Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Thursday, March 30, 2006
And finally, I was running the concluding lap. The long and winding road was nearing its last few bends and as I approached Bangalore for yet another time, I could not help but pause for a minute and think about the whirlwind, the last six months had been. I remember the days before it all began, January 2006 – the initial euphoria of having surpassed expectations, the high of the investment having paid off (oh come on! The guys who know me would agree – getting up for 6 a.m. ‘midnight’ classes was not my idea of a joke!) - all that, allayed with the fear of the wish-train getting derailed prematurely. February 2006 – the struggle to keep the conscience clear and putting up one helluva show for the office party in the first week. All that traveling and ‘holidays’ which didn’t really agree to my definition of the word, the pub-visits skipped, the circumstantial camaraderie of a bunch of anxious MBA-aspirants, the interviews baits pitched, the gaffes masked, the sheepish ‘I’m-sorry-I-don’t-know’ grins unmasked. We don’t realize it, till we’re though it – but there’s no missing the truth behind it all. It changes you.
For most aspirants who I have had the opportunity of interacting with in the last year or so, the CAT experience resembled a journey akin to walking a tightrope over burning coals. But make no mistake - it’s not the difficulty of the journey that dissuades most, it is the uncertainty of the result. Now, this is where I failed to see eye-to-eye with most of them. Figures are meant to intimidate – 150,000… 99.99… 6… 1:110 – and with media and peers serving as a constant reminder of how high the stakes really are, the selection process takes on the ominous avatar on being more of an elimination process. So, is it always the survival-of-the-fittest? Fitness is not a one-day wonder – it’s the outcome of a regime that has been perfected over time. But for most of us, we teeter dangerously close to burying ourselves in a plethora of self-indicted ‘what-ifs’. But is it even justified to be unduly worried about the results even before embarking on the journey? Unchecked, it breeds in the mind and saps the confidence out of our successes, magnifies the despair in our failures. Justified – yes, maybe for the peers. After all in a competition as intense as this, there’s nothing that would possibly stop you from benchmarking yourself against your thickest pal.
March 21st, 2006 : My IIM-Bangalore interview @ Bangalore
The first thing that dawned on me as I woke up to the unfamiliar alarm of Bikram’s phone (I’d forgotten my own in good ‘ole Hyd) - was that it was the day of redemption. Now, in retrospect – I should have seen the warning bells, and cautioned myself against my old enemy, complacency. Why, frankly I had had quite a few ups and downs, but somehow I seemed to be at ease with the way the ‘A’ and ‘C’ experiences had shaped up. Personal opinion, of course – this might not have any bearing with the way things finally result in – but maybe, there was a part of me that simply wanted to believe that where it mattered, I would do well. Even as I put on the grey Turtle for one last time, even as I glanced through the day’s headlines on the Monday TOI, even as I made my way to Banerghatta road for my final interview - I was guilty. I was pre-empting the result before even re-visiting my PPTs for the Bangalore stint. 7 – I thought of the number of interviews I had been though, and convinced myself that after being through such a diverse bag of questions – they probably wasn’t any question that could upstage the apple-cart. It was Bangalore, after all wasn’t it? (There, again!) Looking back, this turned out to be one of those learning experience you’re really too guilty to talk to others about - but the lessons remain, of course.
IIM-Bangalore had four panels scheduled simultaneously on two different floors. The surprise almost caught me off-guard – I was listed with eight unknown names!!! Somehow, this certainly seemed off the normal scheme of things. Maybe the fact that IIM-B has the most unpredictable call-list of all the Indian MBA institutes had something to do with this, I told myself, as I decided to break the ice with a couple of others in my panel. There was who I thought was a demure CA-girl, who turned out to be a diametrically opposite all-32 baring well…umm…situation, if you please. The over-excited fresher who reeked of trouble – the reticent one, the playful one. In short, I was treading in unfamiliar territory. There were a few with the lone ‘B’ call – it’s a thing IIM-B’s famous for – and in all fairness too. An amazing number of applicants who would have otherwise missed the IIM-MBA bus altogether – oh come on, anyone can have a bad day! Bottomline, I was up against stiff competition and it was difficult ignore the fact that I would have to prove myself amongst the unknown – yet again! I felt tired at the thought – definitely not the kind of mental-setup you would want to be in when you’re about to sell yourself in the half-n-hour tryst with one of the top two b-schools in the country.
The Bong Identity…
Having faced quite a few three-member panel, I felt ready for whatever was in store for me. In fact, I had half-expected the panels to have three, if not more – as in, how much does it take for the odd prof-on-a-chai-break to step in for a few minutes to get himself some grade ‘A’ entertainment (might even be R-rated at times, who knows? Refer to my XLRI experience!). After all it was home ground, and we were the visitors! Well, not that we had much cheerleading for the others [:)]! But it turned out to be only two of them.
Uno - I recognized the gentleman even as he stepped out of the discussion room to cross-check our names with his copy. Hey! It’s a BONG!!! [to be shrieked in the same pitch as that of that crazy its-a-boy-nurse in one of the earlier Pulsar ads] In fact, with his round viewfinders(on further inspection - specs), skeptical frown and important gait, he so resembled the quintessential Calcuttan, I was half-sure that I could engage him in a MohunBagan-EastBengal discussion – right there! What I didn’t know – is that he would have won hands down. Convince him? Next to impossible. And reason with him? Impossible. We shall refer to him as Imposso. No,not related to Picasso – to the best of my knowledge.
Dos – Hey! I’d almost mistaken him to be an applicant! Surely, he seemed to be too young to be interviewing us? But oh well – it’s not that I could do anything about it. With close-cropped hair, a smart air about himself and a Thinkpad lying ostentatiously on his side of the table, I was unsure of what to expect. For the time being, Smartie he was – and so he shall be in this episode.
As Imposso read out the list, we realized with considerable amount of relief, that one amongst the eight had decided to skip it. Hmmm…. Seven, now that didn’t seem too bad! In a flash, I remembered my IIM-A interview where one of the seats was left vacant by some kind soul, and OH! – apparently, there were more coincidences than just that. The discussion room turned out to be the same room as that of my IIM-A interview! We trooped in as our names were called out in order… and as I looked around the familiar U-setting, check this out - the seat, which I had been allotted for the Case Study was also the same as that of the ‘A’ interview! OMG! On this day, we were seated from the left – me being the 4rth in order. Come to think of it - the other day we were seated from the right – and I was the 5th!!! As I indulged in momentary parallelisms and basked in the fleeting idea of my interview season ending with a grand finale – Imposso, cuts in. Oh well, that was just the beginning in any case.
Imposso and Smartie – God bless their souls – began by giving us an informal introduction of themselves. Now this felt good! For the first time, the interview panel had considered us worthy enough to give their introductions to. I was flattered… but maybe for a nanosecond. Suddenly, it struck me! Smartie – in his intro had mentioned his surname as… oh no! BONG again! See if you’re confused – lemme explain, with Bongs – it’s like that old proverb where two’s company, but three’s a crowd. And little did I know – that it would be worse than that – FFA. Back home, they call it a free-for-all, if you know what I mean!
Imposso: You will be given a case-study to go through and the first ten minutes will be for you to go through the case. 10 minutes?! Wow – that’s generous! You will have the next fifteen minutes to discuss the case, at the end of which you will have to arrive at a conclusion. Woah?! Conclusion – so this is gonna be one of those where we simply have to conlude? Dangerous. In the last fifteen minutes, you will have to write a summary of the group’s discussion – lemme repeat, not your own points, you will have to write what the group discussed.
Fifteen!!!?!? To write a summary?! OMG – there at the other interviews they’d hardly give us anytime for the summaries! I’d had to submitted incomplete sentences… and fifte- no! maybe I had mis-heard them. I clarified by asking Imposso, and by jove – 15 it was! Man, I was rolling in excess time - little did I know then, that when it matters most - you never ever seem to have enough time.
Imposso: Now before we begin, we will have one round of introductions. Please start from this end (pointing to the girl at one end) – something in brief. About 2-3 lines or so…
Ah, now this reeked of an opportunity begging to be taken. The first time the group and the panelists get to hear you. I was determined not to make a mess of it and decided on a 30-second ‘sound-bite’ – branded, of course! While most of them began with a pretty informal “Hello/Hi friends”, I decided on an assertive ‘Good Morning’ baritone. Touched upon the three brands that I knew would sell – Don Bosco, BITS Pilani and Oracle! Okay… now this was weird. I had finished – and where were the admiring stares? Leave alone admiring – I hardly received a look. In the next few minutes, my questions were answered, of course. This innocuous little group of seven had 4 IIT-ians and 1 Chartered Accountant. Need I say more?
Yes. I say - Damn!
Laissez-faire a.k.a free-market
It was a tough case – the toughest of all the ones I have attended or heard of. Also, I suspect that in this case – this market was selling fish, fish and only fish.
