Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back where I belong!


I guess it was a fairly crazy thing to do. But then, I am known for doing crazy things. So there I was, sitting at home, 1 hour after reaching Pune, wondering what to do. Yes, an hour after reaching Pune after 3 months. Sad :P So then, I decided to do the only thing I can in such situations - go for a nice, long trek. My old company chaps had arranged a rock climbing and rappeling expedition to Alang and Madan, 2 forts to the north of Pune, near the city of Nashik.
Starting the climb : The eastern skies light up

Alang, Madan and Kulang were 3 of the toughest forts of the Sahyadris, with tiring, steep climbs and perilious rock faces to negotiate. I had fond memories of Kulang and Alang. I'd spent New Year's eve, 2004-05 on Kulang, after traveling all night, walking all morning for around 10 kms due to lack of transport to the base, and then doing the 6-7 hour steep base-to-top climb, all with the sun on my back. It was well worth it though, and the experience for the next few days was unforgettable. Oh, those memories...

Madan, however, had eluded me for a while. It has a bit of a rock patch which cannot be negotiated without technical equipment. I was close to doing it for 2 years with Trek'Di, my old company, but something or the other had come up at the last moment.

So there I was, sitting in the bus at 11 with a bunch of 30 odd similarly crazy outdoor freaks. I didn't sleep much in the night, discussing everything from the state of the automobile industry to CAT to life in the IIMs to engineering with Tarini, who had the misfortune of being beside me and then choosing to be with me for the rest of the trek! I think Trek'Di will ensure that I sit in a single seat the next time time round, lest I scare away more of their customers ;)

Morning came with us in Ambewadi, the village at the base of Alang fort. The 3 forts stood tall to the South, lit golden yellow by the rising sun. After a not-so-quick tea outside the village, we set off. I love steep climbs, the no nonsense part of it really appeals to me. Sure, it stretches you cardiovascularly, but it takes you up quickly, and I prefer that to slow ascents. By late morning, we'd reached the base of the rock face.

After a few hours of climbing and traversing scree-clad ledges with a couple of thousand feet drops alongside, we reached the top of Madan. There's something smug about the Madan summit. It sits pretty there, between Alang and Kulang, both with vast summits, which take atleast a couple of hours to get around, but which are shorter than Madan.
Left : The vastness of Alang Right : Moi, but a minuscule molecule in front of it.

After a quick dumping of my sack in the caves, I rushed to the top-most point of Madan. There are plenty of large rocks here to perch on and dangle your feet into the nothingness below. The setting sun casts a warm glow on our faces, as people leave their chores and climb to the summit for the sunset. It's a fantastic spot, although how beautiful it is will become apparent only the next morning. The sun sets, and the temperature dips rapidly, making me wish that I'd not forgotten my jacket in the cave below. Shivering, I head back to the caves.

Left : At the Madan Summit Right : View from the top

Its such an amazing feeling, having nothing to do at all at such a beautiful place. You are almost on the top of the world and there's nobody else to bother about. Nothing else matters. The sky has lit up with millions of stars, there is a soft breeze blowing. A jacket keeps me comfortable as I sit on the top of the cave, watching the goings-on below. The call for dinner comes, and we reluctantly head down. Back to the roof-top afterwards, the sky is too beautiful to stay away from. It's got colder though, and the warmth of the sleeping bag is too tempting to continue staying up here. Sleep overpowers me instantly, although the ground is hard and uneven and rocky and dusty.

An alarm rings at 5. Time to head to the summit for the sunrise, although its an hour away. The short climb immediately after waking up leaves me huffing and puffing, and the comfortable rocks at the top are a welcome site.

