Saturday, October 30, 2010

Project management -- A funny answer

Posting my answer to one of the questions asked in the Project Management exam during my MBA. When i read this now... it really looks funny... read it for yourself!!! Wonderful, yet so funny, in Subba Iyer's classes


Midway through the project, you have the following issues:

a. Your schedule is slipping by about 30% and the next 2 major milestones are at risk.

b. The payment application and its integration to the accounting system have severe performance problems. Subba Iyer is not very happy with this because this was one of the reasons that the project was awarded to you.

c. 3 key members out of 14 have quit the project.

d. There are motivation problems within the team members.

e. Some one within the client organization has told Mr. Subba Iyer that perhaps your organization isn’t geared to finish the project.

Under these circumstances, your CEO looks up to you to stand up before Subba Iyer and his colleagues and give them a status update. Clearly you are nervous.
Describe your approach, your assumptions and the best-case scenario that you would work towards.


Hmmm… that is a difficult situation to handle, especially if Mr. Iyer is on the other side! But, I will give it my best shot.

First, I had to do my homework on all the allegations (from a to e above) and find out the root cause for all of them (If not already known).

30% slippage is a lot and hence there should be a plan B in place to counter that. I will honestly look at the root cause of the slippage and see whether it is internal issue or something external to our company that is causing this.

If it is internal, then I have to fix it by adding more skilled workers in the project with immediate effect. I would do all I could to pull in resources as the CEO has all his support for my project. If it is external in which we have absolutely no control, then I’d flag it to Mr.Iyer to deal with it.

The performance issue would be looked at to understand what the problem is in it. The project is only on its half way stage now and I would argue that the performance is not the final and it would only be improved over time and would assure him to show performance improvements in a specific agreed time and quietly push my CEO to pull in resources to see the real issue and fix it when it is still dark!

It is inevitable that frustrated people would quit the organization if they were put in projects such as this. And the motivation level would also be less given the situation of the project. These are some things that the project manager has to deal with internally. I would argue to Mr.Iyer that additional resources with the required skill set would be pulled in to cover for 3 lost resources.

I will show my resource plan, updated project plan, contingency plan and a contingency plan for my contingency plan to ensure that we are doing whatever we can to bring the project on track.

The bottom line is, I will not disclose the root cause of the issues to Mr.Iyer but will come back and quietly push my CEO to pull in a few strings and get the project going and show improvements in the next meeting to Mr.Iyer and gain his confidence.

At the end of the day, I should realize that this is only a project (even though it is a make or break project for me). If I get nervous, that will have bad effects on my team. All I would do is shield my project team from Mr.Iyer, take all the stick and ensure that the project team is motivated and is on its own. At the same time, I will put a lot of pressure on my superiors, such as my CEO, and make them nervous so that they give enough attention to my needs for the project.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Destructive elements...

As the famous saying goes, "It takes a lot to build something". If you are talking about intangible elements such as team spirit or unity or attitude, it takes an awful lot of time and pain to get to a point where you can look back and feel that you have come a long way.

Especially, the art of building the team spirit or unity within an IPL team is highly difficult because players from different parts of the world come together for about six weeks every year and play. A team member has to understand awful lots about his mates to enjoy the dressing room atmosphere, which is one of the important aspects of a successful team, be it any team sport.

Chennai Super Kings, owned by India Cements who have been promoting cricket for decades, was one of the teams that believed in collectiveness, unity and fair play. Fittingly CSK successfully bought MS Dhoni in the auction; a true leader whose vision of a team coincided exactly with his franchisee owner. And the team building started...

CSK is the most successful team, having reached the knockout stage of all three editions of IPL and the second edition of champions league. This was possible only because of the ethics and the atmosphere within the dressing room that the team was able to create. This unity and spirit helped Suresh Raina to express himself freely in IPL 1. A star was born...

The attitude the team were developing helped lesser known players such as Murali Vijay, Badri and R Ashwin to flourish. There was no silly fights; no attitude problems; team played as a unit; the team won a lot of games together; lost a few together and the skipper was always there at difficult times. The fans were behind them all the time. Even the players who were not in the regular playing eleven were experiencing the sense of belonging. This was possible only because of the way CSK approached the exercise of effective team building. It takes a lot of time, energy, strategy to achieve this. CSK even showed their kindness to Muralitharan by presenting him a shirt with 800 printed on its back.

Mumbai Indians realised the potential of a effective team building strategies and so they heavily invested on young players, conducted confluence camps and tried to gel the players as a single focused unit. The result of that effort was clearly seen in IPL 3. But for some tactical errors in the finals, they could have won the tournament.

In both Chennai and Mumbai, the team currently has an identity only based on its players. If the players are replaced by a new set, it wouldn't look correct from the fans' prospective. It would be like some other team playing in CSK or MI colours.

And now, just because a couple of new teams have entered into the money market, the IPL governing council want to reshuffle the composition of all the teams. The player retention policy does not encourage retaining players either. Now, what happens to the team building effort that was put forward by all the teams, especially CSK and MI ? How strange would it be, if Sachin plays for KKR next season just because SRK has some money to splash? Are we still taking about cricket? IPL is a business, agreed. But, there has to be a limit. You cannot dismantle a team just like that. Or can you ?

Obviously CSK and MI are the only teams that are pleading for player retention. The other teams don't seem to bother much. Why would they ? Do they really understand team building ? or at least cricket, for that matter? All they want is some popular eleven to take the field and they think that the fans would pay money to watch. How ridiculous ? This is exactly what happens when liquor barons, big screen heroes and glamour queens own a cricket team.

On top of all this, there is one IPL governing council. How many destructive elements can this sacred game fight ?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The common wealth

Seven years after winning the bid for hosting one of the most prestigious events, Delhi is still lagging behind in terms of preparation. With just a few more weeks to go for the grand kick off, the construction for most of the facilities are not yet complete.

Most stadiums are under heaps of dust, building materials all over the place and workers still scurrying around. The monsoon in Delhi at the moment is not helping either. The Common wealth games is a fantastic opportunity to project Delhi’s (in effect India’s) image to the world. Ideally, it should be a show of strength and supremacy that the country is so proud of.

“Everything will fall into place at the right time just like Indian weddings” the officials say. A typical irresponsible statement from the people who are in charge of things that are not supposed to happen. At this stage, one can only pray that the country is not humiliated for hosting such a prestigious event, which could potentially make Delhi visible all over the world.

Not just the delay in preparation, the most worrying aspect is the budget. All the venues overshot with a huge margin. Mostly due to poor planning, inflated bills and expenses that never really occurred. It is alleged that a toilet roll was procured at four thousand rupees. Four thousand?? Yeah, imagine how important they are!!

Especially after Beijing has shown its power in 2008 Olympics, it would be a shame if India fails badly in hosting the upcoming event. At the moment, people involved in organising the events are accused of corruption.

But, who cares? The money is only “Common Wealth”, right? Hmmm….

Thursday, August 12, 2010

To twitERR or NOT

I was on a train, talking to my friend over my new mobile phone… infact, boasting about the free Skype and Twitter access I got from the provider.

“I can now Tweet on the go… isn’t that cool?” I said with excitement. Everybody has something to say at any point of time and I thought blogging on the go is probably the coolest thing in the world.

“What is that “tweet” thing son? My grandkids say that all the time” an old man in the train asked me as soon as I hung up. I knew for sure that the old man had no idea about micro-blogging, social networking sites and tweets. So, I sat next to him and showed him how to use twitter from my mobile.