The Mongolian govt. has spent its budget building a bridge which the people of the residential half of the city use to commute to the commercial half of the city. But now, everybody seems to be using the bridge and the congestion has reached alarming levels. Now there are three people with weird-ass Mongo-names... one is the economist who pushes the idea of levying a tax on people who use the bridge. This incurs the wrath of the socialist who says that the rich and the poor cannot be taxed the same amount. Another person in trouble is this lady - politican-counselor, I think - who doesn't want to lose the next elections and thus cannot levy a direct tax and at the same time has to do something about the congestion. She also knows that levying an income-based tax will not work as it is not possible to accurately determine the actual income of a citizen. What is the solution?
To add to the confusion, some suspicious-looking numbers were also thrown about - Mongolia has a population of 10 crore and with 10000 men working per day it takes XYZ amount of money to build the bridge… and so on, and so forth. And that, to it was given separately – right at the end of the passage, which almost mandated us to use it.
Now it had been a while – a good three weeks, since I had practiced my last case study – I thought I’d be pretty comfortable with the McKinsey MECE grid and the incredibly useful logic tree. Negative. It hit me hard, as I struggled to find ways and means out of the mess. We were not supplied with any extra paper and had to do with the unused half of the GD-sheet – in fact, although I didn’t realize it then, I was developing a dislike for the case. I guess it might have something to do with the fact that I wasn’t able to spot any giveaways – easy insights at the first go. And then…. the circus started.
Imposso: Okay…. Begin.
C-R-A-Z-Y, and that is if you want me to spell out what happened in the next fifteen minutes. In fact, it was more of a Kumbh Mela, to be precise – and sadly, it wasn’t one with the happy long-lost-brother reunion. No sooner was the green flag waved, than the one to my right – sped off on a monologue, which I suspect – only he understood. Amidst all that incoherency – Fresherboy starts strutting his stuff… okay… now that’s it – 1 up – 2 up…. And there’s the thir- ! HEY !!!!! Jabberlady on the other end of the table had butted in with her two cents… wwwhat? Three down and I’m not even there? Oh come on, this was not how it was supposed to have gone! And even as I thought this angry thought – the fourth person had squeezed in his view. This was turning out to be quite a nightmare!
Panic gripped a part of me as I barged in rather angrily with my ‘key-entities’ point, which by then had become stale meat. I shifted gears to stakeholders – and much to my vexation, was interrupted even before I could make my points! And that guy had the nerve to talk about stakeholders! Whoa!! Suddenly, it was as if the tables had turned – and I was on the receiving end. What next? Nonstop-Fresher decided jump onto the solution in the second minute, that’s what! Boy, I could have pummeled him to the ground right then! Grrrr….
Jabberlady, meanwhile was on her own trip, which was – time-dependent one way traffic. ON A BRIDGE!!!! And to add insult to injury, she quoted an example of Calcutta! WTF!? It was almost like an unwritten rule in my mind – if anybody had the right to quote an example about the City of Joy, it was me. Apparently, the lady thought otherwise! Once - twice – thrice… and the same one-way point. I had to interrupt her – it’s a different thing that her voiced boomed over mine for a good five seconds before we tag-teamed her out of the ring. But I had hardly contributed any original points as such – and flagging this off as an emergency situation, I had to resort to an old trick of mine. I like calling it – ‘ethical piggybacking’. Make no mistake – you’d hate me if I’d do it to you. But what the heck – it was a question of survival, so I guess the usual disclaimers apply… lol! [:)]
In the melee, somebody mentioned the word ‘boat’, as a substitute for cars. Fortunately his voice was drowned in the commotion and by the next break, I was prepared. I ethically built on his idea to talk about 'ferries' for cars. Hah! So listening does have its merits, I guess! NonstopFresher spoke about infrastructure cess and "equitable distribution of wealth" – once, and the other time ‘inequitable’… not that anybody was paying any attention to what was being said! Somebody brought the point of commercial hubs being built on this side of the bridge. Good point! Darn it – I should have thought of that!
My problem was the at the start of the GD I had just one point - instead of same tax, or varying it based on income - we could vary it by the time, that was people who HAD to travel during peak hours would have to pay the toll tax - others could very well reschedule their journey, if it wasn't of utmost importance. And then came the wacky ideas – having cars of specific colours pass on specific days! NonstopFresher cheaply brought up my sole point some five-minutes later under the garb of a new point! I couldn’t help but cut him short with a rude ‘Yes… that has already been discussed of course!’ Boy- was he pushing it!
I had my time to payback all that when he started – “Also if it is a big vehicle…” My mind was on fire – more with irritation than anything else! ACT NOW!!! Hmm.. I thought - WHAT TO DO?! Well.. give it a high-sounding name! Well - OKAY DONE... what next?! SHOOT! And then, finally - I had my twenty seconds of fame. “Vehicle-specific taxation” – don’t ask me what it means, it sounded good – and apparently meant that the small cars had to pay less. Along the way, we also drifted to the point that lorries, trucks and heavy-goods vehicles could be taxed higher during the office hours so that they could schedule their operations. Well, if anything, we had a surplus of points - getting corporates and commercial houses on the other side of the bridge to sponsor a second bridge... and also , apparently - I wasn't the only one thinking about 'well-sounding-names' – NonStopFresher barged in with "staggered work timings". Oh well, it reminded me of Kiran Mazumdar Shaw's biocon - but I had been advised to keep real life examples away for case studies - and I forced myself to do just that. Overall – considering the kind of group discussions I was conditioned to, you’d agree with me if I say that it was wholly unsatisfactory. There were few overtly aggressive players - not a group where you could break free from the pack to make your mark.
Thankfully, in the minutes that followed, I managed to scribble my summary all the way to the last line. And I finished in time - WOW! Well, in any case - this was new. Usually - the GD/case study went off well. So by the time I was called in for my interview, I was pretty much at ease. Today, I knew that the PI would play a key role in my selection. About interviews, there were two things that hadn't been touched in any interview till date - a) the stock markets, and b) the "venture" I keep throwing at every second interviewer - nobody till date had asked me about what that venture could possibly be... oh well. They had warned me against it – and I was sure that as long as I didn’t get into specifics, I’d survive. Well – mea culpa. I did, and I sure as hell paid the price for it.
The Bong Massacre…
Before I knew it – the three applicants ahead of me had finished their time in the trenches. Feedback seemed encouraging, indeed – cordial tete-a-tete minus any offensive questions on probability or statistics.
Smartie, in the meanwhile had stepped out to relieve himself, I suspect. Dunno why this keeps happening to me! As he summoned me inside on his way back, I stepped into the room and closed the door firmly. Well, this was it - and as I walked up to them, I started on a very confident 'Good Morning Sirs' note.
Imposso: Morning... please sit.
I made myself comfortable in the hot-seat - as comfy as I could with 2 Bongs staring at me.
Imposso: Your marksheets, please.
Well, I decided to hand them the entire folder which had all my certificates. Of course – give me the slightest opportunity and I’m gonna do a Japanese fan-dance of all my extra-curricular certificates. Well, it’s a different thing that you might not see them after you’ve seen my BITS Pilani grades-sheet!!!
Smartie in the meanwhile seemed transfixed to his Thinkpad, which I suspect had the details of all the candidates...
Imposso: So - Kaushik, tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Aami: Of all the clichés… tsk! tsk! Sir, I was born and brought up in Calcutta - and I did all twelve years of my schooling in Don Bosco School, Calcutta...
Smartie: Interrupts. Park Circus, or Liluah?
Aami: Woah... they knew stuff about Calcutta and the two different branches of the school! Hmmm…another born-n-brought-up-in-Cal, I suppose. Park Circus, Sir.
Smartie uttered a 'hmmmm...' and shook his head with the obvious pleasure of having established his familiarity with my profile. In any case, I decided to continue.
Aami: As a result of spending such a long period of time with my family I have developed strong ties with them. My father is an electrical engineer and currently working as the Deputy Manager (again, I missed the word 'general' - I dunno why, I keep goofing up my Dad's job profile) in Techno Electric, India. My mother's a Geography teacher is Shree SharoDa AashrOM Balika BidyalOy - I was using cheap tactics here - deliberately using the Bong pronunciation - to strike a chord - well, it failed - and if anything, miserably. My sister's in her second year of Engineering. I've always thought of myself as very goal-oriented. For example, I was never really a class-topper, but I wanted to get into BITS Pilani and set myself that goal - and finally, did end up getting there....
Smartie: Cuts in again, with a snide look panning his face. Yes, and that is all you seemed to have done. Get into it...
Uh-oh! Unwarranted attack!!! And that too, way too early in the interview! Very very unexpected. I glanced at him nervously - forced a smile.... and mumbled a ‘Sirrr…’
Smartie: You joined and then your grades went decreasing and decreasing... and then in the third year especially...
Aami: Get up Kaushik, fight! Get up, you dog! Sir… that was not just because of academics - I had jaundice - for which I could be on campus for only two months of the five that a normal semester spans. (This is where I should have taken out my marksheet and showed him the withdrawal 'W's - but I was handcuffed - I couldn't - the second sheet had a rainbow of D's - which given a chance, I would not bring their attention to - I decided to continue.) I'm not saying that this is the sole reason - however, this did play a part...
