Monday, December 23, 2013

From Mumbai, With Love

This is not a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents mentioned in this narrative are neither products of the author’s imagination nor are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely intentional and barring a little bit of exaggeration, are all true.

Okay, more than a little bit of exaggeration.

The very thought of writing a travelogue gives me jitters. Not only are they long, bland and boring, but they are also irrelevant for those not planning to pack their knapsacks anytime soon. Besides, I am certain most of my readers either hail from or have been to Mumbai. But then, there’s something special about this city that even after millions of narratives from half a million others, you have this urge to pen down your own…it’s a freshly painted bench that despite being warned not to sit on it by every passer-by, you still crouch down and touch it, just to see it for yourself.

So on the 19th of December, I found myself on the Andheri platform, waiting for a fast train to Churchgate, where I was supposed to meet a friend. Six-thirty in the evening is the time where you have better chances of running blindfolded on a highway and not getting run over than going by road from Ville Parle to South Mumbai and still making it in time for dinner. The local train was my only option. So there I was, a needle in a haystack of bristling, bustling folk waiting for the next train to their respective destinations. I carried First Class return tickets in my front pocket, my wallet in the all buttoned up backpocket reinforced with the commanding presence of my right hand over it. In the left side front pocket lay my 80% charged Samsung Galaxy Phone, fortified by the presence of my left hand in the pocket. From behind, I am certain I resembled a 5 year old kid at an immunization camp, still recovering from the trauma of the needle on his right buttock, ensuring that the candy in his left pocket provided as a sugar coat to hold still during the torture doesn’t fall off.

As per the advice of the sixth person I queried regarding the platform on which the Churchgate bound train would arrive, I stood at the designated platform, trying to decipher the content of the electronic board informing of the trains arrival. It contained the two words I was looking for: CCG, which I presumed denoted ChurChGate and F which presumably denoted Fast. It also mentioned 18:37 as the ETA of the train, remarkably digital for an analog world. I quickly went through the routine checkups: First Class Round trip tickets: check, 6 feet distance from the platform: check, left hand over the Samung Galaxy: check; right hand over your right buttock: check; eyes in the direction of the train: check.

At exactly 18:37, the train sped in. Based on what my friends had told me, I theorized that since the rush hour traffic would be in the opposite direction, there were chances that I would be able to board the very first train that arrives and need not let a few trains go by. That of course was just a theory.

Before the train came to a halt, half the people waiting at the platform had already entered and almost all waiting to deboard had jumped off, two of whom ran into me, almost knocking me off my feet. But then we Delhiites don’t back off so easily, do we? I regained my stance and rushed to the nearest door, then the next and then the next. Finally, I found a door which had no takers. Stupid crowd, I thought. The jubilation didn’t end then. Back in the compartment, elated at having found totally vacant doors to climb on to the beast, I realized that but for a few occupied seats here and there, the compartment was almost totally vacant. If there are a million reasons to be happy, this of course is the millionth plus one. My mind alluded to the Alchemist, the most boring novel I had ever read, and I pictured the whole episode as my beginner’s luck. I moved aside a heap of what felt like a fragmented plastic mass and occupied the window seat. Within no time, the train was moving again.

All was good. Life was beautiful.

I marvelled at the dichotomy Mumbai has to offer. Manhattans and slums inside the same complex. The co-existence of the rich and the poor. The adjacency of the crowded and the sparse. Crowded, just like the compartment next to mine, which I could see though the metalworks that separated it from ours. And sparse, like our compartment. Commotion on one side and tranquil in ours.
It is then that I realized that all eyes were on me. It was a stare, not a gaze.

But why?

I am certain people wore attire similar to mine (full sleeved shirt, trousers, formal shoes) all the time. But for a few interviews, my unkempt hair had never been a cause of concern. Besides, I had taken my phone out of my pocket, hands off them and finally, on it.

So what was it?

And then panic struck.

Everyone around me looked different and alike; different than usual but like one another. I peeped into the bag that I had moved aside and saw a white cane, a visually impaired man’s walking assistant.


The sparse crowd, the vacant seats and the stares, all made perfect sense now.

