Archive for the ‘I, me, my life’ Category

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Autobiography

December 3, 2009

Birth of a Nomad

The life of this Nomad started in Valmikinagar. The place is named after the famous sage Valmiki, who wrote Ramayana. This small but beautiful place borders Nepal, geographically in Bihar, with river Gandak separating the two. My father being a government official was used to being posted at such locations. So, we lived in on a hilltop amidst trees and wildlife (only harmless snakes and monkeys and sometimes a Jackal or two) with a river flowing along the house. We still remember the stories like how we went to Nepal for the day to day shopping and the well of Valmiki which would grant any wish if you threw a coin in it. There were rumours of a tiger in the woods though I didn’t have the chance to see him for real. Having spent my first 4-5 years at the place, memories fail me except that I was blessed with a beautiful younger brother when I was 4 years old and was still at Valmikinagar, my family was complete!

The Ice-Cream factory

Life moved on and so did we. But the river Gandak didn’t leave our side. She moved with us to Narkatiyaganj (pronounced as it is written). This was my first association with weird/famous names that I was destined to be associated with. The place literally meant, “The place where human (nar) are cut (kat)”, spine chilling isn’t it? I still wonder who came up with such a gory name and what went through his mind while coining such a name. The person must have been a serial killer to come up with this name.

The reason why I have named this section “The ice-cream factory” is because of the fact that, opposite to my school were two ice-cream factories. It is anybody’s guess that they were the center of all the imagination that our little minds could create. So, our parents would tell us how the water used in those factories is contaminated, how bodies were preserved in those waters before being burnt. We believed all of them and yet ate all the red, yellow and green color filled ice-creams. Another incident that I remember was the incident where my elder sister took a bunch of notes with her in a exam (she was 4 years my senior and hence full of ideas!). She was so terrified at the idea of cheating during that exam that she nearly flunked that one. Obviously she didn’t have the courage to open the material.

The Break

This one is a small break, this break is nothing special, but this break is the first incident where I get to discuss about my permanent address. The name of the place demands special-under quotes- mention, hence I will defer it for now. This six month break came as my father was on a temporary transfer (3-4 years at one place is long enough for me to call them permanent, hence these 6 months barely qualified as temporary). A mid-year transfer is always havoc for academic pursuit and this one made us study in a school where we had to sit on the floor to learn from the “Masterji”. Anyways, the break gets over now and the life takes a new turn.

The English Medium School!

When I was in 3rd standard, another transfer came along. This time the small place had an English medium school! Mentioning the name of the place would be a bother as you may be tempted to search to know whether I am just cooking up names. This time this fact would suffice that it is a small township in Palamu District (now in Jharkhand, India). The place has many stories and memories associated with it. My first injury in cricket (leather ball at an age of 9!), my first experience with expletives, a few small fights, games like gilli-danda (the infamous game of rowdies where you hit the small stick with a big one and the person with the longest hit wins. The game comes with its share of black eyes and fist fights).

Coming back to my school; it was the only English medium school in the township. So, every government official had to (out of pride and lack of any other decent option) admit their kids in this school. So we went for admission in this school. I was deemed unfit to study in 3rd standard as I hailed from Hindi medium background. Similar was the case with my elder sister. My brother was lucky as he was starting his schooling and there wasn’t anything below KG to throw him into. Now comes the truth, there weren’t many government official in the township, and the school didn’t have many students. It was the first time I had the experience of being in the top 3 consistently. The joy of being a topper overshadowed the fact that there were only 7 students to compete with! Devoid of competition, literally everyone participated in sports, cultural events and anything that came by. My eldest sister was doomed to study in a government school as my esteemed school didn’t offer “higher” education. She topped very possible exam as her classmates spent most of their time searching for answers from the book they secretly carried with them.

My house was a large one and its roof itself was a playground for me and my brother. Our love with cricket was so great and unending that we prepared cricket balls with plastic carry-bags and potatoes (the other side of the roof made sure that the ball once gone could never be found, making it impossible to demand for new balls all the time). The railway track was visible from my house and it was habit to count the number of compartments from the roof-top. In fact I was so fond of it, that whenever I heard the distant siren of a train approaching I would run to count them.

The place also reminds me of the moments of fear, anger and happiness. I was pretty frail as a kid, so one of my class-mates bullied me all the time. Once, I could not contain my anger and slapped him so hard that he started weeping. I was so afraid that he will come back with all his force that I started weeping too. Mind it; I was I 3rd or 4th so crying was not such a taboo! I don’t know what happened afterward, but I don’t remember him beating me again. My guess is, he thought if I had the guts to hit him once, I could do it again. Anyways, I vividly remember us becoming good friends. He even took us to his village (which was past a small, mostly dry river).

