Sitting alone in a room for a day or two can take you on many thought trips. I’m currently alone in a room, wondering what to do next; I’ll probably call my friend, and we’ll grab coffee sometime in the evening. But right now, a few thoughts crossed my mind – What would have happened to me if my ancestors did not make their choices? How much of whatever I have achieved or not have been because of sheer luck? How would the choices that I make affect my descendants? I guess I’m just a little nervous about my internship starting tomorrow.
I come from a small village called Ram Kumar Chowdhury Para (named after the village head) in the Gandachara sub-division, Dhalai district, Tripura. My ancestors moved to the current village from Raima, which is in another district in Tripura. I have not talked much to the elders about the family, but recently while interviewing them for an academic report, I discovered many things.
My grandma told me that the move from their original village was not a choice, somewhat a consequence of decisions taken by various stakeholders. The state government had decided to build a hydropower plant and build a dam on the Dumbur river. Because of the resulting flood, many people fled their homes. The state threatened those who did not leave. In my grandmother’s words, “They told us that the army would rape the women and the girls if we did not leave the village.”
They left with whatever small things that they could manage to carry. They left entire crop fields, livestock, and their whole livelihoods behind. People who fled the village, including my paternal grandmother, walked some 40 kilometers on foot to get to the current village. My aunt was a teenager then, and my father had yet to see the light of this world. For my grandmother and countless other villagers protecting their children was more important than anything else. If my grandmother did not make that choice of moving from Raima, you would probably not have been reading this essay.
Skipping a generation, we come to the story of my parents. Both my mom and dad did not finish high school, so getting their children educated is the goal of their lives. As a result, they hammered into me the idea that education is the one tool that can bring change to the family and the world. I still tend to believe in the concept. They made sure that I got the best of opportunities and continued passing it down to my sister as well. They cared so much about educating me that when they did not see much scope for my progress in the village, they moved to a new town (which I currently call home) where they knew none and admitted me to an English medium school. That single choice changed my life, and I’ll be ever grateful to them.
If that one teacher had not helped me translate my answers during the school admissions test, I cannot imagine what would have happened to me. So, one must write a diagnostic test before being admitted to the school. I distinctly remember a question about triangles. The test asked to name the polygon with three sides. I knew what it is called in Bengali (ত্রিভুজ); I just did not know how “triangle” is spelled because of my background. I had studied in a Bengali medium school before that.
Other than the obvious fact that I won the lottery of birth, I got lucky much more than I realized or told others. For starters, I did not face any discrimination or prejudices on any grounds that would have hampered my learning in any way. I went to institutions where people readily accepted me as their own and did everything they could to help me grow.
I did not know what IITs were or what engineers did. Had my high school not had coaching classes or had my coaching teachers not told us what excellent institutions IITs are, I would not have made an effort to get into one. On the day of JEE advanced, I correctly guessed a few answers (without negative marking, of course!) That probably bumped up my rank by a few hundred, enough to get me EE at IITK. It feels surreal looking back now, but if luck weren’t on my side, I would probably not have made it to EE, IITK.
The interview panel at IIMA decided to take a chance on this random kid, who seemed more interested in talking about Taylor Swift and Ye (formerly Kanye), protein-folding, and increase in compute power than core Electrical Engineering. That has got to be one of the supreme definitions of getting lucky.
The point of this essay is to remind you and, more importantly, myself that the choices made by my ancestors had a significant role to play in shaping my life. I cannot express in words how grateful I am. If there is someone in the multiverse who helps carry messages across universes, please say “thank you” to every ancestor of mine, alive or dead. I have seen people often underscoring the importance of luck when narrating their achievements. I don’t think that is right. No, I’m not saying everything is a result of getting lucky. All I’m saying is that luck has more role to play in one’s success or failure than one’s hard work, perseverance, and those other words that they use.
While reflecting on ancestors and luck, it also occurred that I’m also an ancestor of an entire line of Homo sapiens that will follow me. Hence, my choices would affect their lives directly or indirectly. That is so cool to think about, as well as terrifying. I just hope to be a cool ancestor whom my descendants will write stories about. That’s it. Thanks for reading. All the best for the summer internships! Oh, be a cool ancestor.
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