As you try to find your place in this world, you are busy — either doing something or trying to figure out whether to do it or not. In this pursuit, you sometimes figure your way out and sometimes you simply get lost. And if you are fortunate enough you’ll find some precious moments along the way, moments that make you smile, even in the most mundane of activities. It is probably those tiny little things that help you get along with a lot of other not-so-tiny ones. Ever thought so?
Just like you, I too have had a fair share of some such priceless moments, reminiscing of which simply gives me joy. So, for the joy I derive out of reminiscing, I’ve compiled some such personal stories. Stories that made me think and wonder and smile and most importantly taught me to be grateful for everything around me. That it is these tiny, little moments brushing past us unnoticeably which truly make us and define us.
I hope they bring a smile to your face too. 😊
The tale of two 5th graders
I studied at Kasturba High School in Rasool Pura, Hyderabad. It was a decent English medium school in our locality, walkable from our home. It was so close that I used to come home every day for lunch and then go back to school again. Almost all the students were from in and around the same area only.
We all were not from high earning families and most of my friends struggled to pay the school fees in time. Having pocket money in those days was a luxury. Even a single Rupee in the pocket was like a privilege. It was very unusual for us to get money from our parents, so whenever we somehow managed to get any money, we got ecstatic.
It was during my 5th grade. Our lunch break was from 12 PM to 1 PM and most of us went home to have lunch. On our way back to school after lunch, some of our parents gave us a Rupee or two, sometimes, if we got lucky! So, we bought candies, chips, tamarind sticks, lollipops or anything that fit our budget on our way back to school. However, that happened very rarely with me as I didn’t get pocket money quite as often as others!
Fortunately, for me, however, one of my friends, Naresh, used to get money from his parents more often than I did. We both used to sit together in the third row, and I was the lucky one to get a share of what he bought after lunch!
One day, after our lunch break I came early to the class. Other students entered, but there was no sign of Naresh. Our social teacher also entered the classroom and started the lecture. ‘Would he come?’ I wondered.
The class was almost silent — post-lunch drowsiness already kicked in probably. The teacher was saying something about India and its states. Social was not my favourite subject, but I tried to listen to the lecture anyway.
‘May I come in, sir?’ I heard a familiar voice. Sir nodded his head and Naresh entered the class.
I was a little relieved. My focus suddenly shifted and all I could do at that moment was justify why he was late. ‘He’s late probably because he had to go to the Kirana store nearby and buy some candies!’ I thought.
As he approached the desk, I grew more anxious.
‘Did you get something?’ I whispered as he sat down.
‘What?’ he questioned.
‘Did you get something to eat?’ I whispered a little louder.
He nodded in disapproval, with a slight disappointment on his face.
I smiled back and continued to listen to the class.
A few moments into the class, I noticed that Naresh was trying to adjust himself and sit properly. As I squinted from the corner of my eye trying to figure out what he was up to he was still again, did not move. I continued with the class. Again, he was fidgeting around the desk. I turned completely this time, looking right at him. He had a huge smile on his face, and his right hand was inside his pocket. I heard feeble sounds of wrapper crackling and kept staring at him.
He then raised his eyebrows and tried to pull something out of his pocket. The moment I realised that he was about to take something out, a loud giggle erupted from my mouth. My eyes twinkled with joy and my face was full of smiles as I saw a big packet of masala chips emerge out of his pocket.
He gently laid the packet onto the lower shelf of our double desk and pushed it towards me. I smiled in all the glory and grabbed the packet.
It was a struggle to finish eating those chips during the classes that day, but we did our job!
The tale of my ride to the college
Fast forward a few years, I was in my 12th. My college was in SR Nagar, a bustling locality full of colleges and students aspiring to get into the IITs and NITs. It was about 4KM from my home. I walked from my home to the bus stop, took a bus to SR Nagar and then walked again for about 10 minutes to reach the college.
