Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My CAT Story : Poori Filmi Kahani!

Early Days

It all really started in April 2005. I was walking the long walk from the college parking to the classrooms with my classmate. Suddenly, he turned and looked at me with a lot of excitement and said, 'You know, Amey got into IIM A. I gave him an ok, so what? look. IMA didnt sound like that big a deal to me. He repeated his words a bit incredulously after seeing my reaction, and I suddenly stopped in mid-step and repeated each letter carefully. He got into I-I-M-A ??? My friend nodded, and I thought 'Woah! people I know get into places like the IIMs.' At that point I wondered, why not me? And thus started an epic journey which has brought more twists and turns than I could have ever imagined.

After completing my engineering, I joined an automotive major - the best offer on campus, quite a feat in those days of heady IT recruitment. But the april incident was still fresh in my mind..

The first, amateur attempt….

I started preparations for CAT eagerly. Unfortunately, being a trainee, we were rarely at one location for more than a fortnight. All the moving around did no good to my preparations, as I couldn’t attend a mock test series. I studied a lot, but I was naive about the way CAT works. Engineering had made me used to putting in the hours whenever required, without much thought to the mental aspect of it - the strategy, the planning and the way to condition your mind for the exam. These might sound big words, but I've worked as much on this as on the actual concepts during my subsequent attempts at CAT, and I personally believe it’s more about this aspect than knowledge, something which all the coaching instis tend to miss out on, IMHO.

I solved a lot of papers, but I had nobody to compare my performance with. PG wasnt big at all then, and I had just a vague idea about it. Anyway, as I was living away from home, I had no access to the net, and we didn’t even have a fixed city where we worked, forget a fixed workplace, so there was no chance of accessing it at work either.

Botched !

I was pinning all my hopes on CAT, and that's where I screwed up CAT. I'd screwed it up even before I gave it. Not through lack of prep, but because I made it everything in life. 20th November 2005 arrived. I solved the paper confidently, and came out feeling that I'd definitely done well. I had a good number of attempts in all sections. I had a blast all day, and decided to check my performance in the evening, with the coaching class keys. The first section was quant, and within 10 mins, my dream was shattered. I had attempted 24 marks worth in quant ( out of 50 ), and was getting only 5. I had made the most inane mistakes, mostly out of over-confidence, some because of the pressure. I knew that as low as the quant cut-offs might go ( they were calling that year's quant the toughest ever ), it would not hit 5. PG or not, I could tell that much. Within minutes, I fell from a high to an incredible low. I still remember those moments. Boy, how many times after that has CAT and the IIMs made me reach that same rock bottom, pathetic state. I broke down and cried. My parents didn’t know what to do, they'd never seen me like that before. They tried to console me, but nothing worked. I plunged into severe depression. The thought that I'd have to spend an entire year in this job before I could give CAT another shot was something which I just could not bear to think of. And yet, that was reality. It was 9 pm already, and I had a bus to catch at 11 to the city I worked in.

A few months passed by miserably, and the situation at my workplace took an unexpected and unpleasant turn. The company had suddenly had a change of heart, and had decided to place a large majority of us trainees onto the production lines. Within the manufacturing sector, managing a production line, especially in an OEM is one of the most stressful, thankless, tough and generally unwanted job around.

I managed a decent score in CAT ( 96.xx ), which surprised me a bit, but also made me realize that cracking CAT was well within my grasp, if I treated the paper with a bit of respect and toned down my confidence a tad. I think the confidence curve is a very steep bell curve. You over or under do it a bit, and it's very likely that you get a sharp decline in performance. You just have to be confident enough to approach it with a carefree attitude and take certain risks in those 150 minutes, but not enough to start believing that you can crack it whatever happens.

Mauled at MICA

I got a MICA call with this score. I decided to use this opportunity to check out the A campus. One look at it, and I was hooked. There was something in the air, something intangible and indescribable. A few hours into it, and I was telling myself, whatever I do, one day I am going to deserve this, I am going to deserve to breathe the air I breathe here. My friend ( the same one who's result started off this journey ) took me on a tour of the campus, and it was love at first sight. The breathtakingly beautiful architecture, the rich red colour of the bricks, the play of light and shadows in the corridors, the famous view of the library, the famous stairs near the dorms.... And all along, I couldn’t dare to meet eyes with the people around me. I simply felt I was on a space I didn’t deserve to be on. I know it sounds stupid, but that’s the way it was. All along, there was one line going through my head... I'll be back, when I deserve it. My MICA call was a disaster. It was an out and out technical interview, and unlike many of my future B-school interviews, including the ones which I finally converted, the panelist refused to understand that there was little point in asking me technical questions. Ten minutes into, I was curtly stopped in mid-sentence, thanked and asked to leave. MICA, however, was another place which really felt like I belonged to. Unfortunately, the people on the other side didn’t agree for a while.

