Who am I?

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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.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

More Than Words

I pull the cloth curtain and look outside. It is one of those days when the morning air strikes up a magical mixture between the frowning cold and the eager sunshine. Full of promises, it diffuses in you a sense of optimism that is unmatchable under ordinary circumstances. The old building running up the hill tells me that the village is near. As informed, it was indeed not very far away from SIBM Pune’s Lavale campus. 

I see a board which has Nande written onto it in wide alphabets. This is our cue as even the bus starts to slow down. A look to my right tells me that we have reached the school. The big blue steel banner, painted in white with the name of the school stares at us. I feel the familiar smell of uncertainty engulf me. Fact – I have never taught school kids, especially in a school. The thought of teaching students of Class 7th was, I admit, a bit intimidating, just because it was the unknown till this moment. The same churning of emotion in the bellies was reflected on the faces of a lot of my batch-mates who had also volunteered for teaching students through this initiative Prerna made possible by Social Entrepreneurship and Consulting Cell (SECC) of SIBM Pune.   

As we walked into the school, staying close together for comfort, we saw a recess underway. Students, big and small, were playing football, badminton with racquets and plastic table tennis bats, cricket with and without bats, a bunch of 5 girls playing train-train, circuitously finding their way through the crowd. It reminded me of the melange of games and sports that we used to play in the field during our school days where a football used to hit a batsman ready to face a ball by a bowler who is waiting for the pitch to get clear because younger students are running all over it running after a small bright-yellow plastic ball, which for a moment gets mixed up with another similar bright-yellow plastic ball thrown by a student who is playing throw-throw, a game which included throwing and catching a ball in turn by two teams standing on opposite ends of the ground – in short, a microcosm of the rich playful energy of all kinds that is epitomized by children across barriers of race, community, religion and nation.   

The bell was sounded and the students were called in to their classes. When we reached just outside the classroom, a student with a black monkey-cap on the head ran up to us and gave us a mango-bite each. We were told by his sidekick, who always seemed to accompany him, that it was his birthday today. Then they ran into the classrooms. As we entered the rooms cautiously, the first thing I noticed was that the boys and girls were sitting separately – the girls on two rows on the left of the class and the boys on one row towards the right. I reminded myself that this was the rule and not the exception. We were faced by an eager looking bunch of around thirty kids, who got up instantaneously and started singing in unison a “welcome teacher” jingle, which was obviously taught to them, and which nostalgically reminded me of the “gooood moorrrniiiinnnggg siirrrr”, the elongated wish which was the established norm in school, universally replicated in each and every class room. 

After preliminary instructions, we started by teaching them basic introductions in English like “I am a student”, “You are teachers”, “We/they are students” etc. Initially we tried addressing the class as a whole, but seeing that we teachers did not seem like strict disciplinarians, the boys, who interestingly formed just 1/3rd of the class, started chatting amongst themselves. So after a basic address to the whole class, we started roaming about in the class, asking the girls and the boys to individually recite the conversation starters to each other and we went about correcting individual mistakes.

 Some students were eager to perform – especially one girl whose body language was very confident. Whenever we asked anyone to come up to the front of the class, she looked at any girl sitting around her and tilted her head as if to say “Hey come on! Let’s do it!” Then there were others – a smallish girl sitting on the front bench, who was so shy that when we asked her to recite a sentence, she looked shyly at their partner and hid her head behind her, laughing uncontrollably. 

The most difficult part was to get the boys and the girls to perform a group activity together. The boys seemed shyer at this than the girls. It was tough to get them to do an introduction round together. The girls seemed pretty okay with it, but utter shyness made the boys bend, twist and loll their bodies in impossible ways. Also, when we asked the boys to write a couple of sentence “He is _____” and “She is _____”, they completed the first sentence, but for the second, did not write a name. One of them, hiding the sentence on his notebook with both his hands and with a wide grin on his face, said he will write the girl’s name later. 

After about an hour, we were asked to let them have a break of about 10 minutes. That was it – there was no looking back. Afterwards, when we tried to get them back in the classrooms, we were told that once they are let out to play again, it’s very difficult to discipline them again to go back in. So we gave up trying. Moreover, today being a Saturday, we could not see a single teacher around. So the students were in their full gaiety and merriment. 

One thing that was difficult to miss was the difference between the 7th Class girls and the rest of the school students. The “senior” girls reflected discipline, standing in line waiting for their chance to play badminton, curious faces affected with the burden of imminent adulthood, disciplined by their mothers not to mingle much with boys, and looking responsible far beyond their years. The rest of the kids looked like a mish-mash of fun, playfulness and frolic, what with their unique game of jumping upon the teachers, trying to hang from them like one would from a branch of a tree, all at the same time. 

Soon it was time to leave. There were endearing kids that came to us and said good bye, requesting us to come again “tomorrow”. To the responsible and mature ones, we told that tomorrow would not be a possibility, but another time in the next week could happen. I also asked the SECC guys to organize something before our mega-fest Transcend begins next weekend. We had tea and vada-pav, which each one agreed were far better than what we got in our university canteen. May be it was the delicious taste of self-satisfaction. 

Nande opened my eyes to the extremely poor quality of education in government schools in rural areas. Also the lack of teachers and funding, social inhibitions and absence of fruitful ways of making students learn stifle the creative in each one of them. What they need is an effort to go beyond rote learning, to learn more than just words. Nonetheless, their spirit to learn and their sprightly enthusiasm floored me and it gives me hope. Hope that there is enough want but only lack of availability. Hope that if persistent efforts are made, a change can be brought about. And this is where the true India begins. It is time the politicians leave their ivory towers of discussions, speculation and suggestions and get down to some real work.     

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Glass Ceiling

Interpret the picture with respect to the theme "The Glass Ceiling"

Riju Dutta and Pranay Gupta

Human beings have a history of making promises, cosmetic guidelines for us to follow. There’s a huge hue and cry, teams are brought together, there is talk of change, empowered winds of change can be felt all around. There’s brainstorming, neatly dressed Ivy League graduates bring out ideas, and there’s a fragrance of change. But the day ends, everyone disperses and all that remains are new rules, reams of paperwork and a comfortably forgotten but burning issue. Glass Ceiling. It represents the disempowered thoughts shackled to the prejudices of yesterday. It represents forgotten ideals, ignored responsibilities and hypocritical ramblings. It represents us, and our actions that fail to live up to our words and promises. We talk of change in the workplace, in the world around us – change for the minorities, for women and the marginalized, but the actual changes are only minimally brought about. It’s time to accept responsibility and be personally involved to be a part of the change. It’s time to act.

The picture is a microcosmic representation of the minority and women presence in an organization of today. The Glass Ceiling is represented by the limits within which such rich amount of ideas and experiences are forced to operate. The everyday innovation in thought and in human capabilities is bounded by the man-made but invisible barriers to change. On having a closer look, it can be seen that the growth, rather the mere presence in an organization of women has been skewed. There is a greater number of women willing and able to be a part of the organization in the initial years. This changes with time because of familial roles and maternal responsibilities that a women encounters eventually. This leads to a gender imbalance. The lower end of the room can be interpreted as representing the beginning of a woman’s life in an organization. The number of women can be seen to be decreasing as the years pass by. This not only leads to a loss of gender parity but the diversity of view-points and thoughts that strengthen an organization get lost with the passage of time. The thoughts are not able to diffuse through the organization’s work culture. But there is hope. The bigger blocks represent the trailblazers, the mavericks, the leaders among not only the women, but also other minorities. They can be the torchbearers, the role models of the minorities, representing their cause and leading the way.

Diversity of actions emanates from diversity in people and their thoughts. Change is the order of the day. The question that today’s organizations face is whether the change needs to be top-down – a CEO lady leading the way and giving impetus to change, or bottom-up – broader recruitment initiatives, fostering a culture for gender diversity and policy action. The challenge is to bring about a change within specific domains which have not been considered to be a women bastion, like sales. Other suggestions include flexi-working hours, liberal paternity leaves and coaching, mentorship, sponsorship, and an improvement in social infrastructure. And most importantly, a change in attitudes is important, and it is time to walk to talk. Diversity is a given, but making it inclusive is important. Getting everyone aligned to the whole idea resulting in a cohesive spirit throughout the organization is the challenge.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

SIBM Pune GD-PI Experience 2011

These are some of the questions are recently answered for an online site similar to PagalGuy. I am posting them here too. I shall be more than happy if it helps someone. Cheers!
   1. How is the GD- PI process structured at SIBM Pune? Can you share your experience?
The GD-PI structure at SIBM Pune consists of four legs. In the first part, we are shown an advertisement which we have to assess, dissect and give our views about. It tests the creative, marketing and interpretive side of us. We were shown an advertisement of Camlin Markers which had an element of humour in it. The second part of it is a Group Discussion. A contemporary topic, mostly from the national news domain, is given and you have to discuss on it with a group of 8 people for 10-15 minutes. Then with the same group and the same panel, you discuss a case study for the same amount of time. The case in our case was a general case study, which had the usual clash between ethics and performance. It was a non-organizational case study and we had a healthy discussion. The final leg included the interview which, in my case, was led by a panel of 2. Both seemed elderly and very polite. They made me feel at ease and the interview was not at all stressing. But then people with so much experience have a way to find out what they are looking for at the exact moment when you feel relaxed. They had my Annexure in front of them and they had already gone through it. The moment I saw their faces, I knew that half the job was already done. So for SIBM Pune, work hard on your Annexure. 

   2. What are the best sources to prepare for the SIBM Pune GD-PI?
For the Group Discussion, you need not prepare by picking up a current affairs book or something. It can be done by diligent reading of the newspapers of the last 3-4 months. Basically you need to be aware of all the big 5-6 news doing the rounds. And for each one you need to have a few arguments, either for or against. That will sail you through the GD. As far as the PI is concerned, you basically need to be thorough with the Annexure that you were asked to submit when you got a call. My Annexure can be read at http://pranay-joiedevivre.blogspot.com/2011/02/annexure-that-got-me-through-sibm-pune.html
   3. What are the characteristics that the panel look for in a candidate?
They basically look for the right learning attitude (40%), skills and ability (20%), interests and background (20%) and creativity and ability to think on your feet (20%). Remember, they do not expect much from you, as you will be groomed by SIBM in these two years anyway. All they want to see is a clarity of thought, and if you are mature enough to be in a b-school or not. If they do not feel so, they might think that you need some work experience before joining an MBA course. And honestly, it's much more learning if you have come with atleast a bit of work experience. But that is a separate issue. 

   4. Tips and Advice that you would like to give students?
Be aware of what is happening around you, watch debates (The Big Fight, We the People) on NDTV.com, watch TED talks, inculcate a habit to read articles from Economist, Tehelka, Frontline and Harvard Business Review, apart from the usually suggested Economic Times and The Hindu. Read a lot during this preparation, anything and everything you can get your hands on. Make up your mind about the specialization you want to choose by reading more about related careers on the net, on blogs or by talking to seniors who are in B-schools or have passed out from them. Read books, listen to good music. Make a list of the books and music artists and interests that you want to talk about in your interview. Do an inside-out research about them, because it happens that we have read a book or seen a movie a number of months ago for us to remember the nuances about the characters. So, it’s better to refresh those memories.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Unhinged in the rush of semantics,
Deeper into words I climb,
Feeling my mind unclasp,
From the exasperating rituals of days unbound.

Blinded by the darkness in the character,
Sullied by the dirt sublime,
My soul gropes for the scattered reasons,
Tasting the numbness of time.

Oh my! It’s six already, hours passed by in a daze,
In the unreal human lie which I now faintly perceive,
Let me fly, the literature unshackle my soul,
This is the only life I want to breathe.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Doom II: Trouble?

The worst performing currency in Asia. Ever increasing and uncontrollably high fiscal deficit. Inflation continually above 9% in all the months of the calendar year 2011. Eurozone simmering. Foreign Institutional Investors pulling out of India. Humongous current account deficit. World economy teetering. The worst performing stock market in the past year in the whole of Asia. Capital goods sector shrinking by a gigantic 25.5% portending doom. Stultifying policy paralysis. These, and more, are some of the terms that I hear even in my sleep these days. They are all around me. From my Macroeconomics lecture to the dinner table, from class presentations to late night hostel discussions, this topic rules the roost. No matter how much you want to run away, sometimes it gets difficult to tear your ears away from these numbing predictions. The sword of economic doom is dangling perniciously on the neck of the faltering elephant.  

The perception of the economic performance of a country, especially in foreign markets, is shaped primarily by the level of its political stability. Assertiveness towards change is what the government of India lacks right now. If the Congress Party fails to win a lot of seats in the upcoming Assembly elections, it would have to depend heavily on its whimsical partners to garner the support needed to stand on its broken legs. If such a scenario turns up, forget about any reforms. The future sessions of the Parliament would be a repeat of the laughably depressing winter session, whose proceedings were some sight. Only a favourable result for the Congress party could give enough legroom for the party to make the train of reforms atleast start moving. The Assembly elections are important also because it would make or break the plans that the Family has for its “young” scion. Whether Rahul Gandhi’s attacking tactics can make a dent in Mayawati’s big plans is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, B-school students can only sit down and pray. 

Fear and pessimism is written all across the faces I see. Doom splashes in the ocean of their eyes. The possibility of poor final placements by the end of the next year scrapes our soul. But then half-glass-full-me steps in. Did I scare the wit out of you? Of course I was exaggerating! The main driver of inflation – food inflation has fallen to a six-year low, Eurozone may finally extricate itself out of the morass, US economy seems to be improving, and car sales finally up. These and some other leading indicators are giving a glimpse of the light at the end of the long dark tunnel. But for the light to come true, I guess I better pull myself away from the web of words and start preparing for the quiz I have tomorrow!