We live in a house that does not even have electricity. I study hard and I do well in my exams.
What else should I do to be successful?
Let me first tell you that, though I am descended from a very well-to-do family, my father died when I was 8 years old. So my mother struggled to look after us children, but she always insisted on getting us the best things that she could. However, in spite of that, I did study for most of my school exams, as well as for first-year university exams, by candlelight – and, when Petromax lamps became available, then by the light of those. Your life experience is therefore very close to my own.
Your question causes me to reflect on my life, in order to identify what sorts of things helped me most.
Let me start with something totally superficial: many people, sadly, evaluate us by our appearance. That is why, even though you may not be able to afford fashionable or even good-quality clothes, it is worth taking the time and paying the necessary attention to be always neat and clean.
Next, let me urge you to consider carefully the way you speak (I mean the words you use, as well as the accent). Our conversational style, which may work very well with friends and neighbours, may not be appropriate with other people. In my own case, I found that two completely different styles of speech and behaviour became necessary. One enabled me to keep my place with my family and friends; the second enabled me to be successful in the outside world. I do not know your situation. You may find that you want to use Hindi for family, friends and neighbours, and use English for the wider world. But even in Hindi, the way that people from Bihar use the language is not the same as the way in which people from Haryana do. It helps to be aware of such differences, and to be able to switch to the kind of Hindi (or English, or other language) that is used by the groups that one aspires to join. It is easier to become accepted in a particular circle if one’s language style is close to theirs.
In general, you will find that it helps to speak slower, and with a lower tone. And always think about what you are going to say before you speak – whether in informal times with friends, or on occasions such as birthday parties or office events.
If you can, do take part in or attend debates and public-speaking competitions – or at least observe and listen to them as often as possible, whether on internet, radio or TV. In these, you will see how different people organize their material and how they present it – the use of gestures and facial expressions, and the use of rhetoric. By seeing what is effective versus what is ineffective, you can learn to be that much more in control when you communicate, whatever the situation.
A taste of the high life
As you develop your ability to participate in higher-level discussions, remember that many of these take place in top hotels and conference centres. You don’t want to feel out of place in these places when you go there in response to a specific invitation. So plan to get used to being in such surroundings by deliberately dressing up smartly to go into the nearest top-level hotels, even if you walk in only to look around and then to walk out again. Though I discourage people from pretending to be what they are not, you are not really pretending to be anything by going into a big hotel. These places exist to serve customers and, even though you may not be a customer right now, you are preparing to get into a position in life when you will be a customer in such establishments.
Two final points. Pick your friends carefully. Do not join gangs, or any group that will pressurize you to behave in ways that will prevent you from reaching your goals. If it is impossible to avoid the pressure to join such a group, then move to another place, even if it means moving to another place that is equally poor.
Lastly, don’t get into debt, because that simply means you will become a slave to a moneylender or a bank. However little you earn, always live so far within your means as to be able to save some money each month. Then you will have a little in reserve to be able to deal with any emergency or other sudden call upon your money. More important, you will be able to invest that money in things that will bring your goals nearer – for example, paying for a course, buying a computer, or starting a business.
Published in the August 2015 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine