My freshman year at NMIMS!

Image courtesy of iosphere / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of iosphere / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Immediate revelation being a much easier way for men to establish their opinions and regulate their conduct than the tedious and not always successful labour of strict reasoning, it is no wonder that some have been very apt to pretend to revelation, and to persuade themselves that they are under the peculiar guidance of heaven in their actions and opinions …”

“Their minds being thus prepared, whatever groundless opinion comes to settle itself strongly upon their fancies is an illumination from the Spirit of God and presently of divine authority; and whatsoever odd action they find in themselves a strong inclination to do, that impulse is conducted to be a call or direction from heaven …”

– An essay concerning Human Understanding, John Locke

I began my life’s journey by observing my parents and near dear ones. Here I developed strong likes and dislikes, the Do’s and Don’ts in my life. I believed that I was very rational and had developed a good sense of judgement. And I was brutal and ruthless in forming my values like for instance I banished religion completely from my life so I could fit the Western ‘mold’. I often felt that my behavior was the most appropriate one for any occasion. I believed that the ‘Middle Class’ was the most ‘progressive’ of all classes and the government policies, often populist in nature, did this class a great disservice. I give these examples only to illustrate the kind of beliefs which I had accepted and I will return to these examples later on. In brief I felt that I was heads and shoulders above the common mass and no one could predict my responses. And I was twenty-one years of age!

I did well in the C.E.T. exams and stood fifth in the Pune University’s  ‘Open Category’ Merit List. I was sure to get an admission to Symbiosis and had an outside chance to make it to NMIMS. My friend was with me during the anxious moments of my counselling session. And the moment I got my admission to NMIMS, I was very happy and began to speak very positively about my institute and even ‘put down’ Symbiosis on many counts. My friend very aptly retorted that since I had chosen to join NMIMS, the least I could do was to defend my choice. My friend had unwittingly caught me ‘rationalizing’ my choice. It shook me a lot later on when I read in my OB textbook that I was involved in the process of reducing ‘cognitive dissonance’. Herein once the choice is made the individual is convinced that he was right in his choice and actively avoids any evidence or argument to the contrary. That proved one thing to me; I wasn’t much ‘different’ from the rest.

At home I was surprised that my parents were far from happy on my selection since it meant that I had to move out to Mumbai. In particular I was surprised to find that my father was very upset; until last week he had said that I was free to make my choice. He now explained that he had felt that since my chances to get selected for NMIMS were slim, he thought it was better not to debate the choice and make it seem as if I had been allowed to follow my own wishes. Well nothing could be done about it then and I escaped the sorry scene to ‘party’ with my friend. But I was not feeling happy and complained to my friend that my dad had acted somewhat deviously. I was to learn later that I was being emotionally blackmailed, that my ambitions were clashing with my role of being a ‘good son’. Next I spoke to my elder brother who was very supportive and who also convinced my parents that I had a great opportunity to get a good launching pad for my corporate career.

I landed up at NMIMS and things were very hazy. I ran into trouble with the administrative procedures and ran from Kalina campus to Pune University to Fergusson College to meet the procedural requirements. The first semester was an induction into a kind of secondary system. It took me weeks to come to terms with myself. I just couldn’t help it and often the NMIMS v/s Symbiosis decision would be replayed in my mind. For instance there was an unanticipated fee hike (at least I was not informed about it during my counselling session held at Pune University) which forced me to reconsider my position. My brother had given me a one-liner advice when I left for Mumbai : “Be stoical”. And now I cannot thank him enough for his foresight. And I moved on, made a lot many new friends, learnt a lot many new subjects and changed my lifestyle as well. Now I wonder how was it that I survived so many changes and the first term but I have a feeling that often I boosted my spirits by telling myself that the whole situation was a result of my choice and then when I also thought of the future, it seemed to be so fulfilling. In short reinforcing my objectives helped me cope.

I was lucky enough to find a room close to the college and four of us shared it as ‘paying guests’ ( I and three more students from the other division). And all the aspects of Group Dynamics played a role in developing a strong sense of camaraderie and friendship. We all shared the dream mission of graduating from NMIMS and making it big in life. We communicated well and there was a lot of positive synergy. Gradually we learnt more about each other till it was second nature for me to remember that Santosh hated bus travel, Abhishek preferred hindi songs and so on. We helped one another in our studies; in particular I remember that Pravin often helped me with my Achilles heel – Maths oriented subjects like ‘Operations Research’.We stood up for one another; bore manic mood swings and still thrived. Unwritten group norms developed : like I can never stay away for a night or return late unless I inform my friends in advance. The spirit pervaded to our landlord as well. Aunty was very concerned about us getting good food so we made arrangements to have our ‘dinner’ at their home. She was always concerned when any of us felt sad or happened to be sick. I have observed that whenever we have exams she always made extra efforts to see to it that we eat well and take adequate rest. We have developed very good relations with the family and now Aunty can identify us by our attitudes and nature. She knows that if the others are out, I shy away from asking for Tea in the morning. And so she would personally come up and make me take it. We have also visited their other flat at Vasai. We are as good as family members and share their lives. I was particularly touched when Uncle asked us to advise him on his finances and investment choices. We did the best that we could for them. And so at times when we run out of cash and the payment of the rent gets delayed, they don’t mind it. If there is a ‘India-Pakistan’ match going on and we have some free time, we feel free to go downstairs and watch it on the telly.

Moving to Mumbai to do my MBA was a big decision and I decided to take the plunge and learn to swim through the real experience. Objective setting is all very fine but one also has to reassess the situation. I have found myself doing the retrospection whenever I am travelling back to Pune which happens nearly every three weeks. I stare at the tracks or the mountains and take stock. The issues keep changing. My first trip I was worried about coping with my new life in Mumbai, then I was worried about the exams and the projects, then it was the summer placements  and next year it will be the ‘Executive Placements’. I have at times achieved my goals, at times met with frustrating failure. I have either reapplied myself to the task with greater zeal or abandoned the goal as implausible and moved on to an alternative. In particular getting the summer assignment was a nerve-wracking experience. I often got eliminated at the GD stage or in the final interview. I felt impelled to review my mistakes and improve my performance.I seemed to be getting nowhere when suddenly one day everything just clicked. It seemed too good to be true – a project in Industrial Marketing and that too based in my home town, Pune. I was very ecstatic on learning the news and I didn’t even to do much to get selected. There was no GD round and the interview seemed to be a mere formality. At such times one can’t deny that somebody up there likes you (and to think that I once denied both God as well as religion)!

Most of the subjects in the course included projects and group work. And it was a painful experience to begin with. Much of the trouble is perhaps because of the way our school and college curriculum is designed. We usually work alone or at best collaborate with one more person, often a very good friend. Here in the first term the groups were made in an arbitrary manner using random roll nos. I don’t think it would have made much difference even if we chose our group members for we hardly knew each other. And I remember that inevitably each one of us felt that we had been ‘assigned’ to the worst possible group. It was difficult to allocate and coördinate work. And then the fun began for some of the members were quite comfortable being passengers taking a joy ride with the group. It was difficult to deal with these malingerers and it seemed so kiddish to go the Professor and squeal on them. We dumped some work on them anyway such as arranging for print outs and binding work etc. The work horses of the group would often derive satisfaction by saying that they were here for the education and by doing these projects were getting immense value-addition. And yet none of us seemed very cheerful while saying this for the work load was heavy and life was hectic. It just didn’t seem fair. We hoped that our efforts would show in the exam results as well as the placements for the summers. Well no one compiled any statistics but often the malingerers made merry here as well. We all felt cheated but there was precious little that we could do about it.

The second term was much better. The groups had frozen and the basic setting remained the same. But I ensured this time that our group has no NVIs if possible i.e. ‘Non-Value adding-Individuals’. It made me quite unpopular with my last term’s joy riders but I stuck to my stand. Interestingly I had received feedback from some group members that I was often dominating and overbearing. I often dismissed suggestions and was very caustic in my criticism. Well, I thought, part of the problem was because often these ideas seemed quite vague to me and when I challenged and probed them the person who had thought it didn’t defend it well. Moreover at times all the Group did was shoot down my ideas but never offered any new ideas or solutions and then I would run out of patience and challenge them to present a better alternative. But this did not help the situation any way and I decided that it was better to compromise accordingly to the members wishes. I remember reading somewhere that the Camel is a Horse designed by a Committee. We seemed to always lose out on our objective. I was thrilled when suddenly it seemed that everyone was getting better at analysis and making strategies. All the previous projects and their failings seemed to be paying off now. And of course the group feeling deepened and we knew a lot more about each other. Now as the second term draws to an end, I have a feeling that again the third semester – when the two divisions merge and then break into various specializations – we would encounter group related problems. But this time round the turnaround time to resolve the issues ought to be much lesser.

By the second term I was much more comfortable with NM and its functioning. I knew my way around; be it the library or the computer lab or even the canteen and all the ‘Mamas’ that we met there. Having spent many a days and evenings at NM (I remember that at the end of the first term I had reckoned that over a span of three and half months there had been only 3 -4 days when I had not been at the Institute). I felt that it was my second home. I remember that when the P G interviews and GDs were happening and there were a lot many new faces around, I felt like a veteran. The feeling developed further as we had a farewell party for the seniors. And now that the exams are over when we return after the summers, we would be the new seniors. And we will lead from the front in organizing activities like the bash for the new juniors. It will be the year when our ‘Executive Placements’ will happen, we will be more involved than the juniors when it comes to organizing ‘Euphoria 2000’. It is a great feeling and what a change from the day some nine months back when I had walked in rather unsure and nervous looking for the Registrar’s office. And incidentally Shetty Sir had seemed so much more intimidating then.