I returned home rather scarred by the interview experience. I’d never been mauled this way before. However, I also returned with a hell lot of thoughts swirling about in my head.

A different path….

Suddenly, one fine day, I got a call from a friend with whom I'd trekked a lot in my engineering days. We'd worked together in an informal NGO he'd founded in Pune, a bit of environmental conservation work. He'd always been of the entrepreneurial bent of mind, and he had an idea which sounded like a dream opportunity to me. We, alongwith 5 more crazy fellows, decided to start off our own adventure tourism firm. All of us were outdoor freaks, and highly experienced in leading treks in the sahyadris and himalayas. The adventure tourism market in Pune and Mumbai was huge ( and still is ), and we thought that we had a great chance to find a niche location for ourselves in this market ( and this analysis turned out to be spot on ).

Thus was born our company. A few weeks into it, we had our first major hiccup. It was a sign of things to come in the near future, but there was no way I could have really seen it. It was our very first programme. I was leading it, and we were ascending a steep slope en route to the top of a fort. A recent wildfire had burnt down the grassy slopes, and clumps of burnt grass were the only things holding down the baked soil. Half way up it, things got decidedly tricky, as suddenly the clumps started coming off. Having trekked the sahyadris extensively over the last few years, this situation was not very difficult for me to handle; all it involved was keeping a calm head and making sure that the next hold was secure before leaving the previous one. There was a bit of trial and error involved, but that was ok. I was in the front, and my father, who was a participant, was right behind. Suddenly, he lost one of his holds, and with it, his nerves. He shouted for me to help. I had a 30+ kg sack on my back, containing the rations for the entire group, which prevented me from quickly turning around, as the sack threw my body away from the slope if I tried to turn. However, I managed to reach down and give him a hand. He was, however, panicking, and suddenly lost all his other holds, and was left hanging on to my hand. Within seconds, his hand slipped out of mine. He screamed and slid down the slope, rolled over and then continued tumbling down, side over side, head over heels, bouncing off the rocky incline. I saw his entire fall between my legs, and watched him roll over and beyond a rock patch out of my vision, over a hundred feet below. My own father, going down, down, down like that in front of my eyes. Sheer panic gripped me, and I lost my head and with it, my holds. I slipped 5-6 feet, and almost joined him, when all the years of experience of trekking suddenly made the difference. In a moment, I calmed down and dug my fingers and toes hard into the crumbling soil, deep inside, as if nailed to the slope. I hung on there, literally for life, panting. I gave myself a few seconds, and then snapped out of it. I had a job to do here - protect the 30 odd people below me who were now in various stages of outright paranoia. I found a good hold, turned around, and sat down. There was a serene smile on my face, which I was later informed, had freaked out the people immediately below me. I couldn’t do anything about my father, as there was no way I could descend - the slope below was full of people stuck halfway with nowhere to go. Thankfully my colleagues, the co-leaders, were at the end, and had already started the rescue process. There is this thing about me... in times of extreme stress, I suddenly tend to snap into an incredibly calm frame of mind. It has come to my help on multiple occasions, most of the times when if I'd hadn’t kept my head, things would have been undoubtedly a hell lot worse than they ended up being. I sat down and started giving instructions to the rest of the group. I asked them to calm down and have them specific instructions on how to find good holds which could let them hang on comfortably for a while. Slowly, one by one, I managed to get the entire group into stable positions. We all watched as my colleagues threw a rope and got my father up, covered in blood and bruises, barely conscious. One by one, each of us stuck on the slope was helped up to the top of the ridge we were ascending, a position of relative safety. I then scrambled down the slope to reach my father. After the fall I didn’t know what to expect, and frankly, I was expecting the worst. He was taken into emergency medical care. After falling down over a hundred feet, he'd come out with some bad bruises and a slightly rattled mind. I couldn’t understand how to thank god.

What a start ! We lost a potentially big long term contract with an IT firm which we were close to signing. Unfortunately, a few of their employees had come as participants and they went back, understandably, very very shaken.