Sometimes I got late for the class. You know, one or the other reason held me back. Sometimes, I started late from home because my mom wouldn’t have packed the lunch box. Sometimes the buses didn’t come on time or I try to avoid getting into them because they were overcrowded. Or the worst, there just was too much traffic to cause the delay. No matter what the reason was, I did not enjoy being late. But it was like a curse for me, I just couldn’t avoid it.
My first class was Physics. Though I did well in the class, my Physics teacher, whom we called Shankar Sir, was a bit annoyed that I used to be late. There were instances of being late by more than 10 minutes, so he had all the right to be annoyed! Though it was not a regular affair, I too felt embarrassed as I entered the class when I was late, with everyone staring at me, giggling and smiling all they could!
I tried my best not to be late, but things just don’t work your way always, do they?
One day, just like any other day, I was doing my bit to reach the college on time. I started early from my home, reached the bus stop well before my usual time. And waited. I was very confident that I’d make it in time that day.
I kept staring down the road, towards my right, checking the bus numbers hoping one of them would be mine. I waited for a good 10 minutes — shifting my weight from one leg to the other, adjusting my backpack, glancing people move around. Still, there was no sign of my bus.
As I was growing a little restless I heard a voice from my behind calling out my name loudly. ‘Who would call me, at the bus stop,’ I ignored. I heard my name again, this time followed by a couple of claps. I reluctantly turned around and was surprised to see my Physics teacher waving his hand and calling out my name. I very gently raised my hand as if I was trying to say, ‘Present, sir’.
He signalled me to hurry up and get inside his car. He had recently bought a brand new Hyundai Santro, the car still had a temporary registration number plate.
I felt a little hesitant and didn’t quite know what to do. He signalled again, with his hand, gesturing me to come fast.
I was joyous from the inside. There he was, my Physics teacher, offering me a lift! I controlled myself from smiling too much, walked towards him, wished him good morning and got into the car.
It was a silent ride for the most part, except when my teacher asked me about my family, my whereabouts and how I commuted daily. I answered and gave him an occasional smile as if trying to say, ’thank you, sir.’
After about 12 minutes, we reached our college. ‘Coming to the college in a car felt a lot different,’ I thought. When we reached the college, he parked the car inside the campus.
It was the busiest hour of the day with all the students and the faculty reaching the college around that time. I had to get out of the car amidst all this, and I was shy and jubilant at the same time. As I got out of the car, the same people who caused me embarrassment in the class looked at me in awe. The bewilderment was palpable and I just couldn’t control blushing.
Going to the Physics class was not the same again.
The tale of an unbooked train ticket
Fast forward a few more years, I went on to study at NIT Warangal. I will cover other funny engineering stories in a separate post, this story is about the time of my graduation.
As cliched as it may sound, I joined MBA after engineering 🤷🏻♂️ and our graduation ceremony at NIT Warangal was announced after our MBA had started. By the way, I completed my MBA from Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Puttaparthi. The institute was rather very strict about students leaving the campus during the semester and had no-nonsense policies around taking leaves and not attending classes. So, I had to apply for leaves upfront and plan my journey. I applied for leave for exactly 3 days — Friday, Saturday, and Monday and booked my onward journey tickets from Puttaparthi to Hyderabad.
I was very excited about going to the graduation ceremony, as I would get to meet all my friends again! Another tidbit about SSSIHL, we had very little contact with the outside world during our semester. The only mode of communication with the outside world was email and a landline phone, believe me!! So, this added to the excitement even more, and I was eager to meet them. Some of them joined MBAs like me, but most of them took nice jobs offered during our campus placements.
The day of my journey arrived and I left Puttaparthi on Thursday evening and reached Hyderabad on Friday morning. In the evening, a bunch of us took the regular Intercity-Express from Hyderabad to Warangal. It was nice meeting everyone again after such a long time. We reached the college and the excitement of graduation was everywhere, and the atmosphere was electric. The entire campus was fully decorated, welcoming us! The students had come from different parts of the country, coming back to the alma mater was always special and a matter of pride, after all!