Another incident was when I broke the television set. I have always been afraid of my father and his anger. I was so terrified and sure that my mother would not be able to shield me that I went to the roof-top and refused to come down for many hours. After repeated assurance from my father that he wouldn’t beat me, I finally mustered the courage to come down. And he held his promise and didn’t beat me!

I also found a very good friend in Nitesh, who incidentally was also the class topper (among the 7). I even wrote him letters (inspired by my sister) when I moved to Hazaribagh (more on Hazaribagh later) but I didn’t get a reply and the friendship wore-off.

Hazaribagh

No single incident qualifies to aptly describe my stay at Hazaribagh. Hazaribagh holds memories bitter and sweet and so many of them that I may not be able to recollect all of them. Hazaribagh is the place where I spent most of my life (6 Years!). This is the place where I grew up and learned the chores of life and its ups and downs (well, mostly).

After getting transferred to Hazaribagh, I had the first experience of a real school. DAV Hazaribagh was big (much bigger than all my previous schools). It had more than one thousand students and nearly 50 students in one section, 150 in a class! How could it be real, it couldn’t be. I was terrified like anything. As luck would have it, I got a seat with probably the biggest loudmouth of the school, Varun. He claimed that everyone in this school gets more than 60% marks and you will really have to study hard to even pass. To add to my miseries, mine was a mid-year transfer and mid-terms were scheduled 15 days after. With a nearly new syllabus, I somehow managed to get a lowly 59% and was ranked 15th out of 45 students!

Time flew by and I met friends who were to become a part of my life. Mrinal, Santosh, Mohan, Pratyush and Sanjay were a part of all the fun that I had in those years. I remained a studious boy till 10th and then the change started happening. Having scored 87% in 10th, I was on the seventh heaven. Though I wanted to join some reputed school, my father advised against it. I, myself thought it will be better to remain with friends; career was not the area of concern at that point of time. So, I stuck with DAV for two more years. Riding on the success of class 10th result, I devoted the next year to cricket. We won every single match that we played in the year (more than 50) and won the biggest trophy I had ever seen defeating seasoned players of the whole city (I don’t take the credit of those victory, I was blessed with an amazing team and in fact I was the weakest link). In school, Mrinal and Santosh remained and the old timers of DAV Hazaribagh joined hand to rebel against the system and the new comers (of other sections, especially commerce). We made it a point not to attend school on Wednesdays and Saturdays (the days of the week when we had to wear white). The fact that my father was transferred and was out of station for most of the time helped my case.

Through all these “adventures”, I somehow managed to be in the top 5-6 of a class of 45 odd students. But on the day when principal called those with a red on their mark-sheet (less than 40 in any subject), the entire row of us oldies became empty (barring me). It was an honour to be called to the Principal’s office and I myself made it there two times (on acts of indiscipline). Teasing Randhir (class teacher’s son and my classmate) and others became our favorite pass-time. We created so much chaos that we were labeled “the laden group” by our economics teacher. I know all these things were not right, but even now when I look down upon them, I don’t feel any regret. It is not that I discard them as mischief of the teenager; it is just that I don’t feel bad about them.

Next phase of my life starts with my engineering preparations in Patna (against my father’s advice to study in Delhi). There is one advice that I must give you. Never ever live with your school friends when you want to study seriously. Yes, I did exactly that, and that is why I know what can happen. So four of us went on to study at Patna. We enrolled in a coaching institute and began our “study”. The first month went well and then I fell ill for two months, two full months! Though I would like to claim that when you come back after two months, Maths, Physics and Chemistry don’t look like Maths, Physics and Chemistry anymore,  but, the real reason is  I found movies and other avenues more attractive than studies at that point of time (they still do I guess!). So, we (all of us) watched every movie right and left. We endeavoured to watch every movie that the poor Bollywood producers have spent on. We became the savior of the Indian film industry watching 20 movies in a month. I didn’t clear any entrance test that year (surprise!) and decided to prepare on my own for one more year. The decision though big, didn’t seem too out of place under those circumstances and the environment.

NIT Jamshedpur

All the above mentioned efforts (or the lack of it) bore fruit and I got admission into NIT Jamshedpur. Though this admission came on the backdrop of another disappointment in IIT, it still was a chance to finally do something worthwhile. From the very first day, the 4 years at NIT Jamshedpur became memorable. My first experience with ragging (NIT Jamshedpur was known for its violent ragging those days) included the fearful tales of cruel seniors and the nitty-gritty that we had to adhere to. The formal, clean shaven look was to become our appearance for coming months. All the gossip around the hostel revolved around who got slapped and which senior we should be wary of. Even the prospects of meeting new batch-mates (read girls) could boost our courage. The sound of someone getting slapped while going to the lectures filled our ears, I may be exaggerating but it seems that way.

