Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Dear Class of 2011

Posted: March 27, 2011 by Gurveen Bedi in Career, IIM, life
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The words of wisdom below have been penned down by our dear friend, mentor and teacher – Prof. Nagesh Rao, who teaches Managerial Communication at IIM Ahmedabad.

Dear Class of 2011

A person, a nation’s character is best defined in difficult times.  An earthquake and a tsunami have wiped out thousands in Japan.  Yet, her grace and her generosity are inimitable.  In Miyagi where the tsunami would hit, a man who owned a fish processing plant was hosting 20 interns from China. When he heard the tsunami alarm he sensed that the interns couldn’t know what might happen or what to do. He got them all together and took them to a safe higher ground, and then rushed back to his home to rescue his family. He and his family are among the thousands lost.

Or we could talk about Mr. Raja, Mr. Kalmadi, Miss. Radia, or the IAS Joshi couple.  The choice is ours. Yours.

At 16, when my classmates were rushing to take science classes to pursue engineering and medicine, I chose commerce.  I thought I was a trailblazer, a deviant and one of a kind.  Four years later, after several gut-wrenching and listless accounting and economics classes, I knew it was not me.  I had chosen a major only slightly off the path and still within the norms of societal approval.  Did I take a radical step and follow my dream – my love for acting, my passion for dance, and my keen visual eye?  No.  I was afraid to leave the comfort of a stable boat.  Afraid to fail.  Worried what the Iyers and Guptas would think of me.  Afraid of myself.

The solution was simple and brilliant.  Procrastinate.  Now, I will work hard, make money, and dabble in my passion later.  Happiness, you see, is a choice.  Unhappiness is a choice.  The choice is ours.  Yours.

So, in a Mary Schmich/ Kurt Vonnegut MIT urban legend speech style:

chuck your blackberry.

listen to the silence.

have a pillow fight.

sing in a public bathroom.

drink some wine.

take a pilgrimage.

give your kids time, not the latest igadget.

mow your neighbor’s lawn.

be gentle with yourself.

surprise your grandma.

belch in a boardroom meeting.

keep a pygmy shrew for a pet.

plunge.  binge.

mail a hand-written letter

save strangers.  leave an imprint.


– Prof. Nagesh Rao

Can be reached at nagesh@iimahd.ernet.in

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The Risk-free Indian

Posted: February 6, 2011 by Gurveen Bedi in Career, Indian, life
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I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference

The Road not Taken by Robert Frost

Multiple horror movies have shown “The Road Not Taken” as a scary path to walk on – full of shocks that will spring upon you out of nowhere, a dangerous route where every step needs to be taken with utmost care. And we, the current Indian student generation, consider the vision shown by these movies as the truth. Thus, we live all our lives, trying to follow the footsteps of previously successful people who have gone down “The Road Most Taken”. A large majority of us aspire to be engineers, that too IITians, and then MBAs, that too IIMites, and then consultants, I-bankers, traders. Those who go to commerce or other engineering colleges regret not having an IIT degree, those who go to the MDIs and the XLRIs of the world, wish that they had cracked CAT and many who go into marketing wish that they had got a Day 0 job. The people on the other side of the line gloat on and on about the perfect life that they have managed to create for themselves. But this is a glossed-over version of the truth. In reality, several of those IITians are misfits who could have done much better in an Arts degrees, several of those IIMites would have been better off doing entrepreneurship or doing an MS in their field of engineering, and several of those Day 0 candidates would have been much happier in an advertising career. The only reason for these skewed career paths in our generation is our basic risk-aversion, which pushes us towards certain well-known and successful career paths and keeps us averted from other so-called “different” career paths.

Risk aversion is inherent in the Indian culture. Even our ancient scriptures preach against risk-taking – they speak of Yudhishtira who took huge risks in the game of Chaupar and lost everything and show how that one incident caused the biggest war of those times. This risk aversion is an accepted fact, but the interesting thing is that we have a habit of continually praising its merits, without looking at its downside. The recent recession and India’s stable situation in it, especially relative to US, has given us even more reasons to praise it. We shy away from loans, we save for the future, we build stable personal careers, and we love MNCs: we seem pretty smart don’t we? The downside is that we grow at a much slower rate, we prefer to jump onto the bandwagon rather than walk alone, we rarely start-up new businesses unless we have an extremely strong financial background, and we almost always take “The Road Most Taken”. Hence, the same risk aversion that we boast of, is the reason why India has had limited returns in the past. And contrastingly, it is the risk-philic nature of US populace, which has led them to be a superpower, that has helped cultivate a culture of innovation and fostered the creation of companies like Google, 3M, Ford and Pfizer. But we tend to concentrate on the Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and choose to exemplify them to show the iconic failure of the “American dream” rather than appreciate the school dropouts who created Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. What we fail to realize is that by our risk averseness, though we have ensured that there will be no Lehman Brothers in India, we have also killed the possibility of creation of hotbeds of innovation like Apple.

