The Choices We Make

Several years ago, while I was on a vacation in India, an incident happened that is now permanently etched in my brain. I can still visualize the scene, the noise, the smell, the heat and the crowds amidst which this incident happened.

In Chennai, whenever I travel alone to visit a friend or go to a temple, I ride the city bus. Though I used to drive in Chennai, numerous one-ways and the bustling traffic scares me nowadays. So I prefer my trusted companion of olden days, the city bus. As usual, it was crowded and I was standing inside. Suddenly someone in the front recognized me and shouted, “Hi! MD, how are you da?” There, a few feet in the front of the bus, was my friend who had studied with me from 6th to 10th at the public school in Mylapore. He was one of the “cool dudes” of that time; Kabadi champ, track and field champ and the leader our school scouts team. I used to envy him when he got to ride the famous Kapaleeswarar Koil Float (Theppam) on all the festival days since he was the lead scout in charge of crowd management.

I was excited to see him and I told him I was doing fine. He then asked me what I was doing and without much thought, I told him about my education, my job and my current vacation in India. Then it was my turn and I asked him what he was up to and how his life had been since school. He replied, “I am working as a peon ma, in a bank. I did not pursue much of studies. I wish I had studied like you and our other friends”. I was stupefied for a moment. My mind had unconsciously assumed that all my friends would have somehow studied and held good paying jobs. Though there is nothing demeaning being a peon, knowing his leadership and athletic skills, I expected him to be educated and working in better paying job. When I heard this from him, I did not know how to react, but somehow changed the topic into inquiring about his other best friends who he usually hung out with.

I kept thinking about this incident many times after that day. I realized the most diverse group of our friends would be our friends from our school years. Also, it is bound to be even more diverse if we studied in a public school as opposed to private schools such as DB or PSBB. At this stage in our lives, our current circle of friends converges into a homogenous group who has decent education and a good job. On the contrary, friends from our old public school would be in very different situations that we could not even imagine.

My daughter is now graduating from a public school and will soon be entering college. With my school life, college life and the years that have passed since then acting as hindsight, I can glimpse into the future of some of her friends and where their life would take them. Not everyone is choosing to enter into a four year college. Some are going to join the military at entry level. Some are going to pursue becoming a beautician or a massage therapist. Some even talk about directly starting to work as medical emergency assistant or a fire fighter. Though here in the USA such jobs are not as bad as being a peon in India, I am sure, twenty years from now, if my daughter happens to bump into some of her old friends from her school, she may have to face a similar moment. The choices we make everyday ultimately determine where we end up. I hope everyone has the capability and will to choose wisely and aim to improve their lives each day.


  1. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 18, 2010, 5:20 pm:

    Nice post MD. I can understand how shocking it could be to see a good friend struggle in life in a low paying job. Like you say, in the USA, the disparity is not that big and definitely the way people treat someone in a low paying job wouldn’t be very different. In India, however, the attitudes are such that anyone in a low paying job can be treated badly especially by the richer people. Like many things, India is changing on this front also, but not fast enough.

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    Nice. You are absolutely right to say that the most diverse group of our friends would be our friends from our school years. I myself discovered my school friends very recently, and was surprised to see where they all ended up. But regardless of income group – fact is we were able to find each other and now be in touch all over again – Thanks to the internet and social media!

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    The title of the post suits the bill perfectly.
    It’s the butterfly effect. Although, I’m too young to comment on the future of many of friends, but some of them have completely wasted themselves.
    Although it’s more or less about the choices we make or take, there are other dormant potent factors involved too e.g. upbringing. Even though we share the same classroom with 30 others, the values, ethics, principles that our parents & peers inculcate in us has a profound impact on what choices we opt for & that eventually shapes our character & future.
    Nice article. 🙂

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    Interesting post MD. I think recent movie 3-idiots showed that very well. We cannot really judge what a person based on what they show in their childhood. I have friends who were smokers and addicts, now reformed and making great living with hard work and determination, at the same time, some super stars are now working in 9-5 jobs, perhaps happy, but not to the potential they demonstrated in their childhood. Grades based on pure rote learning is never going to produce leaders. In some schools (incl ours), the class topper used to be class representative/ leader. So it is an academically earned position rather than based on leadership skills.

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    Ganesh Vaideeswaran said April 19, 2010, 2:13 am:


    Sometimes it is sticking to the choice that is made for us (which itself is a choice 🙂 ) that defines us or our career path. Particularly in India, it the career path that parents choose for their kids. I guess, this is what Tonmoy is also alluding to.

    And then what Sukuamr says also makes sense. The choices that we have available or the ones that are supposed to lead to success is rooted in culture, society, environment etc. As Sukumar says, a janitor in US could more than eeke out a living and lead a comfortable life. His/her passion might be something else, bit the ‘job’ they have lets them enjoy their passion. This comes down to what is the definition of success in life itself.

    Ad at the young age of 18 or 19, does someone know what it is that is going to make them happy in life. I wish there were buttons to rewind life or learn from mistakes and adjust rapidly that lets us figure out the answers before it is too late. Something I wish I was better at.

    Nice post.

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    I agree completely with MD’s observation. I did go through a similar phase in life (private school till about middle school and public high school). Choices made in early in life write one’s destiny, though a lot could be changed, improved and so forth. In our days of schooling, I have seen a real diverse population in public schools. I do connect with many of them, courtesy all the networking tools. Many of them do what are passionate about & are successful in life. I guess there are others who are probably not so successful as well.

