A Tribute to an unparalleled friend

Posted on Posted in Life Lessons

We are all born under different circumstances, and we all embark on this journey called life, a process very similar to getting on the train, where people join us at different stations. As we travel on this journey, we meet some people, who change your definition of humanity forever and your life doesn’t remain the same anymore. I was 17 when I left my hometown of Ranchi to pursue my undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering at IIT in Mumbai. I had the naivete of youth, being completely ignorant of the workings of the real world. As we arrived at college, we were trying to find our crowd, people who could just accept us for who we are. We were a competitive bunch of people who had just succeeded in the toughest examination of our lives, blinded by our own hubris. There was an excitement in the air, our interaction with each other was tinged with either respect or confidence depending upon the All India Rank or the academic major of the other person. Inter-personal skills not being my strength, I was not doing well building relationships. During these moments, I met this person, who had this genuine laughter and Gandhian simplicity, someone who could give his shirt for you without worrying a bit about himself. I did not know much about human nature except from the vantage point of an inexperienced teenager, but there was something in this kid, that shone like a peerless diamond. We introduced ourselves and developed instant rapport. He introduced himself as Mukesh. There was something about Mukesh that inspired deep respect. Little did I know that small interaction during the September of 1987, would turn into a rock-solid friendship for the next 31 years.

You might wonder what was so unique about this friendship and why would it impact me so much. IIT is a very competitive place with social groups and networks competing to get better grades. I used to think that I am this intelligent dude, who was destined to lead, but I had to eat humble pie as my confidence came shattering down, when I found that even after putting in my very best, the best I could achieve was to be among the last 25% of my class. As a dude without great inter-personal skills and without good grades, I did not have much going for me. Hence, I found myself struggling to find team-mates for group projects. What sustained me during those trying times was my faith in God and a book called “How to Stop Worrying and start living”, by Dale Carnegie. Mukesh was doing better than me in academics and he was also blessed with a great group of friends.  It was during this time that Mukesh carried me and became my partner for my group projects. For the next few years, till graduation we were partners in every project. For all of us, there comes a time, when we are desperate and hopeless, and we believe that only a miracle can carry us forward. Miracles come in the form of human angels. Mukesh was that angel for me. I would not have been able to graduate college if not for the friendship of this amazing friend. During life’s tough times, you can carry forward if you have just one true friend by your side. My life is a testimony to this fact.

Years later, when my son was going to college to UC Berkeley, I advised him to be prepared to be shocked when competing with the eclectic collection of ace players. When the best and brightest meet, the competition can bring down the morale of the strongest person. When my daughter was having problems in finding team-mates for her school project, I could empathize, as I was in the same boat during my college. The challenges in our lives, makes stronger in all the broken places and give us the capacity to feel others’ pain. I am very sensitive to the pain of others, because in my own life, I did suffer. I am glad for those moments of suffering because they defined my life.

When we graduated college in 1991, I joined a public sector company Gas Authority of India Limited and Mukesh stayed in college to complete his Masters. By 1994, I was bored with my job in GAIL and I wanted to switch to a software development private sector job. I started applying to every software company in India, TCS, Syntel, etc. I remember taking a bus from Surat (where I was working for GAIL) to Mumbai, with 10 copies of resume and going to SEEPZ park (where all the software companies lived) and going door to door with my resume and asking to meet the HR person. Everyone said No. Then I traveled to Pune and did the same thing. Luckily, Mukesh was working at TELCO in Pune and I had a place to stay. I went door to door and finally someone was willing to let me in. At a company called Alfa Laval, there was an alumnus from my alma mater IIT, who pitied me and gave me a chance to work for 3 months. He said that after three months, if any employee did not think that I was not the best, I’d lose my job. I did not have a great track record of great inter-personal skills and hence I was very apprehensive of the fact that my job depended upon the opinion of some people, irrespective of the quality of my work. I worked there for three weeks but felt that I could not succeed and hence I quit, leaving all the money I might have earned for three weeks. During those tough times, Mukesh believed in me when I did not believe in myself. He supported me, fed me physically, mentally and spiritually. All the while, I was on leave from my government job. After three weeks, I went back to my government job because I felt more secure in working on an incomplete and mundane job but with a steady paycheck.

A couple of years passed, I was transferred to Delhi. I got married and I got admission to a full-time MBA(PGDCM) program at IIM Kolkata. After graduating from IIM, I joined Price Waterhouse Coopers as a consultant in their SAP division and finally achieved my dream of becoming a software consultant. For, the first time, I started loving what I was doing for my work and after a year, I came to USA, the land of opportunities, leaving my wife and son behind in India. My family was supposed to join me later. I landed in USA during on March 19, 1999 and I could not find a project in SAP. This was primarily because most of the corporate IT funding was going towards mitigation of Y2K risks. In desperation, I got back to learning C++/ Java/CORBA (I had taken C++ and Java classes during my MBA). During this time, I was not doing well financially. By this time, Mukesh had moved to Bay Area, California and he was working for Informix and then Informatica. He used to call me every day and checked on me. He asked me if I had a computer and when I replied in the negative, he declared that I must have a computer and he will buy one for me. Within a week, I receive a brand-new powerful DELL desktop (priced at $2100, which was a lot of money). Using that computer, I found a project and gradually stabilized myself financially.

By December of 1999 and my family joined me. These moments reminded me of the Chris Gardiner quote in the movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness”: “I had finally found happiness for a brief moment”. With my wife and 2.5-year son, we embarked on the path to the American Dream.

Every year, since 1999, we meet as families and go on vacations together. As our families enjoy vacations, walks and meals together, few have a clue of what we have been through. The dark night of the soul and life’s trials and tribulations change us forever. Now, my son is in college and my daughter is in High School.  His daughter recently graduated from High School and had admission offers from all the great schools: UC Berkeley, UCLA and many more. She chose to go to UCLA. Our family went to his daughter’s graduation party and I was given the responsibility to host the graduation party. With me on the mike as the MC, my best friend’s daughter graduating and my best friend by the side, I shared brief moments with the crowd describing moments with this unparalleled human being. I don’t know the what a meaningful and successful life is, but if life is about making a difference, then Mukesh is a shining example of that.

He has changed the lives of many. From his family, I hear about countless stories of him transforming lives. There are people who just called him in dire situations, not knowing him, just because they are from the same village. He has served and helped everyone selflessly. He kept them in his house for months, supported them, guided them and finally they are all successful members of the society. His nephews and nieces have been inspired and guided by his example of extreme dedication and service and they are all on the journey to greatness. When my parents came to visit me in Chicago, they wanted to visit California. We stayed in Mukesh’s house for a week and while departing my father who is a man of few words and finds it very difficult to praise his kids, declared that I am a rich man, just because I have a friend like Mukesh.

I sometimes wonder if God creates people like Mukesh, so that we don’t lose our hope in humanity. Family is not just created by blood, but by the bonds of love. There are people whose eyes are moist, because you are in pain. There are people whose heart bounces with joy when you are happy. There are people who define what the best and purest form of humanity. These are the people whom we call human angels or “The Unparalleled Friend”.

This story is not just about me and about my unparalleled friend. This story is also about you and your unparalleled friend. Someone who transformed your life, by being there for you, as you battled the troughs and crests of life. It would be great if you could comment about that one person and how he or she impacted your life. Let this moment be a moment to celebrate these outstanding examples of humanity at its finest.

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