Imposso: Meanwhile, he had arrived at my marksheet - and was looking very intently at the first page. Well, in all honesty – that’s all that was visible to him - the four pages were stapled and inserted one over the other in the sheath - would be pull it out? Would he? Your Maths - you seem to made poor grades in all your maths-based courses...
Aami: Oh no! I forced an incredulous look! - Sir....not all...
Imposso: Boy, did he have me on a platter! No... no... I'm seeing here - Maths I - C.... Maths II - C.... Maths III - C.. Optimization - C...
Oh well, didn't I tell you I was consistent? The moment, he said Maths II, I was almost tempted to say - Sir, thank heavens, it's not a D! It's called Death by Linear-Algebra… LOL!!! [:)]
Imposso: Only Prob-Stat you have made an 'A'...Ah! salvation! Awrite - lemme hear it, fellas [:)]
Now what... would he ask me a question on Probability-Statistics? He was pouring over my courses - a part of me wanted to offer to take out the whole transcript - but seeing the kind of reaction C's had on him, I decided to stop. D's would obviously kill him, if not bury him altogether.
Imposso: Principles of Management.... what have you done in it?
Aami: Ah! the circle of life! if you remember, I first faced this question in my first interview - K, and now, my last. This time around, I decided to do justice to it. Sir, it was a course where we were introduced to the basics of management principles - we learnt about various analysis tools such as the SWOT analysis and had modules on HR-related issues, ethics, marketing and strategy...
Imposso: Okay Kaushik - please do a SWOT analysis of yourself...
Aami: WWWHAT????! I'm sure for a second - my face would have had a BIG “OH-FUCK!!!” scribbled all over it. I quickly masked it - and thought for a few seconds. Strengths...okay. Weaknesses..okay. Opportunities... umm, still okay. Threat?! Umm - bong interview panels, I suppose. [:)] Sir… would you like me to use a paper to draw it for you?
Imposso hesitated for a quick second, but Smartie quickly pushed a paper under my nose and egged me on – “Sure, sure... use this.”
Hmmmm...now what?! I drew the cross and labelled the four quadrants and Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. And then, I had to start!
Aami: Blabber-mode on! Sir, first my strengths. One - I would like to mention my ability of performing diverse roles. My ability to fit into any given responsibility - I would label that as one of my strengths. Second - I paused for a while, as I was not really sure of how to word this - my ability to empathize with others - to put myself in another person's shoes - this has helped me immensely in the past - in conflict diffusion and enhancing communication channels between people (Say what ?!) Thirdly - I would also mention my Determination - to perform under pressure - and achieve a goal I set for myself…
No reaction. There could have coconuts in front of me, for all I cared. I had to go on.
Aami: Amongst my weaknesses, I would first mention my ability to be euphemistic in situations which demand tough-talking. Sometimes when what has to be conveyed is not really the best of news, I have sugar-coated it to make it seem better - this is not necessarily the best thing to do - as I have seen in the past - people to tend to take you for granted. Of course, these have been learning experiences and I have improved over the past few years. A second thing I would mention is my tendency of getting too attached to tasks I might undertake - this is in specific reference to an incident from my college days - (will they ask?) - sometimes if we treat things on their personal worth to us, we might not deal with it in the best way possible. In my case, I ought to have decentralized power and delegated responsibility to handle it better...
Imposso: So you're basically telling me that you're not a very good manager.
Aami: Shocked! They were actually trying to stress me out. Or maybe, I think I stressed them into stressing me out. No Sir, what I'm trying to tell you is - that I have identified these weaknesses and learnt from past experiences to make sure I don't repeat them, and that I would make a very good manager indeed.
Imposso: Hmmmm... and having uttered that profound syllable, he looked down.
I had to continue.
Aami: Moving on to Opportunities.... what the hell do I say?!.... I think I am in that point in my life where a two year management course would fall in line with my long-term goal of launching a venture of my own.
Imposso: Starts digging… What kind of venture are you exactly looking at? – my grave!!!
Aami: Unsuspecting poor old me. Sir... it would have to be something where I can leverage my present experience in the software field - so in all probability, a software company to cater to segments that are yet to be tapped.
Smartie: Jumps in - I could literally see the excitement in his eyes. So what will it be - a products company or a services company...?
Aami: I was walking a fine line between what I knew and what I didn't. I knew I had to be careful. Sir, it would probably be a products company. The recent trend has been that of a shift towards services companies - and that sector is inundated, if I could call it - (seriously Kaushik - wouldn't flooded been much simpler...) - so if it has to be in service, it would have to be in niche segments. In products - there are not many companies in India that have a product to sell -
Smartie: Do you know of any Indian companies that have products?
Aami: Uh-oh - no, I didn't. But I had to try thinking - suddenly, almost like a flash of lightning - I knew I had the answer. [:)] Yessir, there are a few products like say Finacle - the banking software product of Infosys - and then we have Flexcube by I-flex...
Imposso: With an impatient look on his face. Okay... so what would your product do?
Aami: Oh dear - he was asking me for a business plan... no no, where did I lead them to? And that too - I really don't remember committing to a product plan at all! Sir, today most of the software India makes is exported abroad - because that is where the money is. But in about ten years, India would be able to invest in software products which might leverage some of the otherwise uncommon segments....
Imposso: Boy, I couldn’t have named him anything else! Yes... so tell me. What will your product do?
Aami: Jeez. This was insane - I began feeling like a newbie trying to convince two VC's of the sense and sensibility of my idea. I waged on. Sir to quote examples from the top of my head - we could leverage them in fields like health and education...
Point to be noted - SO far, I always tried baiting the panel. This was one case - I might as well call it - the revenge of the panel - no idea why, no idea how - but they had successful managed to drag me into a slipstream, where I was going too fast to stop.
Imposso: Six feet under. Okay - so what would you product do?
Aami: Now, there was no turning back. Okay, Sir - let me try explaining this. I might be a little biased because of my backing in a database company. Let us take the health sector - we could have an interface where the a patient's details could be stored in a central repository - and this would span across the country - so no matter where the patient is - he could get a check-up done... and...
Smartie: Cuts in - But what good is that? I could simply buy an Oracle database and then install it...
Aami: With a knowing look. Ah... but Sir-
Smartie: Interrupts. And then... I could access the database anywhere and get information...
Aami: With a pleading look. Yes… and if you-
Smartie: Again! And I could use any existing service to do that - that would not exactly be a product!
Aami: Kept quiet for a while - and let him finish. Done? Good, phew! Sir, this would be different - this would be a light-weight application which would have an integrated interface - so that when I, say - Kaushik Mukherjee – peace brother, do not kill a fellow Bong! - I go to a shop and ask for three doses of Insulin - the shopkeeper enters my name and enters the medicine bought - and this connects to that central repository so that even before the medicine can be billed - there might be a message flashed across the screen which says that - 'Kaushik Mukherjee is currently under such and such medication and three-doses of insulin could prove to be potentially harmful to him' - so in this way, we could sell it to every vendor.. We need a system where from the time a person is born - we can store his profile and keep updating it with data - as and when he undergoes treatment...
Smartie: Obviously, in no mood to listen. But do you think it is that easy to get a drug... you need a prescription for it…
Aami: Now where did that come from?! Sir... I could go to a medical shop to buy so many things – ahem, of course! - but not all medicines need to have a prescription.
Imposso: Looked quite disbelieving. No... but for the kind of drugs you are suggesting, you would need prescriptions. Also… it is not that easy... and in any case, how do you think a management degree is going to help you?
Aami: Could I get back in the game? Sir… a management degree would help me understand the many factors affecting a business. Today, I have contributed as a developer and a designer - but to actually run a successful business in a competitive environment - I would not like to be stuck in a desk job. I need to go beyond - and understand the scenarios that leverage the software that we code at our desks - the business and economic factors behind it...
Imposso: The look turned an irritated purple. No... even this empathizing and MBA and all - how will it help in opening your company?
Aami: I was hanging on for dear life. Sir... when we run a company - we deal more with people - we have to bring out the best in the people who work for us - and most of the work would be done by the people who you employ - so it's imperative that we learn to be very responsive to the needs and requirements of people around us- BANG! Interrupted!
Imposso: Shaking his head. No... but that you can do even in your present job - work there for a while - rise up in your company - you'll deal with people, you'll understand the many aspects of your business as well - why a management degree in this school ?
Aami: Sir... thing is - I believe an MBA degree is a two-way exchange. You have to bring your experience with you when you join a school - and learn what you can from the school - use it along with your experience, to gain a competitive edge in the industry. I believe I have the experience - having seen a product almost through it's entire life-cycle... a management course would definitely help me know more about the other aspects of business and running one's own venture.
Imposso: He was shaking violently. Scary, very very scary. No... no... but still - how would an MBA help you ? Why an MBA...?
