Saturday, September 27, 2008

The mundaneness of existence...

It's a feeling which has been growing stronger and stronger within me over the last few weeks. Life, however you live is, is so mundane. You do your schooling, your college, your degree and get a job. You rise up through it, jump companies and keep growing. Or you get an advanced degree which makes a few of those initial jumps larger or quicker. You go through college, grad or post-grad, with the aim of getting a good job, initially an idealistic one which will make you happy, which is 'what you want to do', a profile you 'like'. Or you try for one which will give you more money. Either way, you'll work hard, slog like anything, do well. You'll find someone, with a lot of effort when you are young, because you ( and he or she ) can afford to be choosy and wait for the 'best' person to trundle along, or very quickly, if you are slightly older and starting to grow desperate and acknowledge that gnawing fear inside you that you might not end up with anybody. Or you do nothing and take the (for some people) easiest way out of selecting a person chosen by your parents. Either way, you get together, you stay together for a while, get married. A few decent years pass by. You have fights, you settle them, you move on. If the fights part is larger than the move on part, you separate. You go through pain, sorrow, hurt. Which you would have also gone through anyway even if you were with him or her. You'll have kids, you'll watch them grow. Life goes on. As typical as ever. As mundane as ever. Sometimes you are lucky to follow your passions, sometimes survival demands sacrifices, sacrifices which start with your passions because they are the most expendable. You keep going on and on, and somewhere deep inside you, starts growing a gnawing doubt : what for? The mundanity, the stupefying ordinariness of your existence starts getting to you. What for? What's the drive? Why continue, when the end is just another ordinary, mundane, nobody cares about you ending? It just gets so overwhelming at times :| I haven't seen life beyond a certain stage, but its appears just so set and typical. Its like it hardly matters what you do now, tomorrow, or next week, because in the larger scheme of things, it doesn't matter, life's still gonna be an ordinary, sodding mess. A mess from which there is no getting out of. It feels strange that at 25, the excitement of life seems to be lost to me. I appreciate the small moments of happiness, enjoy them too, but they never seem to be enough of an answer to the question which keeps bothering me. Why? What for?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sleep ? Eh ?

And thus we landed up in the exam week. Lectures had ended last Thursday, leaving us with 3-4 days without lectures, which was quite a relief as it let us study late into the night without worrying about nodding off in a lecture the next morning. The center of activity shifted from the night canteen to the library. Rupee practically made the library his home; keeping all his books and other study material inside and never bringing them out. I think he would done well to shift his bed also in, although that would have been a bit of an overkill considering how many hours he slept ( 1 hour of sleep = 1 hour of staying away from the books was the formula used by most of the toppers ).

Sunday night. I studied till around 5 in the morning and went off to bed, only to realize to my utter frustration that I just couldnt fall asleep. This had been bothering me for quite a while now - insomnia when I slept really late. It was extremely irritating - I was suffering from serious sleep debt, and here I was, tossing and turning for hours. Usually the nightmare started at 5 in the morning, and ended at around 6.30, after I resigned myself to my fate and went out to the balcony to see the sunrise - which was magnificent, as always. Somehow, after doing that, sleep quickly took over. I have a sneaking feeling that I am a nocturnal creature. The calmness and tranquility of the night make me want to stay awake even when I have nothing to do, and then just as the sun rises, I somehow manage to switch off an sleep blissfully till lunchtime.

Monday was the day of the last Accounts quiz, one in which I hoped to get the few marks required to clear the course. I'd always been paranoid about clearing subjects, although everybody keeps telling me that the relative grading system takes cares of that quite easily. I guess its a hangover from the engineering days, when Pune University made our lives miserable by make us fight to the very end for clearing some subjects. Things were so tough then that some of the University toppers had had a few KTs ( Fail for the uninitiated ) on their way! The quiz turned out to be a nightmare though, and it was left for me to complete the formalities later that week in the Accounts end-term paper. My preparation for the end-terms started after the quiz, with the intention of getting 2 full days till the first paper on Wednesday, thus minimizing the addition of sleep debt to the nightmare that I was going to live through during the exams.

