was getting clear to me. These men have once faced the same questions that I try to answer now every day of my life. They have struggled with the same confusion that now burns in me. Each of them have chosen their own paths but clearly have many voids yet to be filled.
Lefty – “Sometimes I wonder how my life would have panned out if I did not move away from India but tried to pursue my dreams there itself. If I had struggled for 6 more months and tried more stuff. If I had her there supporting me, comforting me as she always did. I wonder how my life would have been.”
Righty – “Talking in retrospect, I wish I could go back 20 years and try out a few things. Take a few more risks, work a little harder on my passions along with my job until I’m fully confident on sustaining myself and my family on the earnings from my desired profession.”
Both of them looked at each other. Now it was quite clear to me, from the way they were moving, that they knew I was listening. Now, it seemed to me that they wanted me to listen to their talk.
Lefty – “If we were to get back our 20 years, I am sure we both would want to take less extreme paths. I would definitely not leave everything for my dreams alone. I would rather do something that satisfies my individual desires and my mental and physical needs better.”
Righty – “Yes, I would say we would definitely choose a path that lies in the middle of what we are actually now. I would prioritize my dreams more than what I have. I am sure we will give equal importance to what we have to do and what we want to do.”
He smiled and leaned back on his seat, now facing the one in front of him. My lefty did the same. “What you have to do and what you want to do” I thought. Their discussion, that started with mere pleasantries now ended as a sort of eye opener for me. Not that it made any great revelations like tablets of stone falling from the sky, etched with commandments – the dos and don’ts of life but for the simple realization that there is always a way to deal with any confusion or situation. I realized that I need to back up my dreams with real spine and work for them to make them a reality and in doing all this; I should not forget my basic responsibilities towards myself and my family. I am at a stage where I have to decide, and I will choose the middle path, I said to myself. This made me feel better. All my eves dropping did not go to a waste, I thought.
After all this, I don’t exactly remember when, but I slowly fell asleep. A few minutes later, I was shaken out of my sleep by the lovely flight attendant. “Sir, we have arrived”, she said. I slowly opened my eyes, yawning, rubbing my eyes at the same time. I looked around and saw that half the cabin was empty and the other half was soon to follow. I suddenly remembered the two gentlemen, my co travellers. “Mam, where are the other two people who sat beside me? Have they left?” I asked her in a hurry. “Who other two men, sir? These seats have been empty all along” she said, perplexed.
I looked at her as confused as she was with me. Wanting to avoid the awkwardness, I smiled and said “Oh, is that so? I’m sorry”. “No problem sir. You have been asleep since you climbed in. Must have been some dream”, she smiled. “Indeed” I replied with a nod and pulled my bag out. “Have a pleasant stay in Hyderabad sir”, she said with that well practiced grin. I smiled and walked towards the exit. As I reached the door, I turned back and looked at my seat- the middle one – the path I must follow. “Kalyan and Kalyan” I remembered from the conversation. I smiled to myself as I walked out of the plane.