Friday, March 31, 2017

You're Not Transformed Yet


As you wrap up your last class, submission and exam – this year is not yet over. Not until, aside from the life in denial, the transformation is complete.

I remember before I accepted my admission offer, there were friends who mentioned that I should’ve applied to schools outside the country, as ISB was on a growth spree – while in ranking, but more specifically in its intake year-on-year. There were arguments against the quality of the institute’s churn out as well as against its placement focused, rat-race culture. I was told that I probably settled while I could shoot higher – all personal opinion, mind you. And I walked in with thinning hair but thickening confidence.

Within a week, the fellow Chartered Accountants seemed more accomplished; the engineers definitely smarter. And why wouldn’t they when it’s expected for CAs to be math geeks while the JEE experienced ace at financial equations.

I hope my conceitedness can be forgiven for I thought I could walk into this institution and rule it for having settled for something in India rather than moving farther from home, whereas my classmates would be those for whom this was a dream come true. It’s a pity how far some of us can imagine ourselves from reality.

Now, what would you do but transform when your bubble of self-assurance bursts. This year, as many of our alums mentioned during the O-Week, is a humbling experience. You’re amidst a pack of doyens, ready to sprint and grab what you’ve laid your heart on while you trot on a Jaipur foot. Or Delhi foot, or Bombay – coming from cities where egos inflate with small achievements.

The year was tough to begin with: a feeling of loneliness, never-before-experienced competitiveness and given by a few instances at the squash court, head-breaking if not cut-throat competition. It took months to figure out how this world works, cracking case-studies, making resumes, attending interviews and running calculations of ROI – like it’s so easy to put a percentage on experience.

We’ve seen brave-hearts with GPA 4 rejected by companies by the dozen and party-planners get the highest of packages. And then we’ve found ourselves in the middle somewhere – either with changed career paths or hands folded in gratitude for being blessed with a job-profile that we think we were only lucky to bag.

We’ve all humbled through the year, as most of us will claim on our way out. However, it’s important to remember that true humility is not a result of undervaluation of one’s talents and accomplishments. It differs from a phase of dealing with relatively low self-confidence. We’ve been in an environment for a year that put us amidst the smartest bunch of 900 we can possibly never find ourselves in again. The world outside will have a more rich portfolio of skills, abilities and talents – not all of which we may have learned to appreciate in whatever degree they present themselves in.

Maybe, the test of our true humility will be when we realize that anyone else we interact with may have probably done better or at least just as well as we may have, had they found the same opportunities for growth as all of us were lucky enough to find not just at ISB, but even before and much after.

With this, we’re almost ready to sign off, knowing that we were definitely blessed to have been a part of this cohort. We leave with dreams to fly, to achieve much more than what we thought we could before coming to the Indian School of Business. Among all these hopes should be the dream to create platforms for others to achieve – for hopefully, that would be the mark of the true to its core, humble leaders from the PGP Class of 2017. The test of transformation awaits.

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This piece was addressed to the PGP (MBA) Class of 2017 at the Indian School of Business on 31st March, 2017 - a week before their convocation.

Image Credits: Venkataragavan Sabesan

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Case of Hindi, Sanskrit and Maternal Influence

It was an early Sunday morning and I had quite ambitiously managed to capture the look of someone who parts his hair with a generous smear of Arnica hair oil and stares blankly at his math textbook in an attempt to show sincerity to the feminine parent walking in and out of the room, instructing the domestic help to wipe the edges of the floor in compensation for the weekday she took off the previous week. While it seemed like I had completed my Masters in verbosity and a false sense of ability to appreciate literature, as reflected in the previous sentence, a big question about my literary pursuits through high school remained unanswered.

Should I be taking Hindi as my second language in the ninth grade or Sanskrit?

The answer was as simple as choosing between Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lawrence. It’s best to pick the one you relate to more. Not like I relate to being the emotionally distraught female lead in Silver Linings Playbook, but if it counts, I share my birth year with Lawrence. So, as I had almost made up my mind to pick Hindi, my mother decided to relate to the one she shares her birth year with and picked Sanskrit.

