27 March 2018

The rebel who prevailed

“You flunked in math?”, I asked her incredulously. In case you were wondering what is so incredulous about flunking in math, wait till you hear the end of the story.

“Yes. I am not very proud of it”, she said
“So, let me get this straight. You flunked in math and got kicked out of your college?”
“Yes. Again I am not very proud of it today”
“How much did you have to score?”
“20 out of 100 to stay in college”.
“And you did not score 20 marks out of 100?”

“Well, then how the heck did you get to where you have gotten to today?”

That question unveiled the incredible tapestry of life Urmi had woven for herself over the last three decades or so. She used to live in my neighborhood. She was my sister’s classmate till fifth grade, I think. I was not very close to her – but her elder brother – Rupak (Samudra) used to play with us. Therefore, I knew him better. The last time I saw her was probably 1983 when I left Durgapur. 35 years later, I found myself at a bar inside the PORT Authority Bus Station in Time Square area with that same girl. Duly equipped with a red wine for me and a spicy margarita for herself.

“Start from 1983. What happened?”, I asked

“I hated being told what to do. I rebelled against my parents, my teachers… everybody. I was a tomboy. I never studied. I did not do well in my exams. I was sent to a college (btw, my sister was in that college too) but I flunked out and went to another college”

“Did you have a purpose in life? Did what your parents/elders wanted you to do run counter to it? Is that why you rebelled?
“No. I do not think I was mature enough to have goals. I just did not want to be told what I should do. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. When I wanted to do. Where I wanted to do”.

“Well, then what happened?”

“Then I married the guy I wanted to. He came to US for higher studies. Eventually I joined him. And then…..”, her voice seemed to fade away as she was reliving her early days in a foreign country.


“And,” she said getting her voice back, “something clicked in my mind. Suddenly, I felt I had all the independence in my life. To do whatever I wanted to do. In a foreign land where nobody knew me other than my husband. I felt a great sense of freedom.”

I waited as she again seemed to get lost in her thoughts. Finally she looked at me and haltingly, said “Then I got scared”

“You got scared of all the freedom?”

“No. Once I had all the freedom, I came to the next realization that I had not made much of myself in all my life. I was too busy NOT doing stuff to do any stuff”.

“So, what did you do?”

“I wanted to revisit that flunking out of college for not scoring 20 in math. My husband was a graduate student. We did not have much money. But we were able to scrounge up enough for me to get to school. I started studying math!”

“One second. We are still talking about math – the subject you flunked in?”

“Yes. I loved math always. I just did not like the teachers and the rigidity of the system”.

Well, turns out this rebel of a girl got a bachelors’ degree in math with flying colors.
Then she proceeded to get her masters degree.
Undaunted by her new born child and all the first time mothers’ duties, she kept pushing on her love for math ad then got a Ph.D!! While raising her young child!!!
Then she became a professor of math in a New York college – and eventually earned tenureship!

And that is what she does as a profession today!

Now you see why I was totally flummoxed when a tenured math professor in a college in New York told me that she had flunked out of college because of math!!!

What an inspiring story.

I see parents complaining about their wards during school years – more common in India than in US – that they are not getting focused and studying and all that. I have this belief that every kid eventually pivots. There comes a day in their life when they wake up and want to do something with their life. At that point they are wiling to put in all the hard work that comes with that territory.

That is the day they need all our help and support to push them thru that phase. Starting late does not make the journey easier but the self-drive makes success that much more achievable.

Going back to Urmi, there were some great subsequent discussions on happiness, mortality, supporting parents in India during their old ages and so on. Unfortunately for me, she needed to grab a bus back home and we had to end our meeting.

As an aside, later that evening, I was telling Sharmila about the meeting and she had an intriguing question – “So, what does she do when her children or students won’t listen to her and do their studies?” 🙂

I need to remember to ask her that when I see her next!!!

It was great seeing you Urmi after so many years!!!

Posted March 27, 2018 by Rajib Roy in category "Intersection Points


  1. By Durga Nallamala on

    Damn goodone. Coodos to Urmi. My son was also kind of soft rebel and I let him do what he wanted. Now he is in Rutgers in Bio Med Eng. I am happy but wont tell him that as it may get to his head

    1. By Samudra Dutta Gupta on

      I felt bad about ur decision “not telling him that u r happy with him.” My thinking is if he knows you are happy, he will become more motivated to do better further. isn’t it? I for instance do this and my wife is like you, don’t let them know!

  2. By Urmi Duttagupta on

    Bachchuda, It was a lovely meeting. Nice seeing you after such a long time. I am always very fond of your writing and I love this more since you made me a super woman! (secretly, I am not :-)). Next time, I will look forward to meet Sharmila and the kids. Also, here is the answer to Sharmila’s question: Very simple. I tell them not to follow my path! 🙂 BTW I am connected to some students at FB!!!! Anyway, we have one life to live; so it is better to live it to the fullest, I guess. Thank you!!!!

  3. By Samudra Dutta Gupta on

    A marvellous story indeed! Today we r proud of her, but one day, we truly felt that she went to astray! When I first met her in NY, and she drove the car for me to go to bus stand, you know, I felt she is not my beloved sister but a guardian didi! I was so surprised that our beloved sister was driving a car and that too in USA! (I was similarly intrigued, when u came to see me at the hotel at Atlanta, earlier.) And well very nicely depicted! Kudos to you!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.