December 4, 2010

If you can’t dream it, then daydream it.

Fritz Gonsalvez

“Pay attention! Come back from the moon,” barked the mathematics tutor while hammering Pythagoras’ theorem into my fiendish little brain.

I came back at the speed of light, but not from moon. Instead, from Centre Court, Wimbledon. I was playing in the 1992 Men’s Singles Championship and the only person standing in between the trophy and me was Andre Agassi. While Princess Diana, Elton John, Naomi Campbell and John Major were seen cheering for the tennis rookie from India.

Daydreaming is the ancient great grandfather of stargazing. It always existed. Then one day an obscure drunkard joined the dots in the sky, drew a creature that was one-quarter man and three quarters horse, gave it bow and arrow, just so it looked cool, and bingo, we have legitimate employment for nursery-failed academicians.

The Centre Court siesta happened when I was in sixth grade. And a lot of daydreaming has happened in between then and now. I played a sold out performance at Woodstock, raised important questions pertaining to national security in parliament, won a noble prize in economics, took part in the Indian independence movement, appeared on the David Letterman Show, commanded the Punjab battalion, coached the women’s hockey team and danced in the rain with a Bollywood bombshell.

And as it normally happens with kids who daydream themselves through school, it happened to me. When I graduated, I didn’t have a bagful of career options or at least not the lucrative ones. So the first job I got was that of a salesman for a cordless phone company. And boy you can daydream about anything but sales figures. My boss single-handedly destroyed my daydreaming socket. From, “Be a man” jargon to, “You can sell this phone to homing pigeon”, he brainwashed me and he succeeded admirably. I started hitting numbers and started believing in reality.

I was wrong. You can take a man out of daydreaming, but it doesn’t work the other way around. So once, while I was getting plain brain fried during a boring sales meeting, I unconsciously slipped into a daydreaming siesta. I imagined myself giving a speech after receiving the “Salesman of the Year” award and thanking the CEO for giving me his daughter’s hand in marriage. My boss caught me red-handed and started blasting me. It felt like he was reading my mind. He screamed, “Hey you? Pay attention.” But it sounded like, “How can you marry the CEO’s daughter, when I am still a bachelor.” Now I might be a daydreamer, but I am also the Honorary Secretary of “The Angry Young Man’s Club.” So, I decided to quit then and there. No one was shocked.

Fast-forward to early 2000. The dotcom bubble had burst but the pipe dream run was still going strong. Nothing exciting was happening, until I saw an advertisement in the newspaper that mentioned about a computer science degree from a reputed university in America, which guaranteed a starting salary of 23 lakhs per annum. This might not sound attractive now, but trust me, it was a lot more convincing back then. I mean it even mentioned the name of the guy who had managed to get such an obnoxious salary. For my daydreaming cells, this news was equivalent to snorting Grade A Cocaine; they started working overtime: First you’ll crack the entrance, then two years for the degree and then a 20,000 square foot mansion with a swimming pool, next to a golf course, right in the middle of Silicon Valley and an American supermodel for your wife - the great American Dream, now in India.

Now, the ”believe in your dreams” rhetoric can best be termed as a “psychobabble cliché,” but believing your daydreams is plain suicide. Especially when the course fee is equivalent to your dad’s pension fund. I took the article to my dad – he asked me whether I was his son. I showed it to my three close friends. They didn’t want to be left behind so they decided to pursue it. But the real reason why they agreed is even worse. Friend number one agreed because he wanted to get married ASAP, friend number two, because his girlfriend was doing better than he was, and friend number three, because all of us were doing it and he had nothing else to do. Now four sets of parents’ pension funds were at stake and the freight train hadn’t even arrived yet. We got through the entrance exam and joined the course. On the first day, the first lecture was on Computer Architecture and the topic was Combinatorial Algorithms. By evening all of us decided to quit. By next week we were home and my dad was minus a few lakhs.

The great American dream disaster shrunk my soul and wallet to miniscule sizes. A man who has nothing will always have a few friends who also have nothing. And all they can do is nothing. Or may be they can have a few drinks. And it was during one of those bingeing sessions that somebody mentioned something about thinking, writing and advertising.

“Hey, you can write?”
“Sure I can and so can a million people.”
“Yes, but they are not funny, you can write humorous stuff, you are a funny man.”
“Sure I’m funny! Everyone’s laughing at me.”

Then he explained to me how his dad’s brother’s youngest son’s friend had once worked as a writer in an ad agency.
“What’s the minimum qualification?"
“How much do you make?”
The money is really bad, but there is a lot of job satisfaction.”
“Oh. That’s reassuring.”

That night I couldn’t sleep. The spurious liquor kept me wide awake. I decided to give it a shot. My daydreaming cells weren’t at all warmed up to the idea. But my brain was playing the Rocky III soundtrack. So despite all the rotten luck I had I landed a job in an advertising agency. They offered me a salary that was slightly better than what immigrant labourers make in Ethiopia. The perks included irregular office hours, vernacular profanities, cheap hangovers, perpetual cock talk, no spine, no social life, no family life, no life whatsoever. I still took the job. It’s the only job in which you are paid to think. Heck you don’t even need to think. You can just pretend. And you’ll still get paid.

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