I am a Dog Chasing Cars!

Five days into my third and the only serious attempt at writing GATE(Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering) Exam, my aunt, Yashoda Santanam, from the legendary Santanam family, walked into our room and casually remarked, "Srini, this will be the last time you can write the exam.

I am a Dog Chasing Cars!
Harvey Dent: Your men, your plan.
Joker: Do I really look like a guy with a plan. You know what I am? I am a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! You know? I just, do things.
- The Dark Knight, 2008

It was five days into my third and the only serious attempt at writing the GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering) Exam. My aunt, Yashoda Santanam from the legendary Santanam family, walked into our room. She casually remarked while folding my laundry, “Srini, this will be the last time you can write the exam. I don’t think you will make it unless you work hard. Your general lackadaisical attitude doesn’t fit into the studious IISc (Indian Institute of Science) going population. A graduate degree requires enormous commitment, dedication, and a great will to excel.” I nodded my head in agreement. There wasn’t much else to do. She knew me in and out. “Why don’t you try acting as a serious career option?” she continued. I can never be sure if she was giving me genuine advice or was taunting me. I had a thing for acting. I was a natural at it. I did entertain the thought, but somehow the recent turn of events didn’t allow for such flimsy career options in my life. I had given a few auditions. But the ‘Santanam Complex’ in me didn’t think it was worth it. “Or else, be a lawyer, you argue well,” she quipped, trying to control her laughter. She was taunting me now, for a genuine reason.

In the last eight years, I have practically considered every other fantasy as a career option. From the cliched scientist to a doctor, acting to politics, writer to a lawyer, I wanted to be it all. And I never understood why I should pick just one among them. If Leonardo Da Vinci, a multi-talented genius, could be a painter, inventor, engineer all at one time, why couldn’t I? Of course, some ideas lose steam while some others don’t, the latest casualty being politics. Inspired by the recent anti-corruption crusade, I went on to run a political campaign for the anti-corruption activist turned politician. However, the story didn’t end well for either of us. While the idea lost steam in my head, the politician lost 430 seats of the 434 he fought, including the seat I campaigned for.

My phone chimed at that moment, interrupting my thought. “You don’t care about me. I hate you.”, read the message. Maya was at it again. It continues to baffle me how women, in general, have the tenacity to hold on to foolish things while I was trying to figure out life. Maya Ramnath, my girlfriend was texting me. I replied, “What happened ?” and looked up to my aunt. “See, that’s what I was talking about. With a phone in hand, headphone in the ears, you think you are a Rancho from the 3 Idiots movie.”, she was watching me, just waiting to take another dig. I wasn’t wearing a headphone. In fact, Surya was wearing the headphone. He was giggling at me. She added the headphone to make her monologue effective. “You didn’t ask how my day was,” Maya shot back on the phone. “How can I control people messaging me, Chikamma?” I resisted. I had no words for Maya’s message. “Ah…I forgot…How was your day sweetheart, By the way, what was so special about today?” I texted back, making a feeble attempt at recovery. “See, this is what you are good at. You argue very well. Be a lawyer. Forget this exam”, she pointed out before leaving the room. Two seconds later, Maya replied, “Forget me too; bye.” Surya burst out laughing. I just gave up. You cannot disagree with women. Because, if you do, you can never convince them of your opinion. And even if you persuade, you will never look good at the end of it. Arguing with my aunt was impossible for another reason. They were the Santanams. They were too classy for it.

The ‘Santanam Complex’ is a pretty deep-rooted notion in my head. To understand this complex, one needs to understand the Santanam lineage. Yashoda Santanam was the daughter of Varadaraj Santanam, a very well-respected high school teacher. She did her M.Sc in Physics and was a gold medalist. Her brother, Aravind Santanam, stood 92nd rank in the Common Entrance Test to secure admission into a prestigious engineering college. He completed his first Master’s degree at IIT Madras and another Master’s at Stanford University, followed by a Ph.D. Long story short, he became a Professor & Department Chair at a reputed American University. Her son, Surya Rangaswamy, showed promise by securing 28th rank in a National Olympiad for Mathematics.Practically, every other person from their extended family held high offices. From Diplomats to Professors, Economists to Central Bank Governors, they were everywhere. In their eyes, one’s level of formal education deserved great respect irrespective of their bank balance. Once you are surrounded by such giants, nothing, no dream, seems big enough. No achievement is worth appreciation. I decided to follow in their footsteps, to be something of relevance in their eyes, without my knowledge. My third attempt at writing GATE was one such misadventure. And so, I tried to sit back and study again when my phone rang. Ram was calling me.

Ram Shetty, my good friend and a classmate at the half-decent engineering college and another Gold medalist in my life, is another enigma. He introduced me to the idea of network marketing. This guy was practically everything opposite to what I had come to believe about Gold medalists!! While everybody in my aunt’s family had nothing even remotely to do with business, this guy was at it since the legal age government allowed him to. They shunned any form of business while this guy was thriving on it all along. To be a scholar, one needs to dedicate one’s life to learning with unwavering discipline was their belief. He had made up his mind not to pursue any degree ever again, as he had landed a plush job quite recently.

Me: “Hey Ram, how are you doing? Long time, no see. You ditched me by not coming to Anita’s marriage.”

Ram:”Hey Srini, I am good!! I am sorry, dude. I was preparing for my GRE at that time. Couldn’t come.”

Me: “What??? Ram, are you serious ?”

Ram: “Yes, man (laughing loudly). I got a 327/340. I will be going for my Master’s abroad. It was part of the plan. I decided a little late, but then I think I will pull it off with my applications. I have fifteen days to apply.”

“Which f*****g plan?” I wanted to ask. But, instead, I chose “That’s awesome. Congratulations!!”

It was November 27th, 2013. And I had one full year ahead of me to prepare for GATE and hardly fifteen days deadline to apply for foreign universities. Seven days later, I was filling out my applications for admission into American Universities. Twenty-seven days later, I was writing my GRE. Seven months and twelve rejects later, I landed at Baltimore-Washington Airport to pursue my PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. And yeah, you read it right. A PhD because Master’s wasn’t respectable enough. And America, because GATE wasn’t competent enough.

Do I look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I am a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know? I just do things.

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