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Standing tall

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We both accounted for a mere five feet and a few inches: but that is where the resemblance ended. He was sharp, confident while I was shy. He stood tall even in his short stature while I found my diminutive build menacing. And today, he has climbed the professional and social ladder quite quickly; and myself, well, just about hanging in there.

I am speaking of my friend Anurag, and if I restrict myself  to saying he is short, an IITian and is well-off, it will be a disservice to his persona considering the sense of wit that he retains in demanding situation and also his way of getting at his adversary  is what you will eventually come to notice & appreciate.

We were at high school and yet to appear for the engineering entrance examination. We mostly travelled in bus those days, attending tuition classes and seminars, and in one particular day we happened to board an overcrowded bus. Not a seat was vacant and a sizeable crowd was standing – clutching to whatever support they could find.

A few minutes into the ride, I managed to get a seat as the person sitting beside me dismounted. Anurag, however, stood there grabbing the overhead steel bar with apparent difficulty: the steel bar was placed rather high for him and he had to be on his toes to reach it. He was rather hanging than standing. An aged man, with a distinct hint of annoyance in his face, was standing next to him. The overcrowded bus, as it appeared, had a disturbing effect on his fragile health.

A few minutes hence, the driver seemingly applied sudden brake and Anurag almost toppled over, somehow averting a fall by holding on the shoulder of the old man.

“Stand properly!” said the old man sternly looking at him, making his displeasure obvious.

The ride seemed more unpleasant now.

“Sooner we get down the better,” I thought to myself.

But hardly a few minutes had elapsed, the driver apparently again applied brake and then it was as good as an action replay.

“Hold that properly!” the old man barked pointing at the steel strap, angrier.

Anurag, exuding profound regret, said with a humble face,“Uncle, with my height, either I stand properly or hold that strongly, not both at a time.”

The small crowd that was witness to the incident erupted in hysteric laughter.

The aged man could manage a smile, patted Anurag, and the bus journey was not as bad as it had seemed a while ago.

The next incident was after he had joined the IIT and was narrated to me by Anurag himself.

He stayed in a hostel and the hostel monitor, Rakesh, a seventh semester student, took a special liking to his short height. During the initial ragging period, he tormented Anurag by taking dig at his short figure, and the banter continued unabated even after.

Anurag waited his turn to return the favour.

A few students staying in the hostel complained the Superintendent that they suspected they might have had stomach upset due to the unhygienic drinking water. The Hostel Superintendent asked Rakesh to ensure that the boarders get to drink the most hygienic water. Rakesh was earnestly at his task.

The next evening Rakesh summoned Anurag to his room and said,“Look, I made all the arrangements so that we get to drink the best quality of water. I asked the hostel warden to bring in drinkable water of best quality, and then I personally checked it, and before every bottle that was poured in the filter, I marked them as ‘passed’ and then signed underneath.”

Anurag listened (or so he pretended) in utter concentration.

“Now I want you to put that in the bulletin board of the hostel, so that everyone is aware that I have performed my duty as the hostel monitor diligently.”

“But remember, make the announcement in one sentence, as short as possible- just like yourself,” he rejoined with a sardonic smile.

Early next morning the Hostel Superintendant, on his habitual bulletin board check, broke out in uncontrollable laughter; and so did all the hostel boarders who happened to notice it.

The story spread and the whole hostel was laughing.

But Rakesh woke up to a shock. He was expecting admiration, but every person he met that morning was giggling at him. He immediately sensed something and he rushed to the bulletin board and was exasperated to see the message on display.

He got hold of Anurag, held him by his shoulder and brought him in front of the Bulletin board.

“Now read out what you have written!” Rakesh thundered.

Anurag, emanating the greatest innocence, read it aloud:

“The drinking water is personally passed by Rakesh.”

‘” Do you have any idea what that means?” Rakesh asked furiously snatching Anurag by his collar.

“But this is the shortest way I could think of putting it across; I wanted the sentence to be even shorter, just like myself, I hope I have not exceeded the length by much….”

Rakesh was even more infuriated. He released his hold from Anurag’s collar, met him with a vicious look again, and left in utter disgust.

But from that day onwards Rakesh avoided any comments on Anurag’s short stature.

When I last met Anurag at our school buddies rendezvous, he had already passed out from IIT and was employed with a giant MNC.As we got talking, I gladly realized that he had retained his sense of wit and was even more self-assured, probably now that he is an IITian.

And since then (it is almost five years now) Anurag has established, like some of his fellow IITians, his own start-up: taking up the less trodden path from being an employee to an employer – a short man walking the long lane, with poise. A person who since school days used to say- “I want to stand up and be counted.”

I remember borrowing a note book from Anurag once, and I also recollect that on the first page of that, he inscribed the following in bold:

“Great things come in small packages.”

(Published in Chicken Soup for the IIT Soul, Westland)

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