The course included a lot of reading and that was always a favorite hobby of mine. I read some very interesting books. To begin with there was Robinson’s, ‘Snapshots From Hell’ – The Making of an MBA. I read it rather late towards the end of the second semester – I didn’t know that it was available in the reference section. And it was a joyful read and I had gone though most of the experiences described by the author. I really empathized with the writer and wondered how across nations and colleges, the best of the MBA teaching practices remarkably echo one another.

Then there was Pavan K Varma’s , ‘The Great Indian Middle Class’ – a thought-provoking book. It smashed the ‘Middle Class’ stereotype that I had in my mind to smithereens. One just has to read and would at worst doubt the role of the ‘Middle Class’ in nation building. As it is I was amazed to know how preoccupied we are with our own lives. To begin with it was ensured that English retains its preeminence ignoring the wishes of the millions of people. Then we have had a lopsided development of education in the country where the higher education id subsidized but the primary education is left unaddressed. Ironically if we have the largest pool of technically qualified people, at the same time we have millions of children who do not even complete their primary education. There were other issues as well which portrayed the ‘Middle Class’ in very unfavorable light. Enough to say that it shook me and convinced me that one can’t afford to make up one’s mind quickly and/or permanently on anything.

It was at this point that the significance of Locke’s extract dawned upon me. I learnt to view life in terms of shades of grey rather than in plain ‘black n white’. I also re-read Irving Wallace’s ‘Word’ and Arthur Hailey’s ‘Fourth Estate’. And for the first time I discerned the back-breaking schedule and power packed days the protagonists play out there. It led me back to my old suspicion that as fresh MBA – new in the saddle – I may end up revolving my life around my work. I found some answers in Fred Luthans ‘Organization Behavior’, Sixth Edition. It had an integrated case study : The New Work Ethic: You cannot Work Too Hard or Too Long (Page 132 – 139, International Edition 1992). The newer editions don’t carry the case study and I found it by accident. It addresses the question that seems to be so relevant in India nowadays – one related to the stress caused by the restructuring and retrenchment leading to overworked Managers. It addresses the fact that many executives, ambitious to make their mark, are working desperately and may end up as a ‘burnout’. The basic problem is that it is often difficult to recognize that you are overworking. Anything less than the full effort seems immoral – “There is no ethic more ethical than the work ethic”, observes J K Galbraith. You probably believe that you can handle overwork better than most. I haven’t exactly resolved all my doubts in this regard but at least now I am aware that a problem exists and I need to work at the solution for the same.

I also recognized that  a major problem that I had in participating continuously in group work rather than in bits and pieces. At times I am unable to involve myself thoroughly. I need to work on it. And still there have been changes and I have started to accept that Group work is often more successful than working alone. You just have to think about the Japanese and Toyota Motors to know that it was teamwork which led to their dramatic success. One of my friends had once told me that ‘Howard Roark’ was a practical impossibility in today’s work environment where it is a game of information and coördination. I couldn’t agree more with him now.

Organizational Behavior has enriched my life and given me a broader understanding of the things that happen around me. Like –

  1. Why in trains like ‘Deccan Queen’ and ‘Pragati’ even in the Pass Holder’s coach the old timers are able to grab seats by placing items like papers and towels and how is it difficult to protest against it.
  2. Why a beauty contest attracts so much of protest.

And so on and so forth. I have by now covered a broad spectrum of issues and incidents that seemed important and relevant to me. I dare say that if I were to rewrite this piece a month from now, I may choose to write about many things that are different. But it is the very same chaos and imperfect presentation which makes me feel that I have put in a human touch to it.

I conclude by saying that I enjoyed learning ‘Organization Behavior’ over the last two semesters with you, Ma’am and I hope to see you again teaching ‘Consumer Behavior’ to the Marketing class in the Second Year.

Do enjoy your summer break, if you have one. And as a final work, I very much enjoyed the open letter you wrote to us and this effort has been inspired by the same sense of togetherness and informality that we have shared. I hope you too enjoy reading it and I look forward to receive feedback from you on this paper.

The above piece, written in 1999,  is a ‘sinful indulgence’ of mine in reliving my freshman year while doing my MBA at NMIMS. Am sure it had a great cathartic effect as I unwound my first year through this ‘Personal Learning Paper’ submitted as an assignment in ‘Organizational Behavior’. I agree with Maugham who too advocates writing as a way to release one’s stress and emotions.

My salute to anyone who had the patience to read the entire piece. My Professor seemed to have liked it as well. Though she didn’t provide me any formal feedback, my best performance in that semester was my OB paper and I got  78 marks out of 100. I am sure that my score was in the Top 10  percentile of my class wherein otherwise I was just an average student.

I went on to read a lot more on the ‘work ethic’ and the need to strike the eternal ‘Work-Life’ balance, particularly the works of Charles Handy. My philosophy is summed up succinctly by the famous quote of Don Marquis – “Ours is a world where people don’t know what they want and are willing to go through hell to get it.”

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