Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Early Appeal to the MBA Class of '17

ISB is a thrilling place. It’s a new experience. For me, personally, it’s the first time that I’m away from home; away from family.

Right before I came here in April, my friends threw me a farewell party. They asked me what I was looking forward to most in the year ahead. The answer was easy – living away from family for the first time. I was looking forward to being independent, finally living the hostel life, and of course, making two-hundred-and-eighty-five new friends for life.

Well, I have found friends; a few people who genuinely, sincerely care. Friends who have taken care of me while I’ve been sick, held me when I’ve broken down (maybe once, yes, embarrassingly), and those who have laughed at the stupidest of my jokes not because I was funny, but because they knew I was looking for a reaction from them.

If you can relate to this, I would say that you’re extremely, blessed by the Lord, lucky. I’ve been lucky too. But among all of this, we tend to forget how being alone and being lonely are two completely different things. Between all the groups and squads that we see around, there are more people wanting to feel accepted into a family, a gang, a group of friends that they could call their own.

Much against my expectation of the place, I know how many of our peers crave to feel accepted without having to make as much effort as they are making to fit in. I don’t know if it’s about living away from home for the first time or the extreme competitiveness of the place that gets to you, but I myself have had more than a fair number of bouts of loneliness. I would never have admitted it here, had it not been for the number of people I have met in the past three weeks who have confessed of feeling the same, despite their happy exterior and so called “groups” that most others identify them with. I’ve seen people confess this with tears in their eyes, late in the night when no one has been around. I have heard people confess this during their late night walks around the campus. I have witnessed these confessions in the confinement of the quads, with sobs almost suppressed for them to not escape the walls outside of which they hold a happy front.

I would never have admitted to my own vulnerability, had it not been this undertone that so silently spreads across campus, surprisingly unnoticed, but definitely deeply and very personally felt. I don’t know how I have been a witness to so many confessions. I can’t say.

I would want you to know that there are so many people here who may be looking at your group from afar, wishing they had found friends like yours, hoping that maybe one or two terms down, they might find some company in misery. You may not be aware of how most of them feel because they don’t show it. A few others may have already been labelled as people who try too hard and are therefore uncomfortable to be around. Somewhere, behind this whole attempt to build perspective on life and business, we’ve lost the ability to see within people’s hearts, wait and make conversation with someone new and at least get to know them. Maybe they won’t have the courage to tell you how lonely they feel, but may be, for that half an hour, a conversation that you make would be all they need to hold on and keep hope alive for the next eight months to come.

I am admitting to my feelings today not because I need a vent to deal with it, but because I hope this will give courage to people who are trying to deal with it, to admit to it without shame. I also hope this will make the others aware of their duty towards the ISB community, and bring in a little more human touch.

Also, my feelings aside, I would like to thank Ashwin Chandrasekher. I cannot begin to explain how thankful I am to have found this person. He has been my anchor here. I hope everyone on this campus finds a friend like you.

Image Source: Aravind Balagi Prasad

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What it feels like to be a Dumb Child

“He’s the most talkative boy in class, but also really smart, and my favorite.”

It’s difficult being one of the top scorers in class, and lucky. Definitely lucky. To begin with, there’s a high chance that you have parents who really care for your brilliance in academic pursuits, while also stuffing a buffet plate of extra-curricular activities down your throat. And then, there’s the diligence with which you prepare for class tests or exams – mostly out of the fear of not making the parental Shiva open his third eye. For a top scorer, life begins with a fear of meeting expectations, first of the Mata-Pita who believe their child is an incarnation of Vishnu; and then, a few years later, expectations of everyone around, which the protagonist will disguise in the words “expectations from self”.

While this may sound supremely immodest, I have lived my share of being an “intelligent boy” over the years, mostly by accident. All my cousins were asked to be as smart as I was, when the only basis of evaluating smartness was a figure assigned to you by the Board of Secondary Education at a time when you were already bored of secondary education. The sibling would be given a hard time with multiple applications requesting emulation of the elder brother’s behavior of a susheel, adarshvaadi and ten on ten scoring individual. Teachers in school found it easy to nominate students for council positions just like people in the neighborhood found it easy to nominate me as a friend for their children’s social circles. The perks were there, of course, as was a belief in the golden rule that hard work paid off.

