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!