Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Say Yes to 'Garlic Bread'

When I look back I feel it was during the under-grad time in college that I started acknowledging and understanding my own preferences, anxieties and of course my idiosyncrasies too. Incidentally this period also became 'the first' for many things and one of those was self-imposed discipline of rules and regulations for myself. Somehow during this time I got really impressed by the idea of four ashrams of a human life that our ancient sages and seers had propounded. My mind conceived a certain image of an ideal student as a seeker of knowledge who must - abstain from all pleasures of life, lead a simple ascetic kind of life and concentrate on learning and enhancing knowledge. On the practical level, I deliberately restricted the number of dresses that I wore to college to less than a double digit and the same were invariably in dull pastel shades. During the exams my attire had to be white only. This self created regimen befitting a student life was just not restricted to the apparel; I tried my best to keep the rest of the lifestyle justifying that stage of life. I started considering it a virtue to alienate myself from anything 'new', 'current', 'in vogue' or 'in trend' whether it was a latest movie, a different cuisine, any branded item, well, you get an idea…

While I was preparing for certain entrance examinations during the final year of my under-grad, I started reading various monthly/fortnightly magazines dedicated to current affairs, regularly. One of them was Competition Success Review. It was pretty readable, covered detailed stories on significant current events, had some success stories to motivate aspiring candidates for UPSC and carried some sample papers of different competition exams. There was another magazine - Competition Master, which was a little expensive but had better paper quality.

I continued the habit of reading some interesting articles and success stories from these magazines during the years of my masters degree although I could not follow them very regularly. During the last semester, in one of the issues of CSR, I happened to see an advertisement for an essay competition. I think from very early on, I somehow got this notion that I could write and I should write. Though I never wrote anything, yet the idea of writing always fascinated me. Perhaps that advertisement did the trick and I compiled an essay on the given topic and sent it to the specified address.

Penultimate semester is actually the last one in the college because the last semester is training in a company. So the last semester in the college and hostel is supposed to be a little busy time with campus placements happening almost every week along with regular coursework of that sem. And to top it all, the feeling starts sinking in that the student life, the college and hostel time - all are going to end soon. As is expected in such situations, I completely forgot about my entry in that essay competition. Semester finally ended, we parted ways assuring each other that we would keep meeting and would stay in touch always. Training period began and once again I found myself in a state where I was trying to learn the ropes in a completely new setting - a company environment. Thankfully I was doing this training in my hometown so the comfort of home and mother's care were there to lend a soothing balm to my anxious nerves. Once during that time I was passing through our local market, when a very young looking girl stopped me and asked me if I was that Vibha who had won CSR's competition. By then the essay and the competition had completely faded out of my memory. I think I reacted very dumbly to her excitement and she must have considered me a totally lost person. After putting considerable stress on my mind, I recalled the essay competition and went to the nearby bookstore to buy latest issue of the CSR magazine. Sure enough, my essay was adjudged the best in the category and my passport size photograph was staring at me along with my write-up.

The following week, I received the same information by post and was invited to participate in the second round of competitions which was supposed to be held in the capital city. The event was spread over three days with various rounds of - quizzes, group discussions, interviews and a finale which was supposed to be a big event at a prestigious venue with many bigwigs gracing the event. The night before the finale I came to know that my name was in the top three female contestants who were to appear for a spotlight round on stage in front of the huge audience. Can I just say - I was nervous because there is no way I can explain the number and type of butterflies that I had in my stomach that day when my name was called out for the spotlight round. None other than the famous Derek O’Brien (in his previous avatar) was the quiz host of that round. It was a rapid fire round in which we were supposed to answer as many questions as possible in 30 seconds. I answered the first five questions correctly and then he began the sixth question thus - 'In a garlic bread…' I did not let him complete the question and shot back 'pass'. As was expected, the audience laughed and then Derek completed the question - '…, what is it that gives the garlic flavour?' I did not have any time to curse myself for passing that straight forward question but there, at that very moment, I realised that it was a clear outcome of my (closed)mindset - anything new or trendy needed to be shunned as it went against the image that my mind approved of.  And I think there was a certain degree of pride that I had started taking in how I remained true to my ideals. Needless to say whenever there is any mention of garlic bread since then, the memory of that evening resurfaces. More importantly, that episode taught me a great lesson to be aware and course correct when the mind inadvertently approves or disapproves a certain thing even before giving it a fair chance to express itself.

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