The women sitting in the next cabin continue to chant. Meera looks up from her book. It is titled, “Aunt Erma’s Cope book by Erma Bombeck”. She raises an eyebrow.
“When will they stop singing?”
I shake my head from side to side. I do not know either.
Arun comes back and flings his backpack on the seat.
“The charging point at A1 is going to stop functioning any moment. Those people use my own plug and I have to forfeit my turn to someone.”
I look around the cabin. There are eight people in various degrees of sleepiness at 9 30 in the night. Meera, Arun and I are on our way to Chennai for some work for the college. It is a regular third AC compartment. The AC is set to a moderate level and the noise levels are lower than the regular sleeper class compartments but it is there, nevertheless. While standing near the basin, I notice that the AC is full on in the nearby first-class AC compartment that is protected from peering eyes by rich brown curtains. And it is the only compartment with a functional charging point though we were promised one.
We are surrounded on both sides by a big group of people who are on a pilgrimage to Tirupathi. They seemed to have booked their tickets on a later date as they have two cabins to themselves, separated by our cabin right in the middle. So, during the whole journey, we are treated to bhajans, and huge containers of food being taken from one side to another while we try to subsist on the meagre fare provided by the Indian Railways.
“Do they believe in feeding hungry strangers?”, Arun asks me after a brave attempt to finish off the bread omelette that was given to us for breakfast. It is a 22 hour journey from Pune to Chennai and we were planning to subsist on the ‘Butter Cookies’ that Meera had got for the whole journey. I have never loved them before like that.
The group on the pilgrimage is sort of a spiritual commune for the middle aged. They all belong to the age group of forty and above, with the oldest among them being around sixty-five. During the afternoon, I hear one of the most interesting conversations. I was not exactly eavesdropping but an Indian passenger train is one of the last places to look for to share secrets.
There is a lady in a purple chudidhar sitting in one of the corner seats. There are many ladies surrounding her. She is in animated narration when I notice them and start to listen.
“So the mother-in-law broke open the door, and then she stopped and started screaming”, she pulls her tongue out and tilts her head as if her neck is broken, “As the daughter-in –law has hung herself.”
“Oh no….” goes one of the ladies sitting next to her.
“Since then, she has become a saint and begs on the roads.” She says with a knowing smile.
“Didi, I don’t know but I feel like someone is following me everywhere. It feels as if there is a presence haunting me at all times,” A woman in a green sari looks disturbed as she talks about it.
“Like what?” asks the woman who just narrated the story.
“Like there is someone who is behind me all the times.”
“Maybe it is an evil eye. Pray to the Almighty.”, volunteers one of the women.
“Maybe the Almighty is himself protecting you,” says the woman in the purple chudidhar, “Never ever be scared. Do you know, I once went into the Governor’s House without any prior permission. As my car approached the gate, the sentry stopped me and asked me whom I wanted to meet. I just said ‘Governor se milna hai’ fearlessly and he let me drive inside. All through the checking points, I repeated the same thing and the guards were scared my bravery that they just let me in without a word.”
I am finding this really hard to believe but the women are agog in admiration. The conversation then proceeds to the protagonists in television serials and grocery and my mind drifts away.
Arun, meanwhile, has a hard time charging his laptop. He is in the midst of watching ‘Prison Break’, a sort of a craze across B-Schools now where TV is a luxury and episodes of series like ‘Friends’ and ‘Prison Break’ are exchanged to humour the tired minds.
“I can’t believe that there is only one charging point in this whole train. And there is a guy over there charging his mobile for over an hour now.”
“Why don’t you ask him to give you a chance to charge your laptop?” I ask.
“I’ve tried and he says he is waiting for an urgent call.”
So he waits, getting up every now and then, to get a chance to charge his laptop. It is an Indian custom, I think, to wait. And so he waits for quite some time.
I am in the midst of a novel which has been an amazing read so far. Yet I seem to have developed an amazing talent to observe the happenings around me and read at the same time. Until a pillow lands on the top of my head from the upper berth. I politely give it back and continue to watch the proceedings. Real life is sure more interesting than fiction.