Right & Below : Sunrise at Madan top

We sit there, watching the surroundings in awe. It's not yet dawn, not even false dawn. It's night, complete and proper. We can't see anything, not Alang, not Kulang, not the caves below except for the suffused glow of the torches inside; the group leaders waking up to make tea and breakfast. Above us are millions of stars again, albeit different ones. A stiff wind is blowing. The silence is like a shock, the complete lack of noise other than that made by the wind is a treat to the senses. Sometimes, nothingness feels like it is so much! There is absolutely nothing and yet there's everything, nothing to see except for a sky full of stars, nothing to hear other than the steady wind playing with the grass, nothing to feel other than the coarse rocks beneath us, nothing to smell other than the faint fragrance of I-dunno-what which makes the mountains what they are. In our busy city lives, our senses are literally assaulted, and yet we don't feel, remember, cherish or value anything. It's when you get them in such carefully measured proportions that you realize how fantastic an experience each one of them can be. I loved it, the simple pleasure of watching a brilliant star-lit sky, without the sickly yellow glow of city-lights, the soothing fragrance of a night in the mountains, the feel of the breeze on my hands. Life can be so simple, and yet so incredible at times! Everything else seemed history, irrelevant. This was me, this was the present, this was life. Nothing before, nothing after. One moment at a time. To be felt, enjoyed and forgotten to the fullest. To be lived the way life deserves to be lived. Who knew, while doing the traverse on the way back, who knew for sure that I'd place my feet where they should be put. Who knew whether I wouldn't slip and lose my balance and just roll down. Why bother about things that might never happen... Why do I realize these things so easily when in the outdoors and so quickly forget them when I go back to my 'life'?

The faint outline of Alang started becoming visible to the east. Along with the first light of dawn, rose the moon, a mere thin crescent, a day away from nothingness. It was brilliant, the eastern skies turning from black to a dull brownish yellow to a bright orange, with the moon just above it. It was an enrapturing sight, and we watched it in awe. Conversation was surperfluous, and an insult to the celestial magic being weaved. I wish those moments froze in time...

The sun soon came up, and along with it, the rest of the members of the group. The Madan summit felt completely different in the morning, beautiful, but in a different way. After sitting there for a while and soaking in the sun, I descended down reluctantly.

Bags packed and all ready, we started the descent. The day's walk was not long, but time-consuming, as we had to first descend Madan and then ascend Alang, which also had a rock patch. After much loafing around at the base of the Alang rock face, waiting for the outdoor experts to fix things up, we reached the top.

It's a sunny, albeit cold morning!

A quick dumping of sacks in the caves, and we were off for the water tanks, which were a good 10-15 minute walk above the caves. A quick climb took us to the top of the caves, after which we went through the ruins of the forts, broken down walls of houses, the last remnants of a forgotten era.

Alang has 1 construction on top which still has a bit of it's old glory. It's a largish house, with its outside walls almost entirely intact. The walls are made of large basalt bricks, uneven and coarse, yet giving the feeling of solidness which nothing else would. It has a beautiful window on the South-western side, which, when seen from inside, frames the far corner of the fort nicely. After a bit of a photo session there, we headed to the hillock towards the south, with a flag at its summit. Beyond that, however, was another hillock, quite far away, and a few minutes on the uncomfortable flag-wala hillock convinced Tarini and me to go for the one further on. The distant hillock held promises of a smooth, grassy top, and looked like a nice place to watch the sun going down.

A bit of a walk, and we were there. The grass was tall, yet comfy, and the view, fantastic as usual. Tarini found a packet of a groundnuts somewhere in the hundred-odd things she was carrying around, and hey, we had salted groundnuts too!