Aami: I had to stick to my guns. Sir, my motivations for doing an MBA are very different from that of most of the people around me. Most people do an MBA simply because of the herd mentality - because they find people around them doing it. To me, an MBA is more than that - it's a bridge between the present and the future, where I want to be. I'm not one to be swayed by the most lucrative offers - I don't want the highest paying job on campus. I don't want an I-banking job. (Oh boy! This was getting more fantastic by the minute!) I don’t want to do this just for the sake of the money. What I am looking at is leveraging my experience in this field to learn more about running my own company some day...
Imposso: He looked as if he’d found the net to trap me in. But - no no... you say you don't need the money. But you have to agree that money is the - one of the critical factors of any business...
Aami: Yessir - one of the things, all ventures need to start off...
Imposso: With a self-satisfied grin. Yes... so have you thought about the money - the finances, where is it going to come from?
Aami: I felt – ummm… just about 223 kms from home. [:(] Sir, as with most ventures, we would have to convince Venture Capitalists about our plan - we could arrange for a loan - or convince bigger companies or the government to invest in this... Today, most of the software we develop is for exports because that is where money is - in the next ten years, this country will be rich enough to invest in software for health-
Imposso: Cut me for the umpteenth time. But that is just one thing...what do you think are the main problems - or difficulties you might have to overcome.
Aami: Think, boy! Think! Sir - one would definitely need funding to invest in the development of the software - for that we might have to look at an initial investment-
Imposso: No... no... - he was back to his irritated purple - what else - no funding, that is a problem in any line of business.
Aami: For God’s sake – where were we!? Sir - then again, our software would need machines - and since installing a computer would be much easier in urban locations - the first phase of the project might target only a section of the customer base - in rural locations - not only do we need machines, we also need people who can operate these machines. Also... we need to make sure that the process is being done in the right way.
Imposso: So… investment and machines - but all you're talking about is the financial aspect of it… what are the other problems...
Aami: What on earth did he want? Martian attacks!? Sir - we need to follow bundling process - we can bundle the billing and the data entry to mandate the steps involved - for example, in a shop a person might choose to skip entering the details to directly generate the bill, but when we integrate it all in the same application, he has to go through the first step to go through the billing-
Imposso: No... no…no... - Well, you’ll understand it the day you try convincing a Bong - you're not getting it. It is not that easy - what are the other problems you can think about?
Aami: Sir… doctors...I ventured in a rather uncertain tone.
Imposso: Eyes lit up - ah, yes - what doctors...?
Aami: Was that it? Sir, we need doctors - we do not have direct exposure in the health field - so we would need qualified doctors to develop a repository of drugs and medicines...
Imposso: Crossface! But why do you need a doctor for that...
Aami: HEEELP!!! Sir, we need both people from medicine and the pharma industry to store data about medicines, their effects-
Smartie: Decided to sock a few from his side. Do you know that individual hospitals already have a database where every detail about their patients is stored... and that they use it...
Aami: I wanna go home! Sir, I know that - but as of today - they exist in isolation. Although, it might sound unthinkable at first, we could come up with a system with connects all the hospitals and medical centres across the country.
Smartie: With a decidedly intellectual look. Have you heard about 'Doctor-patient confidentiality' ...?
Now, I was taken aback by this - we had started on a note about entrepreneurship being a long-term goal and these guys had taken me for one helluva ride. I decided to let him continue...
Smartie: The medical history of any patient is confidential and with the doctor whom he consults... how can that be made public?
Imposso: Adds to the symphony. Only that I was the one who was facing the music. See... for such a long time, you described your plan - but you did not mention this 'doctor-patient confidentiality' - apparently very happy at this new term he found - even once...
Aami: I was tired – bruised and battered. Sir, at this point I have not thought out all aspects of my business plan - in fact education… sorry, health sector (?) was just one of the ideas...and I was trying to give a possible scope where I could launch a venture...
Imposso: With that dissatisfied look, his face seemed to be permanently set in. No..no.. but I'm not convinced. You don't seem to have thought of all the issues relating to your business plan...
Aami: Oh, man – gimme a break, it's not like I'm gonna start my company tommo. Sir, but I was trying to give you an insight into what I thought might be a lucrative sector to launch a venture in... as of today, it's difficult to predict otherwise...
Imposso: As pointed as it could get. But how do we know that you actually mean all these things - and are not saying these things just for the heck of it - teaching ballroom dances - how will that help in opening a company...by when did you say you would like to launch your venture ?
Aami: Dances?!? Where’d that come from?! Sir... preferably by the time I'm 32-33.
Imposso: No - but you don't seem to have thought through the plan... fully (nodding a strong disapproval)
Aami: Dead man talking. Sir...it's not like this is a definite business plan - it was more of an example I was trying to furnish - I mentioned education - err... I did it a second time! - health, I mean - and I was trying to give you an example of how we could implement something-
Imposso: This was no way nearing its end. No... why don't you go into I-banking ?
Aami: Officer, lemme go..!!! Sir, simply because it is not in line with what I would like to do in the long run. I would like to use my present experience in the field-
Imposso: Smirks. Do you know what is i-banking...?
Aami: Yes, thank you very much! Humph! Sir… you do 'Finance' (oops! too casual a start) and get into one of the I-banks. Their primary role is in advising corporate bodies about their investments - mergers and acquisitions - for example, in case they want to raise capital through private equity issue, etc. Also they usually charge a fee of 0.5% to 5% of the transaction value and as a sign of affirmation - they also invest a small portion of their own money in the investment option that they recommend.
Imposso: Suddenly switches tracks. Hmmmm...do you have any role models - as in people whom you look up to ?
Aami: Brain-dead. Sir, could I ask one question - is this related to someone whom I know personally, or could it be anyone whom I know...
Imposso: Non-commital. No… no.... someone who you know something about
Aami: This was weird - I had prepared a Richard Branson - now could I pitch his name forward - no, must be someone personally related to me - who ? Mom! but they wouldn't find any link to my darned business plan - which seem to be the flavour of the day. Dad ?! Hmmm... lemme see. Sir - I would mention my father. Simply because he himself quit his job in the middle and launched a venture of his own - unfortunately that did not work out - and I have seen him through the entire phase of ups and downs and how he sustained through it - and got back into the service industry after that. Even though his own venture did not click, he never dissuaded me from trying to do my own thing.
Imposso: Inexhaustible!!! No... give me an example of something successful - you're saying this didn't work out..
Aami: Enough, I had to interrupt! Sir, it's not that. The fact that inspite of things not working out, he has discussed all that went wrong with me - so that I do not make the same mistakes - and actually learn from them. That says quite a bit.
At this point, I think he got a little wary about the fact the interview had taken a very personal turn - and he couldn't push me beyond a point. Smart-n-wily thing that he turned out to be, he decided to switch tracks.
Imposso: Okay - no... someone else - tell me about someone else who you look up to...
Aami: I decided to pause for a while. Not only did I look like I was thinking - I actually was ! Okay - Mr.Branson, this is where you come to my rescue. Well, Sir - if I can include people who I have not met personally but have inspired me - I would like to mention Sir Richard Branson-
Imposso: Jumped at my throat. Richard Branson- what do you know about Richard Branson?
Aami: What now?! Sir, as I mentioned earlier - my knowledge of him is limited to what has been published about him - but yes, inspite of all the media-bashing he attracts because of his unconventional methods - there are some characteristics of his which have definitely made an impression on me. After all, he started with a Record Mail Order company - and from there expanded into the entire Virgin empire. His theory of recycling the money to start a new venture proved to be very beneficial...
Smartie: Back with a bang! But this money - where did he get the money? It is after all the public's money right?
Aami: Preposterous assumptions! No sir, when he launched his Mail Order company, it was funded by a loan from the bank. It was only later when he branched into his airlines business that he decided to go for a public offer of shares... His theory was not to let the profits from any business lie idle - he always had a new plan to make his money work harder for him - so with the profits, he kept expanding his business. What was his Record Mail order company - expanded to Airlines, Books, etc.
Smartie: Not to be outdone - Yes... but to open Virgin airlines, he used the who's money? [mind you, in bonglish - this is perfectly permissible] public money - so don't you think he would have some responsibility towards his shareholders... so should he spend all the money from the airlines to launch new businesses ?
Aami: Talk my language, baby! Sir - I would say that instead of adopting any one path - what one should do is - return a bit of the profits as dividends, so as to retain the shareholder loyalty - and the rest of the profits could either be re-invested in the same business or used to launch a new venture. Also, if we used the entire profits to payout a hefty dividend, the shareholders might read it as the end of a bull-run for the share and book their profits. This could lead to them selling their shares. Rather than that, if we use a bit of the profits to invest-
Imposso: Upper jab. There... you're talking about investing. And then you say you do not want to be in I-banking?!
Aami: Okay, so I was Pinnochio and he was ‘puppeting’ me for all he was worth! Sir, I was talking about investing in the business or launch a business - it would all be under the Virgin umbrella, so people would either stick to the share or even if they shift to some other branch of the Virgin business, it would be under the same roof.
Smartie: Hmmmm... Kaushik - you seem to have a LOT of extra-curriculars - swimming, teaching western ballroom dances... playing the sitar, kung-fu - although you didn't mention the last one, I noticed that in your folder...