Alas, as always, that never happened. Micro-economics, my bugbear for most of the sem, was the first paper, followed by Quantitative Methods later that day. Studying eco took a horrendous amount of time, especially since I needed to do well in it to avoid a possible D or F. Thankfully, QM was open book, which took the pressure off quite a bit. I finally managed to wrap it all up at around 5 in the morning on Wednesday, and went off to the paper with about an hour and a half's sleep. Both papers went ok; a good start to the exam. Wednesday evening, night and Thursday was the day of despair for most people, with the deadly combination of Management Information Systems and Marketing Management, both heavy duty rote learning subjects which left most of us non-mugging junta crying for relief. The amount of stuff we had to cover in around 12 hours ( there was no question of sleep, of course ) was unbelievable. I'd always thought that the amount I had to go through before papers in engineering was a lot. Back then, I atleast had 2 days before each paper to study everything at leisure. Here, I had 2 subjects, each with more content that most engineering subjects, to be covered in 12 hours. It was beyond sanity. 5 am again, and I finally manage to hit the bed after blitzkrieging through the material. 1 and a half hours of sleep and I ready to hit the paper again. So far, so good.

Thursday evening had 1 task to be done which I would have given a lot to have avoided - I had to rush to the railway station to change our boarding station for the journey back home. I had booked the tickets online in an extremely groggy state on Monday morning, annoyed and frustrated at the lack of sleep, and had forgotten to change the boarding point from Trivandrum to Calicut, with the effect that I now had to physically go to a reservation center and get it done. So there I was, at Kozhikode station, a good 20 km away from campus, bang in the middle of my exams. Great!

Thursday night was panic-attack time for me. I have this strange mental block against accounts, probably a result of listening to too many horror stories about it. The accounts mania is present amongst most engineers, and whether you will take up finance or not is usually decided by the level of accounts mania you suffer from. By midnight, the panic attack had reached its peak, with me fidgeting and and sweating and doing all sorts of weird things and convincing myself that i would not even get those 3 marks I needed out of 40 to pass in accounts. Kaveesh, who has been my accounts teacher for the sem gave me an exasperated look and tried to convince me, in vain, of course, that I would do sodding well if only I stopped being an idiot and stayed calm. After a while, I did manage to get a trace of sanity into the proceedings, and worked steadily till morning. This night was good for me, I got some more sleep, 2 hours compared to the 1.5 each night so far!

With a trace of apprehension, I took the accounts paper in hand. Didn't look so bad. Hmm. I solved the cash flow problem, but things weren't adding up. Giving it up for later, I went to the reconciliation problem. 10 minutes, and it was solved. 8 marks. Not bad, I thought. Another easy caselet on balance stocks and stuff. Solved. That was good. Things were looking up. Back to the cash flow one, to give the thing another chance to behave itself and surrender to me. Wonder of wonders, it did! I could have almost done a war-dance there!

With accounts done and over with, the major chunk of the exam was over, although we did not know how Organizational Behaviour would sneak up from nowhere and give us a real frustrating time by just refusing to get over quickly. All night I plodded on and on and on. I'd always liked reading OB, but doing it this way was mind-numbing. Finally, at 7 in the morning, I put the book aside and had a bath, and braced myself for the day ahead. Managing to go through 2 papers after a completely sleepless night was going to be tough. I'd always wondered how people could feel sleepy in exams, didn't the tension keep them up? 2 papers into the mid-sems, and things became crystal clear. This was an altogether new world, a different level. Nikhil's Gtalk status message summed things up perfectly : 'Buzyy.... Buzzzzzy...... Buzzzzzzzzzzy.... zzzzzzy..... zzzzzz'. As hard as the mind can try, sometimes, the body just cant keep up. And so people fell asleep in almost all papers, which made others sitting next to them frantically call the invigilators to wake them up. Most invigilators are kind enough to comply. I dread the day when one of them simply refuses to :| Some of them are even kind enough to keep a keen eye on everybody and themselves wake up people who've nodded off, with a sharp rap on the desks and a 'likho, paper likho' instruction. I solved the OB paper in a dazed state of mind, wondering whether it would have been a better idea to have left a few chapters undone and slept for a while.

The last paper was Managerial Communication, which was preceded by a mad dash towards running through all the material we had for the subject in the space of the 2 hours. The 2 hours of the MC paper were probably the groggiest of my life. I hope I don't repeat this silly idea of not sleeping at all again during the course :| I slept for a total of 7 hours in a 102 hour period starting from Tuesday and ending when I went to sleep in the train. It was crazy, something which I could not have even thought of before starting my MBA.