It was a completely different atmosphere, yet, again ethereal. It's incredible how nature can be so simple and yet so beautiful, so easily. The skies were blue, the yellowing-but-still green grass was looking brilliant in the evening light. Tiny yellow flowers grew randomly in the grass. Madan looked tall yet lonely, far, far away. An eagle played with the drafts, diving, soaring, gliding, a little tweak of a feather here, a sudden flapping of wings there, sublime and majestic. Small yellow lights started lighting up the distant town of Igatpuri, where I'd spent a fortnight in the near past, although it now felt like a lifetime ago. I was staring, gawking, lost in the overpowering beauty of the place. Money, a good career, power, they all seem so frivolous, so useless, so lacking in the ability to give me a real high. What did it all mean, if it kept me away from all this? This was me, this is me, this is where I am happy, this is where I can be myself, toss my head back and smile from the heart and be glad and thankful to the maker for life and its simpler and yet so much more magnificent pleasures. Yet, I knew, tomorrow I had to go back, back into a world which, in all possibility, will take me far away from this. Yet, that did not bother me, for once, for a change, after a long, long time, I was living in the present, completely soaked in it. Life, I thought, could get stuffed.

Despite the fears of going back, I knew that I knew what it took for me to feel happy, to feel content. I hope that wherever I am, if the chips were really down, I could come back here, there and in so many of my favourite places in the Sahyadris, and feel good again. As much as I look forward to going to Germany this summer for my summer internship job, I think there's nothing which can hold a candle to some of the spots in the Sahyadris.

Fort Madan, seen from Alang

The sun dipped behind the range of mountains in front. We got up and started on the long walk back, past the first hillock, past the big ruin, past the water tanks, and on. Then, we had to look around a bit, I wasn't sure about where the first ruins exactly. If there's one thing which rarely lets me down, it's my sense of direction, and sure enough, I found them, and down we went, to the warmth, darkness and comfort of the caves. A superb day, with the sunrise at the Madan summit, and the sunset from the far corners of Alang.

An early dinner, and sleep beckoned again. Tomorrow it would all end, like I was going to wake up from a pleasant dream and go about facing life again.

5 am, and again we head out for a walk. Climbing to the summit was out of the question today, it was too much of a climb early in the morning, in the dark. So we headed down to another water tank near the spot we climbed up from. Dawn seemed to come quicker today, and soon we headed back to the cave, for breakfast and tea.

The last descents and walks of a trek really get to me. There is this growing sense of despondency and helplessness, as I come to terms with the fact that it is going to end soon. Most of these descents end with a hot, dusty, boring walk across miles of open country which also does not help matters. Anyway, as it is most of the times, there was little choice, and soon we reached Ambewadi again, where they'd managed to, remarkably, concretize most of the village roads in the 3 days we were gone. After a late lunch, we stuffed ourselves into the bus again, and headed back home.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thank God it's over!

They say Term 2 is what a MBA is all about, in India b-schools. I agree. Although this wasn't quite due to academics, as is normally the reason. Surprisingly, acads were much easier and manageable this time, despite summers and the mess associated with it.

But term 2 was bad and forgettable. There is no other way to describe it. Summers were a nightmare for the first few days. In the end, I got a good offer, but not before some severe heartburn and frustration. Then followed events on campus which left everybody stunned and shocked. Then came the mid-terms, and the stress associated with that. The next 2 months were a personal nightmare, something which I hope doesn't come back to me this term. All in all, 3 months of the course I would like to forget as much as possible about...

And the End-terms come visiting again...

OR and OM on day 1. Not very stressful, for the simple reason that few people have a clue about what really goes on in OR. I seem to do better than average here, so no worries. No reason to worry about OM either, the mechanical engineering background (finally) comes to the rescue. So day 1 is manageable, I think.

Alas, the OR paper was a bit of a disaster. By disaster, I mean it went kinda bad while it went fairly well for others. It's not a disaster if everybody screws it up, due to the relative grading system :) OM was average. A so-so start to the exams.

Day 2 was important. I had a below average macro-economics score in the mid-sems, and had to make up to avoid a low grade. Like Micro-economics, I had little clue about the subject for a long time. When I finally got down to read it properly, and I think i did a fair job of it, I started liking it, just like micro. I don't know how relevant these textbook theories are in real life, but the fact the front page of the pink dailies actually make some sense to me is so much of a morale-booster. I could now faff beautifully about fiscal policy changes and rate cuts. More seriously, it's actually quite an eye-opener, macro-economics.