The arguments in defense of my choice were one, that I topped my class in Hindi the previous year, and two, I enjoyed the subject. Also, I hated studying Sanskrit. But then of course, haha, who said that mattered? ROFLOL overbearing parents *cough*

The Mother’s argument was that Sanskrit was more scoring. Made sense if the discussion was about who among Aniston and Lawrence scored more in the number of husbands till date, but then of course, haha, who said that I scraped through the class average only in Sanskrit while topping Hindi mattered? ROFLOL children’s interest *cough cough*

As both parties found themselves at a deadlock, an arbitrator (The Father) was appointed, who performed his duty to the fullest by appreciating the Gobhi Paraunthe heavily that morning and awarded that the subsidiary company comply with the holding company’s mandate in line with the Ahuja Group’s overall objective of unhindered growth and peaceful organizational culture.

The defeated party cried foul, and on insistence of the Maternal Highness, the matter was directly thrown to the highest appellate authority, Hon’ble Sri Krishna.

The Mother initiated me into the process quite diligently. An equal number of chits with each ‘Hindi’ and ‘Sanskrit’ had to be prepared and placed before the Hon’ble Bench. The proceedings involved an hour long recital of Saraswati Chalisa, Hanuman Chalisa, Krishna Chalisa and the Gayatri Mantra, which both the Mother and I sang in unison, followed by the Lord’s Prayer which I had learnt in school and only I recited as a closing argument. The Mother attempted to beat the little cymbals in rhythm to “Our Father, thou art in heaven…”, and in effect, did not let me have the last word before His Highness because “do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from all evil… om shanti shanti shanti om”.

The Lord gave his decision by inaudibly suggesting that I pick a chit. I complied.

“Hindi”, the chit said.

“Woohoo!”

“Shut up, you’re taking Sanskrit.”

P.S. I scored a 95 in Sanskrit in my tenth grade. Who knows, I would have scored a perfect score on Hindi had the judgment not been vetoed by the other party.


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Image Source: cepuckett.com

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Raees: When You Listen to Your Mum, But You Don't

Have you heard of the barebottoms? They’re shoes without soles. These shoes are synonymous to a character named Raees Khan - who looks the part, but again, lacks a soul.

The movie, Raees, begins with a young titular character running errands for a local bootlegger in Gujarat. While he’s endearing as a school-goer and otherwise, he loses sincerity immensely to the screenplay, proportionally as he grows in age. The character’s life and decisions rest on one teaching given by his mother: “Koi bhi dhanda chhota nahi hota, aur dhande se bada koi dharm nahi hota”. While on paper, the line looks like it has weight to develop a fan-following as did the Abhishek Bacchan starrer, Guru; on delivery, it appears like a stillborn. In an industry where “in kutton ke saamne mat naachna” has maintained its cult status after half a century, it’s interesting to debate whether Raees lost its charm in execution (where Shah Rukh Khan’s acting was on point) or in writing (when Jaadu’s alien-voiced ‘Om-Om-Om-Om’ appears as a more memorable line, repetition and alliteration not-withstanding).

The first half shows the young entrepreneurial boy setting up a bootlegging business in competition to his godfather. His rise makes you feel for him. You cheer for him when you see him thrash goons with a goat’s head when he tries to set up a small meat selling stall during Eid. It makes you want to give up your 9-to-5 at Infosys and wishing that much like Raees’ employer, Narayan Murthy had thrown his Titan (because he doesn’t wear Rolex despite being able to afford it) at your face, that would’ve triggered you to walk out of that beautiful Mysore campus and pursue your start-up dream. However, as the gangster’s empire grows in size, so do the plot-holes.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Officer Majmudar is a delight on screen, and makes up for all the charm that we’re otherwise used to seeing SRK exude, albeit off-screen. He is an honest police officer who despite humbly accepting transfer orders, is bent on obtaining evidence against Raees Khan’s misdeeds. When he blocks a road to nab one of the protagonist’s trucks, Raees Khan shows his ‘baniye ka dimaag’ and ‘miyan bhai ki daring’ by taking another route into the state. Woot! Further, when the police blocks all roads, the ‘baniye ka dimaag-miyan bhai ki daring’ comes up with the masterplan to use the waterways to get liquor in. Double Woot! While Raees’ trucks evade the barricades on each occasion, a sense of dismay sets in not because you realize the lack of infrastructure with the Indian police to close all possible modes of entry, but because the movie ridiculously insults a baniya’s dimaag and a miyan bhai’s daring by expecting you to celebrate the move as if it were worthy of an Olympic gold, or okay, to be realistic, the logistics version of a Spelling Bee trophy.

