A 3 decade old story so relevant in 2021.

December, 1992. Yes, as mercury was rising, so was my desire to achieve supremacy in life! I was in Grade 2 and got inspired by the rising superstar of Indian cricket — Sachin Tendulkar. Not that, I was impressed by his batting prowess. To be honest, I had barely watched any innings of the maestro, but was largely influenced by the mention of his precocious achievements by my parents, friends and teachers. And from it emanated the deep desire to replicate the feat- a child prodigy would be a good tag to carry- I thought.

While I had made up my mind to achieve supremacy, the field was still a big question mark. I had neither mastered studies nor showed any promising inkling of improvement in any of the subjects. And I had hardly made any effort to frantically pursue any sporting activity too.

My surreptitious wish of an unparalleled brilliance in a yet to discovered field needed a kind succor.

I clearly remember that our school had a large playground, the corner of which pocketed a small sand playing area. It was usually filled with white sand, the top layer shining like small pearls amidst morning sunlight. Kids used to assemble there, taking turns to play a strange game for 10 odd minutes. 2 of them built sand castles and other 2 used to hit them with pebbles. Fastest castle builders and the strongest throwers got rewarded, with the privilege of being in playing 11 in of the many cricket teams in the school, for a week. Very weird. But widely accepted. Why? Because it was well established surely by a real prodigy.

The most revered people out there were not the children who won the game of building and destroying the castle but the bunch of kids who chaired the evaluation committee of the random game. They used to be the decision makers for at least 4 months and enjoyed undivided attention. There were no scientific and defined criteria on which they based their evaluation of selecting the winners. It hinged on their eyes, their senses and their interpretation of speed, quality and excellence. And of course on the insurmountable aura of brilliance they carried. They were always the top 2 ranker holders in the term examinations in their respective classes. They were automatically selected. Academics was unduly rewarded. The immutable fact about academics being valued more than sports was discreetly established. And no one questioned this! It all seemed fair. The most knowledgeable selected the most skillful!

All the students interested to play the game of cricket, dropped in their names to first get nominated for castle game played every Monday. 2 lucky ones would then go on to play the game of cricket for next 4 days and performance would define their retention for the coming week. And all of this judged by the special 2.

Having observed this pattern for nearly 6 months, I decided to try the easier of the 2 routes- making the castle. Neither did I possess the ravishing speed of playing with the sand, nor did I seek any tutelage from the set of special 2 kids. As a result, I always remained imperceptible. I never got selected. And slowly got lured by the fascination of power the special kids commanded. I quickly blamed my failing rectitude as the reason of non-selection to first feel good. And then decided to take revenge by excelling in academics.

As I sat looking at the clock inching towards 12 midnight on 31st December 2020, I got reminded of this act randomly but purposefully.

My friend was telling me about it being scientifically proven that our will power is a limited consumable resource. It focused typically on one theme strongly, letting go of the others subconsciously. And that kind of answered why I did not try to achieve both three decades back- excel in academics as well be a better sand castle builder. Or maybe there might have been the traces of the toxic “ego” making its debut which prevented me to adopt the easiest of the lot- to build a nice good rapport with the special kids to get selected. Whatever it was, the fact remained that the original desire of being a prodigy (strange one indeed) was lost amidst the multiple voices and multiple interpretations in the surrounding environment.

The desire to win was deep rooted and that’s what competition typically fuels. That’s how society shapes and builds! As 2021 dialed in, I reflected back on the role the environment around us plays. The people, their thoughts, their experiences- all come together to carve out who we are. With knowledge, skill and expertise- comes the 2 most crucial elements- luck and chance. Be grateful for the latter two and build the former 3.

As far as reflections go, I still have the sheepish desire to be the fastest sand castle builder and destroyer- both together.

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Adrit Mishra

When statistics & management insights transcends into philosophical, introspective & poetic ones