Who am I?

My photo
I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Annexure that got me through SIBM Pune

1. Explain in brief your long term goals and your reasons for applying to SIBM Pune? How will SIBM Pune help you in achieving these goals? (300 words)

I consider myself a strong willed person who has a penchant for creativity. I am also somebody who does not get bogged down by failures, because I believe failures are an essential ingredient of my growth. I want to do many things in life, and one of them is to build a pan-India educational institution that works on a sustainable business formula while catering to the underprivileged at a nominal fee. Five years is a long time, and assuming that I end up doing my MBA from SIBM, I would either be working for a Finance company or doing something in marketing, preferably working with the government sector.

It is my belief that it is wrong to speculate, because every action one takes, every person one meets, every experience one undergoes, dictates and steers the direction of one’s life. So, honestly, I would be much better placed at the end of two years to answer this question as I know that a person is influenced by the company he keeps, and the brilliant peers that I will get an opportunity to work with at SIBM, will spur me on to greater heights. The interactions with the erudite professors, the eclectic blend of subjects that I would be exposed to and the learning environment would each, in its own way, give direction to my journey towards the challenges that I have set for myself, both personal and professional.    

 2. Suppose you had to choose two people to travel with you on a cross-country trip. Who would you choose and why? What would you hope to learn from them? The people could be alive now, from another era or fictitious characters. (300 words)

The two people I would choose to travel with me on a cross-country trip would be Nelson Mandela and Tarun Tejpal.

Nelson Mandela could easily be termed as one of the most charismatic leaders of our era. The fact that he spent 27 years in prison by the decree of a racist white government, yet emerged with a plan to convince the oppressed black population to forgive the white Afrikaners, is a humongous exercise, which only a true leader can have the heart and mind for. He is a master thinker, ambitious, pragmatic. He is endlessly self-aware and self-assured. I would love to spend time with him, discussing his immense sense of forgiveness and the source of his seemingly endless energy. Today what India lacks is a visionary, impartial and a global leader like him, and I would like to take his advice on the leadership required in the Indian context today.  

Since he started Tehelka in 2000, Tarun J. Tejpal has been at the forefront of many sting operations involving the kind of investigative journalism that should be the bedrock of a developing economy like India. He and his team at Tehelka have been repeatedly persecuted by the government agencies during his career when he has left many a top leaders shamefaced. Despite such hardships and lack of financial support, never did he back down, intent as he was to fight injustice and corruption in India. 10 years have passed and he, and Tehelka, is still going strong. Qualities of a leader like integrity, sincerity towards oneself, and persevering in the face of hardships are rife in him, and discussing Indian society with him, I could wish that some of those qualities rub off on me.

3. Describe an ethical dilemma you have experienced firsthand. Discuss how you thought about and managed the situation. (300 words)

Corruption, to me, has been the bane of our nation, as it prospered at every nook and cranny where babus and tortuous regulations cohabited. May be it was this deep rooted detestation, or the revulsion I had experienced after reading about the recent corruption scams that dictated my actions that day.

The day was bright and sweat trickled underneath my helmet. I did not want to stop, but the ceaseless waving of the hand by the traffic policeman ensured that I pulled up right in front of the officer, who instantly pulled out the keys from my bike. I was politely informed that I was over-speeding. I argued that I had ensured that the speed hovered around 55, but in vain. But something strange happened at that moment.

The officer indicated that the challan would cost a couple of hundred bucks, but at the same time subtly dropped a hint that I could get away by paying half of that. But I had already made my decision. I asked the officer to issue the challan. He looked me in the eye, surprise giving way to uneasiness. He fidgeted about, turning a few pages of his challan-book, interspersed by furtive glances in my direction. Finally, handing me the bike keys, and mumbling something about being close and not committing the mistake next time, he indicated me to go. 

At that moment I knew that irrespective of the outcome, I had stood my moral ground, despite the knowledge that I would have to handle the headache of going up to the police station and the courts, stand in the long line on the weekend in the blistering heat, and get the challan money deposited. But my exultation, at that moment, was only paralleled by my sense of pride in doing the right thing, notwithstanding the consequences.