We all were having a superb time. After going around the campus for a while, we had our dinner and settled in our juniors’ rooms :) to take some rest for the big event — the graduation ceremony.
Amidst all the partying and madness, there was a constant worry in my head. The plan was, we stay on the campus on Saturday (the day of graduation), leave for Hyderabad on Sunday afternoon or evening, and start back to Puttaparthi on Monday evening. The plan had to be followed meticulously, any delay otherwise would cause me trouble when I reached Puttaparthi.
So, I had to start back to Puttaparthi on Monday evening, but I had not booked my return journey ticket! I was worried, not because I didn’t book but because I didn’t have enough money to book 😐 I felt terrible and hesitated to ask someone to book, I resisted myself. Although it seemed like the easiest thing to just ask a friend to book a ticket, I did not have the courage. I kept delaying it knowing for a fact that I still had a couple of more days to book. Anyway, as I did not have a way out yet I slept over it believing I could figure it out later.
The ceremony was in the evening, so we got up leisurely, wandered in the hostel, met more people, our batchmates and juniors. Enquired about college, the campus, our faculty, the placements. Made noise, had some unworried and carefree talk in the corridors till the evening. We then got ready for the event and went to the college auditorium. Our first graduation, we had a merry time! After about 6 hours of greetings, speeches, awards, prizes, photos, food, drinks, songs, dances and a lot of nonsense, we returned to the hostel.
And the dreadful hour had finally arrived. All of us started to talk about when we were returning to our respective places. As guys took turns, I just waited, a bit unsure, a bit worried.
‘I will be starting on Monday evening from Hyderabad’, I paused. ‘But, you know, I haven’t booked my return tickets yet. Hopefully, I will get to book them in Tatkal tomorrow!’ I said shrugging my shoulders.
‘Can someone help me book tickets tomorrow?’ I finally managed to mumble. After I said that, it felt like everyone just understood where I was coming from, my hesitation and my need.
‘Yea, I will do it ra!’ said Sai Thej.
I was relieved. Asking for help never seemed so difficult!
The next morning, I was a little anxious but was very hopeful that the ticket would get booked. And luck seemed to be with me, the ticket was booked. Sai Thej confirmed. I was so relieved that I didn’t even check the message I received on my phone. I just needed to hear that the ticket was booked.
Without stressing out too much about the return journey now, I had a good time with everyone around and we returned to Hyderabad that evening. Went home, spent some time with mom, showed the ‘NIT Warangal graduation degree certificate’ and talked about stuff in general, had dinner and slept.
Monday had arrived, my train was at 6 PM. I packed my luggage, the dinner box my mom prepared and some ironed white dresses.
As usual, I started not too early and not too late. It was just about the right time! I reached the railway station and noticed that the train was already on the platform. I walked down the staircase to the platform and realised that I hadn’t checked my seat number! I quickly took out my phone, searched for messages from IRCTC in a hurry and found a message sent in the evening. ‘Chart prepared’ it read. I opened it and just couldn’t believe my eyes.
The message read ‘B3 27’. It took a moment for me to process it. I had always received messages which read something like ‘S7 34’. This was different. And then, after a few moments passed, it struck me. ‘That rascal had booked an AC ticket for me!’ I came to a standstill, almost about to cry… but then I smiled, and nodded my head.
I think I never thanked him for that, maybe it was never required.
The tale of an extraordinary birthday
You know the drill. Fast forward a few more years, enter the startup life.
The years 2015 and 2016 were some of the most challenging years of my life. We were working on our startup ‘WhatsDplan’ at that time, and things were distraught. Though very gruelling at that time, I cherish them the most! This incident is one during that horrid period.