During the second half, Raees Khan uses all his funds to contest elections for the Legislative Assembly so as to strengthen his political ground for business sustenance, and then spends his savings in working capital for building a residential colony for his vote-bank. The character loses sincerity when it’s apparent how his decisions are business related, but he expects the audience to believe, with tears in his eyes on one occasion, that it’s all for the benefit of his community. One would defend it in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility – business while looking after the needs of the community. However, the sense of Robinhoodness that awakens in our gangster appears more like a sham trust-deed to avail tax benefits than sincere CSR spending of up to two percent of your net profit1 – consequently, you fail to feel for the character anymore.

A proviso to the lesson given by Raees’ mother was: ‘as long as your dhanda hurts nobody’. One would hate to turn this into a moral debate, but in the context of this movie and otherwise, how would you define ‘hurt’?

Is making alcohol available for people to turn into drunkards not a kind of ‘hurt’? Maybe not as per most moral compasses. Is murdering competitors and politicians in an attempt to set up an illegal business not ‘hurt’? Maybe not when like most people in the world, the characters murdered are themselves grey, regardless of the shade of grey they exhibit when compared to the murderer.

The character realizes ‘hurt’ when he’s made an instrument to import explosives for a devastating blast in the country. The guilt hits him so hard that he surrenders to the police and in the penultimate scene, questions Siddiqui if he will be able to live with the guilt of murdering Raees. *long pause to let that sink in*

The movie flails in maintaining sincerity while attempting to showcase a gangster with a heart of gold – which in my opinion, there was none.

The closing scene shows Siddiqui moving away with his army of officers into their patrolling vehicles, leaving Khan shot dead on the highway side. The shot would’ve earned Siddiqui street-cred for the swag with which he walks back, except it brings none because you’re left wondering why the police would drive off without taking the fugitive’s corpse. When thoughts such as this overshadow the emotion a scene attempts to generate, you know that something has failed.

Battery nahi bolne ka”, I said as my friends pointed out that my glasses are similar to Raees’ big frames. So here go 2.5 jalebis because I walked out with a memorable line nevertheless.

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1demerits of letting a Chartered Accountant do movie reviews

Saturday, December 24, 2016

It's Almost the End of the Year (Guest Post)

“I have shed my skin so many times.
The graveyards must be full of all the people I used to be”

