All You Need is a Dead Rat

Mridu - Berkeley, California
Entered on March 11, 2009

At some point in your life, there comes a catalyst: something that propels you toward your dream when you least expect it.

Mine came in the form of a dead rat.

Nine years ago, I was an eighteen-year-old college student, living in New Delhi. I had just failed my first year, and had sunk into a pitiful depression. Just a year ago, I’d come out one of the success stories of my high school, with admission letters to every university I’d applied to. Now, here I was. A failure.

It’s difficult to explain the pressure children face, but India tops the world rate in adolescent suicides. Many of these are because of academic failure. When Indians say we’re a competitive bunch, we’re really not kidding.

I was lucky enough to make it through. I had wonderful friends who stood up for me when I was the target of scoff and disdain, who continued to drill into my head day after day that I was intelligent and funny, and that my failure did not define me.

While everyone focused on what had gone wrong, my best friend asked what I could do next. When I started looking for a job, she accompanied me to every job interview. When I started taking computer classes, she joined too. When I decided instead to become a freelance journalist, she was the only one who thought it seemed like a good idea.

A few months into that, however, I got offered a job. I took it.

I worked hard there, often going to work on weekends and holidays. I continued studying for school on the side, sometimes taking books to the office and reading on my lunch break.

One October morning, I arrived at work and was greeted by a pissed off co-worker and the stench of a dead rat. We were on tight deadline so the boss refused to let us take time off or move our desks. And because the management couldn’t be bothered to clean it up, we sat at our desks with a dead rat caught under the floor, trying to meet our deadlines.

Unsurprisingly, headaches became common over the next few days, and in what would be a turning point for me, I became violently ill.

Despite my sick leave, I was handed work to take home, and in the three days that I was off, I sat at my computer and worked for eight hours each day.

When I went back to work, the rat had disappeared. And so had my loyalty to the company. I took an unpaid leave of absence in order to study for my papers.

I never returned to work. I had discovered that I was only a clog in the machinery, and could be easily replaced. So I did what I’d dreamed of doing in the first place: I became a freelance journalist.

I believe everyone can live a dream. You just need to find your dead rat.