There were screams... somebody ran madly through the dark corridors of the hostel, someone had just fainted outside the academic block, the guys ran towards shops selling diluted water and the professors silently thanked the Good Lord. It was the end of Semester One.
Exaggeration is an art but it is true that Semester One is kind of like 'The Villain' in every MBA's story. Kind of like what Voldemort was t0 Harry Potter and Gabbar to Veeru and Jai. To stop stating the obvious, Semester One is where you definitely fall, get up again and fall again. By the time, you have identified that most of the batch is on the ground with you and you see that falling is a cumulative effect. But then the most important thing that you learn, as the professors would say, ‘It doesn’t matter how many times you fall. Just remember to get up every time.’ It sounds straight out of a celluloid inspirational dream but experience has taught us that the truth is often repeated.
Now, while the going is good and we finally take long breaths after about 5 months, some things about the first semester come haunting back.
The Yoga Gurus :
It is mandatory to do Yoga or gym in the morning even if you are Shilpa Shetty here. It does not matter if you slept at 6:55 am after completing all the assignments and the Yoga class is at 7:00 am. You just drag yourself to the meditation hall and do the only asana that was created for the benefit of the down-and-out MBA : The Shavasana. As we lie down and the hypnotic voice of the instructor drones in the background, you have slowly drifted to nirvana which ends promptly in 5 minutes. The next thing, you know all the yoga gurus are running out with one of their socks in their hands to have a bath.
Fast and Breakfast :
The first lecture is at 9 and it is 8:56 on the clock. Is it impossible to run to the Canteen and grab breakfast? Not really. As I run to the canteen thinking that if I could run any faster, I should be India’s next official entry to the marathon at the Olympics, I see that G is still ambling towards the canteen, glued to the phone. One of the principles in G’s life is ‘Breakfast comes before anything other than the person on the phone.’ She never misses breakfast. Even if the exam is at 9:00 am sharp, it is almost a law of nature that food is still travelling through G’s oesophagus at 8:59:59.
Most of the batch misses breakfast. The girls call it a ‘fast’ and the boys simply eat out of other’s plates during lunch.
Learning groups :
To facilitate the important process of learning, there are five other confused souls who are thrown in with you and you are officially christened “Group B12”. Every learning group is ideally constituted of six members but two in ours were forewarnes, I think, and they never landed on campus. Thus I was left with Arun, Alok and Amol. Now I had warned them I would publicly mention there names in my blog. But they crave publicity so shamelessly that they actually promised to give me a party, which of course, I think will happen when it is 3000AD.
Now the learning group sits together and is supposed to give intellectual and creative input every time there is a case discussion. Now a group that sits together thinks together or so says Sooraj Barjatya. Wrong. I remember one time we were discussing the HR case, ours was the most noisy group in the room. The case was on resolving issues among workers in a mine. Our typical conversation would be something like this:
Me: So what do you think the ideal solution should be?
Amol : I think that Ranbir is not as good as Rishi.
Alok: How can you…..??
Me: Yeah, can we please talk about the case? Alok…
Alok: I was about to say that Rishi himself was not as good as Raj Kapoor.
Arun: Guys, who is Rishi?
(For the uninitiated, Arun is a hot-sambar blooded Tamilian from down south whose vast hindi vocabulary includes ‘Kya re’ ‘Acha’ ‘Bhaiya pani chahiye’ and ends right there. He is very happy about it though. Amol is the last to enter the class and the first to leave. At parties, he ties the handkerchief to his head and does a good imitation of Mr.Bachchan. Alok finds both of them very funny.)
Me: How can you not know Rishi?
Arun : Do you know Muthuraman? Shame on you. You are a South Indian.
(The Professor has just passed us and clears her throat on the way. We return back to the case.)
Alok: Miners are people who do a lot of physical work. There is also a lot of mental pressure on them.
Amol: Think about the dark caves and the scary things down there.
Arun : Do you know there is statistical estimation that there are 5 angry bats per 25 caves.
(This is an absurd statistical calculation but great according to my proficiency in the subject. Arun is a whiz at Statistics and always sneaks in Statistics in his daily conversations that the canteen guys serve him with cotton plugs in their ears. Alok is a CA.)