It’s almost the end of the year. Can you feel it yet?
The tip of my nose goes pink sometimes and my eyebrows are so frozen I can’t even be surprised. Literally. Everyone’s getting their red and shimmer out. Buble’s singing out of every nook and cranny, his fondue voice making you mentally sway as you make your way to yet another get-together. Every house has a Christmas tree outside, its plastic branches decorated with leftover disco balls and little figurines collected by children too young to have memories. Everyone’s slacking just a bit more at work; eating just a bit more dessert, drinking just a bit more wine, feeling just a bit more in love or just a whole lot more alone. It’s almost the end of the year. Can you feel it yet?
It’s nearly time to decide who the new you will be. Walls are coming down and being built everywhere; some more quietly than others. People are talking to people, eager to rewrite beginnings or endings, looking for peace of mind like it was promised. We sit with our bundles of painful memories, not letting them roll out of our eyes and onto our cheeks, ready to learn from them and dispose them off like soiled items, only to realize that we barely even remember the things we never thought we’d forget. As someone famously said, the future is really that forgiving. Can you feel it yet?
There’s suddenly more cookies and rum cake and adipose tissue in life than there is intent. We all have these plan-less goals for ourselves, neatly tucked away in corners of our subservient minds, waiting for a fresh calendar to fix ourselves top down because right now we’re too busy treating our hearts as metaphors. When’s the last time you actually put your hand to your chest and felt your heartbeat? It’s a powerful thing. It makes you so aware of every passing second, so awake to the urgency of accomplishment. You begin to wonder what it was that made you think you had time. Can you feel it yet?
You think back to the times you used to think back to those moments. From another time, another place. It doesn’t make you smile and it doesn’t make you sad. It just makes you look away now. Love left your body, momentarily, yet long enough for you to realize that you need to leave some people behind in this year. We’ve spent too much time decorating our lives with leftover disco balls and little figurines, collected over time in more ways than one, as day by day we grow a bit more envious of those children too young to have memories. Can you feel it yet?
It’s almost the end of the year and you’re praying that by the end of the next you’ll have that job. That waistline. That girl. It’s what you prayed for the last year and the year before last. It’s what you’ll pray for the next year and the year after that. A different job. A smaller waistline. Another girl. Another cliché.
This year, I want to read a bucket list through. I want to really understand the colour purple. I want to cook pad thai and a mean little key lime pie. I want to swim in a new sea. I want to be an art parasite. I want to be everyone I used to be and more. There’s just so much room, now that it’s empty. I want to be the people I wanted to be with, because I always believed in forever.
I wish all of you peace and so much love. I hope you bask in happy vibes and drink mellow dreams and if you must break, I pray his kisses gave you butterflies as they came and strong art as they left.
Zen. 2016.
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This piece has been contributed by a friend whose writing inspires me to hone my skills every day. Ayeesha Khanna at Lazy and The Overthinker.
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Image Source: newevolutiondesigns.com

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Love, Maths aur Dhokha 2

There were a lot of things I wanted to be while growing up. I wanted to be an ice-cream man, the Police, Shahrukh Khan, and an astronaut… And, if I were five years old today, Elon Musk. Which, what-the-heck, I want to be even at the age of twenty-six.

I received a pat on the back when I spoke about ambitious career goals, like Police, maybe. But this one fine day, I mentioned “Chartered Accountant” and the pat on the back turned into a chocolate-in-hand or two. To my CA parents, they no longer had a son to raise, but a Partner. *percussion beat for impact*

To become a CA required academic rigor and training. Mine started while I was in KG-C of Mrs. Marie Chaturvedi’s class at St. Columba’s School. While Mrs. Chaturvedi would be teaching us how to count on our fingers, The Mother had started her off-site curriculum on math tables. It was like the real-life version of Khan Academy, where Khan would bear linkages with all the incorrect stereotypes it has been associated with in the past decade. Third-degree at the Ahujastan Base Camp meant one thappad for every half-mark deduction on a test. Even though my mum never executed it with the kind of religiousness she said she would, the mere fact that you know there is a third-degree which could be unleashed on you can make you pee your pants, or lose your hair (in my case, the latter).

Such was the terror of scoring a ten-on-ten that I remember rushing back home one day, crying inconsolably because I had scored just a six-on-six. On being told that it was just the same as a 10/10, I was confused why the teacher would be so mean as to mess with the children’s heads by giving just a 6/6. It was quite like the fanatic’s version of fighting for a ten-on-ten because another religion somewhere deserved just a six-on-six to satiate his false sense of entitlement.

To become a good CA required one to be good with numbers, and The Maatey would leave no stone unturned to up my math game. It would start with post-dinner, late-night saer when my parents would walk with me in the middle, holding one of my hands on either side. I quite felt a sense of pride when I would see other kids with only one of their hands held by a parent as they walked on the edge of their parents-and-child late-night walking trio. It was only when a few math puzzles were thrown at me that I realized I was more of Dharmendra in Sholay, with both his hands tied up by Gabbar Singh and Sambha. The ‘Kitney Aadmi The’ question would no longer be that simple.