“Mr. Barnes says Good Morning to you all” I tweeted on the go for him! I was feeling so elated about what I just did, but that did not convince Mr. Barnes.

“How does this work? You just wrote something on your mobile. What makes you feel elated?” he asked.

“Well, I have a few followers and they will receive this message real time. And I follow a few people and their message would reach me as well. So we all stay connected,” I said, with pride. Then I showed him the tweets of people I follow.

“Had two idlies for breakfast!”

“Saw one big Teddy bear in the mall… Choo cheewet”

“Don’t know what to tweet today... so, just tweeting ”

He scanned through all the tweets with a weird expression on his face and said “So, lots of useful information huh?” with a sarcastic smile

He then asked, “So, you tweeted just now. What will happen then?”

“Oh! That good morning message? It would have reached a few thousand people now”

“And....?” he asked.

“Everyone will say good morning back to you now” I said and smiled.

“I see… and that’s what you kids do all the time” He said and grabbed my mobile and had a closer look.

“If I understood this correctly… your whole tweet thing is a royal waste of time” he said and handed the mobile back to me

All my smiles faded. I read all the tweets once again. Perhaps, the old man has a point to ponder!

Dependence on independence

Sixty three years ago, at around midnight, India was declared an Independent state by the British Raj. It almost took a couple of centuries of struggle, both through arms and peace, for this achievement. Although the great leaders of India who fought for the freedom movement were elated, everyone knew that we only achieved political freedom. And there was still a long way to go for a peaceful society living in harmony.

After a lot of struggle, two and a half years later India became and republic and first general elections were held in 1952. When the first Government was formed under Nehru, very few had experience in running a country, which is so vast and diverse. Nehru sent experts to USSR to find out how a big government should be run and so India followed much of its policies. Hence almost all the industries were run by the state with a very heavy red tape around it.

Another 40 years on, Indian growth rate, which was already moderate, got to a standstill. No foreign investors were allowed to invest in India to protect the local business. Dr. Manmohan Singh then abolished the license raj, liberalised the economy thereby allowing investors around the world to invest in India and allowed disinvestment and privatisation. In effect, forty years after gaining political independence, India achieved economic independence, which is one of the defining moments for India Inc today.

Whenever India struggled someone from somewhere had the vision to take the country forward. MK Gandhi should be applauded for his vision at the time of freedom fighting. He knew that Britain was going through industrial revolution and so it needs the resources from India and also end customers from India. Britain’s economy was booming. But, Mr. Gandhi was a big advocate of “Be Indian Buy Indian” slogan thereby cutting the British’s business interests in India. Without using any weapons, he knew where it hurts the most for the British. India has seen a lot of visionaries at times of the need.

Today, even though India has a firm grip in G20 league of nations, have we achieved independence from poverty yet? Have the deep interior rural people have independence from hunger yet? From corruption? From ignorance? The list goes on…

Even though India is progressing, clearly there is still a long way to go to achieve the real independent status. But, these sixty three years are a good start!

Lets celebrate independence and help India grow! Jai Hind!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The second mistake!

None of us was used to wake up very early in the morning. None of us liked to wake early either. But on this particular day, all seven of us woke up as early as six in the morning and promptly gathered near the Mambalam railway station advance ticket counter at half seven, as planned.

The plan was to take positions in front of the ticket counter so that when it opened at 8 AM, we could be the first to book the fast selling “tatkal” tickets to Tutucorin so that we could attend the wedding of our project lead.

Certainly, early morning is the best time to go around in Chennai as the traffic is less, the air is fresh and, for normal people, the mind is fresh as well. But, the guys had little appreciation for early morning life. All I could see was swollen red eyes, hair flying all around and the shirts half tugged out as though coming out from a pub brawl.

If there was a competition like “Who is the laziest of all?” it would be difficult to find a clear winner in the group. But, in my opinion, Mahendar would win that competition in a tight finish with all others.

“Taktal tickets work in a different way. Everyone has to be present at the time of ticket booking, otherwise they wont issue tickets” Balaji warned the previous day. This, I thought, was the primary reason for all of us, especially Mahendar, to turn up on time!

But, Balaji was known for the wealth of information he has. He normally gives these information mostly when it was least needed. In general, 10% of this information are definitely true, 10% definitely false and the remaining 80% always hangs in the balance. It would be difficult to believe or ignore them till the last moment. The information about tatkal tickets certainly belonged to the 80% category.

“Everyone should buy the tickets individually” Balaji claimed, being absolutely sure about what he was talking. It meant that all of us should fill our individual forms. But, for us, becasue of laziness, it was a huge task.

“But we wont get seats together in that case” Vasanth argued. If there was anyone who had the stomach to argue something with Balaji so early in the day, it was him.

“Are you sure that we should all go to the counter?” Vasanth asked pointing at Balaji.

Balaji hesitated for a moment. That was the moment when everyone understood that this information belonged to the 80% category. We were unable to believe it or ignore it altogether.

Vasanth gave a pragmatic plan in which one person would try to book for all, while all others would book our own tickets. Alternatively, he asked everyone to fill a second form with two names in it so that everyone had a company in the train. This plan led to a lot of confusion as to whether who would buy whose tickets. By the time we completed our argument, a large queue developed in front of the ticket counter, which was about to open in a few minutes.

Vasanth, like always, threw a huge stone in calm waters and was enjoying the ripples. All the rest of us were too lazy to join the argument and were more than happy to oblige whatever decision we arrived at. If at all!

Without a decision being arrived at, we all rushed into the queue with a completely blank reservation forms in hand and not knowing what to do next.

Mahendar normally gets over conscious whenever he was asked to fill any sort of form. Someone had to guide him about how to enter his name, age and gender. Meanwhile, Kumar and Sai were busy making fun of each other, not even aware of an argument that was going on for a while.

In the middle of the confusion, I was standing in the queue totally clueless about how many tickets in my name would be booked that day. Rajashekar was the only other guy who had no opinion but was watching the argument with a smile.

We were standing in the queue for five minutes. Nobody even bothered to check the availability in the train, as we were too busy with an argument about who should buy the tickets for whom. Balaji was in the front of the queue. Vasanth followed him, still in fierce argument. Kumar and Sai were behind, still in their own world of amusement.

Suddenly, Balaji shouted from ahead of the queue that he had indeed booked tickets for all of us. Mahendar, for the first time that day, looked relieved. Kumar and Sai had to be dragged out of the queue, as they had no idea why they were standing there in the first place.

Again, Balaji’s theory of booking tatkal tickets was proved wrong!

The train stared from Chennai Egmore at 6 PM. We started from our office at 5:30. There was absolutely no way that we could board the train from Egmore on time. So, we decided to board the train from Tambaram station as the train was scheduled to arrive there only at 7 PM.

When we reached Tambaram station at 6:30 in the evening, I was feeling quite odd that we made it well before time.

“I am hungry” declared Vasanth suddenly. “I want to buy idlies from the road side shop” he added. Everybody was so happy with his sugesstion without even considering that there was a train to catch.

“Are we not drinking in the train?” Mahendar asked with a touch of innocence.

“Of course we are!” replied Sai, feeling as though it was a crime not to drink in trains.

“What can we do for the smell? We could easily get caught” I said.

“We can buy vodka and mix it with sprite and drink it inside. No one would ever notice” said Sai. On the outset, it looked like a foolproof plan. Or that’s what we all thought!