I had heard how men are fined and pushed off ladies’ compartments in the Mumbai local. The punishment for travelling in a Differently Abled compartment must be even more severe, I thought. I pinged my friends and all of them asked me to get off immediately. No, not even a first class ticket gives anyone the permission to travel in Differently Abled compartment.

By this time, we had already crossed Ville Parle and since this was a fast train, it didn’t stop there. The next station was Bandra and I knew I had to get off at any cost.

What happened next is something I have regretted for the past week. To avoid the stares and the subsequent embarrassment, I faked a limp on my right leg and neared the doors. As the train came to a halt, I hobbled off the train and found a nice little corner for myself at the platform.

Still smarting due to my behaviour and carelessness, I let two trains go by. I wouldn’t have been able to board anyway, as they were extremely crowded. Yes, even the First Class compartments.

I hopped onto the third train and as expected, found myself amidst a sea of people. Not knowing whether it was a first class or a second class compartment, I just wanted to reach Churchgate as soon as possible.

Following the guilt, came the affirmation. Yes, my theory was right. Most people deboarded at the next stop: Dadar. I even found a window seat for myself.

I sat there feet up with the Andy Dufresne Roof-top expression on my face for the remainder of the journey. By the time the train neared Churchgate arrived almost 15 minutes after, I had gotten over most things. By in large, the journey wasn’t painful. There were a few mishaps, but it wasn’t a misadventure.

Not until then, of course.

As the train entered the platform, I felt strange that of the 30 odd people inside the compartment, I was the only on getting off, very odd for a terminal station. As I waited near the doors, at least a couple of people seated behind shouted at me to move to one side. Stupid crowd, I thought. Last station it is, who cares?

And then it was Varkala all over again. The tide was a human wave, the shore was my original seat. The tide swept me off my feet, back to the shore. In the process, I received multiple blows to my face, chest, gut and knees.

Ten seconds later, I could still feel the searing pain throughout my body. It was my right knee though, which hurt the most. For the second time that evening, I limped off a local train compartment, made my way to the Eros building, exited without looking over my shoulders.

Needless to say, I took a cab back to the hotel.

Friday, December 6, 2013

B-School Competitions

If you've arrived at this page looking for clues to crack B-School case study competitions, you are leading a sad, sad life and I suggest you press 'ctrl+w' rightaway. 