Woah - sharp! That was impressive. But I guess when you see a “semi-japanese-fonted” certificate with an orange dragon on it - chances are that you would remember it. He continued… finally one aspect where I could seek some solace.
Smartie: ...long-distance biking.... online share trading (looks up) - although I don't know how that is an extra-curricular...
Aami: (It was a bait, of course - would they finally ask me about the markets?!) Sir, it's a hobby - a pastime. Not an extra-curricular.
Smartie: So what is it that you are currently involved in... which of these activities ?
Aami: The usual routine. Sir... as far as swimming goes - I haven't been doing much of it in Hyderabad - I mainly did it during my college days when I was a part of the BITS team that took part in the district-level championship where we won the gold-
Imposso: I think he lived to interrupt me! yes... but what are you involved in these days !?
Aami: Drat - me and my big mouth. I did it again.. I thought for a split second - what do I say? Karate ? - nopes, they'll kill me - how does karate relate to your business plan ! [:D] I decided to play safe. Sir, I'm a part of the Oracle music band, Trisha - I'm the lead vocalist and I play the sitar and although I'm not the drummer, I do know how to play the drums as well.
Smartie: Hmmm… thinks for a while – okay, so what are the different kinds of...
What ?! Music ?! Drums ?! Sitars !??! Raags?!
Smartie: Swimming strokes ?
Aami: I tell - you ask a swimmer this question - and it's actually insulting. What the heck - you're asking a swimmer the styles? Sir, there are four primary styles - the freestyle, the backstroke - the butterfly and the breast-stroke. Besides this there is an unofficial 'crawl' stroke - which is what most of the newcomers learn first - it helps them get a feel of things before learning the other strokes.
Imposso: Oh, his penchant for off-track questions! ....okay – the swimming pools in India, do you have any ‘plan’ which could improve their conditions and the infrastructure?
I was dumbstruck. Apoplexy – at it’s worst, and I could not shake it out. How on earth was I expected to answer that? I looked distinctively at discomfort.
Imposso: Broke into a grin – oh that’s okay, you don’t have to make up a plan if you don’t have one… - unfair – Goddamit, unfair!!! - what is India's tally in the commonwealth Games?
Aami: Yes... yes... man, yes - the medals tally had just happened to catch my eye while I was waiting my turn outside. Sir...12 (or was it 8 - I decided to stick to 12) - India is currently third in the list (obviously, feeling very happy with myself)
Smartie: Grins. Is this the medals tally or the gold tally?
Aami: Eeeks! It was the gold tally - and that guy had asked me the medals tally - save situation! Sir, I'm, sorry - it's the Gold tally I was talking about.
Imposso: So - do you have any questions-
And this is exactly when I interrupted him. DAMN ! VERY VERY BAD THING TO DO.
Aami: Roobish. Most of the medals came from shooting and power-lifting...
And that drowned the 'any questions' question - I waited and looked at Imposso. Willing him to ask the question again...He didn't. Damn - I missed it. The only time any panel had asked me the question - and I had actually prepared two pretty sharp questions…
I was losing time. They were looking at each other - that look, which usually comes 5 seconds before they nod their heads in unison and mutter the 'thank you'. Should I bring up the topic - should I push and say that "I have a question" - should I barge in and say - "Sir, I think you just asked me if I had a question"
Think, Kaushik - decide. Okay, one of the questions was regarding entrepreneurial cells in IIM-B : I decided to chuck it – I’d had enough entrepreneurial talk to last me a while. The other question – IBP, International Business in Practice… should I? shouldn't I?
I had to take a call. I decided against it. A quick lookback said it all. Over the course of the last 20 minutes, I had been pretty assertive, if not forceful altogether - and I decided against forcing myself into another conversation. Things had not gone off as smooth as they should have, but I had stood my ground. Things were OK.
Sometimes, you just have to let go. It's not satisfactory, but you know when you HAVE to. I relented. As the customary thank-you’s signaled the end of my spate of interviews and I walked out to the questioning faces of the remaining applicants – I knew it was all over.
Now, the wait would begin.
If you’ve reached this far – I thank you, and just so that I know who has been this patient with my pensive ramblings - I’d request you to leave a comment. As a rule, I do not blog – simply because some of what I write is too private a shade of me to paint the town in. This is where I would draw ‘bedraggled’ to a close. The verdicts of course, would be updated as and when they are available…. Of late, there have been times when the odd well-wisher, the long-lost friend pitched in with a – ‘Hey! I’m gonna need you to guide me through the CAT maze pretty soon’. This gets me thinking - they’re unique in their own individual manner, each more deserving than the other, each with loads of talent in them to contribute to the lucky few who come across them. Unfortunately, we’re still in the collective. What is then that one thing that puts you miles ahead of the rest? I remember the time I first scribbled these words on the inner page of my Class XII school diary – the Commonwealth ’98 Games motto – ‘Aspiration leads to Motivation, Motivation leads to Determination – and that’s how new stars are born’.
Some things, they say - simply do not change with time. I agree.
Sing for the Moment
It's just sex and violence,
Melody and silence...
- Bittersweet Symphony, The Verve
Verdict : Selected for the PGP batch of 2006-2008.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Home sweet home! Well… to be honest, it wasn’t Calcutta – nor was it my bachelor pad @ good ‘ol Hyderabad, but getting back to the familiar comfort of Bangalore was a relief. It had been a long week and with XL and FMS safely (and if I may add, hazardously) dealt with, there was just the IIM-C to go. Ironically, it was also the most arduous and important bit of my trip. Arduous – simply because it was the only place where I knew that the process would span over two days. And important it was - for more reasons than one. Not only did it feature in the top three… but I’m also reasonably sure that my mum would be all too thrilled if I landed up over there. The campus being a mere 30 min ride from home, of course.
Oh by the way, even in the middle of all this – I managed to lose my driving license. It’s a different thing that it had expired last December, but till date I haven’t been able to make up my mind as to whether it was Chennai or Delhi where I had taken it out of my wallet. Why?! You would ask me. Well – I warned you… I hate unnecessary bulges and I had to jettison more than half of all the junk that had mysteriously crept into the many folds of my wallet. Well, at least I did manage to get rid of the weird-potato-bulge on the back of my trousers! A new license [:o] – jeez! And they’ll tie a red-‘L’ on my Karizma, hand me a lollipop and ask me to make a figure of eight!!! Hyyuck!
Back to business – and I knew I had just one day to brush up all the Maths I could manage. They called it the ATM – the Aptitude Test in Mathematics, a one hour paper on specific student-unfriendly, hostile and difficult topics which is meant to test your affinity for the wrong kinds of figures and numbers. Apparently, this is to gauge your suitability for the PGDCM course, a separate management course offered by this institution with a special emphasis on software/systems related subjects. So much for the 98+ %-ile in the Quant section! L But then, even in your darkest hours – you’ll find your angel if you pray really hard. In this case, it was my IMS mentor-guide-counselor-friend, Sailaja. Believe it or not – she got me those easy-to-learn AP State board level I & II Maths texts, from which I did most of my Matrices & Probability revision! Actually in retrospect, it was her and another gem of a tutor-friend Bhaveen (English)... Over the past twelve months they managed to push, prod and motivate me into giving in my best for the entire process. Priceless, if you ask me.
March 13th, 2006 : My IIM-Calcutta interview @ Bangalore
Amongst the many things that you have to keep fighting when you know that the finishing line is not too far away, is complacency. I was lucky, I guess. The one hour that I spent on Sunday the 12th – trying to rack whatever little was left of my brains and solve the 33 questions that were staring back at me in the form of the ATM paper, was an eye-opener. As a rule, I try not to guess. For some strange reason, even after all the probabilistic and deterministic encouragement I could lure myself with – I always landed on the wrong side of the moon. For me – a 3/4th probability of my guess boomeranging back onto me, always turned into 1. And as for copying, I stopped doing that after one fateful day in BITS Pilani when I virtually photocopied my neighbour’s answer sheet – only to realize later that 1 and 2 at the top-right corner of the page were not page misprints – but darned different sets! Time’s up – and I manage 18 attempts spread over matrices, probability, time-speed-distance, the works!!! Okay, let me be honest 16 attempts and 2 educated guesses! Old habits die hard! [:o]
Out in the sun – and I hear figures. 26 attempts… then 29… then there were even 31 – and the average seemed to be well above twenty. The matter-of-fact way in which the others around me seemed to be discussing the fact of the matter – unnerved the hell outta me! What was I thinking? Here I was… with a hundred others who had smashed the CAT quant bouncer over the stadium for a Dhoni-Six – I was trying to play marbles with them! I decided to make a beeline for Koramangala. Tomorrow, would be a different contest – and I vowed to fire all cylinders. Oh well, hopefully!
