Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Of Silly Questions, Pigeon Holes and Heroes

She was a simple lady, kind of short, and someone you could miss in a crowd. Let me call her Ms. AK. She talked fast and her hands spoke more than she did, gesticulating wildly at times. I did not like her. As did many around, who used to speak ill of her. I kept away from such conversations but could not help listening to an occasional bitching that came my way. She wanted to do business with the company that I worked for. This was many years ago. I was more hoity-toity then. So, you can imagine...

One day she invited me to a breakfast meeting. I winced. Ever wondered how when you are asked for time, the week following or the one after that was a ‘better’ time? She was persistent, and the day finally arrived.

She wore spectacles that were a tad large for her. How do I tell her that? She sat down and immediately started her sales pitch. I responded by asking a question, an inane one, the one that all recruiters use –, “Tell me about yourself.” She sat back. Her eyes rolled up gazing into the infinite past and started…

A daughter of a government official, she had a sister who was a ‘genius’, did very well in class. Her mother wanted AK to be a doctor and made her write the exam. She did ‘what she could’. And she cleared! Medical college admissions then or now, was not easy. I was warming up to her now. She went to the medical college and returned home after ten days. Said she did not like it. Her mother freaked out. And for the next whole year did not speak to her.

She then went to a regular college, and, of course, did well. Became the student union leader. Brought an MNC factory to a grinding stop for they had sacked a principal of a local school. AK was warned that acid would be thrown at her. She did not relent. Now, her story was really getting to be interesting and leaned forward, forgetting my dosas.

After her BSc she had to do ‘something’. Her uncle got her to write an entrance exam for admission to a leading Public sector unit. As usual, she aced the exam. And told her uncle that she did not ‘fit the culture’. So opted out. She was now in deep waters. Disowned by her family, she went to the same factory that she had helped ‘shut down’, seeking a job. The factory manager was furious! A kind man that he was, he relented and gave her a job in sales and marketing even though she was not an ‘MBA’. They gave her the jobs everyone hated to do. She worked hard and won each time. She moved to a larger company who asked her to do a stint in the US taking on an assignment that was surefire failure for anyone who had touched it. She won, and said, she did not know it was an impossible task. I was now at the edge of my seat. She returned to set up her own company, sold it to investors and took on a CEO’s job at this company. Sitting across me was the finest example of someone who fought life harder than any man.

She had been fighting like a warrior in a man’s world all along. And never gave up anytime. It is so easy to judge someone and pigeon hole them as good, bad, ugly! I was now in open admiration for this lady. What a story! In 60 minutes she taught me what it is to live a life of conviction of one’s goals. A shining example of never say die. She gave more to a job, and some more. She won, for she never judged work harshly. She taught me that it is important to see beyond the ostensible image. I became her fan!

To believe in oneself and carry on trying is the staple of champions. To try, and give an honest shot with all the power one has is learning how to win each time, every time. I forgot all rest of the things I said. I found a hero in her. To listen to the voice of the unheard, and see the unseen of a hero. A revelation – to see a hero beyond pigeons in the holes of ordinariness. All because of a ‘silly question’ we often use – ‘tell me something about yourself!’

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