The mood on campus was one of exhilaration, as smiles of relief and cries of joy broke out everywhere. It was, finally, over. For all those homesick fellas, all that separated them from home sweet home was the journey, most of which would go in sleeping. There was no smile on my face, though. I was running around frantically, trying to trace my cell phone, which I had managed to forget somewhere during the day. I couldn't go back without it, and I had exactly 1 hour to pack, fill out some important forms, and locate the damn thing. After 15 minutes of crazy searching, I found it lying peacefully on a table in the library. This is 1 thing about Kampus which I really like. Nobody touches your stuff. You can keep your phone, your laptop, your books, anything you like anywhere, and you can rest assured that nobody will touch it, unless some kind soul picks it up and drops a mail saying 'so and so item found...', which is not a bad idea when you forget things like USB drives, which can sneak into some corner and be lost to the world for ever. I've done all of it, having managed to forget my eco textbook in the first week, my helmet, my clothes in the bath and the washing machine room, my USB drive, and now this. I even came across a familiar looking pullover the other day outside the library. Who else was in fergusson college, I wondered, before it dawned on me, that that was err, mine, and I had forgotten it there a few days earlier.

A stern warning from Nikhil to haul myself to the hostel entrance in 10 minutes robbed me of a parting cuppa at the NC. But finally, everything was done and set. Hopefully I hadn't forgotten anything important. The last 3 months had been incredible. Despite the pressure, the stress, the constant running around, the struggle to keep up with others academically, the constant fight against sleep and the body, the curses of friends who always got a 'sorry yaar, talk to you later' when they called or pinged, and an occasional feeling of 'why am I doing this?', it was a fantastic, fantastic experience. I had been stretched to the very limits physically and mentally at the same time, and it felt good! Time seemed to have flown by; it seemed like just yesterday that I'd landed up here, walked down that red-tiled path, gazing in wonderment at the stunning vistas around me. Just yesterday that I'd met all these wonderful people here, and yet it now feels as if I know them since ages!
I'd always looked forward to the MBA life, and here I was, a sixth of it over already! With a happy yet slightly nostalgic heart ( for heaven's sake, I was coming back in 10 days! ), I sat in the rickshaw and we trundled along downhill. That's it from God's Own Campus for the moment till I return next semester for another 3 months of globing, gassing and rotting around. Till then, the onus of bearing with me shifts to good ol' Pune!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Of greener greens and bluer blues...

( Aaargh... I wish I could place these photos properly within the write-up :| Just not happening ! )

It's incredible how beautiful this place is. Yes, it's been almost 3 months since I've landed up here, but I still can't get over this fact.

The first thing that strikes me when I think about this is how green the campus is. There's this one path which leads down from the classrooms to the road to the hostels, which is a favourite. I doubt anybody uses this, you almost have to fight with the grass for it to let you through. It's like the path has been taken back by nature who isn't too pleased that it's been used for what it was made :P The grass hits you left, right and center, and you have to constantly keep a watch that some nice, fat caterpillar doesn't take a preference to you over the grass all around. With the way my hair is most of the time, I doubt it would notice the difference anyway. I doubt insects see colour. Anyway, I digress :P

Well, so, ya, for the umpteenth time, I wonder how green this place is. I get a lot of umms and yaa and whatevers from people whom I tell this outside campus, so I've put up a few pics which i took when the grass was the brightest green (it's starting to turn a dull yellow now, courtesy the monsoon which has been playing hookey this year :| ) Where will all those caterpillars go, I say? We already have enough of them crawling all over the place getting under people's feet and going 'crunch' :( And as a classmate says... 'this place... what do I say... I've never seen so many insects at once man...'

I just hope they leave this one path wild and as it is :| For madcaps like me!