With only half an hour to go, we split into groups. Vasanth and I went to the idly shop. Mahendar and Balaji was given the responsibility of buying side dish while Sai and Kumar went out to buy vodka from a reputed Tasmac shop.

With brilliant co-ordination, we bought all the essential goods for a train journey within twenty minutes. Only a day before we were so poor in co-ordination that no one knew what tickets we were buying, but when it comes to alcohol, we never have had any arguments. Everyone usually would be in sync.

We were eagerly waiting for the train to arrive. Even though we were ultra efficient, we didn’t have time to mix vodka and sprite. So, we decided to mix in the train.

We had a cabin for our self in the train. The energy and the atmosphere in our cabin were electric as every one of us was so excited about the journey. While we were having fun, we were eagerly waiting for the ticket examiner to arrive and go away so that we could start the most important task for the day.

“Cops in the train!” Vasanth cried.

“What? Why are they in here?” everyone wondered. When we had a peek from our cabin, we realised that a group of railway police was travelling with us in the same train to our destination. Under the circumstances, it was a bad proposition for all of us, as we had to be extra careful while opening the vodka bottle.

When the ticket examiner left, it was time for us to unleash the beast within us.

“Take the Vodka and sprite. I will mix it” declared Sai, perhaps the only social work that he was committed to do in his entire life!

Mahendar stretched his hand deep under the seat to fetch the bottle of Vodka. When he got hold of the bottle, he became totally circumspect to a level that he was looking at all possible directions and was sweating very badly. When someone is so cautious about what age and gender to mark in a railway reservation form, taking a vodka bottle out in the open was way too much.

Slowly he removed the bottle from under the seat. Everyone was watching all directions. We even placed Balaji, our information analyst, to give signals if any suspicious looking person, such as the cops or railway employees, crosses our compartment. Only when Mahendar completely removed the bottle, we realised that he actually had pulled out the sprite bottle from under the seat instead of Vodka bottle. No one in the world would have been so careful to take a Sprite bottle from the bag!

The remaining five of us in the cabin went up in unison to trash him. But then, we knew that we had a job to complete. For the second time, he stretched his hands under the seat and this time, with the same circumspection, he removed the Vodka bottle from the bag and handed it to Sai.

Sai, on his part, skilfully opened the cap and mixed Vodka with Sprite with minimum effort and utmost efficiency. Even the cops in the next cabin had no idea about what was going on in our cabin. When the mixing was done, we gave a signal to Balaji to return to our cabin.

One by one, everyone had a sip of the mixture. While one took a sip, other six would keenly observe and ensure that no one drank more in one sip. After all, over consumption is a crime!

“I need to smoke” Balaji declared.

“But you can easily get caught if you smoke in the train” I said.

“That is not a problem. I always smoke in the train. And no one gets caught for somking these days” he said. Again, one of his information that neither could be believed nor ignored. Mahendar joined him for the smoke as both of them went to the exit area.

While the rest of us in the cabin were thrilled about the achievement, a couple of cops went past the cabin. Kumar, who was actively participating in a conversation, suddenly turned his head towards the window as though he was enjoying the nature. But, it was about 8PM in the night and it was very dark even to see a while elephant two feet away.

His reaction would have alerted even the dumbest of the cops. But the ones that went past our cabin were dumber than the dumbest. Once the cops passed our cabin, everyone had a huge time pass with Kumar for his reaction.

After a couple of minutes, Balaji and Mahendar returned to our cabin. Both were escorted by the ticket examiner. The examiner was fuming because both these guys were caught smoking in the train. However, half of us were drunk to understand what was happening there.

“I am charging you both with 250 rupees fine” he said.

We started negotiating with him to reduce the fine amount. We were literally pleading with him when he said, “I know that You have already committed a big mistake, but i decide not to pull you up for that” with a stern face.

Every one of us was stunned. A huge wave of silence engulfed the entire cabin for a few seconds. How on earth this guy could ever find out that we consumed alcohol inside the train? We were totally careful about it as it was so meticulously planned. Every one of us thought it was a foolproof arrangement. But, what did we know?

Drinking in a train is a punishable offence and there was a faint possibility that we could end up in jail. Panic was written on everyone’s face. We had landed in a mess from which it seemed very difficult to come out unscathed.

“Sorry, we should not have done this” said one of us.

“Sorry? You should be. I was looking for you guys” he said. “You should have boarded the train in Chennai Egmore, but you boarded in Tambaram without any prior information” he barked.

We were looking at each other. Every one of us had to ensure that we do not laugh out aloud or show any sings of drunkeness.

“And now you are caught smoking" he said.

"Now I cannot tolerate this second mistake”

For the first time in the last five minutes, I saw relief in everyone’s face. All of us got back to our seat with a slight grin on our face. Only a few minutes ago, a jail term was looming large. But we got away with just a 250 rupees fine.


Note: This is a real story that happened sometime in 2004. The names of the characters are real. I am sure that others' version of the same story would be different. But, hey! this is my story and i will narrate it in my way :) If any of the guys listed in this story want to tell your version, then write one ! :)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Electric cars...

Imagine a thousand cars running on the OMR in Chennai. At any given time, the average age of the car would be close to 24 months. Now imagine the amount of exhaust gas all of them produce. That is enough to trouble an important organ in our body called lungs. Now, imagine the same amount of gas being exhausted, along with the debris on the streets, throughout the day. Are we not living in a scary world?

One of the important developments in the recent past is the advent of electrical vehicles. Or to put it in simple way, cars that can run on batteries. Just like our mobile phone. The user could plug the car for charging before going to sleep and the next morning, the car would be fully charged. Imagine a thousand such cars on the streets. No exhaust gas. No pollution. Lungs would get enough oxygen supply. No green house gas emitted. Wow! Is it not the way we should progress?

Well, not quite! Now, let us look at the broader picture. Electricity cannot be stored. It has be produced and consumed (or wasted) at the same time. In Chennai, if one uses electricity to charge an electric car, it means that the power plant has to produce more electricity. In NTPC (National thermal power corporation), producing more power means, burning more coal. Burning more coal means more pollution, more carbon and sulphur emission into the atmosphere.

So, it really boils down to the difference between the amount of petrol we burn in conventional cars and the amount of additional coal burnt for an electric car. In any case, the atmosphere is polluted. Hence the notion of electric cars being environment friendly is only a myth.

To protect the environment, instead of investing money in latest technology cars the government should invest money in generating clean energy, especially from Sun, Water and Wind.

Until then, even electric cars pollute!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cricket fever

I was in the sea of yellow, one and a half hours before the start of the first IPL game between the Chennai Super Kings and Deccan Charges at MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai. Almost everyone in my stand was wearing a yellow jersey sporting the name Dhoni, and an official yellow CSK cap. A steady crowed started to gather, all in yellow, when a shrill voice of Anuradha Sriram reverberated inside the stadium. She was there as the official entertainer for the fans before the start of the game.

Anuradha, a flamboyant singer, started mixing her peppy numbers in front of the crowd that came to watch quality cricket. I was one of the very few conservative, disappointed fans in the crowd. I was disappointed because I was there to watch a game between two clubs. And nothing else. I always believe that cricket by itself is a huge entertainment and it does not require any other additives to keep the crowd going.