The very first day I pointed to my cousin (who was also taking admission) to a (very) fat person going through the admission procedures. Little did I know that he was to become my roommate and one of my best friends during the four years? Another interesting (initially annoying) thing was that I shared my room with three other Vivek, making it a room where four Vivek lived. The journey of these four most memorable years of my life had started.

NIT Jamshedpur teaches you everything. It teaches you how to endure some very unaccommodating people (including some professors) and at the same time it gives you some friends that you cherish all your life. It makes you sit in the ground all night (power cuts, which now are a thing of past) and it gives you all the time in the world to go enjoy yourselves. Studies simply become a distant secondary objective.

So, NIT Jamshedpur gives an opportunity to explore anything you want to. You can study and become the topper of the batch (well almost), you can play all the time (and become nothing) and try your hands at any game you ever wanted to play and you can just sit idle, watch movies or play computer games. In addition to these, you can also choose to roam around Jamshedpur (small it may be, but it nonetheless provided you an avenue to burn the gas in your bike).

I chose to do all these (except studying). I played nearly every game the college infrastructure permitted, I excelled in racing games (especially need for speed), and I completed all the episodes of War-Craft (another computer game). All these were not enough to channel the energy that was bubbling inside. So, it attracted more people like me and a group of seven was formed.  The group of seven (me, Vivek Sinha, Ashok, Ankit Agarwal, Avinash, Ankit Goyal and Vivek Pandey) was simply the rowdiest group of the institute. Girls were afraid of passing through the spots where we sat. The best thing about the group was most of us had a similar thinking. Each of us could complement and support others very well. While Ashok and Avinash were good at studies, Sinha had unrivaled writing skills (especially Urdu). Ankit Goyal was generally the catalyst for us to start anything new. He was the reason all of us started taking interest in robotics and finally channeled our energy into something useful. Ankit Agarwal was generally a pain, though he is the one who nearly forced us towards management as the future option. As far as I am concerned, I don’t remember any exact role of mine except pestering Sinha and talking all the time.

All these four years we went from strength to strength. From winning fist fights to Career Launcher scholarships we loved the lime-light. Driving to the railway station at 2-3 am, 3 people on the same bike (very well aware that we will be stopped by the patrol) just added to the fun. Maybe the joy of being together and the excitement of breaking the rules over-shadowed the fear of getting punished. Years passed on, and then came the final year. With the dual responsibility of getting a good placement and cracking the CAT, we sat for every company that came to the campus. The only aim was to get placed as soon as possible and start preparing for CAT full throttle. As luck would have it, I waited and waited and was the last one in the group to get placed (so much for the plans). But then, offers started coming like rain. All of us got multiple offers riding on the boom of 2007.

But, CAT had other plans for us, all of us toiled hard, but the D-day saw only me clearing the most important exam of our life. This mix of disappointment and happiness is hard to explain but life had to go on. So I busied myself in interview preparations and my friends took on the mantle of organizing the technical festival (an event running into its second year only and the most challenging task that we had ever taken). Pravah (the technical festival) became the avenue which soaked up all our energy and became the way to forget the setback in CAT. The success of the event became the sole aim of the remaining days of college. The resistance from the professors (most of the professors went on strike for their own reasons and chose the dates which were clashing with Pravah to make their voice heard) and the heartburns within our group and outside made us learn lessons we would never have.

Meanwhile we shifted from Jhumri Telaiya (my ancestral home) to Ranchi for my younger brother’s studies. A welcome decision by all, it meant that I was very close to home (Ranchi is just a three hours journey from Jamshedpur). It also meant that I will be with my friends even during vacations (two of them hailed from Ranchi). Read my article on Telaiya to know the place better.

Before moving on to IIM Kozhikode and the one and half years at ‘God’ on campus’, I must mention the place that is famous for its Bollywood exploits and is the place where I go back whether I want to or not. My blog captures the essence of the place though my feeling for place is mixed.

CAT 2007 and IIM Kozhikode

As I have mentioned before, CAT was the goal which drove us for the whole third year and the better of the fourth year. CAT became the purpose; it became the meaning of everything we did. We toiled as hard as we could, solving every possible paper available. When the results came, I was shell-shocked with my percentile. I didn’t think it was possible for a mere mortal like me to score a 99.9 percentile amidst so many genius candidates. Came interview time, and my technical knowledge came in handy (I really think I should have studied some Electrical Engineering to make good of all the calls I had). I flunked all possible interviews except IIM Kozhikode and one or two others (in fact it was a pleasant surprise later to know that I was among the top 20 students to be selected in IIM Kozhikode).

Will all the trepidations I entered the beautiful campus of Kozhikode. The change from NIT Jamshedpur was so loud & clear that my fear increased manifolds. I really doubted whether I am worthy of joining the great people who would be joining me. I thought of running back to a place where there was a space for someone like me. It felt like a dream had suddenly come true and I didn’t know what to do with this dream.

