A Rollercoaster of a Life!
Published On: 13 January 2017
Being the youngest child in the family has a lot of advantages. Apart from being the apple of everyone’s eye, you also have a wonderful opportunity to explore options that life presents you with, learn from your elders’ experiences, and make a few choices along the way. These things shaped my formative years to a great extent. Ever since I was in 3rd standard, I wanted to be a doctor. This dream set me through a path where I studied science and math literally like my life depended on it, castigating the languages and the rest of the fifteen (yes, fifteen!) subjects that were mandatory in my school. This fascination with math and science lasted throughout my education.
My love affair with science got a bit more focus in 11th standard, the time when you move to science stream and get exposed to the fundamental sciences in more detail. I realized that biology just dealt with the how, and chemistry was too rules driven and not laws driven (according to me, then). Only physics asked the real important “Why” for everything. That’s when the infatuation with physics won over the liking for medicine, and I decided to be an engineer. Around that same time, I also read about the Ivy League colleges and had a secret dream to pursue my studies in the USA, and study in one of these ivy leagues. Little did I know that this dream would lead me to many unexplored paths that would come to define who I am today?
Time went on, and I found myself studying computer engineering in Gujarat, tinkering with crazy ideas like brain to brain communication and autonomous vehicles. In my third year of engineering, my father got an opportunity to work in USA, and my family decided to move there. I applied to various universities in Michigan and had my credits evaluated. It turned out that I could get in any university in Michigan with my grades, and that most of my credits would be transferred. I could actually complete my engineering in the USA, just as I had dreamt some five odd years ago!
I can now say that I am (indirectly and in a miniscule way) responsible for all the discoveries at the LHC like the Higgs Boson and others, because each of them rely on perfect collisions, which in turn are possible only if you know where your protons or electrons are positioned. My code does that for them!
I enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and began my course in Electrical engineering. I topped my class in both the physics courses, and got the attention of the professor there. At the same time, a paper that I wrote in my political science course made its way to the corridors of (academic) power in Washington, D.C. I got an offer to conduct research over the summer in both physics and political science from both the professors! I never imagined that I would be spoilt for choice! I grabbed that opportunity to get paid for doing particle physics research, either at Fermi lab or Brookhaven National Lab. I was tutored by physicists for 3 months before I would be ready to actually do anything in these labs. I was fully prepared to go to Fermi lab, when, by a stroke of sheer luck, my professor told me that there was another research opportunity at the CESR particle accelerator at Cornell university as well. I could not believe my luck! The other dream of going to an Ivy League was about to be fulfilled!
Cornell was a blast! I worked 16 hours a day with my mentors from Cornell, NASA and CERN, and built a code to measure the exact position of the protons as they moved in the accelerator. I even helped them complete their routine maintenance of the accelerator so that I could test and verify that my code works. The mentor at CERN, along with his colleagues has since incorporated a much more complex version to this code at the LHC. I can now say that I am (indirectly and in a miniscule way) responsible for all the discoveries at the LHC like the Higgs Boson and others, because each of them rely on perfect collisions, which in turn are possible only if you know where your protons or electrons are positioned. My code does that for them! While at Cornell, I also got to know how scientists really worked, and I was floored. I requested some more information about their doctorate program, and was invited by the President of the University for a Candid Chat. He listened to me patiently and asked me what I would want to do if I were a doctorate student there. I thought about it for a while, and I said that I would want to invent a new computer architecture based on the principles of Vedic mathematics. He was very happy with my response, and offered me admission to Cornell’s doctoral program, with full funding for five years. All I had to do was complete my engineering course, and head there; no GRE, no other tests needed. I was completely shocked! I accepted the offer, and promised to return once my undergraduate course was completed. I had about 3 semesters worth of studies still left at that time. I arrived home with full focus on completing engineering ASAP and leave for Cornell again. There was nothing that could stop me from achieving my goals. Or so I thought. Then came an event that would change the course of my life in such unimaginable ways that I still shudder at the memory of it all.
After an agonizing 66 hour wait, I regained consciousness. I was not going to die from this, after all. The day, incidentally, was September 27th, which coincidentally is also my birthday!
That fateful day was September 24th. I was at a cricket ground on the outskirts of metro Detroit area, cheering my cricket team on its way to winning the Michigan cricket 40 overs tournament. About 12 runs needed to win, and I suddenly feel a nasty headache on the right side of my head. Before I could realize what was happening, the headache grew so intense that I could barely stand. Within minutes, I was lying flat on the ground, about to go unconscious. My friends saw my state and quickly moved me to a car. One of them called his uncle who was a doctor and described my condition. The doctor ordered him to take me immediately to the nearest hospital while he made arrangements for the hospital to pick me up. I was fully unconscious by that time. They drove me to the hospital, wherein I was diagnosed with having had a cerebral hemorrhage. There was massive internal bleeding in my head, and I basically had to be operated upon. I was in the operating room for over four hours, after which I was moved to the ICU. In the meantime, my parents reached Detroit from California and India. The doctors gave me 72 hours to regain consciousness, otherwise they feared I would either descend into a coma, or worse. The clock was ticking. I cannot imagine what my family went through in that time. After an agonizing 66 hour wait, I regained consciousness. I was not going to die from this, after all. The day, incidentally, was September 27th, which coincidentally is also my birthday!
Cornell and PhD was still an option, but only on paper.
My parents were relieved that I was alive, and that I had braved very low odds of survival from such a surgery. The next battle, however, would be tougher and longer. I had no memory issues or anything, but I had lost the ability to do basic things like standing, walking, and any movement as such. I could read, write and talk, but I would not understand the meaning of the words I read! The hospital basically taught me how to do everything from standing to brushing my teeth to using a computer. This was the most painful and emotionally taxing part, wherein my brain would tell me that I knew how to do it, yet I would not be able to will my hands and feet to actually do those tasks.
Eventually, I was able to do most basic things needed to survive, and I moved back home. If I thought that the physical recovery was hard, then the emotional and psychological recovery process was brutal. It took a toll on both me and my family. The doctors strongly advised me to completely let go of technical studies, and instead go for programs in literature or the arts instead. I refused to agree to their opinion, and tried to restart my studies, only to result in more hospital visits and setting back my progress even further. Eventually, I agreed to pause my studies until I got better. I would later complete my engineering a full three years later than planned. Cornell and PhD was still an option, but only on paper. I decided to move back to India, and see where life would take me.
Lucky or not, it has been a rollercoaster one for sure, and along the way I found out that it is better to enjoy a rollercoaster fully.
In India, I re-acquainted myself with Yoga, pranayama and meditation. They helped me in getting mentally ready and open to possibilities in life. Along the way, I discovered photography, and film studies as well. As anything technical was no longer an option for me, I decided to pursue an MBA instead. I joined the whole b-school merry-go-round, with its coaching centers, mock exams, learning sessions, non-fiction literature and the works. I ended up at IIM Raipur, part of the pioneer batch of that institution. I completed my studies in the fields of strategy and Finance and joined a consulting firm.
Now I find myself in Mu Sigma, working with wonderful people, solving difficult problems, and sharing my life story with you all. Is it a lucky life? Or a doomed one? It is a mix of both, like everyone else’s. Lucky or not, it has been a rollercoaster one for sure, and along the way I found out that it is better to enjoy a rollercoaster fully. The excitement while going up and the fear while coming down are both a part of life, an inevitable part even. These ups and downs are precisely what makes life worth living!