We were two of us working full-time along with a few others helping us out in building the startup. We had spent a good amount of time in 2015 and were reaching the end of 2016 without any significant result. Every day felt new. There was always something new to look forward to — either good or bad. And I particularly didn’t mind either! It was such a state. There were no festivals, no holidays, no personal vacations or breaks of any sort. We were just under sheer grind, all the time, day-in and day-out.
As we were approaching the last quarter of 2016, it occurred to me that my birthday was around the corner. With so many things happening around the startup which required our complete attention, we couldn’t care less about our birthdays! But we did celebrate a little, on Ramesh’s and Anoop’s (my friends from NITW, who were part of the startup) — we cut a cake and had some casual fun, more like a distraction and a formality.
However, that year, my mom asked me to come home for the birthday — she too was concerned that I was stressed out a lot and wanted me to have some break. That year, in 2016, my birthday was on a Monday. I thought I’ll go home on Sunday evening and return to the room (we were working out of a small rented apartment in Kukatpally) on Monday evening.
I knew there would be some celebration at home. They too wanted to cheer me up. Like every birthday, mom made nice sumptuous meals and invited a few relatives and some neighbours for dinner. Just like many middle-class families, we too did not have a ‘gifting culture’ and birthday celebrations at home were not very fancy either.
Though I was not excited much, I was relieved a bit from the startup grind. I tried to enjoy as much as I could, knowing I had to get back to the grind the next day. Some people enquired about the startup, I gave an occasional and vague reply as I too didn’t quite have a very clear answer to most of the questions.
As the evening approached we cut the cake and had our dinner. And I was then getting ready to leave. As I was packing my bag, dad came to me and took out a small box wrapped in paper from his pocket.
My dad had never gifted me anything. Never. Ours was more of a strict father-son relationship and we too were not very particular about gifts. So when my dad handed me the box, it felt different. It felt special.
Standing there, I wondered, ‘of all these years, why’s dad giving me a gift now? Is it because he wanted to remind that he was there for support during the turbulent times of the startup or is that because he felt irresponsible for never giving any gift before!’ A flurry of thoughts just hit me. I tried to gather myself again.
‘Oh! A gift this time!’ I said with a surprised look on my face, yet trying to keep it casual and took the gift from his hand. He was excited and asked me to open it.
‘Is it a pen?’ I asked.
‘Yes, yes. Open it!’ he rushed.
As I opened it, I saw that it was a regular pen. Blue ink. Not too heavy like other branded pens, reserved for gifting. It was simple, nice, and dark. I lifted my hand as if trying to write in the air, clicked it a couple of times, made a nice tick-tock sound and smiled as my dad was standing there looking at my mannerisms. I looked at him and thanked him.
‘You know, there’s something special about this pen’, he sounded like he was revealing a secret to me.
‘Oh, is it?’ I questioned.
He took the pen from my hand, twisted the top part and pulled it away. The pen had changed its shape now. I was like, ‘well, what is it!’
He stretched for my palm, stamped on it with the pulled away part and started smiling.
I looked at my palm and noticed my name printed. ‘Harish Arjun’ it said, in nice, bold, calligraphy font. I couldn’t help but blurted out a burst of loud laughter!
‘So, I can stamp my name now?’ I exclaimed.
‘Yes! You just need to stamp and put your signature now. No need of writing your name, you see,’ he said gleaming with joy.
I just nodded in agreement.
‘Ok, then. I need to leave now,’ I said, ‘nice gift!’ And put the pen inside the box again.
I grabbed my laptop, put it in the bag. Wore the bag around my shoulders, waved at my parents and left.
With my right hand holding the bag strip around the shoulder, I was still holding the pen in my left hand. As I walked towards the bus stop, I kept smiling and nodding at the same time. It was late in the night and the bus wasn’t crowded. I entered the bus and was lucky to get a seat near the back window. With the bag on my lap now, I kept staring at the pen in my hand and smiled all the way from Rasool Pura to Kukatpally. Smiled in wonder and awe!
I smiled, and the smile was not just on my face this time.
More stories to be continued…