4. Describe a recent event (popular or personal) that seemed wrong to you. What would you do differently, if given a chance? How would you handle it in retrospect? (300 words)

The recent unrest in the Kashmir valley was an event that pained me, as I’m sure it did most of the Indians, liberal citizens, or almost anyone who has a stake in Kashmir, tangible or emotional. The Kashmiri, young and old alike, went into the streets, protesting, with nothing more than a couple of stones in their hands. It was an assertion of their right to life, something which has been all but denied in the tenuous circumstances that the state has found itself in, during the last few years. It was the post 1989 generation, that has grown up in the shadow of bullets and bloodshed, that has taken to the streets to let New Delhi know that they will only take so much of the step-motherly treatment from the centre.

Had I been either the state head, or a political head at the centre, I would have dealt with the situation differently. I firstly would have been accessible to the common man in Kashmir and would have left the cloak of elitism at home. I would have assertively declared that there need to be some political changes to the structure and policies that Kashmir has been subjected to so far. I would have tried my best to take all the parties at the centre into confidence, and would have weighed, in my best capacity, the case against AFSPA with the entreaties by the Armed Forces to not dilute the special powers act, and then would have taken a decision regarding the same. I would also have constituted a committee to chalk out a workable plan to bring about investment in J&K, especially in the form of institutes for higher learning. And I would not have politicised the issue and would have ensured Hindu-Muslim peace.   

5. Describe a time when you have taken on a particularly challenging or stretching target. What were the Challenges? What did you do to overcome the challenges? To what extent were you able to achieve it? (300 words)

When I crossed the threshold of adulthood and entered college, I found myself at the doorstep of a new world, full of opportunities. I soon realized that I was far too poorly equipped with the required knowledge to hold my own in any situation. I found students far ahead of me, far too much more informed about the happenings in the world around us. I was a regular student back then, and majority of the books that I had read were my course books. But I felt the urge to do more. I started reading the newspaper conscientiously, taking care to absorb as much as I could. It was not as easy at first – understanding the nuances of and rationale behind various government policies and decisions was difficult to say the least.

But I persevered, taking help of the electronic media by catching snippets of NDTV whenever I could, during the evenings. I also started reading good books, starting with Harry Potters, and moving up to the likes of Archer, Grisham and eventually Ayn Rand, Tolstoy, Naipaul, Dickens, Woolf et al. I also found myself drawn towards biographies/autobiographies of leaders like Nehru and Gandhi. These books gave me immense pleasure, a thorough understanding of the challenges of this world, at the same time shaping my personality towards the target I had set for myself. I opened myself up to new ideas. With the years, I could see the change in me, as I gained maturity and developed my own opinions about most of the events. In my personality, I imbibed values like being considerate towards others, respecting their opinions, leaving prejudice out of arguments, and respect for knowledge.

Today, I know the goal is not yet achieved. But it is a continuous process and I am glad that I am well on my way.

6. Page number 221 of your 300 page autobiography would be? (300 words)

Little I dwelt on the fact that my actions on that day were to be dictated by my 46 years lived following what my heart said. I entered the board room. The 16 people in the room were instantly on their feet and greeted me in polite tones. I smiled back, and with a confident nod, took my place as the head of the meeting. I knew I had a big task at hand. The decision to introduce foreign private partners in the delicate field of education is always a tough one. The conundrum at hand – that of making a certain amount of shares of the educational institution that I had nurtured for 18 years public – was even tougher. But I had to go with the decision. It was for the best.

I started by talking at length about our achievements, about how when we started, our model was branded as charity work that would never take off, and we were mockingly christened as “the plunderers in the garb of socialism”, and how the apathy from the government agencies during the initial years was equalled only by the financial hindrances that stymied our progress. But there’s nothing that can thwart indomitable optimism and the can-do spirit. We had come unscathed through the years, and with the PPP model, had grown our network of schools to far-flung and remote areas where 10 years ago there used to be a dearth of basic amenities, and our network of schools had engendered the cycle of development of rural India in a noticeable way. But now the time had come to bring in more capital, to expand this system by introducing other foreign private partners, but at the same time, introducing a mechanism to ensure that all the shareholders remain true to the basic ethos of our institution.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

SCMHRD - The Interview where I ended up talking about Inflation, my friend's girlfriend and my band!!

The panel of two, a male (M) and a female (F) in the 30-40 year age group, smile as I enter. Both seem pleasant and polite.

Good evening! (eeks!!! It is 12:01 pm!! This is the time when I want to strangle myself!! My only hope is that it wasn't loud enough!!)

M: So you’re from Shimla. Very cold place and beautiful, isn’t it?

Yes sir! Very cold and very beautiful place!

(The female playfully mimics me, indicating that I would anyways say that as I’m from there)

F: But you would not find it that beautiful because you live there, right?