Day of the lucky 13th…
Reality, as well as the sun – took too long a while to dawn on me. The good news being that my interview was at two in the afternoon. The bad news – Attestation woes! Although I had carefully attested my certificates, I had never really gone through the IIM-C interview form! I know – bad me [:(]. Apparently, the form needed to be attested as well. The day before had been a Sunday – no luck, whatsoever. Having woken up at nine and taken the next five minutes to risk-analyze the fact that I had just 5 hours to get my certificates attested from somewhere in Bangalore and hit the scene, I spurred myself onto action. Ninety minutes, and it really did take that long! A mobile wreck of PPTs, Gillette, headlines, towels, CherryBlossom shoe-shine - as unenviable as it could ever get! But the certs? I had to take a chance – I decided to head straight for IIM-B.
After pacing the corridors of IIM-B for nearly forty-minutes, I finally managed to get my interview form and certificates attested by none other than the Administrative Officer of IIM-B, himself! A good Samaritan named Sirajuddin who wished me luck for the day’s trials. Hmmm, the day seemed to have started off on a good note – I thought to myself, as I rounded the last turn which led to the IIM-Calcutta interviewees.
As I walked up to the pillar where the list of participants and their panels had been put up, I noticed my name under the list which read ‘Panel I’. Something, though – did not seem right at first glance. One… two… four… seven… nine…. ELEVEN ?! Eleven people – in my panel? In a flash, the whole FMS experience came back to me – all that commotion and chaos and minutes of pointless sparring with no conclusion and- NO! I stopped myself. That was different. This was IIM-Calcutta and I could not, even in the slightest way let this slip. Before long, a soft-spoken gentleman of about forty-five and with a decisively Bong look stepped up to check on us. An initial round of calling out the names revealed that the 11th member of our panel had decided to give this interview a pass. Hmmm… better – but only mildly so. Now there were ten of us… and Oh! NO!!!!!!!! – I was the tenth of the lot! No escape, this time. As I slowly resigned to my fate and readied myself for the scene where I’d be the forlorn candidate standing amongst the shadows awaiting my turn in the guillotine, we were summoned inside for our Group Discussion. It was time for the party to begin!
Their Majesty – the jury…
As we stepped inside the room, the first thing I noticed was that there were three of them. Somehow, after the ‘A’ and the ‘XL’ experience I had begun getting used to three-member panels. Of course, maybe two would have been better – but now was not the time to deliberate on speculation. It was the time to survive.
Coatman – There is something very important and urgent about a man who is suited for an occasion as this. Of course, I wouldn’t count some of the sweaty-palmed interviewees who decided to use their blazers – as an armour, I guess – against the barrage of questions that they were about to face. But a fair, elderly and well-spoken gentleman who carried it off with enough panache… yes you would mind your p’s and q’s in front of him.
Bongman – and trust me, you could make that out even before he said a word. For one – he seemed to be the one who was in charge of the proceedings. He spoke slowly, his speech impregnated with deliberate pauses – and as I would come to know later could scrutinize well, and debate – even better!
Admini – I will call him so, because for the better part of the entire process he was involved in some administrative work or the other. If he wasn’t verifying your score-sheets, then he’d be making a note of them in his own records – in fact, I guess he must have thought of me as a pretty interesting subject to cross-examine, that he took a quick break to pitch in a few bouncers of his own!
Bongman: Good afternoon, everyone…(short pause) And welcome to IIM-Calcutta’s second round of selection…..(long pause)….You know the rules…. We will give you a topic - you will have 3…4…5...minutes – (short pause)…you will have enough time - to think over it - and then... we will tell you - you will start discussion - and the discussion will last for a maximum of 15 minutes - maybe 15… maybe less - but everybody will have ample time to speak...and then you will have one minute - we will call out your names in a random order - and you will have to summarize, the discussion.
A-ha! I thought to myself, this was about to be my first Group Discussion where I would have to summarize… interesting!
Bongman: Your topic is - please note it down - 'Democracy demoralizes....'
Ten heads looked down busily into their notepads and scribbled down these two words. And there we were looking at him expectantly... waiting for the next word of the topic…
Bongman: I'll repeat that again… Wtf?.... 'Democracy demoralizes.'
And that was all?! It suddenly hit us out of the blue that those two words were probably all that there was to the topic – and time was already beginning to run away. A good thing – the fact that the FMS group circus which was not even 48 hours old had also dealt with democracy, albeit in a different avatar – but even as I thought of this, I had already begun jotting down my points in the standard 3-column structure.
Partners in Crime…
What?! Already ? Wait a sec… should I? But the guy on the other end of the table with over five years of work-ex was off in a flash!
Uh-oh – too late! Okay – plan ‘B’, second to break in. And once I had eased my way in – it actually turned out to one of the best group discussions I have ever had in my lifetime. There were examples, too many of them - pros and cons - 'of the people, for the people, by the people'. Somebody pitched in with a comparison of democracy with other ruling systems such as patriarchy, oligarchy and the like. On a personal front, I re-iterated a couple of my FMS points - the largest democracy, India vis-a-vis the wealthiest democracy, U.S. both successful models, but in India we followed more of a 'bottom-up' approach than a 'top-down' approach. The various levels of bureaucracy, where corruption has a chance of creeping in - the various stages of approval which might be needed to pass the simplest of laws, these were discussed in detail.
One of the more attention-grabbing points, I happened to churn out was about the State Assembly elections in West Bengal - where this time, unlike that past - there promises to be a lot of interest - the Left parties versus TrinaMool Congress - and the UPA in the middle. Such that no matter which party eventually ends up winning, the UPA will be in the middle - mentioned that it wasn't a 'happy’ situation to be in. Yes, I realized it – the minute I uttered it. Happy!? This was another one of the SMS-Mail generation virtues…I suspect!
Funnily enough – even while all this was going on, our very own Bongman was actually patrolling around the room, making it a point to note everybody’s expressions. There were about three-four of the group who didn’t speak much – but the rest of us were having the perfect GD – cordial, responsive and in fact, accommodative as well! Once, when one of the more reticent types tried to push his point forward, we actually stepped back and let him have his say. Ah! And I was fearing another FMS [:o] God is good!
And just for the record - ideas were still flying all over the room! [:)] China… to New Zealand... in the middle, I put across my point of FDI and privatization and how economic liberalization faces a challenge in this coalition government - the votebank politics that are foremost in the minds of all the politicians, it impairs the reform process. God! I was actually sounding like a politician on a compaigning spree! In fact, the group spent quite a while discussing this vague ‘reform process black-box’, lol!!! Yet another fact - Mentioned that the Indian middle-class in 300 million and more than the entire population of the USA - which led to President Bush acknowledging the fact that India was a better example of democracy than US was. Man! We were on a roll!
I had a minor slip-up in the middle when I decided to put forward the case of the UPA government carrying out a census of the number of Muslims in the Indian army… somehow, I realized it after saying it - that maybe religion wasn’t the best way to go. I switched tracks and the point was never brought up again. Phew!
Our heady discussion was brought to a sharp end by the single tap of a pen.
Admini: Thank you! That will be all… ‘X’ can you summarize the group’s discussion, please.
And then started a long and winding process of summarizing the GD - where then ten of us had our names called in a random order. Well, maybe not that random as well! The order had an uncanny feel of shifting from the one who spoke the least to I guess, the one who participated the most – and quick check with some of the other groups after we exited the room, confirmed the theory. And yes, I was the last one to be asked in my group. [:)] In all modesty, I thought the GD went off really well. In fact, one of the guys I met there – Shreekrishna, was even asked in his interview about whom he thought performed the best in the group discussion and how much he would rate him. Wonder of wonders! He actually mentioned my name and gave me a 9/10. He, truly was… Godsent! Well – it’s a different that when asked to rate himself, he pegged an over-modest ‘4’... which, of course I would not agree with.
Last Man Standing...
The minute-hand of my Swatch arced one 360 after another, as one-by-one everybody had turn in the fire. It was a long wait – the longest I have ever waited for an interview. Well, I did end up making a few good friends! Well - finally, the 9th candidate stepped out and I inched towards the door – waiting to be called in. Suddenly – Bongman stepped out! And started walking away… Hey?! Heyyy !?!? I’m still left !!!How could they forget-
Ah…. “loo break”! Another few minutes, I guess – oh well I thought to myself, as Bongman crossed me on his way. He saw me gong through the budget-special edition of Businessworld - Sorry, you're having to wait really long…
Huh?! Oh – he was talking to me! It took me completely by surprise – the words, the humbleness in the tone… I managed to mumble a - ‘Yes Sir...no problem though’
As he passed, I looked down and thought… Stupid answer! I should have said something else. Maybe broken the ice with a witty remark or something!
I started thinking of what could have been an appropriate response. In the meanwhile Coatman and Admini had come over for their li'loo trip, as well. As they passed me by - on their way back to the room - Coatman turned to me and said - Quite a long wait for you…
Err…Yessir! Damn it – the second opportunity to strike an informal chord before the actual grilling and I had blown it again! What on earth- then it struck me! The Indore scenario suddenly flashed up before me - chatting with Alaap, with half-a-marie biscuit concealed in my mouth, when they decided to summon me – me, originally the 5th out of the 6. Okay – done then, I decided. Next time, this would have to be it. Mind you – this oughtto go down in history as a Class ‘A’ act of courage – using one’s past misery to one’s advantage… lol!