The following week, I was supposed to lead a wildlife camp to a tiger reserve in eastern Maharashtra. I was so traumatized by what had happened, that I thought of pulling out. I don’t know what made me go, and I did. The camp went great, the only problem was that our bus had a major accident while returning. Within a week, I was again moving people covered with blood to safety, this time with a blood covered face myself. The fact that our group consisted of 5 school kids and one pensioner did not help in reducing the hysteria. I soon had 5 sets of crazy parents going hysterical in Pune while my colleague and I tried to make sure that first aid was administered, that some sort of transport could be arranged to the nearest hospital and that nobody ran off with our luggage. We were in the middle of nowhere, with 3 young scared girls and surrounded by a crowd of over a hundred people, and a pensioner who'd got a head injury.

What a start !

Things, however, started falling into place after that business wise. I however, was unhappy with the way things were moving within the business. I had very different ideas of running a business. In our eagerness to do what we loved, and the typical immaturity and over confidence of 22 year olds, we'd left out what, in retrospect, was an incredibly dumb thing to do; discussing the way we would run things after we started off. I quickly started realizing that it wasn’t making sense to me to continue in this this way. That was when CAT started coming back to my mind. I started channelizing my frustration into CAT.

One very important thing my venture taught me was the value of money. I was in severe financial trouble then, and the only way I managed to make ends meet was because I stayed with my parents. I could barely manage enough funds to buy all the institute forms. I realized how easily we take money for granted. Money is, of course, not the most important thing in life by a long margin, but it takes a state of penury to really understand the fundamental necessity of it. Things were so bad that at most of the time I was wondering where I’d get money to keep going. I completely stopped eating out, telling my friends that I’d had dinner before coming. Coffee shops, with their exorbitant rates, appalled me ( they still do, actually, but I’ve stopped being a cheapskate now that I can afford it ). As rough as it was, I honestly believe it did me a hell lot of good.

Enter PG !!!

I had registered on PG in Feb 2006, though I didnt return till the CAT season was well underway. When the TIME mocks started, I realized that while it was a great place to understand where I stood with respect to the competition and it was also a great community. I became quite active, though I doubt anybody knew me before I caused a bit of an issue with a thread questioning the mods' decision in the week leading up to CAT.

What PG taught me was invaluable in the 2 occasions I cracked CAT : the mental aspect of it. This was an angle which I had completely missed. I read about how people tackled the paper ( with mocks ), and tried out different strategies. I played around till I reached what was, for me, the perfect strategy. It was slightly complicated and needed discipline to prevent it from going awry, but it worked for me like a charm. I started hitting the 99s consistently, and was feeling in great shape. I knew ( after hanging around on PG for a few months ) that if could break into the 99s regularly in the TIME mocks, I could easily crack CAT. Thankfully, I never let the elitist nature of PG get to me. I strongly believe that PG is extremely elitist. Not in a snobbish kind of way, but in the way that most of the guys who post here are very very good. Even for a person who used to get 99s regularly, it took a conscious effort not to get demoralized by looking at the mock scores of the PG junta.

Attempt No. 2

Things were going well, when I hit a roadblock in September. Suddenly, for no apparent reasons, I started doing terribly in mocks. I regularly started going into the lower 90s or lower than that. I reached my nadir with a stunning 53 percentile in the first mock of september. I badly screwed one section or the other in each test, sometimes with negative scores. Things weren’t going great at the work front, and I started panicking. My scores dipped even lower, and I was in a helpless state of mind for a few weeks. This was when my tendency to suddenly snap out of it when faced with a very bad situation helped. Suddenly I was telling myself, if I was going down, I was going to go down fighting. I was going to give it everything and if I still didnt make it, then I didnt care. Although the last few weeks had severely dented my confidence, I knew that I was good enough to make it even on a normal day. I kept reminding myself about that as I hurtled from 1 bad mock to another. Then came the SIMCAT on the first sunday of november, the one where IMS comes with an out and out hatke paper. I took a distinct liking to the paper, and ended up with a cool 99.63. Back on course, with just 2 weeks to go!

CAT 2006 was the calmest 3 hours of my life, surpassed only by CAT 2007. Despite the high stakes, I somehow managed the balancing act perfectly. I looked amusedly at people squirming in their seats, praying, putting their heads down and closing their eyes and trying to calm down. I was just bored and wished they'd get on with it. I was also very interested in what surprise element would be there. I had started looking at CAT like a game, a battle of wits. I had huge respect for the people who set the paper, in the sense how they managed to have half the world screaming in fright with a minor tweak here or there. Unfortunately, that respect was dented a bit after seeing the CAT 2006 verbal section. 5 mins into, I realized that this was very dicey. I decided to breeze through the section without spending much time on it, and attempt the maximum number of questions. I came out with a good feeling, but after last year, tried to keep my expectations low. Anyway, I knew that the VA keys could just about be anything. The night of 19th November 2006 was a sort of a deja vu. I had cracked quant and DI bigtime. The problem this time was VA. All the coaching classes were giving me between 2 to 12 marks in VA, again woefully less for getting an IIM call. For the second year in a row, I thought I had managed to screw it up. And this time in the section which I considered my strength. VA was and is easily my strongest point, despite getting a 99.63 in quant this year. Again, I was devastated to the point of breaking down. I checked each and every answer key with the hope that there would be somebody who'd agree with my answers. I solved the paper again and was still convinced with the answers I had marked.