The hard work gradually translated to guilt when I grew up and realized that I was doing better at exams by studying on the last day, while a few of my friends put in much more effort, studying for days and still wouldn’t manage to touch a rank worthy of a discussion. The guilt would make me work a little harder, in an attempt to justify to self that I probably deserved the kind of academic “success” I had so far seemed to accidentally achieve. People would come up to me for advice and inspiration, and I would silently thank my parents for having pushed me enough through the years to help develop those mental faculties, while I doled out life advice like it was a batch of fresh, puffy bhature from the local sweet shop on a Sunday morning.

However, the academic fa├žade aside, I would feel like an absolute fool for not having any interest in political happenings around the world, being so non-opinionated about things that seemed to matter in this age and time, sucking monkey balls at Math, and generally, being an over-emotional goofball who was far away from achieving the more important goals in life, like being “street smart”. But I would hold the blanket of academic scores closer, hoping the shroud wouldn’t fall off in a gust of wind and make everyone realize how stupid I really am, and so undeserving of all the things that so happened. The impostor syndrome, clearly, is not a gender specific disorder.

Circa 2016 brought with itself an opportunity to spend a year with some of the country’s best brains at one of India’s top B-schools, also known as a parallel universe so confined in these few self-sustaining acres that the world has literally been crushed to a patch of land that I temporarily call home. With the rigorous curriculum, I feel literally cut off from life outside of this campus, while ironically gaining wider perspective about global business in such confinement.

As one accidental entry among a group of deserving peers, I now find myself scrounging for an opportunity to excel, while the others sprint through academic rigor and performance with such elan. The shroud finally slips and in all honesty, I feel more than judged on a number of occasions.

I constantly seem to live in the anxiety of people judging me on my academic grades, and disregarding all value that any other skill could bring. Even though I know people have better channels to invest their leisure thoughts in, it makes me wonder if this anxiety is what every child goes through who feels he is unable to meet their parents’ expectations of academic outperformance.

I try really hard to grasp concepts requiring high quantitative abilities with as much swiftness as my peers from engineering backgrounds do. I acknowledge how their training in quantitative subjects over the years gives them an edge in this regard, and I should not beat myself about it. But it makes me wonder how much a person’s experiences and learnings over the years contribute to their intellectual placement in the social hierarchy. It clearly does, and it’s sad when I realize that outside of this campus, the world is brutal enough to quickly pass judgment and call someone stupid while completely disregarding the various tangibles and intangibles one may have been blessed with as a matter of pure luck, which may have led to that academic advantage.

Having underperformed on one criterion that is of prime importance at this “school”, the blow to my confidence permeates to other areas of my life. I question my worth in this place. I question my ability to make a difference in anyone’s life. I wonder, and then I, at times, succumb to the more comfortable yet exceedingly difficult to perform activity of letting go. While I find my way through this place and attempt to make my own little space, I wonder how difficult it must be to go through the same outside of this confinement, when the population size is large and thankfully more heterogeneous.

As I feel gratitude for the plethora of opportunities this place provides, I feel more thankful for the learning I will take back in terms of valuing each individual for their strengths beyond parameters of academic performance, monetary growth, social popularity or other such criteria that tend to give us a sense of superiority over others.

As a “dumb child” that the society I currently see would seem to call me, I can assure you that I have tried and I will continue to do so. But I would need the world to encourage me enough so that I find my own criterion to outperform on during my time here on this planet. I would hope you will continue to do so regardless of the size of your planet.

"He's the most talkative guy in class, and also my favorite."

Image Source: donnamoderna.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Serendipity (Guest Post)

My father met my mother at a bus stop.

He had been late that day. He’d gotten late because a pigeon had entered his apartment and he had had to shoo it out before he left. How fate works, he muses, every time he tells us the story. So after a terrible morning, he had left home cursing the Universe, a young adult travelling to get to his first job with sleep on his mind and a calculator in his hand.

At the bus stop he saw an entirely different set of people today, being there himself an hour later than usual. He saw a girl standing with her friend, in a long green skirt and with a flower in her hair. Not a gajra that would hang by a plait the way it did on most Indian women. No, her hair was open and flying all over the place and the flower was pivoted right above her ear. Hibiscus, he says. But mom swears it was a rose. Anyway, it didn’t serve any real purpose except to attract his attention.

“The bus reaches by 10 everyday, I don’t know why it’s so late today!” she whined, half-smiling. It was 10.10 then, dad says. And then, he says, she looked at him and smiled, oblivious to the light emanating from her soul and the little hipster city she single handedly created inside the ventricles of his rural geeky heart. I think he meant he fell in love but it seemed too abrupt a decision, so he decided to go with being poignant.