There are two minutes left to discuss. More and more crazy diversions intrude but we do manage to ‘discuss’ the case and present it on time.
Technology Dooms or Doom the Technology :
There is a mobile alert system in the campus that keeps you on your toes. Normal needs and consequences go like this:
1. Need: Feel dirty and hence take a bath
Action: Take a bath
Consequence: Feel fresh and clean.
2. Need: Feel sleepy.
Consequence: Wake up and feel rested.
3. Need: Feel hungry
Consequence: Feel Satiated
With the mobile alerts screaming ‘Batch meet in 0.05 minutes. Assemble immediately’, all the rules are changed.
1. Need: Feel dirty and hence take a bath
Action: Take a bath
Interruption: Batch meet in 5 minutes
Consequence: Batchmates sit two chairs away from you
2. Need: Feel sleepy.
Interruption: Batch meet in 2 minutes.
Consequence: Alterations between sleep and glare of the staff.
3. Need: Feel hungry
Interruption: batch meet in a minute
Consequence: You wonder if wood is actually edible.
There are definitely good instances to this side of the story but another post will do justice to that. Semester One is past us and makes us feel like victorious bravehearts but three more of them are standing in the horizon and smirking at us….
Campus is buzzing with activity as usual. I think activity is one of the synonyms of a good B-School. At any given point of time, you have a schedule which says: Class in 5 minutes, XYZ Committee meeting in another 2 minutes, Case Study submission in 30 seconds beyond which you will never be allowed to submit even if you offer to bail out Lehmann Bros plus pending breakfast, lunch or dinner. You choose and you become what you choose.
The people around you do influence your choices. If I was S, my friend, I would have grabbed rice, bread or whatever could fit into my tiny hands, knocked over a 1000 people on my way, looked continuously petrified, munched the food on the way and yet made it to class. S has a good job history, something very unique. She is meticulous and very hard working which makes me wonder however how can someone so small have a brain with so much data. Yet S has lately been developing this theory that she is 'old' since she is older by a year or so. Typical conversations would include:
Us: Hey, let;s do this!
S: I am too old for this.
Us: We have to ask out people for a date for freshers.
S: It is not my age to do so.
Us: Okay, let's do that.
S: I told you I am old.
G, on the other hand has only two goals in life.
Goal1: Talk to boyfriend before and after class
Goal 2: Talk to boyfriend between class.
In between, she studies and figures in the top 5 in class.
Incidentally, G is an example of the 'adored-customer' set whom all telecom companies would pay billions to capture. This market typically consists of individuals in the age group of 20-29, preferably doing an MBA. Since this clan is low on time and somewhat sufficient in funds, they usually buy 2 phones. One for the rest of the world. One for the chosen one. Phone number 1 is used only when phone number 2 is not operational. And since this clan is adept at talking discreetly on the phone, you are often wondering if any of the conversation is directed at you.
If you are a roommate, then typical morning conversations would be:
G: Hey! Good morning!
Me: Good morning to you too!
G: So you still won't speak to me!
Me: I am speaking with all the vocal capacity I have.
G: You are still angry with me!
Me: No, I forgive you for yelling at me for trampling on your toothbrush.
G: You will never understand.
Me: It's alright. I see no problem why....
G: Listen, tell you what, meet me on Sunday!
Now, since this conversation is getting absurd by the minute, I turn around to see that G is on the phone as usual. I turn whatever pink shade is possible at 7 in the morning and return to sleep.
Its been 89 days ever since I landed in this place called Hinjewadi in Pune. 89 days of 5 hours of sleep, 6 if the Gods smile at me. 89 days that have taught me what I know now, what I assumed I knew and what I never knew.
It's begun to sound like a leaf out of a cliched Bschool story now. But the fact is all BSchools tend to have the same gruelling schedule, barring some few blessed havens. A senior-junior meet, a fresher's party and numerous 'counselling' sessions with the seniors later, I can now say that the gruelling schedule is a part of Bschool life and it might actually teach you to handle situations in corporate life later. I want to laugh out loud now but this is what I would like to believe now.