    Agree with Ganesh in his thoughts on who makes the choices. I guess I was slow in my response to the blog ( I only commented on Sukumar’s FB and he asked me to share with others on the blog). Ganesh, you have mentioned exactly what I was thinking in the morning…..wish life had a rewind button and a lot of us would utilize it well and rewrite history.

    Agree with Ganesh on how do you define success and happiness, in life. On the other hand I would say that parents of our age are spending more time and efforts with our children to point them to various successful people and professions and help in the process of making informed choices.

    I liked this post so much and MD’s incident moved me as it really brings out how we write our own destiny

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    Sukumar, thanks for your nice comment. I am glad to see all the growth happening in India and there is definetely a trickle down effect that opens up opportunities for those who could not study. The constitutional right to educaton law that was passed is also impressive except that its implementation would be a colossal effort. I agree it would take time due to the sheer size of our population.

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    Sibu, thanks for your kind words. I agree with you totally. I am in touch with school, college and work firends only because of Internet.

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    Tonmoy, thanks for your encouragement. There are thousands of factors that make us what we are. Some we can control and some we cannot. My wish is that we pause for a moment and think before acting. I have regretted many times and felt that I shouldn’t have done that, or shouldn’t have said that. Self control is tough as well.

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    Vamsi, absolutely true. It was rather eye-opening for me to find out where everyone from my school ended up. When I found one of my close friends using the Internet, I learned a lot about other friends and where everyone went. Truly amazing.

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    Ganesh, thank you for your kind words. I wish there were such buttons too! I try my best to have self-control, no doubt it is tough!

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    Kumaran said April 19, 2010, 6:58 am:

    hi MD,

    Yes, I have been at that same place. For me actually I look forward to such meeting. I am satiated with meeting folks from my background and if I have a choice I prefer meeting people from other background. When we (geeks) meet all we can think about is computers & clouds( not the one made by nature). 🙂 Whenever someone tells some other profession, I actually get a whiff of breadth air and actually I spend time to assure them and their choice is also good in its own perspective. In fact I tell some of cons of our field of work so they feel better about the choice they have already made.

    As Ganesh points out our wishes/wants transform through life. If someone is able to say I am happy with this, we should encourage that person rather than confusing him by pushing you should be that or this etc.


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    Nice article MD, I’m wondering that the choices we make purely based on economic conditions. For poor people, all they had is “hobson’s choice”. Based on my experience, the poor kids were the one hit very hard from my 10th class(public scholl, Tamil medium). Only few really used affirmation support to enter higher educations and work, other than the few almost all end up in daily wages.

    For middle class, even though they didn’t have enough money, they had information as asset. For example, one of my classmate an average student, finished his BSc chemistry and didn’t know what to do next other than some small jobs here and there, but one of his uncle told him about a new course started at St Joesph college at Trichy,he took a recommendation letter from his church father and he admitted and completed the course, now he is in big position at MNC. For rich, they followed their dad’s business and settled in well or used money to find good education and job so on.


  14. Quote
    Siva Guruvareddiar (subscribed) said April 19, 2010, 10:30 am:

    Good Post MD…
    “Also, it is bound to be even more diverse if we studied in a public school as opposed to private schools”… What a wonderful sentence and I agree with you 100%..

    Being studied from a Govt school and saw only 3 out of the 100+ of the 10th batch joined college was a shocking experience and most of my school friends are even working as coolis…

    One thing that India has to do to be a developed nation is this…

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    Kumaran, thanks for your comments. Yes, I agree as long the job pays for the persons needs and he/she feels happy with it and they do not regret not making a better choice earlier in their lives.

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    Subba, thanks for your encouragemet. I do feel the need for some advice and motivation for those left behind. One of my relative did not go on to college. But he was good at art. When the boom began in India he got himself trained in computer graphics and now runs a successful operation doing graphic work.

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    Siva, thanks for the kind words. It is really hard to catch up in India once you fall behind. The sheer size of our population makes it hard to catch up if you missed the boat.

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    Great post MD. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I wonder, i passed out only 5 years ago from college..but I guess most of my friends in IT or in tech are doing equally well…I guess the pressure from society to do well has made the new generation mostly equal….But that will probably change in a few years….
    There are already friends who have started businesses(amidst family pressure to not start business ventures) and friends who are pursuing world class mbas as well as friends who have decided to get ‘settled’…..guess some people are already pulling away from the crowd… the end of the day, i guess the most important thing is to be happy with what you have made out of your life..

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    Rajbir (subscribed) said April 21, 2010, 3:39 pm:

    Very interesting read. Having studied at a public school, I can relate to this post, though I have not really gone back and folllowed up on what happened to other colleagues, this comes as a real shocker. Some of the readers seem tobe living in US and I have a quesiton for them. Is there proactive career counselling provided by school there, especially to those who may not have access to such inputs at home? This could be very helpful to students in public schools as it could prevent wastage of talent and convert that into a productive workforce?

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    Arvind, thanks for your nice comment. Keeping an open mind will help you as you progress in your life.

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    Rajbir, thanks for your kind words. Yes, there is enormous amount of help available to students but no one pushes them to do better or forces them to seek out the assistance. What I found is that the system forcefully addresses only the trouble makers. The good performers get all the advice since they qualify for this and that. Those on the border who just need a bit of edging to seek better options are often left out unless they are proactive and seek out on their own. Most Asians are good at this though!

  22. Quote
    Arvind said May 1, 2010, 7:44 pm:

    Thanks for the advice, MD.

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