The last week was a week of stunning sunsets and glorious, clear days. The distant mountains of Wayanad were visible clearly in the mornings, looking dark and forbidding. Some stunning vistas opened up early in the morning. By mid-morning, those fluffy white clouds came in and played hide and seek with the mountain-tops. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the early morning and evening light was as golden as it could get. For five days in a row, we had stunning sunsets, which lit up the campus in golden light, and made the western skies turn into a fiery orange. I watched most of these sunsets from the library or the confines of my room ( which is a silly thing to do, as my room opens out to the east :| ), caught between the urge to rush out with my camera and tripod and stay back and study or work on whatever I was busy with. I felt like an imprisoned animal, or like one of those dozens of (unfortunate) butterflies which stray and end up being on the wrong side of a clear window and keep fluttering without understanding why they can't go out and be where they belong :|

The monsoons returned after a week long hiatus, and the campus has returned to its melancholic state. It's pouring most of the time, and the feeling of rain on my face while I walk to class in the morning is enough to invigorate (even someone like) me to stay awake in most classes. Thankfully, the covered walkways all over the campus ensure that I don't reach class a sodden mess. The only part which is uncovered is a small 20 feet patch between the auditorium and the class-rooms. Perfect to start a new day in the best way possible, without too much of it!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The exams approach...

Arthanomics is the annual Finance summit organized by the Fin interest club, Financially Yours. Artha 08, held on 6th and 7th September, was on mergers and acquisitions, and had several senior people from Private Equity firms turning up and delivering some fantastic lectures. A few went straight overhead, with whatever exposure I've had to the fin world being through Management Accounting, but a lot of them actually descended down to our level to explain the nitty gritties of private equity. Unfortunately, Artha was a tad too close to the end-terms for me to really spend 2 entire days for it. Next year though, with a few more fin subjects tackled successfully ( hopefully! ), things shall be better.

It was the last non exam week before the end-sems. I think people can tell how close the exams are from my expressions.... they generally get more and more serious as the exams approach, although it doesn't make any difference - I still while away as much time as before anyway. Another economics quiz was on the way, a last-ditch attempt to jack up the quiz marks which had 20% weightage. It was eco eco eco all the time for me. Slowly but surely, I started liking this subject which I'd abhorred earlier in the sem largely due to me being clueless about it in class and in exams. I think the authors made a lot of headway by admitting frankly that economics is a 'dismal science', something which I strongly agreed with right from the start ;) Unfortunately, they kind of ruined the effect by later proving mathematically that money can buy you happiness :|

Lectures were winding up now, and life was much more chill, with just an odd lecture or two everyday. Exams were very much in the air. The muggu junta haunted the library forever, while the outliers on the other side of the curve like me ran around wondering what all to do to get in shape for the exams. This last week is a real bother from the psychological point of view. Exam week kills you, but physically. Pre-exam week is like a bad pain at the back of your head which refuses to go away. The bad part of an IIM MBA was here. Two weeks, straight from hell :| However, just before the exams started, MessCom, the guys who manage the mess, had a surprise in store for us - an Onam feast. Onam is a HUGE harvest festival in kerala. MessCom had arranged for traditional style banana leaf meals with the pangat system ( where everybody sits and is served all the food they need by other people ). The food was fantastic, and many people had turned up in traditional Kerala dresses. Even the foreign exchange students had dressed up enthusiastically in saris. Eating with bare hands felt weird after such a long time, but there's nothing which satiates hunger like eating food with hands. It was, all in all, a great idea. Kudos to MessCom! Something to cheer about before life got ugly again ;)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Social Transformation of India

At the outset itself, I'll make it clear - this isn't another we-had-so-fun kind of experience I tend to write about. For a change, I've attempted going beyond the mundane and the typical, and write about something which I feel is more relevant. What I've written below has affected me tremendously. I've written about it despite the fact that I am unhappy with the way it has come out. For all of you who expect another light piece on life at IIM K, a humble request - skip this :|

2 days. 2 hard-hitting movies. 3 hours of stunned silence as we see the darker side of our species. For all the progress and superiority we claim, it's movies (and the events and reality behind them) like these that make me question whether we indeed have progressed or regressed. It might sound like a silly question, after all, which other species on Planet Earth has so dramatically changed their living conditions in a (from an evolutionary point of view) short span of a few thousand years? The moot point here is, is this what we want to call progress? The kind of history that we as a species have, it is questionable as to whether the meaning that we attribute to the word human or humane is justified. There is no other species on earth (maybe other than chimpanzees, as seen dramatically, although completely unintentionally, in studies by Jane Goodall) which derives pleasure from the pain of fellow species members. There is no other species which tortures and creates a living hell for living beings which share 100% of their genes. Even Goodall's chimpanzees showed tendencies of such disturbing behaviour only after decades of exposure to human interference in the jungles of Africa.

