Wednesday, June 25, 2008

First Look !

[ First published by Business World India here ]

A warm, fresh blast of air hit me as I opened the door of the AC coach and went near the door of the bogie. The world outside was a sea of green, tall coconut trees, paddy fields and far-away mountains, their tops shrouded in clouds. I was in Kerala, 'God's Own Country', also home to IIM Kozhikode or God's Own IIM as it's fondly called, where I would spend the next two years of my life.

On the way to becoming Komrades!

The train screeched to a halt in a sleepy station, and 20 of us, to-be comrades, frantically threw the enormous amounts of luggage that we had got along on the platform. After struggling with the luggage for half an hour, we reached the entrance of the station, where a bus was waiting for us, along with a bored looking senior. Another round of huffing and puffing later, as we stuffed everything into the bus, we set off, waiting eagerly in anticipation to see the much-talked-about campus.

The road was fantastic, and I was looking forward to zooming through these empty streets, flanked on both sides by sleepy houses, moss covered stone walls and the ubiquitous coconut trees. A yellow board saying Kunnamangalam passed by, and suddenly the bus swerved, and we passed through a stone arch with the trademark IIMK mud-tiled roof. A large, black plague told us that this was it, this was the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode.

The bus trundled through a second arch, as we saw the campus buildings high up on the hill in front, nestled among trees, the red tiles standing out in contrast to the green everywhere else. The road climbed rapidly, flanked on both sides by tall, wild grass. A few blind turns later, it came to a halt in front of a wide flight of steps, behind which stood a tower. A small garden patch stood in the middle, with the Indian flag flying in the breeze.

It was love at first sight. It is an incredibly well-designed campus, and that's not just from an aesthetic point of view. The one word after beautiful which comes to my mind when I think of the campus, or Kampus, as we prefer calling it, is comfortable. Everything has been designed with the end-user in mind.

I dumped by bags in the room and hurriedly opened the door to the balcony. The entire valley was visible, range after range of mountains, stretching out till the horizon. The view was stunning at noon; and I could only imagine what it would be like in the evenings and mornings.

After a quick lunch, I set off to MF (the campus term for Margin Free, the on campus shop), for picking up some essentials. MF is located a good 15-minute walk away from the hostel area, something which normally would have caused a fair amount of irritation due to its inaccessibility. Out here, however, the route to MF is so beautiful that going to MF has almost become a pastime. After buying all sorts of stuff, half of which I wouldn't use, I returned and unpacked. After a stroll through campus, I parked myself at the canteen, where I met up with the rest of the folks; people I would be spending close to 20 hours a day for almost 2 years.

The seniors addressed us in the evening, and tried their level best to make us as uncomfortable as possible, by yelling at us, throwing people out if they came in two micro-seconds late, and the likes. They told us in pompous tones, "6.00 means 5.59.59 at IIM-K" and, stuff which was parodied to the death in the cultural events that were held a week later. The whole batch was convinced that we had landed in a place where people had really bad attitude. Of course, as we later found out, all this was part of a prank played on us, which continued till the weekend, in which the seniors spoke to us rudely and made us run around like headless chickens, trying to complete all sorts of fictitious assignments! It sure got us more than a bit cheesed off then, but it was all a lot of fun, and was taken sportingly by most of the batch. After all, next year, it was our turn to turn senrors!

Day 1 dawned with a sunrise, one which made me wake up way earlier than my usual time. This was one side-effect of having a stunning view which I hadn't taken into account!

After the formal registration process was done with and with no other activity planned for the morning, I set off to the railway station with a friend to fetch our bikes, which was expected to reach Kozhikode the previous night. What followed was a comedy of errors, and something which almost made us miss the induction speech by the Director. After reaching the station, it dawned on me that we hadn't brought the bike keys along. After my friend promised me that he could work around that by shorting the circuits, we got the bikes out of the station. As I looked at the bike, I had a feeling that something else was also going to be a problem. Starting the bike was fine, but how do you fill in petrol without the key??

So off we set on my friend's bike, the keys of which he hadn't forgotten, back to campus, a good 20 km away, to fetch my keys. After missing lunch, which we got me a fair amount of nasty looks, we set off again to the station, when we suddenly realised that we had no clue how to get there. Kozhikode is full of one-ways, and we had little idea how to reach the station without taking the road we had come by. Anyway, after half an hour of driving around and getting the bike, and buying a helmet in two minutes flat, we reached campus two minutes before the start of the speech.

The speech was uneventful, as 260-odd students looked around eagerly at each other and at everything around us, fairly dazed. Even to the most incredible achievers present there, the feeling of being in an institute -- which lakhs of people across India would do anything to be in -- would have given a tremendous high. Sure, we weren't A, B or C. But we were still in an IIM. This was it. This was what I had worked for, for so long. I was a student, a part, a tiny bit of IIM Kozhikode.

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