Phew! Now that everyone has left, I can express my opinions freely.
For starters, I must say this post was long overdue. 
Must say any post from this space was long overdue. 
The date on my last entry reads July 17th.
So what makes me write after an interval of almost 5 months? I think a better question would be what prevented me from writing in the first place. 
I am tempted to say it was a sabbatical. But then sabbatical from work gives birth to hobbies. Sabbatical from hobbies, on the other hand, might lead you to (a) Nowhere, or (b) Back to work; places you wouldn't want to see yourself in. 
So let me just say it.
A majority of my time (R2=0.15) was spent in solving case studies floated by various companies that usually come for recruitment. At the very onset, the Holmes (Jasoos Vijay, for some) in us becomes suspicious. Why would corporates spend lakhs of rupees finding solutions from ‘cannot-manage’ MBA students on by-in-large hypothetical business challenges faced by hypothetical managers at their allegedly esteemed organizations? Well, on paper, they come scrounging for ideas, a fresh perspective, they call it. Well, of course. The McKinseys, the BCGs and the Bains may be very big names and might well have dedicated teams for these sectors with years and years of experience, but then they certainly can’t beat the ideas and insights presented by timid-yet-cocky MBA students in flashy Powerpoint templates finished 5 minutes before the twice-extended deadline, not proof-read and with ‘company’ misspelt as ‘comapny’ in the very first slide. So much for ideas. But then, hey, out of those that ‘supposedly’ solve these case studies, they also look for candidates worthy enough to work for their ‘supposedly’ esteemed organizations. Sure. If the verdict of the 1% (rounded off from 0.51%) who have converted the subsequent interview is anything to go by, this is all true. So what are we left with? In my (humble) opinion, I’ve shortlisted the following rationales the corporates have for organizing such events:
(i)                 A part of their CSR initiative, given how debt ridden B-School students are
(ii)               Spreading Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation’s ‘Keep calm and make ppt’ message
(iii)             Complementing academics with academic exercises.
Like we do in these case studies, rating the above tree alternatives on factors such as (a) Likelihood, (b) Impact, (c) Short term profit potential, (d) Long term profit potential, and (e) Intuition; and giving relative weights of 0,0,0,0 and 1 to these factors, I can conclude that taking part in a B-School competition is an academic exercise.
Now that the company’s motto is clear, let’s take the students’ viewpoint. The reason why students do these case studies with the fraction of the total students mentioned in brackets is (a) Money (100%), (b) Understanding more about the sector (0%), (c) Understanding more about the company (0%), and (d) Enhancing ppt making skills (0%).
Now that there is a clear motif mismatch, I can go ahead with how students approach them.
Every great presentation consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Procrastination". The team sleeps until its two days before the deadline. Perhaps people log on to the competition website to see if the deadline has indeed changed. But of course... it probably hasn't. The second act is called "The Steal". The team rips off an extraordinary something inherited from Hostel seniors and reduces it to something ordinary to avoid the vulture’s eye and sneak underneath the radar range. But copying something blatantly isn't enough; you have to make it appear different. That's why every presentation has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Facade”. It consists of the student forcefully fitting in totally unrelated frameworks; fabricating ‘extensive, intensive, exhaustive, whatever-ive’ surveys with 297 respondents from the length and breadth (sometimes even depth) of the state (sometimes even the country, sometimes even abroad); conducting clandestine focus group discussions between 5 participants: him and the four walls of his room, and, interviewing industry experts which is again an exercise in introspection.
Add your suit-clad-boots-inivisible-face-constipated-hair-gelled-totally-clerk-like photograph from your first month here on the cover slide and there you are! The perfect presentation is ready.
And then comes the submission. You punch in the most beautiful words you’ve ever learned in English literature. Words such as ‘dear’, ‘sir’ and ‘please’. You put them together in one legendary paragraph. Attach the presentation to the email and hover over the ‘send’ button for what seems like ages and then, finally, press it.
A week hence, you think of the most unintelligent person of your batch, the kind who never submitted a single curricular assignment on time, free-rode every group the two of you were part of, couldn’t expand ‘CAGR’ and wonder how on earth could he win a B-School competition…again.
You aren’t disappointed. In fact you are indifferent to any such feeling. All you’re sure of is that the last competition, like the one before it (and the one before it), would be your last.
You go back to your den, power on your laptop and open Outlook. At the top of the stack, lies an email announcing the launch of yet another event by yet another corporate. A few swear words later, the cursor hovers over the ‘Register’ button… again.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Decisions, decisions

Staying in a single room can be tricky business. When you share your room with someone, your decision making also takes into account how you wish to be perceived as. But it's when you're all by yourself that things start getting interesting. For starters, all decisions are unilateral. Decisions have outcomes and outcomes, like always, carry trade-offs. Here's a look at the various decisions that we face daily:

  • Where to hang your undies? 
Sounds trivial, almost embarrassing. But then, given the time arbitrage of just over 3 minutes that exists from the time you take your bath to the time the morning class begins, the decision becomes really crucial. Put it in your balcony and you run the risk of being ridiculed as the guy who brandishes his undies, hang it inside your room under the fan and you get labelled as the one who lives in and lives out of his undies, and hang it in the unventilated lobby and end up wearing the same filth for two days (usually more).

  • To break or fast? 
To be fair, it's not the act of eating breakfast, but its prerequisites which make the decision making really difficult, for breakfast requires sacrificing 10 minutes of the heavenly early morning sleep and 5 minutes of brushing your teeth (includes the transit time to the restroom). At stake is probably the tastiest meal of the day as a virtue of the least human involvement that it requires.

  • Bolt or Usayn'bolt?
(First, wipe that grin off your face!) Probably the biggest and the most frequent decision that you make is whether to bolt the door or not. If you crave for your own little space, then perhaps bolting the door is probably the best alternative, for privacy is the only reason you chose a single room over a shared one. But then, you don't wish to be perceived as someone who does porn all the time, don't you?

