Letter from Nikhil Sanghvi

It is said that every day we make tremendous number of discoveries which all go unnoticed by us because we are so preoccupied with our daily routine. For instance, only whilst pondering regarding the beginning of my work life again did I realise/discover a very interesting facet of my life. That the decision to take time off in July, 2011 was the only one which was made by me without any outside pressures or conditioning! I deem it to be an exercise of pure volition.

This is not to say that every aspect of our lives is dependent or not dependent upon various social factors that surround us (I do not wish to make this into “Sociology 101” discourse!). What I simply figured was that as we grow up as kids in India in average urban middle and upper middle class families everything seems to be preordained for us by our families and the society. Study hard, good grades, 90% in Boards, good college, good grades again, good job, good salary and finally the process of settling down which includes getting married and having kids. Till the abovementioned processes have not been finished, we have been in bred with a guilty conscience regarding non-fulfilment of duties essential to our existence!

More or less I met with some of these abovementioned processes (can also be termed as expectations) albeit not always coming off as the perfect kid. I fondly remember the time when I got through National Law School, Bangalore amongst other law colleges and was suddenly deemed to be intelligent by various people who one day earlier would not have considered me to be so smart! Definitely it was redemption for a kid who belongs to a family of successful persons in the traditional sense of the word. I had messed up my 10th Boards and after interaction with my cousins who had begun this NGO called “Shikshantar” at that time, my need to prove myself in 12th Boards had in any case withered away. I had been enlightened regarding the tremendous faults in our great education system and any inclination to gain those studly 90% Board marks was nil (I also used this anecdote of screwing up in my Boards with great vehemence and pride later to tell others as to how less they mattered in the longer run once I was accepted in NLS). Little did I realise that time that entering into law school itself was not a free choice and expression of my interest but rather the desperate attempts of a kid who was unclear as to what life holds for him and merely joined an Institute, ironically, to prove himself to others.

After a life altering Law School experience, I decided to enter into litigation in Jaipur, Rajasthan- the great town of my birth! My sole infatuation with the law was due to its sheer ability to make a difference in the society. Being brought up within an atmosphere of idealism amongst people of such tremendous integrity had caused the same to become an inherent part of my psyche. Hence, despite all the cynical views which were poured over me, I decided that I should work in a smaller place over a big metro like Delhi and try to make a difference. Although what kind of difference I was looking to make, I was unsure of. It took a good one and a half years to get rid of that incredibly idealistic picture and allow disillusionment to complicate things in my life again. Yet again I enforced a choice which I believed would still be socially acceptable- which was to sign up for further studies in the Ivy League colleges in the US. What I wished to study or pursue further I was more or less uncertain about. Ah yes! I do remember that I wanted to have a comparative analysis of the judicial system in the two countries to understand how issues of delays in litigation can be dealt with better in India but whether I had read up sufficiently upon it or whether I was required to pursue a masters for such an analysis I was not sure of. I guess that reason came to my head just because I thought that well the only way to get out of the rut was to pursue masters.

While applying for the same, I became certain that this exercise in itself is also not that fruitful since my reasons for applying to me seemed frivolous. By the end of March, 2011, I was asked to decide regarding my future by various parties including my folks. I felt I needed more time. This uncertainty regarding my future plans somehow reminded me of the various activities I wished to pursue but had not been able to because of work and other factors. So I decided that before I join any active legal work, I should acquire certain new skills which I wished to at least pursue as hobbies throughout my life. Rock Climbing and Mountaineering were clear off-shoots of such an exploration and grew to be my passion.

When I do reflect upon the past nine months of life though I realise that my time away from the mainstream legal arena has in fact allowed me to gain a very different perspective regarding many things in life rather than a standardised perspective of a professional litigator. I tried my hand at not so mainstream activities (most people are yet to understand the difference between rock climbing and mountaineering!) and ended up interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. The reaction of most people from my field was of disbelief, bafflement and concealed contempt at my naivety in not realising the major advantage I was letting go of, or not exploiting, considering my family background. In fact I often faced subtle admonitions from many “well-wishers” about how its time I acquired some seriousness in life (effectively it implied I should get back to fulfilling mainstream expectations). In the beginning I made idiotic attempts at trying in vain to explain my predicament to people and my necessity for such a choice. However, soon wisdom dawned upon me and I would consider such remarks with quiet amusement grinning to my own self, trying to avoid my natural urge to argue, rationalise, debate upon the subject.