Business ethics followed in the afternoon, which went fine. It's tough to do too well or too badly in subjects like ethics and sociology, which is just fine with me!

As expected, everybody had left the post-weekend subjects for the weekend. Again, as expected, nobody studied after the paper on friday or much on saturday. Which meant that come Sunday, and everybody was running around in a state again. So much for using the break! This is one MBA habit which I have to break out of. The tendency to leave EVERYTHING to the last moment. I think we should be having rigorous anti-procrastination courses :| It's crazy, it's irritating, and it makes me mad at myself. And yet I don't change. Procrastination has become a big problem :|

Monday morning, and the Financial Management paper is so tough, that it's funny. Few people have a clue about anything in the paper. I have a sneaking suspicion whether we actually had all that stuff... I mean 200 odd not-so-bad brains can't not have a clue, can they? Organizational Behaviour follows in the afternoon. My sole chance of getting a A+ this semester. Or in the entire course, I have a feeling. Anyway, I botch things up quite well, ensuring there's no way I am getting a A+. An A if I am lucky, or a A- most possibly. Darn.

Last day, and only a single paper. Management Accounting. After studying for a few hours, Mandy, the senior who's a CA, responds to a SOS and makes things much simpler and manageable. The paper's a dream, unfortunately, everybody's creamed it. Well, no issues, as long as I am not the one screwing up!

And that's that! I am a M. Out of a MBA. My friend says we get a PGDM, not a MBA. Darn. 0.33 PGDM doesn't sound that cool :|

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sem 2 draws to a close...

Aah, well, for a change, we didn't have anything like an exam week. Through some possible scheduling goof-up, the end-term exams for Term 2 were schedule across a weekend. By that I mean that we had 2 papers before the weekend and 2 after. With people studying less and less as the course progresses, and this sem's courses being more understanding based and analytical, the cumulative effect was that exams this time around were much less stressful. All in all, the second semester drew to a close in a much calmer way.

We still had lectures scheduled in the days before the papers, with some important OR stuff being taught 2 days before the exam. I guess the admin seriously believes in continuous and regular studies :| The problem with lectures in the exam week isn't the lectures themselves.. as in an hour or so is not that important, even when you have 2 papers about which you have little clue waiting for you the next day. The issue is that these lectures will invariably be in the morning. Which means I have to get up in the forenoon, or worse, in the morning. Which means I can't put in an all-nighter the previous night. So the straightforward effect of having lectures on days before the exams is that there is a direct negative effect on my grades. Which makes me hopping mad. This is something I love about the engineering system. 45 days of prep leave in which you have hibernate if you want, for god's sake. Atleast a business school should have a schedule which favours the night owls... which is more or less everybody here!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Roller Coaster

Warning : Serious Material Alert!

A year ago, it would have been difficult to imagine this scene - nay, I would have betted a hell lot against the specific sequence of events happening which would make me land up here, in the balcony of my room in the IIM Kozhikode hostels, watching the rising sun paint yet another stunning morning. Another long night has passed by, unfortunately just literally. Otherwise, I continue to wait.

They say life changes dramatically at times, events happen at a pace which leave you gasping for breath. It has been that sort of a year. Maybe the start was a sign of things to come. I start the new year with a fight in the wee hours. A sort of fight which leaves me wondering where we have reached and where we are heading. Time, (un)fortunately, does not offer me the comfort of delving into these matters, and they are shrugged off and (semi-) forgotten in the bustle of everyday life. There is a job to do, exams to give, a career to plan, back-up options to explore. I have a lot on my plate, I assume some things will fall into place due to the inherent strength of the foundations they have been built upon. Assumptions are silly things, lulling you into a false sense of confidence and comfort.

I vividly remember, 8th January, the day of the CAT results, when I spent a nervous day flying into and out of Delhi, and presenting our business proposal to a huge set of foreign delegates. Every other moment I checked my on-silent-mode phone for any call, any message about the results. I eventually found out about my LIK calls only the next morning.