The first movie touched upon the caste system which has been entrenched in Indian society. Although most of us urban, 'educated' folks (and I use that term out of lack of a better alternative, rather than to show any superiority) have slowly started moving away from casteism (call me an idealist fool, but I genuinely believe this, from whatever little of life I have seen), in terms of discrimination, the horrors of this system are still very much prevalent in the fabric of our society. Unfortunately, most of us have been brought up in situations where we have never been exposed to these realities. And as much as we all would like to believe that we come from diverse backgrounds, there is little to choose between us in terms of what we've been exposed to in life.

Today's movie was a french film on fascism, set during World War 2. It was a brilliant commentary on the levels of debasement the human race had reached during the war. Without overtly recoursing to the shock effect, it portrayed the horrifying situations our own species inflicts on ourselves.

For the first time, after the movie ended and the titles rolled, people, we all, sat back in our seats in stunned, shocked silence, staring at the screen. The lights came on, and the atmosphere in the auditorium was funereal. After a few moments, people got up and left in a hurry, heads down and in silence, as compared to the usual jovial mood that returns soon after movie screenings. There was no banter and laughing, no it's-all-a-part-of-life kind of attempts at justifying to our consciences what we'd just seen.

This is what STI, Social Transformation of India, has managed to pull off in a short span of 3 months. There is a common criticism that b-school graduates, especially IIMians, tend to be extremely selfish and shallow, with little idea or care of the problems that plague society. Whether that view is justified or not, I can state with certainty that these 16 STI hours and 12 odd movie screenings have had a significant impact on us. It might not change us dramatically, it might not make us stop running after lucrative jobs, it might not stop us from being materialistic, capitalist creatures, but the least it will do is generate that small, sneaking feeling in our minds that there are vistas other than the rose-tinted ones we are lucky to see all our lives. Atleast it will make us that wee bit open-minded about things, to analyze our actions and decisions, whether in business or private life with respect to the effects they will have on society as whole. As we move towards the end of the STI course, there is a strong feeling that we will miss this subject. Miss it not for the incredible professor who taught us, not for the fantastic lectures we had, not for the (relatively) low effort subject it was in terms of passing, but miss it because it is the only subject which pulls us down from the stupid high levels we tend to float in, talking and thinking about millions and billions and ignoring and forgetting ground realities that such a huge section of humanity - us - keep facing. We'll miss it because it's the only subject which had the potential to stop us from becoming arrogant, pompous beings whose lives start and end with money and materialistic pleasures. We desperately need STI to be a compulsory subject for all 6 semesters. As much as I tend to disagree with some of the views Prof. Mathew puts forth, I have to acknowledge that STI has made me much more open-minded and receptive about so many different things. I am ready to step out of the world-view I had created for myself based on scant facts, and have a good look at the other side. And the ironical thing is, this was the LAST thing I was expecting from management education!

Monday, September 8, 2008

I'm an addict :|

Blogging is addictive. Let me admit it. After I'd put up all the stuff here from first few weeks, I'd thought I'd get a bit of a breather, but no. I just have to keep writing. And there's no dearth of stuff to write about. Campus life is so incredibly crazy on a non-stop basis that I can write everyday and still not fall short of words. Which, knowing the way I write, I won't, anyway :P The only limitation is time. And it is indeed a severe limitation. I wish I had the time to record life in much more detail. I go back and read this and feel that I've just about touched the tip of the iceberg. And with the lousy memory that I have, I'll soon forget the small funny things which happen, the types which give you a good laugh for a moment or two. Life is, after all, made up of such small moments of bliss :|

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

It's Party time !!!!

All pics courtesy Naren Nandkumar

Sunday dawned with an air of expectation and excitement across campus. It was the day of the all-committee party. All elected representatives of the million odd committees on campus were throwing a common party for the whole batch, a subtle way to 'thank' them for their votes ;) The venue was a resort an hour and a half way, and two hundred and fifty odd of us turned up at Harvard Steps, as the sun decided to move on to other parts of the world, to cram into the buses and rush off. A heavy academic workload and the intense competition meant that most people were just waiting for a party to relieve their frustration. Many people had a single point agenda - to reach the place and get sloshed before the others even settled down. Others were looking forward to dancing into the wee hours. The common agenda was to let their hair down and have a blast for a few hours, before life returned to the usual circus of assignments and cases and bad quiz marks.