‘If fourteen people went on a trip to Vaishno Devi and only four could fit into an auto-rickshaw from Katra to the Darbar, how many men fit into the last auto-rickshaw in that fleet?’

As a few stray dogs would pass us by during those walks, I wish I had watched Sholay in time to use a reference like, “In kutton ke aage mat poochhna” to get away. But I was not just tied up like Dharmendra but also expected to perform the Basanti dance. Double jeopardy. Or as I call it, Two-CA-Parents.

Other modules of the training curriculum included asking the subject to recite tables from twelve to nineteen while the subject was in second grade. If I could express my feelings as openly as I would want to, I would tell you that I hate the tables of thirteen and seventeen to this age. Maybe Gauri Shinde could make a Dear Zindagi 2 on my life as well.

Among many other things from my childhood, I fondly remember the weekend trips we took to nearby hill-stations and Rishikesh with my cousins. Operations Research and its application became a part of my life since Circa 1999. The objective function to optimize was making the road-trip as enjoyable as possible. The constraints I worked with were whether to travel in my maasi’s car and listen to her latest collection of Bhajan Kirtan Volume 2.0, or have my cousins travel with us and have Maatey-shree throw us googlies like ‘If it takes us 4 hours to get to Haridwar by car and it takes maasi 4.5, for how long should we stop at Cheetal Grand for a plate of pakode so that maasi can catch up in time even if she drives with a twenty-percent increase in speed.’

To this, my cousins and I would respond with silence and The Maternal Supreme would turn around to see all of us sleeping in the back seat. She would turn to my dad and complain about how we’re all ‘chaalu’ and just acting like we’ve dozed off only to get away with answering such ‘fun’ questions. I would hear that and still not budge. If at all, I would just open my mouth a little to add drama to the act. Only till the AC’s direct airflow would parch my lips and I would have to carefully close my mouth to take a big gulp of saliva, hoping father dearest wouldn’t notice the change in the rear view mirror. Such were the risks of breaking the act.

Enter ninth grade and CBSE slapped my face with trigonometry, geometry and more such Math-ke-haath-mein-Sarthak-Ahuja-ki-puppetry. By then, The Mother was proud to have raised a child who did not need any coaching or supervision to make him study math. Apparently.

I was left to the misery of dealing with finding the degree of an angle in the drawing of a heptapod in an octagon using theta or some such, only to be followed by calculus two years later. The trick of converting math problems into monetary terms and solving, something that my mum had trained me to do over the years, didn’t help anymore. Apparently, you can’t assume the integration symbol to be the one for dollar and run simple arithmetic over it.

Picking commerce in high school over the sciences came as a messiah. I can only imagine what it would be like if I were the age of five today. Apparently, IIT-JEE coaching now begins at the age of seven. Thankfully, with all my fear and consequent hatred for math, the only mathematical challenge I had to deal with at age seven was summing the digits on the number-plate of every car zooming by in less than two seconds. As a horcrux of Shakuntala Devi, I now do arithmetic for a living.

Now just so that all of you engineers who come for an MBA program know, a CA is not a mathematical genius. He is just someone who did not want to prepare for IIT-JEE, who does simple addition, subtraction, division, multiplication on a Casio calculator and then comes up with ways for you to save taxes, run audit assignments and go to knowledge building seminars only because if a man pays Rs. 1100 for attending a seminar, how will he maximize his return if the speaker is boring and there is more than just Dal Makhni in the main course? The only mathematics trick we can offer apart from the Rule of 72 is to think in money terms and units of Dal Makhni. Fine, thank you.