I’d seen pretty girls smile at me before; he says when we accuse him of being easy to please. He says this was different. How?  We ask.  Oh I don’t know. I just wanted to see her smile again. And again. Forever.

And as it happened, for weeks and weeks he’d leave home late and work late just to see my mother at the bus every day. He wouldn’t talk to her or even make eye-contact. He’d just wait for her to smile. And she did, his 50 year old cheeks still blush as he tells us, Every day she’d turn and smile and make my mornings beautiful.

Finally one morning it was raining and my mother’s friend was absent. She saw my father standing under an umbrella and asked if she could share it. It’s not like he offered it or anything, he was so shy, my mother usually likes to join in the story at this point, after a few minutes of blushing and ‘oh-you’ing. That’s when they spoke for the first time, and my father learned that mother would cut morning class every day, and so he asked her to attend it so he could go to work on time. Then onwards, she’d catch the 9 am bus with him every morning.

And he’d buy me a rose everyday for my hair, mum says as if to wrap up the story.

They narrate this so often, I begin to think they are trying to make a point. I finally ask them after one of their routine Sunday morning narrations of how they met, what is it they are trying to tell me?

Wait for someone who’ll put effort into you, says Dad.

Mom smiles and takes me to the kitchen. That’s true, she says, I didn’t even notice him much to begin with, but I’d see his eyes light up when I smiled at him, so I smiled at him. I knew he was getting late. Every day. But once I’d smiled his way he’d stop fidgeting with his pocket pen and checking the time and just sit up straight and beam at nothingness. But even though the effort bit is true, that’s not my intention of telling you the story.

Well what is it? I ask.

She smiles her miracle of a smile at me and says; Never touch anything with half your heart.

*****
This post appeared originally on Ayeesha Khanna's blog here, and has been reproduced with permission. She is one of my favorite bloggers and there's some beautiful writing on her blog: Lazy and the Overthinker

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Bald

I don’t really know if preparing for a loss insulates your pain from the loss when it actually occurs. With all the men in my family bald, and my dad holding on to a hairline that receded not over a few inches, I always knew I would grow up to be a bald man. It was difficult to imagine how one loses one’s hair little by little, almost at a pace which shows only in timelines defined by images printed on Kodak paper. And as a school going kid, I never knew how I would deal with it when the inevitable happens. I just knew that it would happen someday. Like all things that you expect would happen in your life – marriage, kids, family, job, responsibilities, baldness.

I remember writing the twelfth grade pre-Board exams, when I ran my fingers through my thick mane and around seven-eight strands of hair fell on the examination sheet. I brushed it off like it was eraser residue. There were bigger issues to take care of, like admissions in University of Delhi. The bigger things seemed sorted less than a couple of months from then, with spring and monsoon and autumn. But my biological functions seemed to have developed a special relationship with autumn, holding on to it like it was its first love, and then showing its love for the season through a representation of it on my head. Imitation is the best form of flattery, it seems.

I lost hair at a pace that was not really visible to others possibly because I was never lucky enough to have someone else take a shower with me. The Dadi understood my pain though. Palms full of almond oil would be massaged onto my head every night. And, sarson ka tel. Then some Amla. Then some Citridora. Olive oil. Chameli. Cooking oil too, maybe. I could never tell.

The Mother had her own set of remedies. Spoons full of almond powder with pepper and sugar. Then I was put on a diet of lauki juice and Baba Ramdev’s nail polish routine with Anulom Vilom, Kapaal Bhaati and a couple of other nasal exercises that made me sound like I could be the brand ambassador for Hawkin’s new silent pressure cookers – the ones that come with whistles that can only hiss. But again, that’s wishful thinking for a balding man.

My parents realized soon after that the only way to calm me down was to take me to a dermatologist. The first and the best thing that the doctor suggested was not to put any more oil on my head. I was prescribed a couple of tablets, a few supplements and Minoxidil. That sweet little potion made by the devil. Minoxidil.

Soon, the Dadi’s daily routine included questioning the doctor’s qualifications because who is stupid enough to not suggest sarson ka tel to cure baldness. The fact that my grandfather is bald and still polishes his pate with sarson ka tel, apparently, speaks wonders about the product’s effectiveness.
Anyhoo, Minoxidil became my messiah. It “arrested” my hair fall in less than fifteen days, just like the little usage manual suggested. The volume of hair on my head had started improving and I could preen like I was Shahrukh Khan of my college campus. Or so I believed.