Will I, wont I ?

The wait for the result was agonizing. It came with the added feeling of impending doom. I had no idea what I'd do if I didn’t get calls. I had to move out of the business, that was for sure, but how other than by doing an MBA, I had no clue. 2nd Jan 2007 came. As usual, all the IIM sites and PG crashed when the results were out. I waited with bated breath and opened the IIM answer key with trembling hands. The results page wasn’t opening, so I decided to check what I'd finally ended up with in VA. The first answer was wrong. Then right. Wrong. Right. Right again. Wrong. With each right, my score went up 5 marks. And so continued the game, till I ended up with 9 corrects and 9 wrongs, a score of 27!!!!! Eligible for an A call also now ! I tried the results site again, and got through. 99.31, with a minimum sectional of 96.31 in verbal. Woahhhhh !!! A few minutes later, the IIM A calls list came out. I had an Ahmedabad shortlist ! The next few minutes passed in wild celebrations as my bewildered parents couldn’t believe it. I had told them that there was no chance of me getting any calls at all. IIM C followed later in the evening, and I was on cloud nine. B tormented everybody for days with its site ( it wasnt working for almost 48 hours ). I missed out there, not surprisingly now that I understand their criteria. But I had A and C.... beyond my wildest dreams. I would have been happy with a 80+ percentile in VA, which would have given me some decent non-IIM calls. I was ecstatically happy that evening, as I danced around in the house. I called up my gf, and she couldn’t believe it too. God, life was so good those few days !

The Golden Days…

The other calls came out in the next few days, as I started my GD/PI preparations eagerly. I attended all the sessions in 2-3 classes and listened eagerly to each and every word. I practiced hard for the GDs, averaging 6-7 GDs a week, all with IIM call-getters. We had great fun, about 20 of us, meeting up in a smoke-filled class room and practicing and debating and arguing till the wee hours. We advised each other and helped each other iron out obvious flaws. All of them are now in the IIMs, doing summers at the moment. One part of the process, though, I spent less time on than I should have, in retrospect. The interviews. However, I spent every possible minute preparing, reading up stuff, brushing up my engineering basics ( not that that did much good ). January beginning quickly turned to January ended, as the call letters started arriving, and it finally sunk in that I actually had a chance at the IIMs. The first interview was on 14th February, IIM K. IIM A on the 18th. 2 of the places I wanted to be in the most were lined up first. I was nervous, and at the same time, very excited.

February 14 came, and early in the morning I found myself at the Pune railway station with my gf, who’d come to see me off, that being the only time we’d get together on a day which we would otherwise have spent together. The train journey passed in a blur, as I was dreaming of the IIMs, and IIM K to be specific. The GD and the interview went ok.

A, next. This time I strolled into campus like I owned the place. In a way, I deserved to be there, atleast for the day. Again, my poor friend had to bear with me, though this time atleast I had a valid reason for it. If MICA had been a mauling, I had no words for this. Read the experience ( (IIM Ahmedabad GD/PI experiences for 2007-2009 batch) ) and come back after you’ve stopped rolling on the floor laughing . What a fool I made out of myself! And what an occasion to do it, too ! I remember making a joke later that the only way I’d go to IIM A was if they increased the seats to 557 ( those being the number of interview calls they’d given )

Anyway, the interview season continued, with me having a so-so time in almost all interviews. MICA, again, had a great laugh at my expense. IIM C went fairly well, but then almost everybody had a cool C interview. When asked about my hobby of reading, for some reason, I could only think of an obscure book called 13 and a half lives of Captain Bluebear which, although undoubtedly hilarious, was hardly the thing to talk about in an IIM interview. I got a raised eyebrow in reply. L stopped short of shooing me out for my acads, but were pretty blunt about it. Indore was interested in knowing which rivers originated where, and the 5-6 correct answers I gave didn’t make them look too pleased. MDI seemed like a great interview, one which I felt I had a great chance, followed by IIT-B, which was by far the best of the season. I was grilled on mechanical engineering, but I answered almost everything to my satisfaction.