Anuradha's performance was pathetic as she tried to mix her songs to please the crowd that came to watch cricket. After half an hour of Anuradha's atrocity, then came a renowned drummer. He is one of the best drummers in India, and has performed in many stages. For me, cricket ground is not the stage for him to demonstrate his skills. So, the events on that night unfolded in the following order. Anuradha's atrocity, Sivamani's solo, DJ's pep talk and then the toss.

After a frustrating hour and a half, Mahi and Gilly came to the center. I got the first glimpse of anything related to cricket for the first time. Gilly won the toss and Deccan batted. I was praying that cricket would take the center stage from there on.

When Gilly hit his first six of the tournament against a haphazard Tyagi, the entire Chennai crowd stood up to applaud. These are the moments cricketers play for and these are the moments that makes Chennai the best crowd in India. The moment clearly belonged to Gilly, but the DJ with his music and Sivamani with his drums stole the thunder from Gilly. The music was so loud that the applause from the crowd was never heard. I was so frustrated that I was hoping that the biggest stand in the stadium would rise and swallow both the DJ and the drummer.

After a quickfire 42, Gilly was finally dismissed. As Dhoni rightly pointed out, Chennai crowd always come to watch quality cricket, whether it is played by the home team or the away team is immaterial. Even on this occasion, the crowd stood up to applaud, yet again, but was again overshadowed by excessively loud music. Clearly, the cricketers deserve much more than this.

No disrespect to either the DJ or the drummer, but I strongly feel that this is not the stage for them. This is the stage only for the cricketers, cricket and its fans. It was disheartening to see the game I always loved, taking the backseat. A lot of people say that IPL is entertainment. Let it be, but not at the cost of losing the value of cricket and cricketers. When Gilly was dismissed, I was disappointed that he did not receive the acknowledgement from the crowd that he deserved. The same story went on and on for all the remaining fixtures.

In my view, IPL does not require DJs, drummers, dancing girls and the overnight parties. I would always watch Haydos and his mongoose in action rather than watch the tall girls dancing in mini skirts. On a cricket field, that is!

In financial terms, IPL is a derivative with cricket as an underlying asset. IPL will grow as long as the underlying asset is strong, valued and grows in strength. The whole concept of IPL is only based on the value generated by cricket.

Cricket and only cricket should take precedence on a cricket filed and everything else should take the backseat.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A magical moment…

I have always heard that good things come in small packages, and I have often witnessed people talking about the "moment of absolute magic"; a moment that would sweep you off your feet. It could be due to love, it could be friendship, it could be both or it could be anything from totally unexpected angle.

“Will I ever experience one like that?” I wondered

“You are going to Newcastle tomorrow and will work there for a week to understand the basics of test strategy formulation for testing web pages” my manager interrupted my thoughts, with a beaming smile.

I was feeling restless and irritated as I never wanted to go. I was unsure about these magic moments, but on this particular morning, I was damn very sure that moments of absolute madness do exist; it would not only sweep you off your feet, but also would bury you six feet underground.

Reluctantly, I packed my bags for a week-long trip. I called up Vel, my friend in Newcastle, and asked him whether I could stay in his house for a week as a paying guest.

“We have two extra bedrooms, you can stay here as long as you want” he said. I would always consider myself extremely lucky as never in my life I was not surrounded by nice friends such as this one. Vel lived with his wife and an eighteen month old daughter, Swetha.

One best thing about this workshop it that it ended at 4 PM every day, hence I could go back home earlier than usual. But, during the workshop, it was really painful as someone from nowhere would ramble on and on about strategy. I always believed that strategy should be formulated on a case by case basis and never could be thought in a class room setting, especially with frameworks. I felt like killing my manager for all this, as soon as I go back.

After five days of my workshop, when I went back home, Vel’s wife was busy cooking and Swetha was giving her some problems as she was crying all the time.

“Can you take care of her for a while?” she asked.

I picked up Swetha from her and took her to the TV room and showed her some cartoons. We also played with the penguin doll, which is one of her favorites. I made her sit on my lap when we were watching the cartoon. Every now and then, she used to look at me and smile.

The way she smiled at me, and the way she played with the penguin were so amazingly beautiful that I would watch it and feel thrilled my entire life. She was a sweet adorable cute little child, and I loved playing with her.

After endless playing and watching TV, I got a bit tired. I then sat on the easy chair, pushed it back and was ready to go to sleep.

Swetha looked at me sitting in the easy chair and started crawling towards me. She then, with great difficulty, climbed up the easy chair by holding my legs with her tiny fingers. All the time, I was only watching her in amazement. She then sat on my lap, looked at my face, smiled and then gently placed her head on my chest. Within a minute, she fell asleep.

When she was asleep, she gently placed her tiny arms around my neck. The feeling of a cute little child lying on top of my chest was amazing. It could never be explained in mere words. She slept for about an hour, like a baby. All the time, I forgot everything else in the world as I have never felt so thrilled and happy deep from inside, ever before.

The five days of hammering in the workshop, the travel, the cold weather and every other thing suddenly seemed so small. I could perform the same boring routine at work for the rest of my life if I could get to be around and play with this sweet little girl, like the exact same way I did this day.

Some days, some moments or some incidents hit us when we were least expecting to be hit. Beautiful moments like these never happen every day. But, these are the moments that would help us to take a step back from out busy schedule to appreciate how wonderful life has been.

This was one such magical moment

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The theory of uncertainty!

I was sitting in front of my laptop, chatting with my friend. We were discussing about the endless possibilities of getting into a b-school, probably the one with the best value for money, as though one such school exist in the world. A few names popped up instantly.

“Why don’t you try Manchester school of business?” he asked, as though my father in law had a seat booked specially for me with special invitation

“It is too expensive for me and moreover I don’t think I can make it with my score and experience level” I said

And so a few other big schools were discussed, but most of them were not fitting my criteria. Almost in all of the schools, I didn’t fit into their entry criteria anyway!

“I had been to Lancaster last week end. It looks like a magnificent school, but quite difficult to get in” I said, wiping the sweat on my forehead. I had this habit of running around the streets of Newcastle every evening, to stay fit. I was badly in need of a shower but my friend was not letting me go.

“Did you try GLIM?” he asked

“What is GLIM?”

“Great lakes institute of management in Chennai. It is one of the best upcoming b-schools in India and they follow the same structure as ISB does” he went on.

“Similar to ISB? That’s great” I exclaimed as my eyes lit up just by looking at these three letters in the chat window. ISB.

“I have to go now. Will catch you sometime later” I said and tried to sign off

When I was about to sign off, he started typing something, and hence I waited for him.

“Do you know SP Jain has a one year MBA program based in Dubai and Singapore?”

“Really? I don’t know that” I said

He sent me a link and I promised him that I would look at it after my shower.

It was Monday, the 7th of October 2008. The day my period of uncertainty started! When I came back from my shower, I clicked the link from his mail and looked at SP Jain’s website. It looked very impressive. Dubai campus was nothing less than spectacular. The building was huge and was brightly lit with lots of trees all around.

Then I had a peek at the Singapore campus. Boy! It was full of greenery and I saw happy faces in the campus playing and having fun as a group. I was so impressed by the pictures in the website that I started thinking about applying for the GMBA program.

I had no statement of purpose and recommendation letters with me at that time. When I clicked the online application link in the website, it asked me to fill in a few details such as my name, age and gender.

Easy questions. So far so good.

