Scene: On the way to Knowledge Village
I was driving the car carefully at 100 kph, My Dad was riding shotgun. But not in a fun kind of way. The maximum limit on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai Highway was 120 kms.
You see, I had just got my license and his duty was to make sure that I am fit enough to drive by myself to my future University which is 150 kms away from home. I would have to drive back and forth every day for classes. So, I drove with complete attention. His presence in the car meant I was to drive slower than usual. One wrong move and he wouldn’t allow me to take the car to the University. I don’t think I paid this much attention for my actual driving test. But beyond all this, somewhere inside, I was really excited!
Grade 12 was over and what a relief that was! I was entering into the real world. It was the feeling of pure freedom. I guess I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time! Till yesterday my life was school and home. Every minute of school was torture. But they promised us that once you get out of this pace, “things are going to be different”. I don’t need to depend on anyone. It was almost like starting a new life in some kind of ways. Business and Economics are my areas of interest. I don’t need to learn anything I didn’t want to learn. This was my definition of freedom back then. How naive was I really?
The faith of a Non Resident Indian (NRI) brought up in the Middle East, was pretty easy to predict. Every NRI kid knew he had one of two options after finishing school in Abu Dhabi. Lucky kids will have a choice between studying in an International University in UAE or maybe even studying abroad. Some parents will choose India as their first option. The best place to toughen up your kids, it seemed, was to send them to India. By the time, they are back they will be Graduates ready to take over high paying jobs (tax free!) and an added bonus will be getting kids who learn to really be independent. NRI kids are spoilt by their parents and the luxuries of the city itself. Now, they feel a need to undo their wrongdoings I guess.
My Dad decided that he wanted his small family to stay together for as long as he could. So, he decided to send me to any university of my choosing in Dubai. He could afford to do that for me. He was a self made man. Not really educated. I didn’t really understand how he would help me choose. After all, whatever I say, is what he would go by. But, all the intelligence I thought I had because I studied till Grade 12 was broken by a man who did not even finish his high school. Little did I know I was going to be proven wrong in a few hours.
Now this is the first time such a big decision was left in my hands. I mean the investment for university was in hundred of thousands of dirhams. He wanted me to choose the University and Course I wanted. Trust me when I say, all of my friends at the time didn’t really get this choice. Most parents had decided if their child was going to be a Doctor or an Engineer before the kids turned 5. And I am understating when I say 5! However, my Dad never really paid attention to what I did. His only concern was if I behaved in a sensible way. He knew that what I made out of myself, depended on how I utilized the skills I had. It had nothing to do with having the greatest Career Plan.
Scene: Knowledge Village, Dubai
We parked our cars and reached what was called Knowledge Village. In this vast dessert, the leaders of Dubai made a masterpiece out of the resources they were blessed with.
As I stepped into Knowledge Village, Dad and I paced ahead as Mom and my sister followed slowly behind. We were surprised to see a beautiful courtyard of grass and a nice walkway in the middle. I didn’t mind that the greenery was artificial. All the universities were built by the government in a very similar way. So, all of them looked alike. I couldn’t find the University that I had come here for. All the universities were spread on both sides of the courtyard. All of them were even painted the exact same color. There were just small boards kept next to the Entrances which differentiated one from the others. I was just enjoying everything happening around me. There were hundreds of University kids sitting around the benches. Everyone seemed to be having fun. There was a Food Court. There were just students everywhere doing whatever they pleased. It looked like a great place to study.
“You have no clue which one it is, do you?” she asked doubtfully. I don’t know how, but she always knew when I was unsure. Moms always know I guess.
My ego was too big to admit it, so I said, “I do know, but we just need to walk a little longer!”. And, I had no clue. But, of course, Mom knew that. So, she turned to a group of students smoking in a corner and asked, “Where is the University of Wollongong?”. The kids pointed at the building that we just walked across and said that is the one.
We walked to the building. This one looked a little more bigger than the other ones. We entered in and the lobby was really deserted. The whole place had a really modern interior.
As I was taking in the marvel of my possible university option, My Dad already figured out who to talk to regarding admissions. We discussed things for about 20 minutes. My Dad looked impatient. Mom and I ignored him and kept asking more question. My dad finally said “We need to go now”. He sounded like something urgent came up. I felt like he didn’t really pay attention to what the Admissions Officer was talking about.
Mom looked as confused as me. We slowly made our way to the car. Dad said I will explain later. I was really annoyed by this point. I was here trying to decide my future, and here my Dad decided to walk away. I just didn’t get it. We reached the car, he took the keys from me and started driving. Mom asked him “Why did you hurry? Shad still had questions.” Mom always had my back in these situations. I was able to keep my mouth shut and show my disagreement.
He looked at my Mom and said, “I don’t know if our son will get the best education there or not, but I know one thing for sure, he will be an expert smoker in a year!”.
My mouth was wide open. Before I could ask him he explained. Did you observe that 90% of the kids were hanging out in the courtyard and 99% of them were smoking? Did you see many kids inside the university at all. Everyone is taking a damn smoke break. The only thing he will learn to do really well for sure is smoke here. This I know for sure. So, let’s just go have lunch and see if there are any other places another day.
A moment of realization
I realized something of real importance at that moment. I was blessed to be surrounded by great minds like my Dad. The people around you influence the mental barriers you create. If what you think you are capable of is limited, expand the people you talk to, you might end up expanding your boundaries.
We get a glimpse of what might end up happening with every new path of life. If there is even a single ounce of doubt, it is better to make sure the you clarify it before proceeding that way.