He believed in me

 

“My grandfather gave me the greatest gift, he believed in me!” said my new boss, my childhood buddy.

It was early January. We were all a little anxious, a little keyed up. We were awaiting our new chief. Our last VP of IT had just stepped down, rather been asked to step down. After a series of intensive interviews and dialogues with numerous candidates, the board had unanimously voted on Mr. Pankaj Joshi to take his place. Rumored to be a go-getter and a doer, I’d come across his name a couple of times in ‘IT Today’ and ‘Computer World’. I heard that he was about my age, was looking forward to meeting him.

“Mr Kulkarni, could you please come to my office,” a call from the President.
A little surprised and apprehensive, I hurried to the elevator.

”Please come in,” I heard our president’s response, when I knocked on his door.

“Hello Mr. Kulkarni, Mr. Joshi, our new VP. I believe you know each other already.” I came face to face with my childhood pal, my buddy Pankya. I was definitely stunned to see that our class jester as my new chief!

“Anand, glad to see you again! My god, it’s been so long, at least a good twenty, twenty-five years!” Beaming we shook hands. We exchanged pleasantries, talked about our common friends and contacts. And then we moved into the conference room for a formal meeting with the rest of the company members.

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination. This determination will certainly take us places. And as Henry Ford once said, coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. May we achieve all the success and take this company to an unthinkable echelon,” on this note Pankaj ended his introductory speech. I was amazed! Was this really Pankya, the most mischievous boy in our class, the trouble-maker?

********

“Pankaj Joshi, behave yourself! Into the dustbin!” shouted Mrs Mishra, our Math teacher. “At this rate twenty years down the lane you’ll be cleaning dustbins! You should pick a page from your brother’s book!” And Pankaj spent the Math period standing in the dustbin, his punishment for pulling Tapan’s hair. This was nothing new. Pankaj was our class prankster, ever the mischief-maker; he always had new tricks up his sleeves.

I remember the time when Pankaj had put stink bombs in the teacher’s desk. The whole class had to spend the rest of the day in the library, as our classroom was uninhabitable thanks to the smell! Another trick I remember was Pankaj putting super glue on the tap in the teacher’s bathroom! Our poor history teacher was the victim. It was the talk of the school for months! And then there was the perfect trick, it was a custom for the entire school to gather in the assembly hall every morning for prayers and for Principal’s address. Somehow Pankaj had managed to get twenty small alarm clocks from somewhere. We crept inside our assembly hall early that morning, before the first bell. We set them at 30 second intervals and placed them randomly. You can imagine the chaos during the assembly! Our prayer session that morning is still etched in my memory!

Pankaj’s elder brother Prashant, our senior was the exact opposite. The football champ, our school prefect, our school teachers always sang his praises. One of the most popular boys in our school, he was an all-rounder. I would have been so proud if I had a brother like Prashant. But frankly, I don’t ever recall seeing Pankaj and Prashant together. Not that I’d ever seen them fight or something but they didn’t seem to be the best of friends either. We were all studying at the Mountainview High school in Panchgani.

Oh I still remember those glorious schooldays. The football matches, the debates, inter-house quiz competitions. If only I could turn the clock! I was on the swimming team as was Pankaj. The only days-scholar in the class, I would have definitely felt left out, if it hadn’t been for Pankaj. Impish Pankaj was my best pal, my buddy. Some weekends he even came over to stay at my house, of course with Father D’souza’s permission.

I have that day, stamped in my memory when Pankaj’s father yanked him out of school. That was the day when Pankaj was almost expelled. It was actually a pretty childish trick. We had placed a couple of banana skins outside our staff room door. Of course the aim was to see our teachers slip and fall. We didn’t see any harm in it! But our vice principal, our second casualty, had a rather nasty fall and had to be hospitalized for it! When asked to own up, Pankaj took all the blame for the tomfoolery.

“You should be ashamed of yourself! Look at your brother; you are a total disgrace to the family, a complete failure!” I remember Pankaj’s father roaring at him.
Thanks to Pankaj’s behavior he was called to meet the Principal that day, taking time out of his busy schedule. Pankaj’s father a renowned cardiologist was known to be a self-starter and an ambitious man. His mother was also a much sought pediatrician. This kind of behavior from their son was unacceptable.

That was the last I saw of Pankaj. There were rumors that Pankaj was sent to live with his grandfather in Pune.

********

“My grandfather gave me the greatest gift, he believed in me!” said Pankaj.
It was Friday. Pankaj and I were sharing drinks. It was then that I had asked him about the metamorphosis.

“That day my father was really furious,” said Pankaj. He continued, “according to him I was a disgrace to the family. In my father’s words, I didn’t deserve any of the privileges. And I was deported to my grandfather’s. As always, my mother supported my dad cent percent.”

And that was the turning point in Pankaj’s life. His grandfather lived alone near Parvati hill, in Pune. Just matriculate, he was a strict disciplarian . Pankaj was admitted to the English medium school nearby. Every morning he had to get up early, and then he went for a walk on Parvati with his grandfather, followed by prayers and some studies. After school he was allowed to play with the neighborhood boys and then it was homework time. His grandfather always sat by him when he did his homework.

“He made me recite the poems aloud, quite often twice or thrice, so that I could understand their real meaning. He made me reflect on every word, on every stanza,” said Pankaj, his eyes clouding thinking about those precious moments. “I started falling in love with the words; I started getting lost in the world of books! Math which had been drudgery became an adventure. The numbers and equations puzzles I couldn’t wait to solve. I hated Hindi the most, but he pretended sometimes that he didn’t understand and I had to read the same lines over and over again.”

Of course it didn’t happen overnight. Pankaj had tried some of the same tricks in his new school. But in the end, his grandfather’s perseverance and love prevailed. Initially it had been a trying time for both of them; eventually peace prevailed in the household. Besides studies, his grandfather exposed him to a whole new world. On weekends and during school vacations they’d go on small expeditions to the nearby killas and hills. His grandfather would tell him all about their history and the old culture. They even went star-gazing with IUCAA on Singhgarh. Over time the dark horse was transformed into a star!

His father had wanted him to come back and join the boarding. Stubbornly Pankaj had refused. He completed his schooling and later Engineering at COEP staying with his old grandpa. With his grandfather’s blessings he got admission in IIT. He felt most fortunate that his grandfather had lived to see him get his first job. Despite protests from the old man, he had quit his job to take care of his granddad, during his last few days.

“If I had the kind of advantages you had, I would have achieved so much more. You don’t know how lucky you are!” had shouted the successful doctor at his son that day. But neither the wealth nor the status had helped. It had been love and faith that had made Pankaj what he was today.

—————————————————————————————–

Quote from Jim Valvano :
My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.

 

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