Anyways, I stayed and stayed well. I determined that this time I will study and make use of these two years. I found the subjects interesting and some professors even more so. While some may differ, subjects like Social Transformation in India really enthralled me and all I could do was listen to Mathew dumbfounded. I found that all the subject interest me (except IT), a phenomena I was totally unaware of. I mean, I couldn’t think how a person could find co-curricular activities worth wasting a minute. I haven’t had any interest in anything that engineering had to offer (co-curricular). So this new phenomena was completely strange to me and guess what, I started studying!!!

My family

All through the story, I have tried to open up my life with the help of places where I have been. The reason is that, I believe that these places and the surroundings play a great role in determining who you become in life. They define your personality, you friendship and the role you play in your world. They become a medium through which you lay your blame on others (I always believe that being in Hazaribagh adversely affected my chances at IIT). Hence, it became natural for me to portray my life as a journey through all these places.

But, one thing that these places failed to cover is my family. This maybe because my family is related to all these places and mentioning them every time I moved from one place to another would have been rather difficult. So, I endeavor to have this discussion now.

I have been blessed with a strict father. I say blessed because I guess the fear or the respect that I have for him reflects in every decision I have taken in my life and made me  the person that I am. The fact that he is an engineer (and is very good at maths and studies in general) always made it difficult for a mediocre student like me to live up to his expectation. I still remember his beatings when I scored below average marks in Mathematics (and I did it very often). He was equally unforgiving when he came to know of any other mischief that I had committed (I had a habit of indulging in such things like plucking mangoes from private gardens and reading comics dozens at a time). Memories of my mother fail me expect some incidents of sleeping on her lap, listening to stories or having a head massage.

Though Hazaribagh gave me all the moments of happiness, it took away many valuable things from me. My brother was hospitalized for nearly 6 months for repeated surgery of his intestine; those 6 months were hell for us, with our family nearly disintegrating. A year hence my mother passed away in an accident. Maybe 8th was too early to lose my mother, but the incident saw my younger sister don the role our mother almost overnight. Though the nagging absence of a mother is always felt when we are in a tough situation we have lived on. My father never showed any signs of breaking up and was always been strong supporting. Therefore when I hear him ask us to call him, I see a change which even the death of my mother didn’t bring in him.

As mentioned above, my story travels through the places I have been to. But the highlight always has been the people that became a part of life at all these places. Today I write this autobiography sitting in Delhi because the people most important to my life are also in here (well, most of them). These people define me, they are the pillars on which I rest and rise. They are the confidence and they are the place where I can go back to when crisis befalls me. They are support that gives me a reason to move on, to experiment with life and to make the best of it. The knowledge that they are with me is everything that I need in life.

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The Place I belong to

September 25, 2009

I am from Jhumri Telaiya.

Yes, the place does exist!

No, it is not a mythical place from Bollywood movies!

No, I have never requested any song on All India Radio (AIR). “Pandey Ji Pan Dukan Waala” (beetle shop owner) does that!

I have been hesitant all my life to tell people where I come from. Though I have spent most of life in Hazaribagh (another town which needs introduction), but the truth remains that my roots are still in Jhumri Telaiya (and so is my permanent address). Telling people that I belong to Jhumri Telaiya is a dramatic experience as is evident from the opening statements.

Consider this, telling Dinesh (my batch-mate at IIM Kozhikode) about my origins took him to the verge crying (with happiness). Being a movie freak, he always believed that the place is a myth created by the movie industry. He had to touch me (I am exaggerating!) to see if I am for real. And obviously he started treating me with awe & respect from that time onwards.

Here is another one, my IIM interviews (those are the ones I remember as of now) invariably opened with a question or two about the place that I belong to. Being a seasoned interviewee (10 interview calls!), I could chat away for 5-10 minutes saving me the ordeal of describing myself (the dreaded about me questions). You see, being from an unusual place isn’t that bad after all.

Just to wrap things up, I will tell you all what the residents of Telaiya thought (actually I believed in it in my childhood). We (I) thought that the Jhumri Telaiya which is repeatedly mentioned in the movies is actually some place near Mumbai. My grandparent’s Jhumri Telaiya is not the one in consistent lime-light.

Eye-opener: Jhumri Telaiya is a small town in Jharkhand (erstwhile Bihar). It is also known for Mica (a mineral). Hazaribagh is 60 KM away from Jhumri Telaiya and was a favorite holiday place for Britishers.

An appeal: I commend the efforts that Bollywood has undergone in putting Jhumri Telaiya on world map. But I sincerely request the reputed film-makers, not to use the name only in cheap sounding numbers. If you can, maybe you should try mentioning the place in better lights. Jhumri Telaiya is (seemingly) a myth created by Bollywood, and Bollywood should pay homage.