By the time I was done with my undergrad three years later, my hair had stuck around in its full glory. I have pictures on my facebook profile as proof – the same pictures that people look at and say, “Wow, you used to look so good” – which now brings me to the next part of the story.

I don’t know if I can convey it the way I actually felt it, and I’m probably going to do it at the risk of sounding super vain – Hair loss, for me, has been extremely hard to deal with.

The effect of Minoxidil pretty much wore off by the time I started with my CA articleship training. I could see my hair thinning. I would blame it on the nature of work, the stress of the Goliath exams I had to take, and many-a-time on the occasional break-ups. You know, how your insecurities hit you hardest at the places where it hurts the most?

I was probably the youngest and the first in my set of friends to be going through the terror. They say how men think about coitus every two minutes. For me, that coitus was hair loss – that too not at the right places; if you know what I mean.

I would cry myself to sleep on a lot of days – affected by instances such as a boy on the street asking me to pass the ball, addressing me as “uncle”. There was a time when I was told I looked much younger than my actual age, and then transitioning to the phase in your life when people who meet you for the first time begin to ask you if you’re married, when you’re all of the age of twenty-three is kinda-sorta disturbing to say the least. For a break-up for which I never got an explanation, I would link it to my hair loss and consequent “ugly looks”. It sounds silly, really; but then that’s what our insecurities make us, no? Really, really silly!

I started a treatment with one of the leading trichology centres in the capital. It brought some very visible difference to my hair, and over the years, I seemed to have kind of made peace with the gradual loss. Or so it only seemed.

Enter post-grad. I recently moved away from home to a new town. It’s a town with some very good looking people as I would always openly admit. Well, if you ask me, I’ve never really been attracted to a person on the basis of their looks. Their personality and the kind of conversations they make have always been my weak spot. However, I don’t know why one happens to assume the worst about the others and think of their judgment as skewed. Again, maybe, it’s just the insecurities playing their little game that I think most others would like or dislike me based on how good or bad I look on the scale of physical attractiveness. It is really embarrassing to admit to this at the age of twenty-five – just like it is to admit to a lot of other things that go on in our heads. It’s bloody pathetic how you can’t even admit to these things openly lest you be thought of as a vain idiot, or an insecure little wuss, or too immature for your age, or someone fishing for sympathy guised as compliments to give you some social validation. It’s frikkin’ sad how such social validation even matters as much as it does. Probably as much as wanting to get into a McKinsey right after an MBA because that sounds like the next best thing to add to one’s list of accomplishments.

So while I’m airing my dirty laundry, why not admit to nights when I’ve been mopey and sad AT THE AGE OF FRIKKIN’ TWENTY FIVE, worrying about how I will probably never be loved as much as many others who do not have to deal with this shit. I realize how stupid this is while I write it, and I’ll probably go hide my face under a rock when this goes up on the blog. But again, this blog started as an exercise to expose my vulnerabilities and face my fears, and I must do justice to the whole plan I’ve been following by openly admitting to this and getting it off my chest.

I recently shaved off all the hair on my head. It may have looked like this one moment of craziness to those who witnessed it in person. To anyone who asked, I mentioned that I did it because I just felt crazy and it was such a spontaneous action. You say these things because they now go with the image you project – a man with a shaved head. A man with a shaved head is either a Buddhist monk (which I clearly am not), or some really crazy brother of Raghu Ram from MTV Roadies, who will do all these crazy things and not give a rat’s ass about social approval.

But again, I shaved my head for a reason which is probably the most common reason for people to shave their heads for – hair loss. And while it makes me feel extremely liberated, with not a care for what my hair looks like, it also makes me feel weird thinking that I no longer look like the simple CA that I am. I will probably have to build some muscle now and show my fist to people when I meet them, jokingly acting like I will punch their face. Living up to an image, again. So to avoid all of that non-sense and to really not give a rat’s ass about social approval (as all bald men are expected not to), here was the story of why I shaved my head.

It’ll probably take some amount of getting used to – for my family, my friends, my clients and above all, myself. I’ll have to give it enough time to not be surprised by what I look like in the mirror. I’ll have to get used to being called Taklu, Ganju Patel, Rakesh Roshan and the like – all funny names, really. But then again, I’ll probably live in the hope that someday, someone might call me a Dwayne Johnson. Or better still, Sarthak Ahuja.


Picture and Head Shave Credits: Ashwin Chandrasekher

Monday, May 16, 2016

Seven Demands (Guest Post)

Yeh lo friend. So, I'm a feminist. Yes, I know, the big scary F word. I carry it like a badge of honor and rub it in people's faces as often as I can. 