Which turned out to be fools gold…

By the time this ended, the final results had also started trickling in. I had quit my company because it made no sense to carry on; things had reached a nadir. SIBM had already come out in February with a straight reject 3 days before my A interview, a result which shocked me. NMIMS followed in mid-march with a lousy rank. IMT-G gave me the feeling that the tide had turned, with a straightforward convert which made me go ‘Atleast I can stop looking for a job now.’ MICA came out with an expected ding. Only MDI, the IIMs and IIT-B were left. Then came the stunner in the form of the SC stay on the OBC quota, which was followed by the MHRD directive to stop the results. The following fortnight was agonizing. Every day I spent on the computer checking out news sites, hoping that something would have happened which would let the results come out quickly. The IMT-G payment date was fast approaching, and at that time there was no AICTE directive preventing institutes from retaining whatever amount they wanted from the first installment in case of cancellation of admission. Having had what seemed like a good interview at MDI, with the added fact that MDI gives a huge weightage to CAT scores, I was expecting a sure-shot convert atleast for the IM and HR courses. However, MDI refused to give any idea about the result dates; and with extreme irritation, I flew to Delhi to pay up at IMT-G ( they then had a system of counseling where you had to turn up in person to pay up ). As good as the place is, however, for some intangible reason, I felt that I did not want to go there. There is no reason or logic to it, it was just a strong thought from the moment I reached there. I paid up the first installment, with the bad feeling that I was wasting 30k by doing that. MDI came out within a few days of that, and for the first time I got a feeling that things were going really awry. A straight reject in the main course, and very high waitlist numbers in IM and HR, both highly unlikely to convert – which is what happened. I still managed to calm down as I reckoned that I would convert atleast 1 of the IIMs.

Disaster Strikes

Friday, 27th April 2007 is a day which I will never forget. It was a day which took me to the lowest I had ever been in life, only to be improved upon ( worsened ? ) about 9 months later. The MHRD issued the directive giving the go ahead for the results in the early afternoon. Unlike this year, there was no confusion about its contents, and the IIMs started declaring the results soon. IIM C came out the first. Dinged. Half of my prep group made it there, and it felt really bad to miss out. Plus, it had been one of my better interviews and the best GD. IIM I came out next, and for a moment I thought I’d made it. I started celebrating only to realize that I’d been waitlisted, not selected. No waitlist number. IIM K came out next. Dinged. This was when I felt the first surge of panic, a feeling of sheer helplessness and pure, unadulterated fear. 3 gone. L came out within a few minutes. Straight reject. Shit. Panic and fear completely took over. I remember a chat with zanyzaphod then…. He said ‘Same situation’. He’d also got a ding from CLIK, and was hanging on for A. Then, there was a power failure. I started pacing up and down the house, my mind going bonkers over the thought of not getting in anywhere. What would I do ? I didn’t have a job. What would I do ? Why didn’t I ever think of a fallback plan ? How could I be so stupid ? Questions, hundreds of them, without a single answer. The phone rang, it was a friend I’d prepared with for the interviews. They were all sitting in the class we’d done our preps with, thrilled with their selections, yet feeling bad for me.

‘ A results are out. You checked?’
‘They are? No power here’, I replied, my B.P quickly doubling.
‘Want me to check ?’
‘No, I’ll do it myself when its back.’

The A interview went through my mind a hundred times, and I desperately searched for anything remotely positive in it. An hour passed by, and the power failure ended. I switched on the computer with hands trembling wildly out of control. The IIM A site loaded quickly, and there was the link which would make or break me. I put in my details, as the page turned blank. A single line replaced the empty space.

‘Your name does no figure in the list of selected or waitlisted candidates for PGP 2007-09.’

The End ?

The next 1 hour is blanked out from my memory. I do not remember anything, except for an all-pervasive feeling of hopelessness. I was sitting on the bed when my parents came to console me. After the tears stopped flowing, I uttered my first coherent sentence.

‘I am not going to IMT-G.’

My parents, of course, realized that this was no moment to argue with me and did not oppose it. They thought reality would seep in and I’d move on. I, however, had not spoken this sentence emotionally. I left the house and went to see my gf, and my first sentence was the same. Again, there was no argument. I was clearly being left alone with my thoughts, quite understandably at that.

I had a long talk with prem_ravi that evening. I had got to know him over the last few months, after we’d got IIM calls. He himself had got dinged in A, his sole call, and yet he had the heart and magnanimity to console me. He called me that day and almost every single day after that till I was ok. He kept telling me that this was a freak result, that I was much better than this and that I should not give up. I didn’t believe him, but listened to him out of politeness. Prem has been my constant source of strength and motivation since then. Thank you, prem bhai. You have no idea how much you’ve helped. I can’t express it in words.