The surprising revelation was the sheer contentment and happiness I was experiencing in life. Many people who attempt to take such similar “breaks/year offs” tell me that they very soon get disgruntled and feel useless and unproductive and cannot wait to be back in the field. I however faced no such quandary. My daily schedule consisted of climbing et. el. till the afternoon, working out more to get in shape and then reading various books, playing with my dog, practising the guitar, learning to cook etc. I read a lot about nutrition, discovered a lot about my body’s limits. Life was amazing. There were many experiences which I cannot detail here which were quite incredible as they led to many other small discoveries on a daily basis.

I remember my interactions with my cousin Manish and his prodding me to in fact rediscover many aspects of life which I was missing out on. He would call it self-empowerment and base it upon the “Gandhian” way of life which was imbibed as per him in “Swaraj” and meant ensuring that we gain control of different aspects of our life rather than become the specialists that today’s modern life propagates. To know how to cook, do basic chores, basic medicine, using basic tools was essential for our very existence and led to a very satisfying experience. Such a way of life does not hold a very promising response from the mainstream society in terms of achievements. I had however, realised by now that the usual norms of success and satisfaction were not applicable to me! I couldn’t care much about gaining appreciation of peers considering my different outlook towards life and at the same time I dare not say that I was a rebel who was out of it all and needed no one’s concern. I merely wish to state that the futility of such false appreciation had dawned upon me and it had become increasingly obvious that it is most satisfying if you love what you do. The law was a tool I always considered to be of great importance to bring significant change in the society and may be it still is but not how I had perceived it to be.

I do remember that in the last few months when my deadline was coming closer, I had repeated, ominous reminders of the sword hanging on my head from many people. Considering my love for the lifestyle I had acquired, I also became very disturbed at my indecision regarding the more “practical choice” in life. Also after seeing lawyers to be yet another part of the system I felt cheated by the futility of it all. The inability to decide had led me to conclude the pointlessness of existence per se (I am glad I did not read more existential philosophy during this period!). I would question my every choice as being futile and useless and unsatisfactory. I would curse the lack of options when I was a kid- the lack of facilities, of infrastructure, of coaching which forced me into giving up my innate proclivity towards sports and physical exercise.

Many people told me to leave litigation as well and consider other options but the one which were recommended to me barely seemed like options. More importantly I also realised that I, all said and done, was cowardly and afraid. The rebel in me had limits. I was the “Steppenwolf” (suicidal but would never take the plunge!). I came to agree with the hard fact that I had become accustomed to a certain lifestyle and was unwilling to completely let go of it and my current lifestyle could not be sustained for long. Economic viability of any activity is ultimately a hard hitting factor which one has to consider – especially one who is not a complete rebel! I guess in many ways when one jokes about taking off into the hills, it is merely a half-wish the entire consequence of which no one wishes to bear. I must admit I never entirely gave a very serious thought to anything except the more pragmatic option of getting back to litigation which I did not completely abhor.

Today in March 2012, I have finally made the call of undertaking litigation under a lawyer in Delhi High Court after much consultation and much indecision (I am still unsure whether it’s a voluntary decision or a forced one due to the deadline which I had given everyone in my family to curb their anxieties and fears regarding my future!) It’s a lesson in life for us to understand that with the growth of options and choices today also arises the unsettling task of making those choices! Life for previous generations in many ways was simpler this way since there path was fixed for them by their forefathers.

Now that I am back into it, cynicism is an instinctive reaction, but I have learnt the importance of patience as well. In fact, when I look forward to it- many of my preconceived notions regarding how I shall proceed in the profession stand dispelled today. I am free of many prejudices I held due to this exposure I received in my life. The most refreshing bit is that I do not consider it a burden anymore. Plans which had been chalked out in my head for years to come have crumbled to make way for developing life on a more short term basis. I still think that my new endeavour is merely another temporary experience which will help me realise further what it is that I wish to pursue or rather experience in life. The last nine months though were truly remarkable in terms of the impact they have had – as Manish rightly told me- “do not call it a year-off- that would deem it unproductive! Call it a ‘year-on’!”

While moving ahead I now keep this philosophy in my head- “The mystery of life is not a problem to solve, but a reality to experience!”

(pardon the errors since it is just something off the rack..)

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Categories: Gap years, Uncategorized, year off | Leave a comment

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