The rest of the month passed in a blur, preparing for the calls, putting in long hours at work. 31st of January, and I watched the sun set on the outlines of Pune city on the horizon, shining through the haze and smog, on my way back from a business trip. There was something menacing about it, as if warning me of the dark night that would follow the twilight which, itself had followed the soft, golden light of the evening. I tried to shrug it off, telling myself not to be irrational, setting suns don't tell you anything. A bad phone call, another semi-fight, and I looked outside the window in frustration. Darkness was, indeed, falling rapidly. But that it would fall this rapidly, I had no clue.

There are incidents which you remember all your life, good ones, bad ones, but when you try recollecting what exactly happened, you go blank. February 1st was one such day. A normal day at office, followed by an evening which leaves me clutching for support to this day. There are moments in life when you reach a state where you are completely, totally, helpless, comprehensively defeated, with nowhere to go and nothing to hang on to. There are, thankfully, rare, most of the time. MOST of the time. I was having an entire set of them, bunched together in a nice period of 20 odd months. So much that I have begun to dread not the reason for those moments, but the moments in themselves. You learn to grapple with most of the stuff that comes your way, but it's those first moments, when it hits you is what is dreadful.

They say, what you get in life, what you do, whatever comes your way is all destiny. Some things are meant to be, some aren't. I was never a strong believer in this philosophy. The next 3 months, the fellow up there concentrated solely on proving me wrong about this. A series of events which put together would put a bollywood story to shame. It was as if there was a direct challenge from God - you can do WHATEVER you want, exactly THIS will happen. Exactly THAT happened. It was unbelievable. It was like he was sending me a message - just go with the flow - when it's meant to be, it will. Why couldn't I accept it and apply it to other things in life? I almost did. 3 blissful months when all that I saw was the the future. But these things have a weird way of getting back to you.

A month of here-or-there, and I land up in IIM Kozhikode. New place, new phase of life, new people, a new routine, a new purpose, a new destiny, all seemed enough to push the demons in my head way, way into the blurred past. As expected, I was overwhelmed, I was ecstatic, I was sleeping 3 hours a night and yet I was as happy as I can ever remember myself being. Life rocked. It was a fantastic place, with fantastic people, something which lakhs of people yearn to be doing.

Unfortunately, you adapt. You get used to things. You learn to manage them, as tough as they can get. You evolve. You fight for your space, your piece of time to think freely about what you want to. And then it all starts coming back. And you realize that it hardly matters. Your location, what you are doing, the people around you hardly matter, when the devil is inside your head. And slowly but surely, it takes you back into the labyrinth, through turns and twists which you pass and instantly understand that you will not remember on the way back.

I don't know where I am today. The IIM calls, the breakup, the interviews in that zombied, auto-pilot mode, the remarkable strokes of luck during them, the converting of almost all calls, the month where I drove myself up the wall trying to choose between the head and the heart, the 2-3 months when the high made me forget reality, the struggle to cope academically, and the eventual relapse. A soft wind blows, laden with the freshness of a hill-station morning, bringing me back into the present, into reality. The sun has risen higher into the sky, shining brightly into my east-facing room. Another delusion of light, another false but well-lit path to trick me to follow. Campus is waking up, the first joggers of the day are out. I turn around and walk back into my room. It smells stale, of yesterday, stuffy and humid, lacking the crispness of the air outside. It smells of things known, things and events in the recent past. I want to stay outside, in the fresh air, but something, something which I cannot fight pulls me back inside. I close the balcony door, pull the curtains. Why do I insist on keeping the sunlight out? I switch on the fan, it starts churning the same old stale air, and slide under the covers.

Will the coming times give me the strength and the courage to fling the door open and take in a deep breath of fresh air, not turn back, not turn back till the door is open long enough, till the elements do their job? Till every blob of air hiding in the crevices of my room is dragged out and replaced with fresh, oxygen-filled, crisp mountain air?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Life's a brick game...

