MBA boys, sex with hookers and being perfect corporate men
Vineet, who went to B-school with me, is his parents' only child. He grew up in Delhi, did his engineering there and also worked for three years in Gurgaon before deciding to do an MBA. He had never lived away from home. When he came to Lucknow for MBA, he was devastated.
The first few weeks passed in a fog. He was a brilliant chap, straight A's in all subjects at college, and a polished conversationalist to boot. But once on campus, he lost himself. He was cooped up in his room for the most part and was only seen in classes. He slept 12 hours a day and did not participate in any activity. He suffered, plain and simple. If he knew any better, he would have sought the help of a psychologist, but those things don't register with Indians in the normal course.
During the first week his father stayed with him. When he was leaving, Vineet pleaded with him to stay on. That was impossible. He even suggested he be taken back to Delhi, that he could not imagine living away from his mother. His dad dressed him down and left in a huff. That same night, the seniors arranged the "hoax", the B-school ragging session. He was made to dress up funny and act as an effeminate Gabbar. It was a riot for the others, but to Vineet, it was a nightmare. He felt he was hallucinating.
For a while, I imagined he was gay, like me. Gay men, especially in a country like India, do not go through the normal processes of adolescence - affairs, infatuations, late nights, bike rides, adventure. Since they don't experience these, they continue in a state of protracted childhood even when they reach adulthood - a state that they are wary of letting go. When they finally face reality, they break down.
But as I subsequently learnt, Vineet was not gay. By the end of the first trimester, he had even stabilised somewhat. Residential living forces you out of your cocoon. Even if you wish to live in splendid isolation, the hostel won't allow it. From birthdays to sickness to love affairs, everything is communal. Even so, Vineet was not the same. He participated gingerly in communal activities and seemed to push himself to do the most natural things.
The first year finished soon enough. Then everyone left for the two-month internship. Vineet interned with an FMCG company in Delhi. I was in Noida with a publishing house. He and I and several others stayed in the Noida campus of our B-school. One night after dinner, I went to check up on him. When he opened the door, his eyes were red. He had been crying. I asked him if he wanted dinner, but he said that he had eaten something in office and planned to go to sleep.
After that, I didn't see him much during internship. When I asked another friend who was interning at the same place as Vineet, he told me Vineet did not return to the campus on most nights. He went somewhere from office and returned early morning only to get dressed and go to work.
I finally saw Vineet two months later on campus in Lucknow. He looked altogether different. He had grown his hair to shoulder length and sported an earring in his right ear. There was a Ganesh tattoo on his left arm. He wore a Tantra T-shirt that read: "Jesus never told me it would be this bad". He seemed to have undergone some mystical transformation. But he looked happy. He laughed more readily and was rather combative in classes. There was a new aggression to the way he walked and spoke which I found surprising since he had been such an introvert in first year.
One night, I saw him sitting on a bench near the hostel entrance, smoking. I waved to him and he smiled and asked me to come sit next to him. After a few minutes of general chatting, I asked him: "Tell me something, what happened during the internship? How did you change so much?"
Vineet looked at me sharply, but then his eyes softened. He put his arm around my shoulders and said conspiratorially: "Vik, I am gonna tell you a secret. Can you keep it to yourself?"
"In Delhi during the second half of my internship, I used to be out most nights."
"I know," I said. "Were you with your parents?"
"Hookers," he said evenly.
My eyes popped out. "Really?"
"Don't judge me. It was the most fulfilling time. I got over everything. My dependencies, my gloominess, my loneliness, everything. I don't need my parents anymore. Sure, they are there, but that’s about it. I can live without them. I don't suffer anymore. I am happy. I am in a calm place."
I looked at Vineet. He spoke with sincere happiness. I smiled.
"Were you careful?" I asked.
"To tell you the truth, no. I could not care less. I just wanted to run away. I did not want to think and plan and strategise. The women would offer me protection but I wanted to do something daring. I wanted to come out of myself."
I wanted to express concern but Vineet had a sturdy glow in his voice. I saw what he meant. I also saw he was free, free in a way he had never been before, and this freedom was far more important to him than anything else.
Everyone I knew at B-school had an idea of the perfect corporate man. Alpha male, driven, sly. Everyone relished in it, as if it were a template meant to be imprinted on us all. But probe deeper and everyone was different. There was no prototype, save the buff exterior that was projected for kicks. Success was measured by one's ability to fit in. All successful people, to paraphrase Tolstoy, were alike. Each unsuccessful person was struggling in his own way.
I am not in touch with Vineet any more. Last I heard he was working for a start-up in Delhi. I visit his Facebook page sometimes. He has put on weight but looks happy. On campus, he once told me that he would never work a regular corporate job and would work for a few years before leaving it all and settling down somewhere quiet. I hope he finds whatever he desires.
(Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual)