How to Get Ahead in Life the Slumdog Millionaire Way

12th standard quiz. Your team’s losing big time. The tally so far: questions – 4; answers – nil, nada, zilch. Why should Q5 be any different?

And then the worst possible thing happens.

The universe or the quizmasters at your high school sense your enthusiasm and throw a curve ball that you could no way hit out of the park.

You’ve never been to the place. Never seen it on the TV or in the paper before. Or heard of it from anyone you know. It could be the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for all you know.

Nobody else knows what that landscaped green mass is either. It’s got everyone knitting their brows, biting their lower lips. And they are mini geniuses. Future world travelers. La très sophistiqué. So no pressure really. You could just say pass because there’s no place to hide. But what comes next is a shocker.

You speak.

You speak when not a peep came out of you in what could be the longest half an hour in the history of mankind. And all because you were bored one summer. And decided to storm the world of pen pals with singularly underwhelming letters and cheap postcards with soft corners and yellowing edges.

It so happened that one poor sod as bored as you perhaps, or worse, decided to return the favor in kind. And in that old yellowy envelope, with a letter that was as friendly (hi, yours sincerely) and underwhelming (yes, why not!) as yours, was an old picture postcard.

And because you were so excited to have a letter from another state addressed to you alone, not care of or daughter of, you studied the darn thing a million times. Right to the ink smudge on the left corner where the message went.

And because you did that, you also memorized the tiny caption at the bottom of the photo on the front.

Bangalore! Botanical Garden, Lalbagh, you say. And cheers go up where your housemates previously sat embarrassed with blank, gloomy faces. And for a moment it’s all good. And you finally exhale.

The score moves beyond Aryabhatta’s favorite number.

You, of course, don’t go on to win the damn quiz. You may even have finished last if you choose to come clean.

Real shameful, really, says the house teacher who ran out on you earlier, long before your ship even began its sink. You are a disgraceful set of intelligent pupils who don’t apply themselves, she adds.

What can you say? You are too embarrassed to apologize. Too proud to accept you screwed up. Royally.

So you laugh it off. For the rest of the year. And at any mention of that day – or of quizzes for that matter. While you try to hide your sweaty palms and nervous tics.

But what you do learn and which you will suddenly remember way later in the hashtag era … while traveling to work on a breezy, drizzly day in the middle of an especially unbearable summer … when your life is stuck in the first gear and you think you’re lost in the doldrums forever … caught in the daily, mind-numbing grind … is that you’ve got to get out there in the thick of the mess that came off the primordial soup to make change happen. Get the handwritten notes on $5 bills and copies of a literary classic moving through time, so to say. For even serendipity needs a helping hand. And you, experiences – rich, odd, moving, fun, to have a chance at becoming a slumdog millionaire.



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