No sir. I used to feel that way. I mean I used to live in Shimla up till 10th standard. So I got used to it. I only realized its value when I moved out to Chandigarh and subsequently to Bangalore. So now when I go back home, I realize what I’m missing.

M: How did you come to Pune from Bangalore?

I came by bus overnight. Reached the day before yesterday.

M: Which bus did you come by?

Sir it was some VRL travels.

M: What is VRL?

It is a well known bus service in Bangalore.

M: What do u mean by VRL? I mean, what does it stand for?

Sir I don’t know what it stands for. This was the first time that I came to Pune by bus.

M: (nods his head) Where are you staying in Pune?

A friend of mine is in DRDO, so I’m staying with him at his hostel. Also, the hostels are outside the main campus, so there are no security problems.

M: Do you find it ethically correct to stay there?

(I narrow my eyebrows, but keep my expression positive) Yes sir, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I mean he’s my friend and I don’t have to be formal with him to say that I’ll be living in some hotel or something.

M: You don’t find it ethically wrong?

(I take half a second as if I’m really thinking about the answer) No sir, I don’t find it ethically wrong. It’s not as if I am using up some resource for free like eating in his mess or something. He just has his fixed amount of space is his room and he’s just accommodating me in his room, in the same space.

M: You don’t find it wrong at all? (raises his eyebrows as if he is surprised by my answer)

No sir, I don’t find it wrong. I think it’s okay.

M: What is your relationship with this friend of yours? As in, how close are you to this friend?

I am an introverted person and although I don’t have a lot of friends, but whatever I have, I’m very close to them. So yes, I’m close to this friend of mine.

F: Tell us something you have done for this friend of yours?

(I take my time to answer this one. I also smile inwardly with my lips apart, as if saying - what the hell kind of a question is that!!)

In college, we used to have our rooms right next to each others’ as we were in the same branch. So whenever he needed some emotional support, I was there for him. (I couldn’t believe I was saying this, but nothing better occurred to me at that time. Actually, NOTHING AT ALL other than this occurred to me at that point of time!! After all, I don’t go around thinking what all have I done for my friends!! )

F: What kind of emotional support?

Uhh….Like he had a girl friend..

M: So the girl left? (the smirk on his face stretch from ear to ear)

No sir. The girl didn’t LEAVE. They had a long term relationship, so you know, there are everyday ups and downs (the female nods understandably at this) so I used to be there and we used to talk it out.

F: You have written that you “blog about social and political issues and fictional snippets..”..What do you mean by “fictional snippets”?

Umm.. I’ll tell you about a recent thing I wrote about. It was a very simple event. Like I started from home in the morning and I was to walk up to the office bus to catch it. I’m getting a bit late. So I try and hurry and when I reach the bus, I miss it just because the driver does not see me as I forgot to wear my access card around my neck. So this very simple, mundane thing, I’ve written in a very creative way. (The female nods as if she understands, but I don’t really think she was impressed by what I said).

M: So, Aeronautical! (Falls back in his chair, raises his arms above his head, and making that “impressed” expression) So did u get this branch by chance or by choice?

Honestly sir, when you are 18, practicality is weighed more than idealism. I mean at that time you don’t really know what exactly do you want to do in life. And at that time it’s more about getting into a good college than it is about getting a good branch. So there I was. I was expecting to get Production, or Metallurgy. But I got Aeronautical, and I was happy with it.

M: So you chose college over branch?

Yes sir.

M: Would you still take the same decision?

Are you talking about specialization? (he nods) Sir back then you can’t really reconcile your long term goals with what you are doing. But now, it’s much more important to choose the right stream as you know what you want to do, say 5 years down the line, so you choose wisely. But there’s always a decision to make. For example, I have a call from XLRI HR (I raise my left hand as if to weigh it against something. The same instant I realize my folly. What I was about to say was that if I get through XLRI HR, and I get through SCMHRD, I would have a choice to make between a good college and an OK branch (XLRI HR) versus an OK college but a good branch (SCMHRD, say Finance or Marketing). Thank heavens I do not raise my right hand to weigh it against my already raised left. I realize the mistake I was going to make. So I wind it up saying..) So you see, I have a choice to make there.

The male indicates to the female as if saying, ‘he’s all yours’.

F: So Pranay, what kind of a person are you?