Image Source: andertoons.com

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Everyone at ISB Needs a Hug

It’s finally the time of the year at ISB when you can no longer complain about not being hit on. Placement season has hit everyone, and how! If you’d call this pun ‘sad’, I’ll just blame it on the aura of the campus for having rubbed off a little too much on me. As someone who is looking to get back to his business after the session ends in April, I often get to hear people say that my life seems “sorted” and that they’re jealous of how I don’t have to go through this whole grind. While there may be other realities to the seeming appearance of being sorted, I’ll leave that topic for another day. For now, I just want to tell you how I feel as an independent spectator, detached from the placement hullabaloo.

Recruiters have been releasing shortlists left, right and center. A common complaint seems to be that the same bunch has been getting shortlists for multiple companies, like their resumes have some secret sauce that tickles the HR managers’ taste buds. Candidates with over a decade of experience, who thought they had an edge over the inexperienced lot, feel emasculated. The ones with the base minimum two years of experience finally feel a sense of acknowledgment in some form, as roles that focus on lesser experience seem to be more popular. Further, those in the mid-experience age bracket feel like it would’ve been better for them to be on either side but in the middle ground that they find themselves in. And, don’t even get me started about how dejected the Chartered Accountants here feel.

There’s new found respect for people who have multiple calls for interviews. And there are hushed tones for those who remain “shortlist virgins”, as a close friend puts it. Having realized that GPA is not the only factor attracting interview calls, there is a new sense of hierarchy which has now developed, bracketing people as top performers based on the number of interviews they’re scheduled to sit for and their respective belongingness with case-prep groups for the McKinseys and the Parthenons.

But as I see it, everyone who made it to ISB has a wonderful story to tell. They’ve all been star performers all their lives, and there has not been a single resume that I have seen and not been thoroughly impressed with. I’m blamed for being loose with my compliments, but I say this with as much sincerity as I exude when I tell you that I feel like the dumbest person in this lot of 900-odd. Like, I almost just made it by chance and don’t deserve to be here. And I must tell you that if you haven’t received a shortlist yet, it doesn’t make you a lesser mortal than another. I wish with all my heart that all 900 people at ISB get placed on Day-1. If not, then hopefully all do by Day-2. But even if you don’t, I really hope that you won’t let these parameters define your self-worth. It’s a never-ending rat race, and honestly, your success does not depend on how early you get placed.

This may appear like a sermon, and you probably think I can’t empathize, but I say this as someone who has battled self-worth issues almost all his life. I say this as a person whose life revolves around the ritual of giving himself positive reaffirmations in the mirror every morning, lest he breaks down under his own demons of self-doubt. And, it will kill me to know that any of you would have to ever go through such an ordeal.

I see my friends almost devoid of energy, trying to pull themselves through what seems like a never-ending trial called ‘B-school life’. I can sense the glumness in the environment, as I’m sure you can too. It’s a trying time. But can you blame the lid or the container if they can’t seem to match? It’s just not the right fit, at times. And I would just hope that all my friends find the strength to sail through this period while they try to stumble upon the right fit. A lot of people came with the expectation to bag a pay package of above the last year’s declared median annual salary. It may again seem preachy to say this, but don’t measure your worth with the salary package you get. If you’ve ever been through heartbreak, you would know that no matter how fulfilled life may be on every other front, it just takes that one void to make you feel like you’ve earned nothing in life. With this, I wish that you all, more importantly, find a more fulfilling life with your respective present and to-be families.

And please don’t worry about people judging your intelligence, skills or worth based on the monetary compensation you gain right out of ISB. You know that you’re definitely worth much more than an amount any goddamn company in the world will assign to you. And, I promise that you’ll have my highest respect for what you are because I swear to God, I have never, ever, seen a more talented bunch in my life as I have witnessed at ISB.

I can assure you that if you ever feel the need for some external comparison to feel validated, I shall well-deservedly stand beneath you, where I rightfully already am. Wishing you, my friend, all the best for the placement season ahead. I wish you get the job of your choice. And if not, I hope you find the courage to know that there is much more to the definition of success than whatever happens in the next three months.

P.S. Available for celebratory and consolatory hugs during Day-1, and beyond.


Image Source: chic-type.com