The fourth or the fifth week of the second half of a semester is the one in which you started realizing that there are, err, a few project deadlines which are round the corner, and which would require a bit of serious work. Mails then start going around, pleading with group members to turn up at unholy hours. Huddles of worried and bored looking chaps can be seen everywhere, hunched over their laptops, busy chatting with somebody on their gtalk list while appearing to work hard.

This semester was a nightmare in terms of project deliverables. Almost every subject had some submission or the other, and they just kept coming at us one after the other, like a never ending stream of coloured bricks in computer games. A MBA, however, teaches you one thing - if it has to be done, it will, in all possibility, get done.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Old affiliations call!

Our sections had been shuffled for this second semester, which had caused a fair bit of heartburn amongst us, especially since we'd started to have a real neat time in class. I guess the professors didn't approve too much of the camaraderie we had. Anyway, so we all decided to meet up for old times sake, and went out for a 'B-Section' Party. Thankfully, the restaurant manager was smart enough to let us loose only inside a separate hall. Short of having a food fight and beaning each other, we pretty much created a fair bit of ruckus and mess. Whatever food came our way was attacked with a gusto. I keep seeing the scared-as-shit waiter syndrome a fair bit here. I wonder whether it's just here or also prevalent in other business school afflicted towns. An apprehensive looking chap will arrive with whatever you have arrived. He'll look around and ask a few people as to where that particular piece of edible matter was supposed to land. After getting more than a dozen authoritative replies of right here, right here, he quickly plonks it on the nearest horizontal surface available, withdraws his now-in-dangerous-territory limbs with the agility of a cornered snake and runs for his life. What follows is a scene which concerned mothers should shield their children from, as a couple of dozen otherwise perfectly sane folks jump onto the plate like a mass of crocodiles fighting over a recently pulled down beast, in the wilds of Africa. The crocodiles atleast leave the bones behind.

Satiated and tired after fighting for our food and getting it, we streamed out, boisterous as ever. I am sure we drive restaurant owners and managers here up the wall. They can't throw us out because it's just plain bad business refusing entry to a total of 400 odd customers, most of whom would have no qualms spending more than almost any of your regular customers. At the same time, with the way we behave, they wouldn't have too many regular customers. I think the manager of the Taj here would soon happily ban us from the premises, with the new found, unarguable reason of 'security hazard'.

Well, we do listen to them a bit when they request us to quieten down a wee bit, and haven't got any of them really cheesed off at us, so we don't seem to be doing too badly.

Needless to say, we had a great time. Strange to have a reunion when we were all of a sem and half into a MBA, but, well, as long as it makes sense, why not...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In the middle..

Life at a b-school soon settles down into a fairly established routine, depending on how close (or far) you are from the exams. As the semesters progress, even that stops affecting you. It can start getting a bit too routine at times, though I guess it won't even come close to the drudgery that life is in the corporate world.

The last week was like that. Classes, hauling myself out of bed at 9.05 or 9.10, making a reasonable attempt to not look like something they hauled out of the rainwater harvesting pond, a mad dash up the stairs to the main area, squinting in the bright light outside, huffing and puffing my way to class and finally plonking myself on my seat. I would have loved to add 'and going back to sleep', but the smart schedule setters had considered that possibility, and scheduled lectures first up in which sleeping had the potential of causing a sharp dip in your grade. So there I was, looking like a zombie, trying to make sense of salesmen running helter-skelter between delivery points or wondering how much it cost today to start a project in the next millennium but for which you would take a loan in the next century for an interest rate of 7.4573589 percent calculated semi-hourly, and which had a risk probability of 0.45379 if I became the prince of egypt and 0.5634 if the arctic ice depletion suddenly reversed and an ice age took over the world. My instinctive answer of none, nil, null, shoonya didn't amuse the professor, who didn't appreciate the use of the gaping loophole he'd left while framing the question. Like Calvin, I will make complete use of loopholes.