Tuesday, March 13, 2007

At 1:30 the professor wraps up the lecture and dismisses us. I’m relieved that the class is over. For the last two hours we had waded through a mucky case study involving predicting cash flows after an ERP implementation. The enormous excel sheet that covered the wall from end to end gave me the willies. I make a mental note to avoid all finance electives next year.

Deepa and I emerge from the acad block and make our way across the college grounds towards the mess. A few of my friends are indulging in a lazy game of afternoon cricket. As the stumps are not available, they’ve settled for a dustbin. The umpire is Jango, IMT’s resident mutt. Most of the game involved chasing the umpire as he made repeated attempts to swallow the ball. I smile as we pass him, choking on his prize, eyes far back in their sockets but unwilling to let go. The campus is beautiful in March. The weather is mild and the flowers are in full bloom. I inhale deeply as we stroll.

“So what plans after lunch?” I casually ask Deepa.

She pauses and thinks, a frown of concentration furrowing her brow“ Well, I’ll have to finish working on my short term project. At 5:30, have a meeting with my project group members. At 8:30, there’s an important meeting with the MADF committee members. That should be done by 12:30. Then I have to finish editing the MarkUp Magazine…

Her voice trails off as she pauses to catch her breath. I use the pause to smile a superior, condescending smile. I wait to see how much more she’s stuffed into her day.

She resumes“... Have to register for the case study competition conducted by XYZ B school. Also have to volunteer to be part of the marketing conclave on Saturday. Will later spend a couple of hours studying for tomorrow’s quiz. I’ll probably go to bed by 3 AM. How about you?”

“Umm..I’ll take a longish nap, perhaps for a couple of hours. Jogging with Ali at 6:30 and then dinner outside. Might study for the quiz but good chance I’ll doze off before that.”

Deepa’s countenance is a picture of disgust.

“You waste your time doing absolutely nothing! You are a poor excuse for a manager. I bet you were just as lazy when you were working!” She narrows her eyes in contempt.

“Oh yeah? Well at least I’m not running around sticking my head into everything just for resume points!” I shoot back.

“At least I’m making good use of my time here. There’s some value add in all these activities you know? I don’t see you learning anything new if all you do is lounge around all day. Why did you even come here??” She retorts.

Her question catches me a little off guard but I reply anyway.

“I’m here for the money, what else?”

She says nothing but I’m disappointed with my own answer. I had no idea I was so shallow. Was money the sole motivator?

Like hundreds of thousands of students, I had enrolled for prep courses offered by TIME, IMS, Career Launcher etc. I’d been promised that cracking the CAT involved nothing but hard work. I had diligently worked out thousands of numericals. I’d read long, boring and obscure passages on philosophy, religion and Trade agreements. I’d forced myself to read the editorials of business dailies so that I could reel of statistically proven facts and knowledgeable opinions when required.

After the CAT, I attended numerous classes for Group Discussions and Personal Interviews. I’d been coached to appear to possess leadership skills, to give direction to arguments, to think out of the box, to have a pleasant smile on my face when answering questions, to appear refined and to appear like I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.

During the personal interview coaching sessions, the instructors had been pretty clear about one point “ No matter what happens, never tell an interviewer that you want to do it for the money. You’ll come across as shallow and directionless. He’ll throw you out the moment the words leave your mouth. Instead tell him how an MBA will help you with your career goals!”

At the interview, I faked my career goals and waxed eloquent on the benefits of the course. When I finally got through, I was thrilled. I’d actually made it. All the hard work and effort had paid off. I’d gone to battle against hundreds of thousands of students and managed to emerge reasonably victorious. The irony was I didn’t know why I was fighting the war. Besides “Lots of money” and “I want to be a post graduate” I had no idea why I wanted an MBA.

I know I’m not alone. While there certainly are a lot of people who know exactly how an MBA will get them to where they want to be, most of us get into a B school and then get even more confused. “Should I go into the manufacturing sector? Or should I go to Pharma? Wait, IT pays the most! No wait, I think it would be really cool to tell people that I’m an investment banker…. But I hate finance!……oh crap, what am I even doing here??”

I guess I realized why I didn’t share the same enthusiasm that Deepa did. The poet in me had been offended. After the euphoria of getting into a good school had died down, I’d been forced to come to terms with the fact that I had willingly become part of the rat race. And with it went the privilege of looking down upon the masses…

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Here's a song I've been humming for the last couple of days. Its from "Music and Lyrics". Watch it if you can, its pretty cute.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Its 8:30 PM and I’m sitting in the mess in front of the recently purchased flat screen TV. Its enormous and the sound emanating from the speakers collides violently with the din made by future corporate leaders fighting like savages as they queue up for dinner. There’s no time for elegance and etiquette, you either fight like a mad man for your chappati or end up with nothing but plain rice and a few pieces of carrot.

I’d taken the easy way out and had made it here much earlier than the others. Thanks to my foresight I now had a plate full of chappati’s, panneer, daal and potato. Surprisingly every item on my plate is yellow. Thanks to my foresight, I now wanted to puke.

Bidi Jalyle plays loudly on the TV and the fighting stops temporarily as people stop to admire Bipasha Basu. Any other day, I would have joined the crowd in openly appreciating her fabulous curves but today I’m not in the mood. The alien food, the noisy music, the lyrics I don’t understand and the “Saale Be.. Ch..! Choo..! Maather Ch..!” uttered like a mantra as the fighting resumes depresses me. As if reading my thoughts, my friend Naganathan, also an import from Chennai remarks “First thing we do tomorrow before the others come is set the channel to Sun TV and then hide the remote. Lets see what the Sardar’s do then!”

I grin at the thought of Gurpreet Singh sitting perplexedly in front of a Vadivelu comedy scene. It somehow helps me make my mind. I push my plate away and ask Nags “ I’m going to Krishnasagar for food. Coming?”. He declines, preferring to watch Bipasha’s legs. Unlike me, he finds the food quite palatable.

I pick up a book from my room and head out. I’m one of the few people around in IMT who would go alone to a restaurant. I don’t always need company, a book will do perfectly fine now and then.

I’m heading to a place where I’ve practically emptied my life’s savings. Hotel Krishnasagar is a 10 minute walk from the campus and it’s the only place I can get curd rice. A plate of dosa and curd rice will easily set me back by a 100 bucks but I don’t care. I’ve got a little left in the bank after which I’ll collect alms from my family and friends.

The waiter greets me with a smile. We’ve almost become good friends. He already knows what I’m going to order but waits politely anyway. I order a dosa and a curd rice and he nods knowingly. He leaves with my order and I sit back and read my book.

My food arrives and I admire the virgin dosa as it sits steaming in front of me, long, thin, crisp and pure. I break off a piece and then dip it into the piping hot sambar. I then dip it into the pudhina chutney, the coconut chutney and then into the onion chutney. My dosa piece looks like the Indian flag. I pause respectfully for a moment and then put in my mouth and exhale heavily as the ghee, sambar and chutney blend gloriously and gratify my taste buds.

Next comes the curd rice. Every spoon of it slides soothingly down my throat reminding me of home. Back in Chennai, I couldn’t understand why we ate it everyday. Now I know. It’s the most tranquil food one could have.

I finish my food, pay the bill and head back to college. My stomach is full but I know I cant afford to come back here for a while. No matter. I have a little piece of home in my tummy and its all I need to feel at peace with the world.