Did you ever wonder where the daughter of your house maid studies? Did you spare a penny of a thought to what hardships the son of the person who cleans your car every morning goes through? Do you know what could be the dream of the daughter of the watchman in your apartment, who says 'salaam saab' to you every time you pass by? Well, I did not, till some time back. I was in my own world, minding my own business, mostly.
It was a day that I would never forget in my life. A day, which taught me so many things and made me realize some of the hard truth of life. I and some other folks from office had received an invite from someone to visit an institute and meet the students who were preparing for their upcoming placements. Since I was involved with campus recruitment for our organization, I had received this invite. I was all pumped up to go and give a pep talk, motivate and inspire them to do well in the interviews. The organizers also wanted us to conduct some mock interviews.
We had to go to Tolichowki, a locality at the intersection of the old and new city at Hyderabad. On one side you could see flyovers leading to tall buildings with shining glass façade, housing the young urban professional, and on the other side was the massive expanse of living quarters of middle and low income group families. The location of the institute puzzled us. Nonetheless, we found our way to a nondescript building whose address was given to us.
We 4 colleagues from Capgemini, climbed the stairs to the first floor of the building where the institute was located. The first floor had a small reception, an office room and 2 class rooms. The walls were decorated with motivational quotes. In one of the room there were about 30 kids. They were looking nothing like engineering students. They were 18-23 year old students from slum areas and villages, all children of low income families. We were asked to address the students. Very soon, we understood that they would find it difficult to follow English properly. Hence, we used Hindi to address them.
We all tried to inspire and motivate them. I told them about having a goal and narrated the story of karoly Takacs, the Hungarian shooter who despite losing his right hand won the Olympics gold medal. I told that they, despite of their struggles and problems, can also achieve their goals, if they focus on it and work hard.
Then it was time for the mock interview. We divided the students into 4 groups and I told them that we would do a group discussion and I will ask questions to them and they can ask questions to me as well.
The group of 8 with me went to another room. We settled ourselves and I asked them to introduce themselves with their name, where they come from, what they are studying and what are their hobbies, interests, dreams & goals. That is when I realized that they were mostly 10th class failed. Their parents were auto drivers or house maids or working in a tea stall or road side hotel. Most of them did not speak audibly. I had to really struggle even to understand their hindi even though I was sitting quite close to them.
I gave them some tips like saying hi/hello, smiling at others and saying their name loudly and confidently. After giving some other tips, I asked them to ask me questions. There were absolutely no questions from their side. So, I kept prodding them. I learnt that they were studying Sales – to be sales boy or sales girls in small shops, Hotel operations – to work in small restaurants and Computers – to be data entry operators. Most of them told me that their goal was to get a job and start earning. I understood, being financially independent by earning their livelihood and helping their family was something badly needed by all of them.
After asking them several times to ask me questions, Saba, a girl in a black burqa asked: Sir How big is Capgemini? Where are the different branches? Who is the owner? What is your duty time? Etc. I answered those questions patiently.
Then Saba asked,
Sir, what is your designation?
I said Senior Manager.
Sir, What do you do in a typical day?
I struggled to explain to them what system integration is, what is a merger and what are the challenges when an organization like Capgemini acquires another organization like iGate. But these questions still could be answered. The next one was a googly.
Sir, what is your salary?
I did not know what to answer to that particular question. The first thing I thought was that these kids were so innocent that they did not know what questions could be asked and what should not be. I was overwhelmed with their simplicity. But still I did not know whether to tell the truth or not. The truth, which I at the end of every month feel is not enough; but the same truth, I am sure would be sufficient to sustain some of their entire family for almost a year. If I tell the truth, I felt they might feel deprived and bad, and if I did not, I would be lying. Then it dawned on me that I am not supposed to disclose my salary. Relieved, I let a long breath out and winged up a convoluted answer telling them what I earned when I started my career, and that it goes up with experience.
The next question was again a bouncer. Another kid asked,
Sir, if I want to become like you, what I should do.
I was at a loss for words. What could I say? My life and how I became what I am flashed across my mind in a second. And I realized how just plain lucky I had been to have been born to parents who could provide me with education that helped me get on the professional train. Should I tell them, that to become like me, they should get an engineering degree, then get an MBA and then get into a corporate life? Will it encourage them, or will it discourage them? How do you say that to someone who is 10th fail and does not even know what the real world boundaries and limitations are? Would you just tell her that there is no way for you to join a large MNC? Or would you sugar coat your answer? Without knowing what to say, I just ducked the question asking them to dream big, to focus on the goal and to work hard – One day they could become like me. My inner voice was shouting - how hollow these words were. What actions could I take for them?
Question after question kept stumping me.
Sir, what are the opportunities for me at Capgemini.
I was just as helpless as before again. What could they do at Capgemini? Would they be happy to be the housekeeping staff, I thought to myself, to clean the premises, pantry and the washrooms? I was actually feeling very small because I did not have an answer. For several minutes, I did not dare to say anything. Finally, those hollow words came out from my mouth - You can be anything that you want to be!
Sir, how many years of service is required to reach your position?
Very soon I realized the reason why they were asking me questions about my designation and how much money I make. Perhaps, they were trying to imagine themselves at my position. Perhaps they wanted to day dream. Perhaps they wanted to understand that such a thing, which we in our society take for granted, is possible. It is possible to become a professional, to speak to one and to get to know one was a dream come true for them. They were re-calibrating their own goals and dreams. How could I ask them to become a cleaner or office boy and shatter their newly painted nascent dreams the color of which had not even dried from their eyes?
Finally, 2 of the 8 kids announced proudly – Sir – I want to become a Senior Manager at Capgemini. That is our dream. Their dreams had just changed from becoming a data entry operator to become a Senior Manager at an MNC. This was no laughing matter. They were dead serious about it.
How could I help these kids was the only thing that was in my mind. All of them had goals and dreams. Though their voice was weak, their passion shone clearly. One boy told that his father has a tea-stall. He wants to expand that. He wants to make it a hotel business. These were the kind of dreams they were carrying.
Later, we had a feedback session. We were supposed to give our feedback to them. I gave the feedback that I loved their passion, dreams and goals. I told them to work on their English speaking skills which can be a passport to their job. I told them to help each other and never feel that they are alone. And whenever they feel like they are alone, just ask for help.
At the end of the session, they came and asked for our autographs. I was afraid to sign as I do not consider myself worthwhile to sign an autograph. We were all simple office-goers, but were treated like celebrities. However, we wrote an inspiring message for each of them, not to disappoint them.
On the way back, the Hyderabad traffic was bad. Throughout the journey, I sat silently. Just one thought kept recurring – Just how plain lucky I had been! Then, a sense of gratitude came over. It was gratitude to all those – my parents, teachers, members of the society, colleagues, everyone who helped shape my life.
I went there to inspire them, but I came back inspired. I went there to ask them questions, I came back with lots more questions, unanswered. I went there to show them the way, I came back having realized the path.
That night I kept asking myself, what I could do to help the kids. Now, I have a plan. And by will of God, I will be able to execute the plan, one step at a time. This blog is the first step. To spread the word.
This post is incomplete if I do not mention the organizers, the instructors, the fund raisers at such organizations like AIF and CAP Foundation. They are all doing tremendous service to society by helping these kids find their livelihood. They go door to door, mobilize these students and train them free of cost. They also organize placement service for them. Just imagine, if such selfless people are not there, what would be the future of all those who due to financial and social circumstances have been deprived of proper education? My request to anyone who has ways and means of helping these kids to come forward and extend a helping hand, lend an ear or at least spread the word.
Thanks for reading.