The next text box made me think for more than ten minutes. It read “Specialization”. Till this time, I had no idea that MBAs also have specialization like engineering does. I had no idea about what to choose and so immediately picked up the phone and asked my friend

“Hey what specialization should I apply for?” I asked, probably the dumbest question of my life

“Operations management” he said without hesitation

I scanned through the list of specializations and couldn’t find this particular one

“Its not there in the list” I told him

“Then I don’t know” he said and hung up.

“Should I choose IT or Marketing” I wondered.

The uncertainty started creeping in big time!

I finally decided that my first choice would be Information Technology Management merely because I did not fully understand the other terms in the list. But, the biggest difficulty I faced was when I had to select the second choice for specialization.

“Life is full of choices. Maybe that’s why it sucks. Royally!” I thought

I painfully chose Investment banking as the name looked more attractive to me than anything else. I had no idea what it meant though. After filling in few other details, I submitted the application. No essays, no statement of purpose, no letters of recommendation and the application was complete within twenty minutes.

I had no faith and belief that I would be shortlisted for an interview as I had very high regards for “brand SP Jain”. I always thought only the brightest minds would get a chance for an interview. Therefore, there was no pressure on me. Or that’s what I thought!

On Wednesday, the 8th October 2008 evening, I received an email from SP Jain center of management asking me to attend the interview process on either 11th of 12th October. In Mumbai! The mail also had a link asking me to confirm the slot I wish to register for.

I had three days to pack my bags, book tickets, apply for leave and leave Newcastle and go to Mumbai so as to attend this interview. My assignment in Newcastle was about to get over in a couple of weeks anyway and hence if I chose to go back to India, I could not return. Hence, if I had to take this call and attend the interview, it meant that I had to seek permission from my client manager, arrange for tickets, inform my landlord that I would be moving and settle all the utility bills. All within a couple of days’ time. I knew that if I had to attend the interview on Sunday, the 12th October, I had to start from Newcastle on 10th October, which meant that I had to leave Newcastle within 48 hours from the time I received the interview call.

I had to take a decision. Very fast. Mr. Uncertainty was all over me. After four pints of fosters and ten minutes of thinking, I decided to give it a go and started making all the plans for the journey back.

9th October 2008 Thursday:

I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, prepared a hot cup of coffee, showered and started to work at 7 AM. I knew my manager was an early starter and would start working at 7:30. I made all the efforts to reach the office before he did. Finally, he arrived at 7:40 AM

I waited for him to settle down, knocked on his door and said “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure, give me a sec, I will come to your seat” he replied.

True to his words, he came to my seat in a minute and asked “Whats up? Is everything ok?”

“Well, yes. Its just that I wanted to ask you something”

“Go on son. I am all ears” he said

“I have to go back to Chennai as soon as possible. Something came up and I have to go back earlier than planned” I said, being a little nervous

“Is everyone fine back home” he asked, a little worried

“Yes, everyone is fine. I have to go because I have some very important things to do. I am sorry for a very short notice, but I can complete the work from Chennai in the next two weeks” I said.

He thought about it for a moment and said “How soon?”

“By tomorrow”

He raised his eyebrow and asked “Are you doing anything important this week?”

“I have never done anything important in my life” I said, being honest for the first time that day.

“Ok. Send me a mail now and I will approve and send it to Val in travel department and she will advise you on your ticket. I hope everything goes on well for you” he said and left to his cabin.

First hurdle crossed. Mr. Uncertainty was still laughing at me as I had to convince my landlord, to make him return my advance money and also had to ensure that my tickets were fine.

As I did not have any legal contract with my landlord, getting the money back was easy. The biggest hurdle was my tickets.

I went to Val’s desk at 10 AM to check whether tickets were available on the flights from Newcastle to London and on the connecting flight from London to Chennai.

“The flight from Newcastle to London is half empty, so no problems there. I can give you a confirmed seat” she said

“How about the flight to Chennai?” I asked curiously

She checked for the availability and said “There are five seats available in the business class, so I cannot give you confirmed ticket, but I can put you on standby. Is that ok?”

“Do I have a choice?” I thought, but agreed to whatever she said.

“I am pushing your booking for the approval process to Mumbai. I think it should be fine. Check your mail at 1 AM tonight for confirmation” she said

“What time is the flight tomorrow?” I asked

“The flight from Newcastle is at 7:00 AM and the flight to Chennai is at 12:30 PM. You will have four hours in London” she said.

“Are you telling me that I will come to know whether my tickets are approved only at 1 AM?”

“That’s correct”

“If the approval does not come through, I cannot travel tomorrow?”

“That’s correct”

“Thank you”
I said and went back to my seat. What else could I do?

Now that it was almost certain I would be travelling to India, I clicked on the link from the SP Jain email to book an interview time. When I clicked the link, a page appeared saying “404 Page not found”

I froze for a moment. I wanted to abort the whole process of going back. Mr. Uncertainty was on my throat, yet again. But, I sent a mail to SP Jain explaining the situation and asked for an interview appointment on Sunday at 2 PM. I waited till 7 PM. No response. Then I picked up the phone and called the Mumbai office. No one picked up. I tried thirteen more times before it was picked up by someone

“I would like to talk to the academic office” I said

“Daserra. No office” the attendant said. That is when I realized that it was holiday in India.

I sent another mail to SP Jain asking them to respond as soon as possible. But then, I decided to go back to Chennai, whether I get the confirmation from SP Jain about the interview or not. I was uncertain about my interview. I was uncertain about my travel plans. If I did not travel, I had to miss the interview and had to stay in the middle of the streets as my landlord would take the keys away. On this particular day, only ‘certainty’ for me was uncertainty.

I left office at 8 PM. No response from SP Jain till then. I started plucking my hair. From my head. I had to pack, had to clean the house, and I had to say good bye to a lot of friends in Newcastle. All in one night. After completing all my work by 1 AM, I was eagerly waiting for the mail from British Airways about my travel plan.

But, British airways being British airways, it was too much to expect from them. The flight was at 7 AM and so I had to leave to the airport by 5:30. Needing some sleep badly, I set my alarm at 5 AM and slept.

10th October Friday:

Friday began with a bang. I didn’t wake up when the alarm went off. I was too tired for it. When I woke up, it was close to six AM. I knew straight away that there was still some hope. After all, anyone could bet on British airways for its punctuality. I tried to stay calm, called the cab, washed my face and came out the bathroom. Suddenly, I heard a car honk in front of my house. The cab has arrived!

I rushed again, picked up whatever I found and stuffed them into the boot of the cab and left. I reached the airport at half six and dashed towards the check in counter.

“Am I too late for the 7 AM flight” I asked

“No sir, you are fine. The flight is not closed yet. May I have your passport?” she asked. I let out a big sigh of relief.

She checked her screen for a minute and said “I am sorry sir, you are not listed on this flight” and returned my passport.

“What do you mean? I am booked on this flight” I protested. During the protest I realized one very important fact.

I did not receive the confirmation mail from Mumbai which was due at 1 AM the previous night.

I have witnessed a few goof ups at the airport terminals, but this one tops the list. British airways played its part yet again!

I placed all my bags in the trolley and started towards the exit to take a cab. I called my landlord and asked for one week extension, which was granted immediately.

“At least some things are going my way!” I thought.

One the way back home, I realized that I hadn’t even brushed my teeth since I woke up. “Anyways, I had one full day for the task” I thought

I reached home, unpacked and switched on the TV to watch the test match between Australia and India and was getting ready for a long day. At least I was now certain that I wouldn’t be attending the SP Jain interview. At last, I was experiencing certainty. Or that’s what I thought.