As Admini called me into the room, finally – I purposefully walked up to the seat. All I needed was a decent interview. Bongman was already there at the panel and as the others walked in to their places - Coatman decided to start the conversation.
Coatman: Must be horrible to be the last one in the group, isn't it?
Myself: Yes...but Sir – I could help smiling - its better than being called in for an interview when you least expect it. In an earlier experience, I was 5th and much to my surprise, I was asked to go in first, when I was least prepared.
Coatman nodded in acknowledgement. There… done it! The air seemed more casual, now. Hah!
Bongman: So...you're working? How long?
Myself: I love my work! It gives me loads to talk about in interviews! Yessir - with Oracle...I've been with them for the past one-and-a half years. Actually a little more than that – about 20 months.
Bongman: And you did your engineering from?
Myself: Sir, BITS Pilani. (and I’m proud of it, baby!!! Err… though I admit – I wouldn’t be too sure if the equations were turned the other way around!)
Bongman: So, why do you want to do this? You're in a nice software job...doing well. I see you've got a pretty streamlined profile - why leave all this to join IIM-Calcutta?
Myself: Why? Are you kidding me? After all that slogging for CAT?! I decided to play my usual tune. Sir, to me a ‘management degree’ – is more than just a degree - its the bridge between the present and the future I see for myself. My long term objective is to launch a venture of my own - sometime in my early thirties.. As of the present day, I have contributed as a developer in the software industry - having been through almost an entire product life cycle, I realize the need to get a bird's-eye level view of the system…
Bongman: What view?!
Myself: Uh-oh… you know someday I should sincerely stop throwing words around! Ummm... Sir, a holistic view of the industry...I contended.
Myself: I was brought into this team at its formative stages - so I've been through the stages of requirements gathering from the clients, designing the functional and technical model - that project is slated for a May 2006 closure - (now, what I didn’t realize then was that I was shuffling between two conscious streams of answers - and mucking up both - mixture of my ‘why mba’ and my ‘job profile’. As usual though, my face put on a terrific expression of being 120% convinced about whatever I was uttering) Given my long-term goals, I need to do more than just develop - I need to understand the scenarios that leverage the software that we make - the business and economic factors involved - and for that I know that I cannot be stuck to a desk-job.
Bongman: Apparently – it wasn’t half as convincing as I hope it would be. No...but I don't understand.. You're in software now – (long pause) - in our course, we do not teach only software - it a lot of general courses. (Looong pause) Say, for example Admini would teach human ethics, I might teach you economics and Coatman here might teach you finance... so how is all this going to help you.... (Pause – I tried breaking in – but was cut off. Apparently the soliloquy still had a couple of lines to finish…) You could stay within the organization and learn all that you want to learn - rise up the ranks in your field.
Myself: Sir - my interests lie in running a software company - and not just developing it. For this, I need to understand the various factors which affect my long-term objective - a company would not only deal with developing the code - and we can always get people to do that bit - a company would mean... its HR, as you talked about human ethics.... its finances, its business impacts - and many other factors which would help me run a successful venture in a competitive environment...
Man…. I was weaving a fable around the situation and using the very strands that the panel had supplied me with. After all, very soon – I would reach a point where I would run out of arguments and justifications.
Bongman: But no... see even if you want a 'birds eye view' - you are going to end up diluting what you have built up over the years... ( and this very thought process stretched into another insanely long question… I had no option but to wait for him to finish)
Myself: Sir... but there's one thing here - what could be otherwise perceived as dilution could actually be used as an advantage-
Bongman: It was as if he had suddenly seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes... yes, tell me - what advantage?
Myself: Uh-oh… now what had I landed myself in! Sir, ultimately I would not be building software for the software industry - I would have to write it for some other field... so getting an exposure in all the fields would not be dilution, it would help me understand them better. Today - the software sector caters to sectors that are saturated - we need diversity and creativity to make a mark and survive...
Bongman: Creativity? (gives a disbelieving laugh)...You know I would really like to see you do it. Quitting your job, when you have the best of offers... and then start a company - and how would it help the country anyways?
Myself: Woah! So now it had come to challenging my idea on my face – I had no option. I had to stick by it. Oh Sir.. but I am pretty positive that we can make a difference. Right now... most of the software we build are for foreign customers - in about ten years time, India will be rich enough to buy the software they produce - there would be sectors such as… say, health and education - which could benefit immensely by investing in softwares... and these would indeed make a difference even to the lives of the poorest sections of the society.
Bongman: It looked as if he was thinking about something – about whether he should go on with the debate or not. He looked straight at me, and with a dissatisfied nod, said - Well...okay, but I just want you to know that I do not agree with you.
Now, in situations like these there isn’t much you can do really. There’ll be a part of you that’ll want to retrace every step you took that did not go down well with your audience – but too late, once a stand is taken, the best you can do is be convinced and stick by it. I pursed my lips and made a face as if I regretted the fact that he didn't seem convinced, but I really wasn't willing to budge from the theory I had so convincingly cooked up for myself.
Bongman: (turning to the Admini) You wanna take over ?
Admini: (Who was busy flipping through my attested education certificate copies all this while… suddenly found a new toy!) Uh... yes - You said.. how many years work-ex again?
Myself: Sir, a little over one and half years - twenty months at Oracle IDC, Hyderabad. Hey, I’d already mentioned this earlier!
Admini – in meanwhile was focusssing hard on the part of my interview form where I had written my work-ex details. His eye brows furrowed into question marks, his face screwed up in shades of doubt - he was busy doing mental math - and then… finally, the muscles relented.
Myself: Okay… not a prepared one – but manageable. Sir... firstly Calcutta is a metropolitan city and has been a important city of the map of India for quite a while now whereas Hyderabad has made its presence over the past few years. Again, a lot of it has been because of good governance - and a willingness to invest in infrastructure… I had to shift to keywords – investment, FDI - and a willingness to let companies invest by granting them land and other facilities. This is one thing that is missing in Calcutta - as they are very wary about opening up the city for foreign investment. Well done, Kaushik! That is one reason why probably, barring Wipro - we would not find many software ginats in Calcutta - it is a pro-labour Union set-up which is not exactly the thing which works for a software company setup - where we are bound by timelines...
Admini: Decides to cut me short. So you think its a good thing to work for 18 hours in a day ?
Myself: Uh-oh… maybe I carried that one a bit too far. Sir, that is not what I'm trying to say - different companies have different work cultures - some work on a strict nine-to-six basis and whereas others, like ours - work on a flexible timings, but irrespective of that - project deadlines cannot be compromised on because of labour union strikes - because more often than not we are bound by foreign hand. A disruption in the work force would truly ‘ring the death-knell' of any company.
God!!! – what is with me! – and over-dramatization of the English language, every now and then!
Admini: Okay... so tell us a little bit about your extra-curricular interests and hobbies...
Myself: Wow! This was the best part of any interview! Sir.. would you like to have a look at the file.. (I lifted the file from my lap on to the table..) of certificates...
Admini: Umm... no no - you can tell me - that'll be fine.
Myself: Damn! Must’ve come across as the over-excited-about-extra-curriculars brat! When will I learn! (A little disappointed...) Sir, I was a part of the University Swimming team at BITS. I was also a member of the Dance Club and taught classical ballroom dances to over four batches of students. At Oracle... I am a part of the Toastmaster's Club - and a part of the office band, Trisha. We have given three live performances over the past 2 years. (Well… it’s a different thing that I wasn’t exactly a part of all the three shows… oh well – two sides of the same coin !!!)
Coatman: Now, for some reason - this peaks his interest. From being the silent observer all this while, to stepping right into the thick of things. My interview was about to get a shot of steroids!! Really...What do you play? Can I have a look at that folder of yours?
Myself: Awrite! Now this guy had to be my favourite! Sir... I am the lead vocalist in the band. However I do play the drums and have had formal classical training in the sitar for over six years. (Simultaneously, I handed over the file...)
Coatman: So where did you find the time to do all of this...?
Myself: Gee… I never really did what I should have done, Sir – study! But I decided to save that answer for another interview - :) Sir... I've done these at different phases in my life - and I would say that they have been really important in maintaining a balance between work and life beyond.
Coatman: Hmmmm... so do you get to swim now ? These days at work...
Myself: I was beginning to enjoy this. Sir... not much. Swimming was mostly in the college days.
Coatman: So how do you manage to keep fit? Do you exercise..?
Myself: At that point – trust me, I felt good enough to go jogging with him the next morning! Sir.. I used to till about four or five months back...and then... (made a sub-conscious effort of stiffening my posture in a funny kinda way – anything, to give some credibility to the fact that this bag-of-bones, at one time – did exercise.. lol !)
Coatman: Decides to play fill in the blanks. And then.. you gave it up to prepare for CAT and all this.
Myself: Well, it wasn’t really untrue… I gave a sheepish grin. Yes sir, I had to give it a break to focus on this.
All this while.....Coatman keeps flipping through the leaves of my file...and then suddenly lands on one ornate certificate that catches his eye...
Coatman: And football also? One word to describe his look – incredulous.
