Monday, June 5, 2017

Yes, I have regrets

I make very good chai tea latte, I am told.  But I have not made a single cup of tea for my grandpa.  He used to relish his evening cup of tea, as he confabulated with his childhood friend.  He passed away rather suddenly in an auto accident in 1994 - he was 61, I was 13.  Had I made tea for him, he would have enjoyed the taste, aroma and the gesture in equal measure. 

When I was a high school student in India, my Aunt was going through a personal crisis.  The details are not important.  Sure, the rest of the family rallied around her.  But I reckon she would have appreciated a little more empathy from me.  I was young.  I was brash.  These are not excuses for insensitivity.  It is how I was back then.  My Aunt passed away last October at the age of 49.  Did she know that I was sorry for my callousness as a teenager?

I did not get that yellow graduation cord in 2002.  At Carnegie Mellon University, students who graduate with honors are presented with a yellow cord around their neck at the time of getting their certificate.  When I did my Masters, our Grade Point Average (GPA) had to be at or above 3.75 out of 4.  In my last semester, I had done well enough to recover from a slump.  My GPA ended up being 3.71.  Or so I thought.  One of my professors sent out an e-mail stating that there was an error in the grading of the final exam.  Recalculations were done.  And my grade for that course changed from a B+ to an A-.  My revised GPA was three point seven four.  Why could I not be left with a 3.71?  Why did I have to miss out on that yellow cord by 0.01, the minimum possible difference?  Of course, I could have worked even harder to not let this near miss happen in the first place.  In the final analysis, I had done well but graduated without honors.  Without that yellow cord, I might add.

I got a very polite letter from the Fuqua School of Business in 2007.  When I was applying to business schools, the one school that I fell in love with at first sight was Fuqua at Duke University.  The curriculum seemed fantastic and the vibes that I experienced when I visited the school were magical.  As I walked out of the interview, I said to myself, “I belong here.”  But after enduring an excruciating period of being on the wait list, I was informed that I had been not admitted.  

Regrets about loved ones, regrets about close misses, regrets about not getting something I desired – yes, I have had regrets.  But there are a few reasons why those thoughts don’t pervade too many recesses of my mind.

Last December, I had gone to Atlanta to meet with some of my friends.  These are friends that I have known since high school.  I was meeting with them after three years.  Before the trip, I felt this inexplicable but strong urge to make tea for them.  So, after getting permission from the friend who hosted us, I took my loose tea, tea press, kettle and milk frother all to Atlanta!  And I made tea for them twice a day for the duration of my trip.  Especially memorable was a moment during a late night session of board games when one of my buddies asked if I could make tea.  It felt nice.  As the tea was brewing, one of my regrets was being vaporized. 

After completing my high school, I had moved to the US in 1998.  My Aunt continued to live in India.  In my early years in the US, along with homesickness came a pang of guilt.  And for the rest of her life, I was a much nicer nephew to my Aunt.  To her, true munificence stemmed out of thoughtfulness of gesture rather than any expensive gifts.  I understood this and spent quality time with her.  I just wish I had more time with her.  One of the things that she wished for was that I be a good husband to my wife.  Ever since she passed away, I have made sincere attempts to go the extra mile to make my wife feel special, cared for and loved in a purer, unconditional manner.  I have a feeling that my Aunt will be smiling from up above.  That beatific smile of hers that I cannot see in person anymore obscures a regret that I do not feel anymore. 

I did not do my MBA at Fuqua.  Instead, I went back to Carnegie Mellon, to their Tepper School of Business.  When I graduated in 2009, I had finished with a GPA that ensured that something could go around my neck when I received my diploma - a luminous yellow cord. 

Some stories have a neat little ending.  Others do not.  But we can, along with destiny, co-author a sequel that completes the story in an unexpectedly fulfulling manner.  


Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Such a powerful message. Yes, we all have regrets and we need to ensure that we don't just accept what happens as the end and instead work hard to give it a positive twist. So inspiring!

Zola said...

Superb Ram Murali !

I think you've obviated the need for us all to introspect too much.

Your series of articles pretty much do the job - so all one has to do is to go and re-read them. Its great to introspect wit some sign posts and thats what this article does.

I identify very much with the thoughts expressed here since I'm a maha regretter. Last couple of years I've tried to change that but there's only so much one can do.
The personal lesson I'm veering around to is "Acceptance" .

Unknown said...

Ram I like the idea that every regret is a teacher-it should not bog one down but inspire one to ensure that the situation does not recur and also help one to be better prepared. I love the thought that till her death you were more than a son to Shobha. Of course I cry every time I read your article. said...

I think regrets are universal, but I'm glad you could see success at the end.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. It is well written and I liked following the timeline. I was left with the message 'it's never too late'.

Ram Murali said...

Thank you all for your comments. I am glad that you liked the write-up. Much appreciated.

Rowan Grigsby said...

I like the way you balanced each story with a not-quite-opposite one. It made what could have been a very disjointed essay seem much more unified.

Ram Murali said...

Rowan - thank you for your thoughtful comment.

Unknown said...

Lovely write-up. There are things that I made up in exactly the same way as you have done. One particular memory is this: I was a very focussed, studious kind in college and used to invest a lot of time and effort into preparing for my semesters. As I kept topping the class, all my professors were pretty confident that I would go on to earn a university rank in my UG. On one occasion when my dad had a health emergency, I had an exam the next day but I was too distressed to concentrate. A friend and I went all the way to the University registrar's office to check out if I could skip the exam then and take it later. A fellow seated in the official position (whom we assumed to be the registrar or at least his secretary) reassured us that I won't lose out on the opportunity of scoring a rank if I skipped the paper then. He said that being absent for the exam wouldn't technically be a disqualification. We believed him and I wrote that paper in the following semester. With every semester, I had the nightmare of applying for re-evaluation in papers where I had got undeservedly low scores all because I knew the total would count for the ranking. But with the end of the course came the shocker that despite getting the highest total score across colleges, I had lost the rank due to non-appearance for that one paper. It was a heartbreaking moment threatening to render 3 years of efforts meaningless. I am glad I didn't give up.

I went on to do my PG directly under the University and managed to get the first rank I had missed earlier. The circle was complete. I was able to forgive that peanut-munching, Kumudham-reading fellow who misled me as an undergrad. The whole experience made me a stronger, more determined person.

Of course, I wish I was also able to make up for some of my regrettable behaviour with people who have now passed away. But your writing has inspired me to do better. Hearty thanks for that!

Ram Murali said...

Iswarya - thank you so much for the heartwarming comment and for sharing your story. It is amazing how we get certain stories to end in a completely unexpected, at times pleasantly surprising, way.

With regard to "regrettable behavior," I think that it is bound to happen with loved ones that leave us, especially prematurely. But to capture the spirit of their characters in our everyday minutiae is a very real, actionable way to at least partially erase any regrets that we may have.

Thank you, once again.