I was sitting with a friend one day, and suddenly, he asks me, "Harnidh, what sort of relationship do you want to be in?"

Now I never thought of relationships as a checklist, you know? Like you go to build-a-boyfriend.com, select 'hmm, tall, funny, should not think it's hilarious when he asks me to make him a sandwich, should be capable of a pun battle at least once a week...haan yeh chalega.'

So I thought, and I thought, and I thought, and came up with an answer. 

Much to his horror, it was, 'A feminist relationship.' He looked so scared when I said it, almost like I was asking for a society, you know, marked by the domination of one sex by the other *ahem*. His eyes went wide, and he asked me in a sombre, hushed tone. 

"Yeh...feminist girlfriend...kaisi hoti hai?"

Now, I'm a poet. Soliloquies dene ka bada shauk hai mujhe. I stood up, and struck a Mark Antony type pose, and said, well, these are my seven demands as a feminist girlfriend. 

One. I will demand more of the relationship than most people will.

Two. I will demand time. I will demand emotions. I will demand honesty. I will demand bitter, long-bottled tears, and the nightmares that six year old you feared. I will demand wonderment, and I will demand learning. 

Three. My relationship will never be the center of my universe. My universe is vast, and it encompasses pain, grief, and anger. Whoever dates me will learn to empathize, to care. It'll be about learning that we share a universe, and it's made of forgiveness, and second chances.  

Four. I demand you dance with me. I demand that you dance with me as a equal, I demand you don't lead, but stay in step with me as I stumble, and giggle, and sometimes fall wayside. I demand that you try to learn how to let go of all the expectations that hold you up like a marionette, and find your limbs falling free, slightly atrophied. And we will learn how to use them again. I promise we will. 

By now, I was in a full flow, arms flying everywhere, and the poor fellow was cowering near the room's corner, probably cursing the fact that he bothered asking me this. 

Five. I will never be a comparison, or an anomaly, or an outlier on the statistical scale, and putting down another woman will never make me feel special. It just makes me afraid. 

Six. I will demand kindness-

At this point, he broke my train of thought. "Tu demand toh kar rahi hai, but what would you give in return?"

I paused. Hmm. What does a feminist give in return? What does a woman so caught up in vagaries of oppression and representation have to give in terms of love and affection?

I sat on the floor, next to him, and put forth my final demand.

Seven. I demand you demand of me. I demand you ask of me love, and passion, and compassion, and care. I ask of you to require me as I require you every day, everywhere, I demand that you expect of me all that I expect of you, but most importantly, I demand that you remember, that I love you too. 

I felt rather overwhelmed by my own words, so I looked at him with big, soulful eyes, expecting us to have a 'moment'. 

He looked back at me and said, "Bhai, complicated maamla hai."

I laughed. "Why?"

"I mean, I'm not a feminist, and I want that too, you know?"

I smirked a little. 

"Or, well, are you?"

****

Harnidh is a policy student with a poetry problem. Her first poetry collection, The Inability of Words, is named so because for all that she's written, she hasn't found the words she needs. Her work can be found on https://foreverawkwardandlearning.wordpress.com/. 

(She's also 10/10 rishta ready)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ceteris Paribus

My curves are upward sloping,
Directly proportional to the price.
The quantity of love that I supply,
Has a coefficient of one, not thrice.

I could say it’s price inelastic,
You’ll get as much as you always have.
I could lie through my teeth and flutter my lids,
And act like your season’s flav.

But I’ll be honest as honest can be,
And respect the opportunity cost of your time.
You may think we’re both complements.
Burst your bubble, will this rhyme.

The competition in this marketplace,
Is perfect with strong form efficiency.
While you may think you hold a monopoly,
The entry barriers are open, as is the vacancy.

The marginal utility of what we shared,
Has diminished to quadrant three.
The equilibrium in our chemistry,
I no longer can see!

The indifference curve that you have plot,
May be invisible to your own eyes.
But I’ve had enough of your time-rationing,
So here’s your pareto optimum in disguise.

The cross-income elasticity of my love,
Has been under the wraps for a while.
The consumer surplus that I wished to save,
Has been found across the Nile.

Your costs have all just sunk,
The capacity stagnates like a blot.
What used to be a candlestick,
Is now an untailed boxplot.

My preference for a differentiated product,
May be termed as Game Theory No. 2.
Only if the beloved “ceteris paribus”,
Could apply to our “love you’s” too.


Image Source: robert-h-frank.com