Myself: Uhhh…. (I was a little unsure of which one he was referring to and my best guess was that it was the XII class Super-A school division footer)... Sir, I think it’s the XII one you're... (and then I trailed off - oops ! He had landed on the ISB cert – one of participating in a BITS Alumni versus ISB match. What next?!) Oh that one was more of an initiative than a match - it was between the BITS Pilani Alumni Association and the present batch of ISB - I was a part of the organizing committee..
Coatman: ISB...Hmmmm... I knew what was coming next! So are you considering that as well..?
Myself: Thing is – over the past few minutes, I had developed a healthy rapport with him and I could not risk it – I had to be true. No Sir, I haven't applied to ISB. I did attend an information session and I did not think it suited my profile - and moreover, it was not what I was looking for in a b-school at this point in my life.
Coatman: He was hanging on to every word I was saying. And why would you say that ?
Myself: (Okay, firstly ISB guys no offence... ask me this question some other time.... but now - it was survival of the slickest) Sir - the ISB would typically be more suited to people with over 4-5 years of work-ex... also those who have missed the opportunity to do an MBA earlier in their life. With a major part of the batch being made up of people with increasing years of experience - a person in my shoes would probably end up investing the same amount, but losing out on the placements. Moreover, I don’t think one can learn all that there is to learn, in a 1-yr course…
Coatman: Yes, but their logic for that would be squeezing the number of hours into a smaller time frame. You know - some 600 plus hours. no holidays.... one straight stretch of about fourteen months or so.
Myself: I was about to correct him - 673 hours in 12 months, but checked myself. It would have clearly given away my interest in ISB!!! Also... I think 1-year is not enough to network, grow and gain a strong foothold in the field we specialize in.
Coatman: Hmmmmm.... but I must say, this folder of yours is very impressive. Very good, I must say.
Myself: WOAH! What a pleasant surprise.. I was so unprepared for this, it took a second longer to settle in. I don’t know how – somehow, I managed to keep a modest straight face. Thank you, Sir.
Coatman: So you were mentioning that you had attended some other interviews... what were they? What calls did you have ?
Myself: Sir - I had calls from all the six IIMs - (decided to stick to the modest look –it couldn’t have been more plain) - I have Bangalore next week. i am done with the others..
Coatman: Hmmm… so L-A-K-I... you're done with these. Okay - Kaushik (and having said that, he suddenly pried his fingers open to give a side-shot like one of those skimpy starving Channel V anchors. I was flabbergasted. WHAT?) - tell me TWO... (and he waved the ‘V’ of his fingers very emphatically) two things about yourself, which will make me go ... 'WoW!!!' - 2 things.
Myself: OMG! Where had I landed myself - now what? This was getting more interesting by the minute. I took about 5 seconds to look around and do the intelli-thinking act. Hey, I had to buy time! Sir… I guess I would consider my ability to 'perform-under-pressure' as one of things - my strengths.
Having said that, I shifted my gaze across the panel, to include them all in the next sentence I was about to utter - I was going to be an important one.
Myself: Sir, you see - to be honest, I have never been a 'first-boy' of sorts - but what I did was set goals for myself, worked my way towards them and got to them... It's not easy when people do not expect you to get there - circumstances change, friends change...the pressures change.. (and all too soon I found myself drifting into the slipstream of the past years... I had to stop... STOP!!!] - but it’s a nice feeling when you can brave all that and reach to where you thought you were capable of. I - I would consider that as the first point. Secondly... (okay now what!... I paused for a second or two..) I would mention my ability of being able to empathize with others around me - putting myself in another's shoes and seeing things from their point of view. Sometimes people we interact go through different patches and see things from a very different perspective - times like these we need to understand the situation and communicate with them in the language that they would want to be communicated in (whatever that meant!!!) In my past, this is one thing which has helped me in dealing with my friends in college, colleagues at work... and others... (I trailed off…)
What a whole lot of gibberish !!!
Coatman: Okay... Kaushik - so how do you think you are performing now - you know we're all performing over here. The others who were here before you - so how do you think you're doing?
Myself: Man, this gentleman was turning out to be one helluvan interviewer! Sir...(I began..on an unsure note) I think I am giving in my best...and trying to-
Coatman: Cuts me short. No… I want you to rate yourself. How do you think you're performing in right now ?
Myself: Hmmm…. I felt my brain – or whatever remained being prodded, poked, tested and pushed into overdrive! Sir...I... think I am doing okay... I'm doing good. I nodded emphatically, as if that would go to show my conviction in what I said. Sheesh – the things I do!
Coatman: Hmmmm.... okay Kaushik - you said that you're good at empathizing. Now consider a situation where you step out of the situation you are in right now... and say, step into….my shoes - what do you think is going on through my mind... (even as he said this, a smug patronizing smile spread across his face..)
Myself: Now, honestly – I don’t know how any of you would have reacted to this question – a beamer, aimed straight for the jugular? Quite frankly, I somehow found this in good humour – and decided to play along. Well Sir.... I think you have had a long day.... - (and I could see slow smiles spreading across the faces of Bongman and Admini... even as they pretended to be busy in other stuff) - and this being only the very first day of the interviews - you would have a fair idea in your mind as to what your decision regarding me is - so I guess you would take the next few minutes to ask a few questions to clear the remaining doubts, doubts about taking me in - and doubts against taking me in.
HERE is where I should have stopped, but I never do..... as you would surely know by now :) I decided to push it a little bit.
Myself: I don't think you would ask me these questions directly - you would probably find out the answer in an indirect manner. What a load of garbage from Soothsayer Kaushik!!!
Coatman: He was looking at me very pointedly – the grin unmasked. Okay Kaushik – what if I tell you that I have already made up by mind about you. What would you think I have decided…?
Myself: Death-trap! But looking back at what I said still makes me smile. I spoke slowly – as I chose each word with utmost care. Sir…. You have probably decided… that yes, I am an honest and a passionate person. You would probably discuss your views… with the rest of the panel and then arrive at a decision.
Coatman: He suddenly had this huge grin on his face. Well - that is a politically correct answer. That's alright - but you know what I would have said if I was in your place ? I would have said that 'You Sir, have already made up your mind to take me in - now it depends on these other two gentlemen'.
Now, really - I didn't know how to react to this...at all. First, I kept wondering whether what I had heard was correct – then, I kept wondering whether I should read anything into it. Well in any case, I managed a polite smile.... for whatever the moment was worth.
Coatman: Shot an authoritative look towards the others. Okay... anything else ?
Bongman shrugged and looked to his right. He, apparently – had had enough of me in the first few entrepreneurial moments itself!
Admini: Kaushik... this 464/500 and 385/400 in your ICSE/ISC.. how is it so? You have more than five and four subjects..
Myself: Old confusion. Sir - in ICSE, we usually take the best five out of the six subjects that we study and for ISC - we take E+PCM... tried telling him about how the board and our school interpreted the marks - but for some strange reason - as if his job was on the line, he insisted that I note down the total marks obtained on the interview sheet.
As I took some time to recalculate the scores - Bongman started on a monologue - Hmmm… you know different colleges might interpret the scores differently - my son had the same thing when he had applied…
I lifted my head to mumble a few explanations, as I thought these words were directed towards me. Oops - apparently I had barged into a private conversation between Coatman and Bongman ... Bongman gave me a wearisome look - and asked me to carry on filling the form...I hastily wrapped up the remaining bit.
As I finished, there were the customary round of thank you's... and as Coatman handed me my folder back – and his last words still ring in my ears. Loud and clear.
Coatman: But seriously Kaushik - handing my folder-full of extra-curricular certificates back to me - good work. Keep it up!
It was a happy Monday evening I stepped out to, as I exited the room. For some reason, the day seemed like a relief. Not the ones where you wait for it to get over and done with, but the times when you know that you did your best – and there were some who appreciated that.
Patience, the say pays. Well, in this case – it had paid me enough to keep my dreams alive.
The spirit of competition - so, how important is it to win? The English language is treacherous enough to allow phrases like – Well begun, is half the battle won! As well as - A bad beginning makes a good ending! I think what lasts longer than the ephemeral juxtaposition of words meant to confuse, is what we ourselves believe in. Here, in the cut-throat competition of the society we live in, the easiest way to get bigger than our neighbour, is by cutting him short. This spawns a malicious chain of negativeness, which keeps us from realizing that another way to get ahead of the competition is by bettering oneself. Here, in the final selection round of one of the most sought-after b-schools in the country – it was almost unreal to see the dignity and class with which the group went through the minutes. Experiences like these set the tone for things to come. As a person, we are not insecure about being who we really are. Comfort and a feeling of safety would give a boost to anyone’s confidence. Confidence to do more than just answer questions thrown at you from every subject you could possibly think of – it’s the confidence to leave a lasting impression on whoever your audience is. Amen.
Sing for the moment
Live in virtue, no desire...
In the grave and angel's choir.
You look to heaven and wonder why...
No one can see them in the sky
- Engel, Rammstein (translated).
Verdict: Selected for the PGDM and PGDCM batch of 2006-2008.