After a few minutes, I switched my laptop on. One email message popped in. From SP Jain center of management!

“We confirm your interview appointment on Sunday at 2 PM” it read. I felt sick to my stomach as I tried everything I could but was unable to make it to the interview. I was feeling bad that I did not even get a chance to fail, in the interview. I abused British Airways as much as I could and then felt too tired for anymore abuse.

As I was about to enter the shower room, I heard a new message sound from my laptop. Curious to know who that would be early in the morning, I came back to my laptop. It was a mail form British Airways.

“Now what?” I wondered.

“We are booking you in the second flight to London which starts at 9:30 AM. This gives you ninety minutes transit in London” it said.

I looked at the clock. It was 8 AM. Traffic starts to build up on the streets just about 8 AM. I called the cab, packed my bags yet again and rushed to the door. After entering the cab, I called my land lord, yet again. He thought that I went crazy and asked me to call him when I finally made up my mind.

Uncertainty was back, with a bang!

Every second in the cab seemed like an eternity. A long tail of cars and busses were stagnant on the road. I wanted to run with my bags all the way to the airport. Fortunately enough sanity prevailed inside me as I chose to stay inside the cab. We reached Newcastle International airport by 9 AM.

Now that I was experienced in running with a trolley full of bags to the check in counter, I did it with ease and slipped my passport to the check in agent. Then I suddenly realized that I was on standby in the London-Chennai flight.

“Gosh! This looks like a never ending story” I thought.

The check in agent checked in all my bags, typed furiously for a minute and gave me a couple of boarding cards.

Unable to believe my own eyes, I checked the boarding cards. I got a confirmed seat in both the flights.

“You have to rush sir. The gate will close in 20 minutes” the agent warned.

I started my run, yet again as I was the last person to enter the A320 jet for a 40 minute flight to London. Only when I entered the flight, I realized that I did not inform my parents that I was coming back to Chennai. Also, I have not booked flight ticket to Mumbai the next day for my interview.

“I will call my dad and sort it out in London” I thought.

It took forty minutes for the flight to reach London, but it took another 40 minutes to touch down. As London Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world, it sometime takes a long time to get a landing slot. We landed in London at 11 AM, which left me exactly ninety minutes for my connection.

I started running from Terminal 5 to terminal 4 for connection. On the way, I called my dad.

Before the ring tone, an automated voice said “You have less than one pound on your pre paid card. Top up to gain more talk time...”

“Damn! I won’t get more than a minute”

I rehearsed what I wanted to tell my dad a couple of times and called him. “Dad, I am fine, just listen to what I say and make a note of it”

“Ok” he said, and nothing else. He is the coolest dad anyone could have.

“I am coming back to Chennai tomorrow morning 8 AM. Come and pick me up. I am coming to attend an interview in Mumbai on Sunday at 2 PM. So, book me a flight to Mumbai as well for same day return. Am I clear?” I checked.

“Yes. I will arrange for everything. You take care” he assured, and the connection went dead straight after.

I had no coins left and had no time to look for coins. I had a flight to catch and an interview to attend. But I wanted to ensure that I had given the correct details to my dad. To my right, there was a shop that was selling a million varieties of alcohol. I went in to get some change. A middle aged lady stopped me and took me to a table with 18 varieties of single malt whisky.

“Whisky sir?” she asked.

“Don’t have time now” I said

“Taste at least a few and decide” she tried to convince.

I almost cried. I was using this airport at least once a week for the last few months and no one offered anything. Now that I was in a hurry and this lady was showing 18 varieties of whisky. I never even knew that 18 varieties of single malt whisky existed; let alone seeing them on one tray. I finally had to escape from her and started my run to the farthest gate in terminal 4.

When I reached the gate, boarding already started. As I was a business class passenger I could board at my convenience, but I decided to get in and get some rest.

I handed over my boarding pass which read “2B”. The cabin crew looked at my boarding pass and pointed towards my seat. It was the first seat right behind the cockpit. When I was navigating to my seat, I went past a lot of business people, of the VP or CEO level, all in business suits looking at me like looking at a monkey in the zoo. I knew that I was sweating badly but something other than that was wrong. But I couldn’t figure that out. After a moment, I looked down at myself, probably for the first time that day. To my horror, I found myself like straight-from-the-bed type as I was wearing a bathroom slipper, crumbled round neck t-shirt and a naturally worn out shorts. All inside the business class cabin of British airways!

I went straight to the toilet to get rid of all the stares. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I realized that my hair was flying in all directions, as I did not comb my hair. What more? I did not even brush my teeth that day. What a shame!

After a couple of minutes, I sneaked out of the toilet and buried myself deep inside the seat and closed myself with the curtains in all directions.

“Any drinks sir?” asked a cabin crew as soon as the flight took off.

“Anything with alcohol please” I responded.

For the first time, I was certain that I would be attending the SP Jain interview, but was highly uncertain about whether I would handle it well. A new wave of uncertainty was getting ready to sweep me off.

After a few rounds of alcohol, I tried to doze off. Since I was scared of flying, I stayed awake even though I was as tired as a dog.

October 11th 2008 Saturday:

The uncertainty surrounding the information I gave to my dad became certain when I came to know that he got it wrong. He booked a ticket for a six AM flight to Mumbai for my interview at 2 PM. But then, I felt it was not bad when compared to the events on the last two days.

I had one full day to prepare for my interview. As soon as I reached home, I picked up newspapers of the past seven days and started reading the business columns. It was littered with some strange demon called “Sub-prime crisis”. I had no idea what it meant and I had no idea why I should read that. All details like CDO, Mortgage backed securities and derivates went over my head as I tried to remember only the jargons that were repeated often in the newspapers.

At the end of the day, I read more news than the newsreader in NDTV in one day! Still, uncertainty about how the interview would be was eating me alive.

October 12th 2008 Sunday:

I woke up, with great difficulty, at 4 AM, took a cab and arrived at the airport at 5 AM. I then picked up all the newspapers in the airport and started reading all the business columns. The headline was dominated by Mr. Obama’s decision to offer a stimulus package of hundreds of billions of dollars. After reading through the news, “What the heck is a stimulus package?” I wondered.

Kingfisher was right on-time to reach Mumbai airport at 8:20 AM. For the first time in two days, I was neatly dressed in an aircraft! All the while, I was reading and preparing for basic interview questions. I never thought, even in the wildest of my dreams that I would be sitting for a SP Jain interview in Mumbai. Such was the pace in which life was moving on and I was running hard just to stay where I was.

The interview process started at 2 PM. I was initially given three papers and was asked to write a couple of essays in thirty minutes. Then the entire batch that gathered for the interview process was divided into four groups of seven and was asked to appear for group discussion. In my batch of seven, four were from TCS.

“Will I get through to the personal interview?” I could see Mr. Uncertainty smiling sarcastically at me.

“Just hang in there buddy!” I was telling myself as I was getting cranky due to sleeplessness, jet lag and the interview process. I was not a sort of person who’d go out there and talk assertively in a group discussion. In the end, I spoke something there and felt lucky when I came to know that the GDs were not an elimination round. I wanted an interview experience, at least. It would be very disappointing for me not to attend an interview after travelling for 5000 miles and after tackling uncertainty for three days.