  • What to wear while coming back from the shower? 
Holy cow, this one's a toughie! If you're comfortable brandishing your tummy and showing off your chest hair, nothing like it. But for the majority who isn't, the decision is what exactly to carry to the bathroom. The towel is an automatic selection. The rest is a trade-off between what can potentially drop in the bucket or on the wet bathroom tiles versus the odds of a person of the opposite sex turning up in the corridors on your way back

  • To knock or knot? 
What exactly do you do upon reaching the door of your friend? Do you waste time by knocking or do you simply barge in like you do in your own room? If you're the one who knocks, then you give your friend the impression that you think the two of you are the best of friends, for hey; best buddies don't knock, okay?  But then, you don't want to see your friend going through the discomfort of hurriedly shutting the lid of the laptop or instantly taking his hands out of, what appears like, his pockets?

  • How many alarm bells ringing? 
I know, it's been a while since the snooze button was invented, but then do you really trust your judgement in matters as serious as sleep? In how many different devices you do actually set the alarm in? How many alarms do you set in all? What is the interval between each alarm? How many minutes before your class does the first alarm go off? How many minutes before your class does the last alarm go off?

  • How to face the book? 
Admittedly, the least frequent of decisions, but then its importance can certainly not be ruled out. Where do you study? Do you keep the book on the table and sit on the chair? Do you sit on the chair, keep the book in your hands and your feet on the ground? Do you sit on the chair, keep the book in your hands and your feet on the table? Do you keep the book in your hands, the hands in the air and your back on the bed? Do you keep your front on the bed, and sixteen-hundred possible combinations of the book and your hands?

  • When and how often to do your laundry? 
How much is too much? When exactly do you do your laundry? Do you do it on a periodic basis, or do you wait for your entire closet to reunite in the laundry basket? 
There's also this added constraint of availability. Given your schedule, if you believe Friday night is the best possible time to do your laundry, believe me, 50 other people of your dorm believe exactly the same thing. Chances are that even if the machine is working, it will not be available.

  • Where to bin the garbage?
The answer is naturally the study table, but then there are other equally potent contenders. You might stack them in the closet if you do not wish to be perceived as someone who puts all his junk on the study table. You may put it under the bed if you do not wish to be perceived as someone who puts all his junk in the closet. Last but not the least, throwing it out of the window is also a possible option. For heaven's sake though, avoid being labelled as someone who puts all his junk in the garbage bin. That is so not cool.

If you have further questions, or answers to the above questions, feel free to comment!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

B-School presentations

First post from the new domain. Fingers crossed. The post is brief, the line spacing has been doubled. Just like we do in presentations

Some useful and interesting (?) facts about B-School presentations

·         The presenter is the one who has made the ppt. The others standing around him have a mean and cumulative contribution of zero

·         The guy hiding behind the monitor changing the slides has a mean contribution of less than zero

·         The purpose of the ‘Thank You’ slide is to tell the slide-changer that this is the last slide and he does not need to press the down arrow again

·         If the slides have a lot of words, they have been copied from a lot of sources

·         If the slides have too few words, the lazy bums just copied the headings 

·         If the design is overly impressive, chances are that the same ppt was been presented last year too

·         If term ‘Agenda of the Day’ is a myth

·         If the ppt has Smart Arts, the writer had a luxury of real-estate and a shortage of building material

·         If at any point during the ppt you come across ‘!!!’,’???’ or ’…’, the person was on Facebook while making the ppt

·         All the videos shown during the presentation have less than 3% correlation with the topic assigned to them

·         All the quotes mentioned in the slide are irrelevant

·         50% of the presenters look only at-the-instructor and 25% look exclusively at their boots. The remaining 25% are screen readers

·         All the references are cooked up

·         Pairwise intersection of : what is asked, what is being presented and what is being spoken is a null set

·         If the answer to a question asked by the audience begins with ‘so, basically’ or ‘let me give you an example’, the answerer has no idea what he’s going to speak next

·         When the presenter responds, ‘I get what you’re trying to say’, trust me, he doesn’t

·         If the response begins with ‘For the data, we spoke to…’, the bum spent the entire last night speaking to his girlfriend

·         All presentations, timed or otherwise, exceed the time limit