Umm..(I don’t know why on earth I hesitate here! But nothing was coming to my mind for an instant! But soon I gathered my wits.) I have patience. As in, I have a lot of patience when it comes to carrying out tasks (she nods sympathetically). I also do not get bogged down by defeats. I mean, I do not let myself get bogged down by defeats (I actually repeat the whole damn thing, in the very same words!) For instance, I have been appearing for MBA entrance examinations for 3 years now. And for example, last year I scored 106 in SNAP and missed the cut off by one mark, but I did not get disheartened. I have seen people give up on things after a defeat, and whine about it. But I (the female mouths this part with me, while nodding her head) have not given up.

F: One thing you want to do in life?

One thing would be I want to make my parents proud of me. I mean, a parent will always be proud of his/her children, no doubt about that. But I want to do that special something that makes a difference (I say something to that effect).

F: One instance where you made your parents proud.

Umm..there was this thing. I mean I had a band in college, and I played the bass and gave the backing vocals (the female says, pointing to the form, ‘yeah you’ve written it here’). So there was this one time where we were to perform at The International Summer Festival of Shimla. It’s a very esteemed festival where a lot of well known artists come and perform every year. So we performed at the ridge and it was telecast on the local cable television and Mom was at our neighbours’ place watching it, and when I returned home, she had that proud look on her face and patted me on the back, saying well done. So that was a moment. (the female seems all impressed!)

M: So would you opt for finance or marketing?

I find both of them interesting. Actually, in college although I did not have a lot of good grades, but I had 3 A grades and all three of them were in humanities subjects - there were Business Management, Finance and Economic Reforms in India. So I have studied a bit of Finance and I used to find it interesting. But then I also feel that Marketing is more creative and I can be better utilized there. But I was talking to a senior outside, and he told me that there is some orientation programme at the end of the first 3 months, and they tell you a lot about all the specializations, and you have to make a choice then, so I believe that I would be better placed to take this call then.

M: Pranay, what do you know about rural marketing?

Sir, I only have a general idea about the concept of marketing. I don’t know what exactly the term means.

M: If you have to sell this pen (hands me a pen) to the people living in a village, the poor people. How would you go about it?

To sell anything, one has to focus on the USP and in what way will that particular product be useful to the person. So may be, I will attach a strong device at the top which gives off light, so that this pen could be useful in areas where there is no electricity. And.. uhh.. I could also give it at a special discount..Or give other useful stuff free along with it.

M: Remember that the product you are selling is a pen. Now, can you rephrase your answer?

I would point out all the ways which the pen can be of use. It can be used to replace the chalk, that is used to write on the slate, and it is a mandatory step towards employment. Whatever you do, writing with a pen will always be a prerequisite for a better life for people living in the villages. So I will promote that. And maybe I will even give a notebook free with every pen.

M: Which was your favourite subject in college?

Like I said, I found the 3 humanities subjects interesting. So I would say, I found Economic Reforms in India pretty interesting. I mean with all the ratios and the indexes, it brought to my notice the realities existing in the Indian system today. We people, the upper middle class and above people living in the cities don’t have an idea what is happening in the rest of the country. A majority of the population is living in poor conditions... (I am interrupted)

M: Yeah can you tell me more about that? (he says that in a way as if I mentioned some particular thing.)

I mean we talk about GDP growth rate. For example, at an online community, I saw people saying let’s bring Olympics home. But what we saw in, for example Commonwealth Games, the workers were treated so badly and it all went bad. But most of the people don’t know what’s happening exactly.. (I knew I was articulating pretty bad here!!) Uhh….Sir I lost what had you asked me exactly about..

(They burst out laughing, including me.)

M: (to me) You lost what you were saying?

F: (to the male) No he lost what exactly you had asked him. (I nod)

M: (with a smile on his face) I asked you can you tell me what you know about economics?

Yes sir. Economics gives us an idea about the functioning of everyday things. For example, there is a store. It is located in an okay neighbourhood where the people are not that well off. It will arrange its products in such a manner that the low cost products are out in the front and the costlier products will not be displayed at the front. Similarly, there’s the same store with the same products with the same price in a posh neighbourhood, so the products there will be arranged in a different way with the costlier ones at the front. So economics governs all this. (I had read this in the book Freakonomics, so when I was saying this, I thought I was talking about economics, but I guess I ended up talking about marketing).

M: There’s a term called Inflation (He said the word so emphatically as if it is difficult to pronounce!) What do you mean by that?

Inflation is a reflection of the increase in the General Price Index. In India, inflation is calculated on the basis of the Wholesale Price Index, the WPI, which is a basket of goods whose increase in prices is calculated over their price last year… (doesn’t let me complete).