Let me clarify that I am no different in this regard. I am an engineering misfit who has chosen the conventional path in the lure of assured returns, one who has not had the courage to try things closer to the heart. In fact, that is why I sat down today to think of the reasons behind this phenomenon. One of the prime reasons is that we are an emerging economy, not a developed one yet. As a consequence, a lot of us have seen our parents in constrained financial situations in our childhood. We do not want to go through similar difficulties; hence continual supply of money is an important factor for us, which drives us away from the perceived risks in entrepreneurship. Another reason is that in the professional job-space in India, a Curriculum Vitae (CV) holds more value than people themselves. And that is because the interviewers are themselves risk-averse, hence they trust a CV more than a personal interview. This drives people to try and acquire maximum number of good brands on their CV, thus driving them towards the conventional path again. One reason is also that our society and peer group places certain professions on a pedestal as compared to others, thus societal pressure pushes everyone to go for those professions where there is more perceived respect. In fact if a graduate goes into entrepreneurship, we all tend to believe that it was because he/she was unable to land herself a good job. An overarching cause is also that the above reasons combine to create a vicious circle – since some career paths have been more treaded-on they have become more developed and hence more profit-making. For example, the probability of a CA earning a high salary is higher than that of an artist, just because the art scene in India is still in its initial stages.

In this situation, I cannot expect a utopian transformation to occur in this generation – that we suddenly start valuing the “different” career path and all of us start doing what our heart truly desires. In fact I am not even sure whether the next generation will be very different in this regard, whether we will give them enough space to try alternate careers. But I can only hope that with more stability in their backgrounds and more confidence in their personal selves, at least some of them will hopefully venture out to explore those untreaded-on paths with more courage than we did.

As for me,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and a generation after:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one more travelled by,
And that was recipe for disaster.

The Life of “I”

Posted: December 28, 2010 by Anindya Dutta in individuality, life, marriage
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A few days back a close friend of mine went through a nightmarish turmoil when she came to know that her family had unearthed (and quite ingeniously, I must say!!!) that she was dating someone from a different caste/religion. In order to ensure that this post does not brew any fresh trouble for her, let’s call this friend of mine Ayesha for the sake of anonymity. As I saw Ayesha struggle to deal with constant family pressures as she patiently tried to cajole her parents into acceptance, I wondered as to why there seemed to be swathes of unfathomable differences between Ayesha and her elders. I mean, let’s face it. Ayesha’s case is no exception to the rule, though she does tend to deviate from the mean quite often (For starters, she did NOT like Dabangg!!!). The fact is that there are several such Ayeshas in this world who are rebelling against parents for a variety of reasons – marriage, career, dressing styles, friends, alcohol and so on. Also there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that this concern does not affect any one gender more than the other, highlighting the universality of the problem.

This “generation gap”, as many of us more commonly know this phenomenon as, has often raised several socio-cultural questions and many a reason has been advocated for the generation divide from time to time. My approach to addressing the issue is, however, slightly contrarian in nature. Rather than trying to address why people belonging to our parents’ generation do not understand us, I ask – Why is it that people of our generation don’t want to comply more often with their parents’ wishes? Why is it that we swear to love our boyfriends/girlfriends till death do us apart, even when we know that our parents will never agree? Why is it that a little black dress will always be a part of a girl’s wardrobe, despite her knowing that her parents will never approve? And even when we do comply, why is it that we never go down without a fight?

The answer, in my opinion, is a result of a rapid change in the way individuals perceive themselves in today’s world. Every second of our existence, we have come to believe that we are the center of the universe with the sun, the moon and the stars all strutting their stuff at various points of the day vying for our undivided attention. Eugenicists will tell you that part of the smugness comes from the belief that we are genetically a superior human race than our parents. But, a more believable hypothesis in my opinion is that this sense of individual superiority has been driven by business practices over the last two-three decades.

It all began when operations researchers went to work on the entire philosophy of “mass customization” a couple of decades back. For the uninitiated, mass customization was the ever unachievable Holy Grail of operations management where you produce goods and services for the masses but ensure a high degree of customization which meets every individual’s idiosyncratic needs. After all, what use is a vintage Black Ford when I want a bright yellow truck with a dash of bright red and with “PussyWagon” written all over it? (Remember Kill Bill, eh?) Well in the world of mass customization – you asked for it and you almost always got it!

Advertisers world over then took this one step further. Ever wondered what is common to “Because you are worth it” (L’Oreal), “Have it your way”(Burger King), “Where do you want to go today?” (Microsoft) and “Express Yourself” (Airtel)? Ya, right. The word – “YOU”. And these are only a few examples of advertisement taglines which have made no pretences in making the individual the sole focal point of their attention over the last two decades. Pepsi’s concept of Youngistaan, MTV and Channel V’s continuous infatuation with creating a separate youth culture, and Bollywood’s spanky new obsession with glorifying rebellion in our generation (3 Idiots, Rang de Basanti, Saathiya etc.) have created a heady cocktail fuelling our aspirations and ambitions today where words like “I”, “Me” and “Myself” have exalted status. Such is the nature and pull of this newfound obsession glorifying the individual that even bellwether Apple introduced the “i” in its product names (the iMacs, iPads, iPods, iTunes etc.) to emphasize the importance of individuality  – a reflection of the times we live in these days.

Although it is tough to say whether this trend bodes well for us or not, a large part of the friction between our parents’ generation and our generation is due to this emphasis on “I” which manifests itself in our refusal to compromise on most issues. The truth cannot be denied that we live in a world where every second of the day we are made to believe that our wants and needs are of prime importance and that the right to choose our own lifestyles is not negotiable. It is this sense of liberation and the romanticism which accompanies this sense which makes us want more for ourselves.

But, isn’t this good news? Isn’t that exactly what we are here for? For ourselves, honestly aren’t we worth it?

Well only time will tell. As of now, I do feel amused when I wonder how it will be like standing on the other side of the discussion responding to our children’s views on life several years from now, as they tear their hair apart wondering why their parents are not more rational and understanding!

The author sighs and signs off!