What it takes to chase 'the dream'

To dream is not a big deal. Anyone can do it, but to chase a dream to its denouement requires a great deal of commitment, courage, determination and patience

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Suresh Pattali

Published: Fri 4 Aug 2023, 4:09 PM

I'm not sure how many Americans were truly inspired by Martin Luther King's epochal speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, but as I came out of his 501 Auburn Avenue home in Atlanta a few years ago, I detested the magical spell he had on the Indian youth that followed my generation.

Let me change the mise-èn-scene to India. A woman shouts “Do your homework” to her son Vinayak playing cricket at Shivaji Park in Mumbai. Banging his bat on the crease in angst, the boy shouts back: “Mama, just go away, I have a dream.” The woman swears at the pantheon of figurines in her prayer room for giving her such a “hopeless boy” and gets back to scrubbing her vessels.

Rickshaw driver Nooruddin watches his eldest son make a video on the crowded Marina Beach in Chennai while he toils in extreme heat and humidity to feed his big family. Wiping a thick layer of sticky soot from his body, the father screams through the hubbub raised by the humans and waves: “If you are done with your goddamn phone, go get some food for your sisters. They are starving. I need to make hay while it shines.”

“Vappa (dad), stop harassing. I have a dream. Just order some biryani,” retorts

Hussain as Nooruddin picks up another customer and vanishes at the long end of yet another Indian dream.

In East Delhi's Seemapuri, emaciated electrical lineman Arun Dua watches from the top of a utility pole as his only son whizzes past on a racing bike the Class IV employee had bought on a loan. While struggling to set aside some funds to treat his ailing wife, he fights the boy demanding money to buy a burger and fill gas.

“When are you getting a job, for

God's sake?”

“Dad, are you mad? I have a dream.” As the last flicker of hope dies in his eyes, Dua goes to bed in the company of nightmares.

In Kerala's Kottayam, Grace is a PG rank holder in Bioinformatics who is now supposedly acquiring culinary skills to start a YouTube channel. Devouring the three square meals her mama cooks, Grace shops for the aprons she should wear for her future cookery show, while her widowed mother, between wheezing coughs, pleads with folded hands: “Can't you earn to help me?”

Grace digs out all available data to prove to her mother a dream is the only path to success. “Mama, I can't waste my life doing research. I have a dream. An influencer is mightier than a scientist.”

Less than a decade later, Vinayak at well past 25 is yet to find a foothold in the crease; Hussain is still struggling to enter the 1,000-mark follower club; Dua still pays for his son's burger; and Grace has several burn marks cooking up a YouTube future. So, what might have gone wrong? Weren't they properly invested in? Weren't they flexible enough to dream-hop?

Yes, dream-hopping is what worked wonders for me as crises of all sorts stared me in the eye when I began my career planning. Nursing a dream of hanging the stethoscope around my shoulders, I took the science stream but campus politics thrust a spoke in my wheel in the final year. No sooner had I realised the dream was slipping away than I hopped to another one, starting a coaching class. I wasn't ready to flog a dead dream as my caravan had no space for old baggage. Didn't Walt Disney want to become an art teacher? Didn't Vincent van Gogh aspire to become a pastor?

Life took a different trajectory when I happened to meet the then-resident editor of Indian Express, Kochi, for the magazine work of my alma mater. “So, what's your future plan?” he asked during a tête-à-tête after the interview for a feature on journalism. “Going ahead with my journalism plan,” I shot from the hip.

“You have what it takes,” he assured. There was no looking back since, and yours truly became a young journalist in India at the age of 21, which took him from a hamlet in Kerala to bustling Bombay. It all started with a postcard I received from an acquaintance in Economic Times, saying “I admire your determination. There's an opening elsewhere, so come and meet me.”

“We'll go tomorrow as it's already midnight,” I told my roommate, to which he retorted, “Why not now? Night is young for dreamers. Never keep anything for tomorrow.” After collecting a recommendation note from the ET contact, we reached our destination where I started off as a rookie journalist. The rest is not just history but an invaluable life lesson that I have followed to the hilt. An opportunity missed is an opportunity wasted.

The Rs600 monthly pay, a sorry figure by Bombay standards, took around four years of patience — and prayers — to touch a respectful number, but took only a few minutes to jump to an undreamable Dh3,000 in 1989. It was a dream reinvented. It was the beginning of a life repurposed. Whatever the salary, I never turned my back on my commitments and duties. I believe any dream not planted on the graves of obligations would smell the sweetest. Looking back, I feel proud I was a good son, a good brother, a good parent, and a good friend to all.

To dream is not a big deal. Anyone can do it, but to chase a dream to its denouement requires a great deal of commitment, courage, determination and, of course, patience. Cosying under a blanket of dreams will not take you to the sunrise. It takes a slew of nightmares to reach there. What most dreamers tend to sidestep is the last rung of the ladder — ambition. To be ambitious, one needs to be aggressive. Parroting “I have a dream” is just not enough; you should have a brave heart to take in a bullet. Like King.


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