The days moved by as reality started sinking in. 5 IIM calls. 5 rejects. How did I manage it? Was I really that bad? Should I just accept what had come my way and consider myself lucky for that? Should I move on? IMT-G was undoubtedly a good place. A thousand thoughts, a thousand doubts, a thousand fears, a thousand ‘what-ifs’. Everything I’d planned ahead of this assumed that I’d convert something and take it up. I had plans of marrying and settling down with my gf immediately after my MBA. So many stupid plans so long into the future.

The most difficult part was coming to terms with reality and starting the job search. All I had was an engineering degree from a not-at-all famous college and a career path which even the most liberal of people raised their eyebrows at after understanding. I couldn’t even submit my resume on job sites properly, their drop down menus and limited choices couldn’t explain a career choice like mine. I went all out in my job hunt, emailing and calling up anybody and everybody who didn’t positively hate me. When people asked me in casual conversations about what I did, I replied with a frank ‘nothing’ and made it amply clear that I was looking for a job. After a bit of networking, I got an interview call. For 2 hours, I was ripped apart on mechanical engineering. I had started dreading anything related to mechanical engineering. As expected, I got dinged.

No. Once more, I shall fight…

Then, one fine day, out of the blue, I got a call from a friend. Things moved quickly, and within 3 days, I had a job offer. Best of all, it was in marketing, and in the mechanical field. A perfect way to enter the job market again. The package was ordinary, but I didn’t deserve more with the way my career had moved. I was not going to IMT-G. My parents tried a lot to convince me to go for it. A lot of friends were shocked that I was turning down a prestigious college like that. After the job offer, however, I was very clear about what I was going to do. I went into the job in full earnest. June, July and August flew by as I immersed myself into the job and into CAT prep. The job was not rigorous time wise, but was challenging otherwise. I enjoyed the experience thoroughly, and was lucky to get a boss who was just about incredible. There’s no other word to describe him, really. For a change, life was moving smoothly

Err, didn’t mean to fight this way

September. Got a bomb. My girlfriend wanted a break from me. We had been having problems for a while, and she couldn’t take it anymore. Although I was against it, we decided to go on a break for a month. I was heartbroken. I gave up studies and just went through the whole of the month of auto-pilot. As it usually happens in such cases, for some inexplicable reasons, my mock scores went up. I, however, had almost lost all interest and just went with the flow. Life was playing games again with me

October. After a lot of talking and sorting issues out, we were back. I couldn’t have been happier. Life seemed sunny again, and I attacked CAT prep with a lot of gusto. Along came the much feared slump again, this time a month late. This completely freaked me out. I completely believe in the bell curve theory of performance. IMHO, performance also follows the natural cycle of ups and downs, and most of the times you cannot do anything about it. Luckily for me, I had worked so hard on quant that I performed decently in it even during the lean phase. DI, however, was a different ball game. I kept hitting lower lows. I just couldn’t attempt more than 10-15% of the paper. TIME , then, decided to push up the level of their DI sections, which did me little good. I kept botching up paper after paper, section after section. Panic set in, again. However, I had last year’s experience, and I knew that I needed one good day to get me back in form. As much as I had hoped, IMS’ mock sim in the first week of November did not provide me solace like last year. I screwed up that too. Now all I had was 1 more mock, and then CAT.

Time to get cracking again…

For the nth time in life, my tendency to stay completely calm and in control during crunch situations helped me. I managed to put all the defeats and frustrations of the last few months behind me. After coming out, though, I realized that I might have under-attempted the DI section. Within hours, even before checking my scores, I had a feeling that I’d miss out on ABC this year. Now, the question was, how accurate had I been in DI? One question here or there and I’d end up with 0 IIM calls. With shaky hands again, I checked my scores that night, expecting the worst. I had completely overrated the Quant section, getting a 51 when the expected cut-offs would be in the low 30s. I had made some horrendous blunders in DI, but a few questions that I’d hurriedly solved in the last few minutes came good. 41. ABC was out, almost definitely. The question was, was it good enough to get atleast a lower 90 percentile? 39 in verbal, with 3 different coaching class keys. If these scores were indeed what I ended up with, I reckoned I’d get somewhere around 99.6 to 99.7 overall, with something similar in quant.

Mini D-Day

December went off in a blur of work. On D-day, 8th January, I had flown down to Delhi for an important presentation. I was nervous as hell. The minutes slowed trickled past. Just as the presentation got over, I got a call. 99.72. 92.31 in DI. Oh, this was going to be tight. So many emotions - hope, despair, anxiety, fear passed through my mind as I peered out of the aircraft window at the tiny orange lights distributed randomly below.

