I never really imagined my life would be even close to normal once I moved away from Pune. There were days when I wondered if I would be able to keep up with the increased pace of life here in Mumbai. Whether I would be able to blend in with the crowd here and give my one hundred percent to my work. Whether I would be able to make new friends. Whether I'd be able to cope with the work. I was determined to face whatever situation (with a joke to spare). At least, that was the plan. But would it be enough?
That determination did get me results. I was always on time. My work was always complete. I had a good rapport with the faculty. And I was also able to navigate through the city without much difficulty. Everything was going smoothly. So why worry? What could possibly go wrong here?
It took me some time to grasp the concept but I did get it in the end. In spite of all of the above things, I was finding it a bit difficult to establish any meaningful relations with people from my class. And I think the following incident was what triggered a period when I was basically an outcast.
It was the most ordinary Friday that you could think of. There were no major submissions. Nothing wrong in the city, no emergencies anywhere. No real work, so to speak. Just attending the regular Friday lectures. My classmates decided that we needed to bunk the second lecture of the day. They started calling out and gathered everyone during the break and were deciding which movie to see during this "mass-bunk." At first I thought it was a joke and that people would get back to normal when the break would end. But to my surprise, many of them collected their things and started leaving.
I had no intention of forgoing that lecture. I loved the subject. Why would I bunk? When the last of the people were leaving, they noticed that I was still there inside and had made no move to pack my things. They advised me to hurry as the faculty would be there any minute. I looked at them coolly and asked them the same question that was buzzing around in my head. I asked them to give me one good reason to bunk the lecture that I found interesting.
This time, they got a little nervous. They realized there was no easy answer to this and where this was going. To actually get away with a successful "mass-bunk," they needed everyone to participate, otherwise it would have no meaning. They needed me out of the class. And I was not going to move. They called a few more people to persuade me to leave but when I decide to do something, I can be extremely stubborn about it. They quickly realized that I had just thrown a huge wrench in their plan. Word about my decision quickly spread to all members of the class. Everything that they had planned after that mass-bunk was forgotten as the plan to mass-bunk itself came into question. People started coming back to class and there was overall confusion as to what had happened and what the new plan was. But if there was one thing I could read in most people, it was anger. I had just disrupted their little escapade and no one liked it (though there were a few people who seemed a bit relieved as they had buckled to the peer pressure and could now attend the lecture and just lay the blame on me).
Now, I could always debate that there was nothing to gain by pulling off that little stunt and that we would basically be hurting only ourselves. But just the act of going against the class would render anything I said moot. There was no point in arguing. I had basically established myself as the kill-joy of the class.
There were many such incidents throughout the year that put me in the bad books of most of my classmates. It seemed that my determination to do things perfectly was the one thing that was getting in the way of any attempts at making new friends.
Another lesson I got was that people don't like it when you finish your work on time (or before them to be exact). I learned this the hard way when I finished my submissions for the week on a Friday and the class decided not to do half of them a few days later. Since I had completed all my work, I went ahead and submitted it only to find out that I was the only one who had done it. The whole class (except me) was grilled. And because of my enthusiasm, they lost the marks on those assignments. The treatment I got after that little episode was quite unnerving.
It wasn't as though I didn't make any friends at all. There were people who I eventually grew close to (most of them from NASA). But I was mostly alone during such episodes. Being friends didn't really make anything okay. They still gave me a look when I submitted anything before them or spoiled one of their plans. If anything, it made them even angrier. There is a friend of mine who had described me as the "Villain of the Class" to my mom when they had come to visit me in the holidays.
This was the first time that I had a chance to experience what it meant to stick to one's ideals. It wasn't straightforward and its wasn't even remotely easy. There were people that got hurt because of them. And there were things that I had to sacrifice that I didn't like. But that's the price. And there's no bargain.