I met Aditya Ganjoo for the first time last Saturday morning at a Full House meeting. For him, it was 9:30PM local time in New Delhi and he was attending his first ML event. He engaged with authenticity and vulnerability. He shared that he had been writing about his life and he offered to send me some of his pieces. Today, I invite you to read one of those emotional essays from Aditya.
It was the second lecture of the day. “… so… what is cos2x?” asked the professor, engrossed in a problem, addressing the whole class. Trigonometry… the old acquaintance has not been in touch with most of the students of this MBA batch. Obviously, they have dealt with a lot more in the last few years, and have forgotten about its existence. But not our friend. The Mr. Nice Guy. He lives by it. Calculus and trigonometry have been his meditation since the time he remembers carrying a personal cell phone. His job as the design engineer required him to use trigonometry every day. But he did not even attempt to answer. Not that he did not want to! “… anyone?” asked the professor. Nice Guy missed a breath! A wave of shiver moved from his chest through his body, his hands trembled… and then his feet. Although he looked normal, he could feel his heart thumping hard. It was his moment to shine… a moment to acknowledge his love for the art. But in this condition, how could he speak? “Sir… it is cos square x minus sin square x” someone yelled from the back. Nice Guy’s heart slowed down and his breath relaxed. He felt relieved. But then, a feeling of guilt filled him. “Why do I mess this up every time!”
Before we go ahead, let me introduce you to Mr. Nice Guy. He is basically a sweet and charming man, who genuinely wants to be of help to others. He maintains good relation with people, avoids conflict and does not want to be a moment’s trouble. And that is the problem.
When he was a child, he was told that he was not important. Not directly, maybe. But he was told. When he had cried, his mother, who was too exhausted, ignored. He was slapped by his father when he asked his uncle for money – father wanted his kid to learn to not ask uncles for money. His teacher in school had punished him for laughing in class, while the girl who was laughing at him, was spared. Back then the kid Nice Guy was developing a paradigm about the world. With no knowledge about the laws of the universe, he was learning about gravity by falling on the tough concrete. And falling again, and again, and again. The kid Nice Guy was then taught by his grandmother the value of sacrificing oneself for the others. And just after the lesson, his elder brother ridiculed him, as he could not even open the door! …. The kid had learnt that he was not that big of a deal!
The kid Nice Guy grew up and became an adolescent Nice Guy. And, at every step, he looked at the world with the lens he had developed as a kid – his paradigm. Dirty lens showed ugly pictures.
“I could not hit the ball right! See… they are laughing. Must be at me! Who else is the joker here!” “I couldn’t score well in maths! Not surprising. I have never been good at anything” “She didn’t talk to me. See! Girls don’t talk to you unless you are a hunk!”
The reinforced paradigm was now unbreakable. And he became an adult – a man.
The sweet charming man. He wants to see everyone happy. He agrees on everything you say. You may have realised that he is afraid. He is afraid to rock the boat! Any boat! He is afraid to order his favourite pao bhaji in a reunion with friends, as he might be called a kid for such a choice. He is afraid to tell his neighbour to move the car away from his gate, as he is expecting someone. While shopping, he has no opinion about what jacket should he purchase, because, deep down, he believes, he will look ugly in everything.
Back into the classroom. What did just happen? Nice Guy had just ‘survived’. That simple question by a professor seemed like a near-death experience. A complicated, and probably foolish, conversation happened in his head:
“Hey! I know the answer! I must speak”
“Shut up! Are you stupid?”
“Why! This is something I am more than confident! I must speak!”
“No! They would laugh! What if you stammered!”
“I won’t stammer! I know this answer very well!”
“Really! Then why did you stammer last month in the train? Can’t you recall those two aunties with smirks?”
“And, what had happened when you could not pronounce that stupid word in class II?”
“… but I’ll handle it! I have grown up! And… no one will laugh”
“Even if they don’t… will you be able to handle the attention?”
“… I might”
“Have you ever seen how you look! That’s disgusting! Your one answer, and everyone will look at you! I’d not want to be them!”
“…. And what if the professor asks a follow up question! Are you sure you’d know the answer!”
“see… Ramesh answered! He saved you…. Woooh! That was close! Next time take care of it! Stay shut! You are disgusting! Don’t try to be what you are not. Keep yourself low!”
Sounds familiar? Probably, you have heard this before! Maybe from a friend. Maybe from… you just know it!
Do you know a Nice Guy? He looks just like you. He smiles, he talks, just like you do. He is good at making himself your own reflection, as you won’t criticise your lookalike – he is afraid of criticism. You might not find him easily, as even he doesn’t know who he is. But someday, probably in a closed room, with a bottle of whiskey and some friends, when things are smooth, he’d tell you and himself, subtly, who he is. And then, you may feel, that there are many Nice Guys around you – all in different degrees of niceness, all in different stages of healing, none happy with himself!
What worse could have happened had the Nice Guy spoken in the class? He has designed essential boiler parts – probably the reason why the classroom he sat in was lit. That did not blow up! If he could handle not blowing up the national grid, could he not handle the consequences – whatever that may be – of speaking up? What worse could have happened if he had talked to that girl before moving out of the gate of his graduate college, to never come back. A few years back, he was asked to stand up from a general seat in the bus, so that a lady could sit. He was tired. What worse could have happened, had he flatly refused.
Our Nice Guy volunteered to carry so much in his heart. He didn’t know that he needed not to! Maybe, next time, when his friend asks what he wants to eat, he looks in her eyes and clearly says “pao bhaji”. Next time, when the professor asks about that cos2x, and his heart thumps hard in his chest, he still goes ahead and speaks up! And speaks up loud and clear! It takes a lot to kill a man! And his thumping heart is definitely not a lot. Maybe, the next time, he does everything he wants, being fully aware that he can handle the consequences! Maybe, with many such next times, he corrects his lenses – his paradigm – and believes that he is important.