I woke up next morning to the beep of my mobile phone. Groggily, I tried to make sense of the words ‘Your IIM calls are LIK’.

The game is on again….

This time, I decided to concentrate on the interviews. I was fairly confident of the GDs, and knew that performance in a GD was not as important as the interview. I tried to have as many mock interviews as possible with different people. With each interview, I grew in confidence; I was getting the common feedback that there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with my interviews. January passed by quickly. The IIM interviews were earlier this year; with IIM L on 9th February, K on 12th and I on 21st.

But somebody’s changed the setting to ‘Toughest’ when I can’t deal with ‘Novice’…

‘I think we should separate.’ 1st February 2008, evening. The one thing I dreaded the most in life had happened. 4 hours on the phone, trying to plead, cajole and everything else. Slept past midnight, exhausted after crying my heart out. Woke up at 6 the next day, we were going to meet, the ‘we need to talk’ kind of meet. 5 more hours of intense emotions and heart-wrenching pain. She had had enough of me, after 4 and a half years. It was my fault, I had goofed up and was paying the price. Again, the rest of the day has blanked out from my memory, other than a mock interview that I gave at TIME 2 hours after the ‘talk’. I went in a barely-able-to-prevent-myself-from-not-crying state, all disheveled and in an absolute state. It was the best mock interview of my life. I had never believed I could feel this much pain for so long. Each second dragged its feet, each action and place brought back memories. The weekend was over, and with it the time I had set aside for some crucial brushing up of acads. Monday morning brought a new horror, that of having to concentrate on work. The IIM L interview on Saturday loomed perilously close. I had no idea how I was going to give the interview and what I was going to do. The thought that I’d break down in the middle of the interview horrified me. The week flew by and Friday evening saw me listlessly packing my bag for the next day.

Stupid, stupid me…

‘Is there anybody without an Admit Card?’

A single hand rose from the last row of the 30 strong group. Me.

‘Sorry, we cannot have your process without it.’

A sickening feeling filled me. They were asking me to leave. My 6th IIM call. Even without an interview.

‘Please get it and come back tomorrow. We will have your process tomorrow.’

I almost ran out of the waiting room shamefacedly. How could I forget? I pulled off my tie and threw it in my bag, angry at myself for such a stupid error. Stupid stupid stupid.

I went the next day for formality’s sake; I knew they wouldn’t pardon stupidity like that. They did assure me that it wouldn’t matter during the interview, but I didn’t believe it.

IIM K. After a few questions on mechanical engineering in which I tackled ( or, more appropriately, tried to tackle ) graphs and force diagrams, and on my venture, the panelists saw my Hindu articles. They praised it a few times and said that I could leave, leaving me slightly bewildered. ( GD/PI Experience : ([2008] IIMK GD-PI Experiences) )

A wild experience !

IIM I. A question on economics, which I answered at a very basic level. Not satisfied, he asked me whether he could ask me about history. I shook my head, history was probably my worst area. A little exasperated, he wondered aloud, ‘What should I ask you?’ I think I must have given an answer which he wouldn’t get very often. ‘Wildlife’, I ventured, a little hesitatingly. ‘Huh? I don’t know much about that. Ok, anyway, let’s see what you know.’ The interview ended 15 minutes later with the statement and question ‘Your interview is over. We are done with grading you. Now for curiosity’s sake, why don’t you make a career in this field? You are so passionate about it.’

I walked out with a smile on my face, probably after a long, long time.

XLRI-BM, 28th February. The best interview I’ve ever given, by a long long margin. Last for around half an hour and I came out with a really good feeling.

XLRI-PMIR, 3rd March. The most horrendous GD I have ever been through. I was shaking my head in frustration through most of it. We went ff on a tangent, and all attempts to bring the group back were unsuccessful. In the interview, argued with the panelist about a point and stuck to my view. Came out with mixed feelings.

Déjà vu ?

Everything, everything was going like last year. Bad interviews. Bad results – had got rejected in SCMHRD after what seemed like a decent interview which had ended a tad too honestly – was asked what other calls I had, and I listed out all of them – LIK, XLRI, MDI. The interview ended soon afterwards.

Something to cheer about…

MICA, 19th March. Spent most of the day with Chuck taking in his pearls of wisdom. For a change, the interview went like a dream. Was at the Ahmedabad railway station when Chuck called. His voice was somber. MICA had this system of spot offers and spot rejects which were announced at the end of each day. I had a feeling that I’d got the nasty end of it.