“You are going in next for the panel interview” I was told by the academic coordinator.

I was nervous. It was a struggle for me just to get there, standing in front of the interview panel. I had been very busy just to figure out ways to get myself to the interview, that I could not prepare on any of the frequently asked questions in such interviews.

“So, you are working for TCS?” Mr. Sethi, from the interview panel asked.

“Yes sir, for five years. In the aviation sector” I said, beaming with confidence as I thought the panel would not be knowledgeable about airline industry. But, Mr. Sethi was someone who was aware of everything under the sun.

He asked a zillion intellectual questions on airline industry’s future and I was able to answer one or two of them. “This guy must be a genius!” I thought as I have never thought about the future of any industry. My interview experience was a huge eye opener in all sense.

After twenty minutes of questioning and three minutes of answering, I was certain that I would not make it.

“Stay outside for a minute. Someone will come and talk to you shortly” Mr. Sethi closed the interview.

“That was a nice experience” I thought, being certain for the first time that I would not make it to SP Jain center of management. Or that’s what I thought!

I sat down and looked at my watch. Four hours left for my flight back!

I was waiting in the same place for one more hour before someone came and told me that the chairman would talk to me now.

“Why would he do that? Are they seriously considering me for the GMBA program?” I wondered.

I met Mr. Jain, a radiant person, shortly. We had a chat for less than ten minutes and then he asked me to meet academic co-coordinator.

“Your interview process is over now” she declared.

“Oh, can I leave then?”

“If you want to”
she said

“Ok. When will you let me know the result of this interview?”

“When we make our decision”

“And that will be…”

“I don’t know. But, check your mail often”

“Thank you”
I said feeling relieved that the interview process was over and I survived the entire duration. After all, being there physically was a struggle.

“Will I get the offer?” I wondered. But, as you might have guessed it by now, I was totally uncertain.

I looked at my watch again. Three hours still left for my flight! I came out of the college building and took an auto rickshaw to the airport. Six kilometers travel in an auto rickshaw should normally take less than 15 minutes. But, I was in Mumbai and got to use the Mumbai roads and beat the traffic.

Six kilometers took close to two and half hours. I was, again, totally uncertain whether I would be on time to take my flight back. While I was sitting idle in the auto rickshaw, with my iPod on, I was thinking of other options to spend the night if I miss the flight.

“Whatever happens, I am going to sleep well tonight!” I promised myself.

After a long ride for six kilometers, the auto meter read 70 rupees. I felt bad for the auto driver as 70 rupees for 150 minutes was unfair. In fact, I was typically thinking with the “Time and material” mentality.

I ran inside the airport terminal, for the fourth time in two days. In fact, I became so experienced that I started enjoying my new hobby!

Ten minutes after the flight took off; the Kingfisher cabin service came out from the hiding.

“Would you like some drink sir?”

“Anything with alcohol please”

“But, we don’t sell alcohol in the domestic flights. Would you like some coffee or tea?”
she asked sweetly.

“Yes. I will have a coffee please”

“Ok. That will be 20 rupees”

“What?” I exclaimed. “Why would I pay for your coffee?”

“You are on Kingfisher Red sir. It is pay and use service here”

“Will anything go right for me at all?”
I thought. At that moment, turbulence struck and we were asked to fasten the seat belt. “Typical” I thought.

Two hours later, by around midnight, I was back home. Two minutes later, I was lying flat on my bed, totally knocked out cold.

14th October 2008 Tuesday:

I have no recollection of whatever happened on Monday. All I knew was that I woke up thrice on Monday only for some food intake. I finally woke up completely by noon on Tuesday and felt that the world was lot fresher than it was a week ago!

I had a very long hot shower, ate like a pig and sat in front of my computer to check mails from my client at work.

There were 145 unread mails in my inbox, but one of them caught my eye. It was from SP Jain center of management. After one and a half days of sleep, I almost forgot that I gave an interview. I started feeling a bit jittery when I opened the mail. But, the mail only had a link and I was asked to track the progress from that link.

When I clicked the link, I was taken to a SP Jain webpage which had only one word printed on it.


I could not believe my eyes. I have actually made it to the GMBA program of SP Jain center of management. As I managed to crush Mr. Uncertainty into a million pieces, suddenly my thought process started changing. I started thinking whether I should accept the offer.

I was uncertain, yet again!

The very next day, I received a letter from SP Jain detailing about the terms and conditions. I was asked to pay the fees before 31st October as the classes were scheduled to start from December in Singapore. Panic started overwhelming me when I read the letter for the second time. All of a sudden, I felt like I was not ready to take up MBA at that point of time.

I picked up the phone and called SP Jain 17 times before it was answered by someone.

“I have a few doubts about the offer letter you send me” I started

“Go on!” the voice from the other side said

“I cannot join the program in December as I need more time”

“For what?”

“Oh my god! I never thought about this”
I thought. I cannot say that I was not ready and I had to cook up something really fast.

“I will not be relieved from my work with a short notice” I said

“Is there a way we can work on this?” I asked, curiously

“You can defer to next intake. But you have to pay 2500 dollars now” she declared.

“That is brilliant” I said, with some excitement. “What is the process for deferment?

“Send me a letter asking for deferment along with the money and I will send it for approval” she said

“It requires approval?”

“Yeah, the academic office will decide on this”

“So, is it not certain that I will get the deferment?”
I asked, pleading for some certainty in life.

“No, but send your request” she advised.

I was uncertain whether to join SP Jain and I was uncertain whether SP Jain wants me for April 2009 batch. At one point of time, a lot of things were uncertain that I left it to the fate to decide.

One week later, I received a confirmation letter from SP Jain about my deferment. At last, some things started falling into place.

I then took this offer from SP Jain to my HR manager and asked them to relieve me from work within three months. But, somehow my HR convinced me to apply for a sabbatical.

“What am I going to lose?” I thought. Having a safe cushion to fall back seemed a good option anyway.

“Sometimes, good things do happen” I thought.

But, what do I know?

March 27th 2009 Friday:

After two million visits to the Union bank of India, I managed to secure the loan and paid the fees through a wire transfer. I shopped for a few things, received my visa to Dubai and I was getting ready for the travel.

But, something was troubling me at the back of my mind. It was about my sister. She was pregnant and was expected to deliver her first child by first week of April 2009. I was feeling very bad that I would miss the happier times with my family and was praying that she delivers before I leave to Dubai.

Everything was at least fine until this telephone call from Hyderabad arrived at 7 AM on 27th March 2009.

My grandma had just expired, while in sleep.

Everything collapsed that morning. I was frantically trying to get us booked in the next available flight to Hyderabad.

“Wait a minute! Who would take care of my sister?” I thought. She could not travel as she was about to deliver a baby. I called my cousin for assistance and gave her my phone number, alerted the local cab company to come over if needed, gave her the doctor’s number, auto rickshaw’s number and ambulance number. I also gave her three different plans to go to the hospital in case if any part of the main plan failed. She assured me that she would take care of my sister and asked me to take care of things in Hyderabad. These were some of the incidents that made me think that life is highly unstable and uncertain, no matter how prepared you are!

Going to Dubai and sitting in class room was the last thing in my mind. I was highly uncertain and unprepared for this. After the funeral, I told my dad that I did not want to go to Dubai immediately as I did not feel like taking up anything serious.

“I think you should go because your grandma would have liked you to go” he said and that was the end of conversation. I really admired the clarity of his thought, even though he was mentally stressed to the limit.