M: What is the inflation rate right now?

The inflation rate is currently around 8 to 10 percent and the food inflation is between 17 to 18 percent (this was pretty accurate). In India there is a debate that the inflation rate should be calculated on the basis of Consumer Price Index, the CPI, as it paints a truer picture of the prices prevalent in the market. I mean from the wholesaler to the retailer, there is a lot of increase in the prices, and the common man has to pay the retail price. So according to some, CPI gives a better picture of what the consumer has to pay for the product, so it should be used to calculate Inflation rate.

M: How is the growth of a country calculated? In what terms is it calculated?

The growth of a country is calculated in terms of Gross Domestic Product, the GDP. It is the sum total of all the earnings by the people of the country, and for instance, if a guy sells a product, so whatever he earns out of that, it also forms a part of the GDP. The GDP growth is calculated by taking the previous year’s GDP as the base rate and it is calculated on that. India’s GDP is currently around $1.4 trillion.

M: What dollars is it in? US dollars or Australian dollars?

(Pulling my eyebrows towards each other, as if concentrating, but still confident of what I am saying) It is in US dollars sir.

M: Are you sure it’s not Australian dollars?

(thinking) No sir. I don’t think it is in Australian dollars. Because I read in a comparison somewhere that India’s GDP is $1.4 trillion and that of China is $5.7 trillion. So it should be US dollars.

M: I think it’s Australian dollars (squinting, as if trying to peep into my brain)…

(thinking and shaking my head) No sir. I think it’s US dollars. (As it turns out, I was correct).

Pausing a while.. Then falling back, letting go, and smiling:

M: Very good.. very impressive..

F: Very interesting.. very animated..! good!

Thank you.

M: So how was your experience of the process?

(With a smile on my face) The interview or the whole process?

M: The whole process.

It went well overall. Just that I thought that each one in my GD group were just too good. But it went well.

M: And how did you think you fared in the interview? (Both of them were smiling)

(Baring all my teeth) Sir, I can't really say about that. I know I spoke a lot but when I go out of here, I will have to think about what all I said and then think about it. :)

F: And maybe then you will blog about it.

Yes, I might do that (smiling sheepishly).

M: Do you have a question for us?

Umm.. If I plan to go into marketing, what are the various possibilities for me? Where can I see myself 5 years down the line?

M: Honestly, I don’t think I am the right person to answer this question as I am no expert on marketing. It would be better if you approach the students and ask them to take you to some marketing person who can answer your query better.

Alright. That would be great.

Nods all around.

M, F: Alright then, it was nice to meet you.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Roll The Credits Please

          In every hand shake, in every pat on the back, there is an undercurrent of guiltiness, of sympathy. It does not repel me like it should. On the other hand, it makes everyone else more transparent in my eyes. Every eye that looks into mine somehow provides me a birds-eye view of the mind of that person. I just smile, nod, and move ahead, never letting them feel that I'm in the know of what they are thinking. I’ll be leaving this job soon. And before that I will be rolled off from this project. And I’m loving it!
          Letting go of this job would never be a difficult decision for me. I never felt like I belonged here. Although I was fortunate to meet a few wonderful people, including my supervisor, but on the whole, this place, this industry was always alien to me. I never quite understood the point of displaying the work completed by you in hyperbole, exaggerating the itsy-bitsy stuff that was made to look grand, larger than life. And strangely, people seem happy to be underutilized, to be working on the crumbs thrown by the client in US, whose main work is being done there, with only the vestiges being worked upon here. I found it baffling how people yearned for authority, how they gloated in making the other feel small. Like a friend of mine recently pointed out, the most famous dialogue that ‘We went through all of this, now it’s your turn’ in itself shows the vanity of their thought process – they could as well say – ‘We laboured hard through it. Now let me give you some tips so that it’s easier for you’; but no, this is not what comes to their mind. And alas, this has become a widely accepted norm in this industry. And indirectly serving a company in the US does not make me feel an active part of this country.
          This article in itself is not a polemic on the IT industry, as it might seem up till now. It is just a personal something that I feel, that makes me want to work for the voiceless, for those who are largely ignored in this race for more – more wealth, more promotions, more than thy neighbour and always more that what one previously had. In my own little way, I want to give back to the society that has given me so much – this education, such wonderful friends and the ability to stand on my own. Like someone once said, you do what you like doing, and the returns will be just incidental.