After traveling for close to two hours on narrow country roads in pouring rain, we reached the party site. Soon, the music was on, the drinks were out, and the party started! What followed was 3 hours of crazy, crazy dancing. It was incredible fun, to be surrounded by people in such high spirits, all in such a great mood and wanting to have fun. I've never really been a party person, the sort who stands quietly in a corner while everybody has a ball. Here, however, I was in the thick of things and couldn't get enough of things. I danced to my heart's content, though anybody who saw me found it difficult to believe that I wasn't drunk, leave alone the fact that I don't drink at all. It was exhilarating. I now understand why people love partying so much, and wonder whether I should have put all those years in a city like Pune to some better use :P

The real fun in terms of entertainment, however, started when people started getting drunk. It was hilarious, to say the least, to see the dances getting wilder and the grins on faces, wider! People fell down in a heap in the middle of the floor, or simply went off to sleep in a corner. As we had the place to ourselves, we did not trouble anybody, and everybody could get happily drunk without a care in the world! It was a hoot!

Coffee part 2 !

Another hectic day in terms of workload, and another outing to coffee beans. Word had spread quickly in class about our last trip and the big-city-food starved folks were just waiting for a chance to go there. The QM assignment and MANAC quiz provided the perfect reason. This time, there were 14 odd of us, and a few more who'd gone to the city for shopping joined in on hearing about our excursion.

All pics courtesy Nikhil Kaduskar aka Khadoos

The madness starts !

It was a completely different experience this one, on basis of the fun quotient. While the last trip was a quiet, lazy affair with just 4 of us, this time, the scene was crazy. As soon as the first dish arrived, a scrumplicious cheese dosa, 14 greedy souls jumped onto it and tore it to pieces. Within minutes, it was gone. A dazed barista then got another dish - a mango mousse. There was only 1 spoon with it. Nilay decided to be large-hearted and fetch spoons for the rest of us, and arrived with a dramatic 'I've got spoons!!', only to see the remnants of the mousse being wiped clean off the bowl! Who needs spoons when you have.... Fingers! And so it continued. Dish after dish came and was polished off with a frenzy equalling survivors of a terrible famine. The poor barista who was serving us looked more and more scared every time he delivered something to our table; people had started lifting stuff off before a dish was firmly placed on the table.

A rare still moment!

'Irish Coffee', he announced, and Pallavi promptly flicked a cookie which accompanied the drink. The barista waited patiently for a moment for somebody to claim it, and when nobody did, all of us realized that it wasn't for us. With an embarassed smile, Pallavi quickly dumped the cookie back on the plate, and the barista could resist a wide grin before moving off to deposit the coffee with its rightful owner.

So there we were, running around all over the place with coffees and mousse cakes, trying to deny others a bite, while trying to stuff the whole thing down our throats greedily. The coffee beans staff watched in astonishment, probably wondering if these were the same souls who'd been all nice and proper the other day. Thankfully for them, and us too, there weren't many other groups around, so neither parties were affected in a bad way :P

A much needed breather....

All in all, it was a crazy, hilarious experience, although I have a feeling that Coffee Beans is going to levy a surcharge for IIM students in place of the discount they currently offer! Somehow, fighting for food like that is a lot of fun... there's something inexplicable about the whole thing. Maybe it activates some primal instinct of fighting for food :D

Before the action started again...

From there, we decided to pay the nearby Calicut beach a visit. The sea during the day is warm and welcoming and playful. At night, it turns into something which scares the hell out of me. Its the same waves and the same sand, yet there's a nasty look to the whole of it. You can't see much other than the waves hitting you and an occasional light bobbing somewhere before the horizon. Yet it seems to draw you in deeper and deeper. I remembered some novel which ended with the protagonist walking further and further inside the sea and never coming back. I shuddered and turned back.

Beauties and the beast - or as you suggested Pratik, Beasts and the beauty :P

The drive back was as peaceful as ever, and we reached campus in a happy, satiated high state. That felt good!