‘Dude…..’ he trailed off.
‘Ya?’ I said, with trembling hands.
‘Your dry run is over. You got a spot offer.’

My hands seemed to have a life of their own, as I tried to grasp the meaning of his words. Finally. Oh god, finally!

25th March, evening, after returning from the MDI interviews. XLRI results come out, and before really realizing it, I was out of BM. Straight reject after what had seemed like a great interview. Waitlisted 19 in PMIR, a very likely convert. Great interview, reject. Okayish interview, almost convert. Well, atleast I was doing SOMETHING right this year.

Oh no, not again !

10th April, 11 am. SC lifts stay on OBC quota, said the latest news lines picked up by Google news. IIM A confirmed that a delay in the results was likely, as expected. What an anti-climax. A strong feeling of déjà vu came to me. Just give me a different ending, I thought. Please The same agony, the same frustration, all over again, a year later. The only positive was that I had something in hand this year. I returned home to find a packet for me from SCMHRD. I had converted it in the end! Including IMT-G this year again, I had a score of 3 out of 5, with 1 waitlist. Not bad after last year I went to sleeping dreaming of converting all the remaining calls and wondering where I’d go if that happened. But I had a lot of faith in my abilities ( or the lack thereof) in the sense that I was sure that I wouldn’t have much of difficult choosing to do in the end.

Times are changing !!!!

16th April, 5 pm. Kartik, a friend from PG, calls me up. I had misplaced his number and took the call with an irritated ‘Yes?’. I’d had a long and tiring day and was in no mood to patiently tell a salesperson that I was not interested in buying a credit card or a home loan or a cow or whatever else they sell.

‘Saale, Kartik hoon.’
‘Ohh. Bol.’
‘Congrats saale.’ Kartik has this firm belief that ‘saale’ is very nice form of greeting people.
‘Saale, convert hua aur maloom bhi nahi hai?’
‘Tu kya baat kar raha hain?’, I asked, not a little irritated at my inability to quickly grasp the situation.’
‘You $%^&*( fool. MDI convert hua hain, saale.’

10 mins later, I was sitting with all 3 MDI course final selection lists open in front of me. Converts. All of them.

30th April, midnight on SB. IIM results were scheduled to be out the next day. PG's ShoutBox was unusually quiet. 12.05 am. IIMB drops a surprise package. Results out. I didn’t have a call, so it didn’t matter. But it had started. Wild celebrations started as the first of the biggies was out. Then the IIM I site started acting up, but nothing really happened. At 2 am, I finally called it a day and went to bed to a restless sleep. So much was at stake tomorrow. 3 years of incredible highs and despairing lows, ecstasy and agony. Good, bad, and the ugly. It was like one of those filmy scenes where your entire life flashes before your eyes. Would I be able to make it, in the end ? Or would I come achingly close again and yet be so far away?

1st May, 10 am. IIM C results had been out. I excitedly went through the thread on PG, looking for userids I knew. Time trickled by, slowly, agonizingly as PG was refreshed every half a minute. Suddenly at around 11, a link came up. IIM K results. This was it. Shit. The same trembling hands, the same sweaty palms, the same rapid, shallow breathing which I had got so used to by now. I struggled to remember my test registration number, confusing this year’s with this year’s. Finally, all the data was put in. A click later, the page started loading.

Or are they ?

‘Sorry. Your name does not figure in the list of selected candidates.’

All the familiar emotions were back, as I struggled to regain control. I had MDI, I reminded myself. The achingly beautiful pictures of the Kozhikode campus teased me from above the ‘Sorry…’ line. IIM call number 6. Reject. 2 more, and the circus will be over. Just let it happen quickly, I thought. Mercy killing.

Rejected. Rejected. Rejected…. And so continued the posts on the results thread. Not a single convert. Someone posted a conversation with the K admissions department ‘We haven’t put up the results yet. Wait for a while.’ Was it possible ? Could it happen? Or was I going into the same old loop of hoping when there was no hope?

20 minutes later. Another PG friend, Utsav tells me that his friend has a convert. I refuse to believe it, not wanting to let go of the hope I was hanging on to. Somebody else posts that he has a convert. Shit. It’s true. The results are, indeed, out. I go back to the results link, put in the details, and click…………

‘Congratulations Mr. KARANDIKAR HARSHAD HEMANT !. You have been selected for admission….’

Yes, indeed !!!!!

P.S : 4.30 pm : IIM L Website : ‘Congratulations, ……’

P.P.S : 6.30 pm : IIM I Website : ‘Congratulation…….’

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