Sometimes I think that before all Bschools in the country open, there must be some sort of a clan meet that is held among all BSchool administration and deciding authorities at some highly secretive place. A place where all the directors might meet, dressed in black, in eerie surroundings where they decide on the schedule for the year ahead.
Director 1: So, what is your schedule, mate?
Director 2: (tapping his fingers against the rim of a golden sword) : 18 subjects, 100 quizzes and 95% attendance
Director 1: Oh hoh! Looks like the competition has stopped competing with the best! The lambs that come to my abode will be subjected to 24 subjects, 120 quizzes and 95% attendance. Should keep them busy for the first year!
Director 2: (slowly opening his eyes) : Good to know that. But we have yet to plan for the second semester for the first year. What you heard was for the first semester!
And there was applause all around. The duel had been won.
It is funny how your imagination works overtime when you are loaded with work.
Then there are the 'surprise quizzes'. Something that will make you hate surprises for quite sometime. There is pandemonium in the class a day before the dreaded FCQ day. FCQ stands for Frequently Conducted Quizzes though more expletives are used to descibe the abbreviation now. There is a lot of nail-biting, pen scratching, underlining, rattofying and frantic memorising as a class of 20 to 25 year olds run about studying for the exam. Everyone is sure that the one subject that they have studied out of the 18 subjects is sure to come. Or atleast they pray so. Then one guy rushes in and stops just in front of the blackboard.
67 pair of eager and frantic eyes bore into him.
"Economics" he says and looks to the floor.
There is dead silence. Some might have even died if they didnt have the wonder tool called 'Pfaff'. 'Pfaff' in Bschool lingo is the amount of imagination you have multiplied by little knowledge you have of the subject. In short, it is a lot of story-telling when you have no clue what to write.
When the paper is distributed, all of us are silent for quite a while. Then there is a giggle somehwere. Followed by a chuckle. And before you know it, the whole class is laughing.
The exam official smirks, then shooes us into writing the exam.
There is a lot more I can write on this practically non-existent blog. But I heard someone say there is a quiz tomorrow....
No there is no new baba in the scene who serves hot piping vada pav with fried chillies with a flick of his hand. For those who are unaware, vada pav is the poor man's burger, a sort of fast food that possibly originated in Mumbai. It consists of a pav or salty bun and a potato cutlet served with chutney or sauce.
Okay, to stop digressing, mera number bschool mein finally lag gaya and I have joined one. And all thoughts of sitting in classrooms and typing in laptops aaram se were erased after we went for a programme called the outbound learning programme.
It took place in the outskirts of Pune and we climbed a hill called Sinhagad. If you have worked in the IT industry for quite a while, the only trekking you could have possibly done would have been from the first floor to the second floor. That is unless you are a fitness freak who goes on regular adventure outings.
Once we were at the base camp, we looked at the hill and thought that this one must be easy. It looked surmountable afterall. And then we began to walk. And walk. And walk. For some three hours. Our group leader kept saying we are half way through every five minutes. People fell, fussed and even tried to sleep on the rocks for a while but there was a lot of climbing to be done.
So enter our motivators. We were promised vada pav on reaching the top. So there were shouts of 'jai baba vada pav' and 'khayenge hum' to cheer us on as we huffed and puffed up the way. And so Jai baba vada pav kept us going as we finally reached the top. I dont think I have ever been more happier to see a vada pav and some tap water on reaching the top.
The way down was a bit easier. Though a lot more tricky. And we all looked almost the same after the trek. Brown, dishevelled and relieved.
The next day saw a lot of team building activities happen. There was a lot of naming of teams happening and one very enthusiastic team named themselves 'The yaks'. But unfortunately, the instructor read them out as 'yucks' and so 'yucks' they remained for the rest of the day. But the very sportive group were still happy with their new name.
The bus ride back to college was entertaining. A group of budding indian idols were all out to display their singing, seat tapping and histronic skills. So they sang a lot of filmy songs, lifebuoy jingle, the track of kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi and a lot of other stuff. Thankfully, the college appeared around the corner just when the last bit of our eardrums and tonsils were melting away.
Its been quite a rollercoaster ride so far. A sign of things to come. Picture toh abhi baaki hai mere dost!