I came back to Chennai the next day to take care of my sister and to get ready for my travel. My dad came back to Chennai on 29th March, the same day I was scheduled to travel.

For the first time in my life, I packed my bags all by myself, all alone. It never felt like I was going out to do something exciting. At the end of the day, I boarded the flight, without seeing my nephew / niece, and with dreams being completely overshadowed and shattered by uncertainty.

Dubai, April to August 2009:

It was raining the day I landed in Dubai. I settled down in a room in the hostel. Within one day, about ninety students from all over India landed in my hostel. I was quite shy to be with a group of people and always liked a lot of time alone. Especially, during my initial days in Dubai, I wanted to be all alone. But, the thought of sitting with ninety strangers under one roof all day scared me to the core. Also, during my engineering days and my days in Newcastle, I never had many opportunities to be around with a big group of people, especially girls.

Looking at the flamboyant and confident girls in SP Jain, I was truly scared even to go near them. Asking a girl out was alien to me, so I never even had any thought from that angle. As I wanted to come out of my little depression, I tried to use my sense of humor as a defense mechanism. Little did I know that I only had little sense of humor.

Whenever I met a girl I used to say either “hi” or “you look beautiful today” and then kicked myself if I had told the latter. Due to these weird behaviors, few students thought that I flirt all the time while others thought that I “try” to flirt. But the truth was, I had no experience in flirting and was too scared to flirt anyway.

In the initial days, I tried to keep myself engaged artificially by running around the basketball court like a mad man every evening. Two days later, I got an email message from my dad that my sister delivered a beautiful baby boy.

“At last, some good news” I thought, but was still frustrated that I was not in Chennai that time.

Everything that was happening back home was taking a lot out of me, hence I did not care much about the studies in the initial days. Many thought I was careless when I was regularly completing all my quizzes well ahead of time. In a way, not thinking in a complicated way was helping me to keep things simple and quick.

A week later, my close friend’s dad (the friend suggested SP Jain to me) expired due to sudden illness. I went back to my shell yet again. He was one of the very few in the world who had a lot of faith on my ability, and the thought that I was not with him during his last moments was hurting me very badly. To overcome the setback, I was using humor as my defense mechanism. Very few knew that I had lost one of the most important person I knew.

One fine day, I sat next to a studious girl in economics class. I don’t even know head or tail of economics in the first place and I had no interest whatsoever to learn. When the professor was rambling on and on for more than an hour, I was totally switched off and stated thinking about a lot of weird things, such as a fly’s flying pattern. Suddenly the girl who was sitting next to me look at me weirdly

“Do you think you know everything?”

I looked at her, totally scared even to utter a word. After a moment I nodded my head to say no.

“Then write something on your book” she ordered pointing at my book.

I immediately picked up my pen and looked up at the professor. He was literally staring at me for not taking notes in his class. “Gosh! What kind of a geek is she?” I thought. After a few weeks, we became good friends. Perhaps, my first friend who wouldn’t speak my native language!

After a month of toil, normalcy began to creep in. I was still uncertain about the subjects I was learning, but that was fine as I never really gave a damn about these subjects. Then, one fine day, my house in Chennai was burgled and in the process, my mom was almost killed.

Life was full of damn bloody uncertainties and I hated it.

However, the company of energetic people in the campus kept me going, even though we were bombarded with loads of assignments, presentations, quizzes and exams. Almost every day. I only made a few friends in the first few months as I was only known as a flirter to most people.

The only way I tried to socialize with people in the campus was by inviting them for a cup of coffee in my room. We had our own kitchen and we used to prepare the best coffees we could. Then, one fine day, I was invited by a girl from my class for a cup of coffee, and perhaps more, in Toni’s bakery shop, which was close to the hostel.

I started opening up a bit from my shell only after these little coffee sessions we had. In the initial days, I was so scared and so dehydrated when I was with her that I was gasping for water all the time. But, that was a great learning experience for me. Perhaps one of the most important learning from this GMBA program.

Towards the end of our time in Dubai, uncertainty about our future after MBA started creeping in. I have had enough experience to tackle uncertainties, but this one was too much to take. The amount of money and time we spent and the effort we had put in should definitely be rewarded.

When we started packing our bags to go back home, I realized that I had about thirty kilos of text books. Sadly, my airline would only allow twenty kilos. I had to decide between taking my clothes back and taking some of my books back. I decided to take my clothes rather as I did not see any value in taking the books back.

On my last day in college, I took all my books from the locker and went to the library

“I don’t want to take my books back. Can you take it in your library?” I asked to the librarian

“No, that is not possible. You have to take it back” he said and ignored me altogether.

I was carrying about twenty kilos of text books with me that time. I had to do something to offload them. Either I had to convince the librarian or do something else. Convincing the librarian could take some time and effort, hence I decided to do something else.

I placed all the books on one of the tables and sat next to it with a newspaper in hand. When the librarian went out for tea, I swiftly moved in and placed all my books in the library racks. As I did not write my name in any of the books, no one would find this out.

“Very clever” I thought.


After a refreshing break for two weeks, I boarded the flight to Singapore. I started listening to music all the time and used to be lost in my own world most of the times. As the hotel and school were in the same campus in Singapore, I was able to talk and get used to a lot of people.

Even ten years after the completion of the course, I’d always be remembered as the one who used to wear bathroom slippers everywhere; as the one who listened to music all the time, even while running down the stairs; as the one who always went out only with girls; as the one who had the worst dressing sense; and as the one who never worried about the exams.

The best thing about Singapore campus, apart from its greenery, is the fact that the campus and hostel being in the same building. All I had to do was to ensure that I woke up ten minutes before the start of the class and then run three floors down and continue the sleep inside the class room.

As days turned into weeks during our days in Singapore, I was getting more and more comfortable with my classmates and started going out for coffee with a few of the girls from my class. This is not something that one could learn from books, hence I would rate this as one of the most important learning from MBA.

By the end of two terms in Singapore, the uncertainty about our future, in terms of seeking proper jobs, was looming large. It was an irony because I joined SP Jain mainly due to its placement records in the past.

No matter how uncertain we were, the amount of work in the form of assignments and presentations never ceased. We were absolutely squeezed for time and energy. Perhaps filling out SP Jain application form was the easiest part in the entire GMBA program!

Even though we were squeezed continuously for performance, I must consider myself extremely lucky to be a part of this wonderful group here. Everyone I interacted with was very helpful at some point of time. When I looked back and compared myself before and after MBA, I must say that I had learnt a lot. All my learning was from my batch mates as I learnt very little from the books.

When I think about the amount of uncertainty and pain that I had gone through and the number of assignments, group works, presentation we had done and the number of sleepless nights that I had spent, I wondered whether I had made the right decisions, right from leaving Newcastle and coming to Chennai to sitting through all the courses in SP Jain. But, when I think about my learning; when I think about the difference between Gopal before and after MBA; when I think about the good times and the number of friends I had made; when I think about the fact that I was not feeling dehydrated in the presence of a girl anymore, I think I had come a long way. Every minute of time and every penny of my money I had invested in the last ten months was well and truly worth it.

Now, at the end of the program, the future about our jobs was still looming really large. No matter how much confident I was about the job opportunities, the ghosts of uncertainty was still haunting me every day.

But, while working on my final project at 1 AM in the morning, I was staring outside through the window of my room; straight at the darkness outside the room to find some light!