Shankar graduated in 2017 with a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering. He was in the sponsorship teams of Saarang 2015 and 2016 and enjoyed hosting quizzes at insti. He is currently working at Deutsche Bank and in his free time, reads and treks avidly hoping that others’ experiences give him new perspectives.
“The effect will kick in about three to four months after you finish, not now”, said a wise senior. It’s exactly four months since I gave a last wistful look at the room where I’d spent three long years, and boarded the waiting cab outside Jamuna bus stop. I think I grew very attached to that room, where the first night was the most surprising of all. I saw the entire solar system as soon as I turned off the light, and switched it on again hurriedly, wondering if I was dreaming. The previous inhabitant must have been something of a personality, since he had taken the trouble to stick phosphorescent shapes of planets all over the ceiling. A few days passed, and a month and I noticed it no longer. It was probably the same feeling being in campus, where the days passed and they felt exactly the same.
“Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way”
I have no choice, but to look back. All this happened, more or less.
“Let’s go back to Uncle’s place for the night, Mom. I’m not feeling too fit”- That was the first reaction to the dawning truth that home had been a palace and I had lived like a prince. But yes, it had to be accepted. And it began.
The dean had announced in the most reassuring voice that our batch was the luckiest of all. We were getting separate hostels, where no lurking senior could make mincemeat of us. Looking back, insti had this knack of showing one how one’s apprehensions were unfounded. I now longed for quite the opposite, as only a select few with elder siblings on campus had the privilege of boasting subtly to other wide-eyed freshies that they knew seniors. This was probably the first hint of that race that pulled in a fair number of us.
First End Semester Exams. The names that were floating around in the first month or two were the JEE top rankers of the batch. Now that needed a revamp. So the people who had luckily resumed the pre-JEE hunger now stepped on the gas. The topic of discussion had moved over in the meantime from JEE toppers to “who’s going to branch change to CS/Elec”. And in due time (2 months), scores of people moved out of Chemical Engineering and left behind a less academically oriented class (thank goodness!). We were now left with a horde of to-be Saarang and Shaastra coordinators and cores, running a different kind of a race nevertheless.
Mid-Second semester. A time when I grew sick of studying as I had nothing else to do. With the encouragement of some of our quiz club veterans, Chandra, Prateek and Aiyer, and the extreme enthu of six of my batchmates, I decided to show up regularly. This group was one which had a genuine passion and had the will to just carry on with what they loved doing. It was a refreshing break from that race which was slowly pulling us all in. Having missed the Saarang quizzes in first year gave me a tinge of regret and I vowed to be a part of the next one, and hopefully conduct a quiz with my new-found group.
“Be There!” was always the slogan to invite a huge gathering. And so it was for the Shaastra and Saarang Aspiring coordinator meets – where the 30 odd third years occupying the stage managed to convince the very many impressionable onlookers that it wasn’t entirely impossible to reach their level of greatness. All it needed was a commitment to a cause. And as I entered the mess that night, I realized that the topic of discussion had changed yet again.
“What are you going to apply for?”, I asked.
“Spons is where the money is. I’m applying for that”, said a friend.
“Yeah, I thought so too. And the cores sounded real pseud. They said that they’ve got the best internships/placements and know the entire organising team – I was flabbergasted”
“Haha, don’t be taken in that easily. There are ways of dressing up statistics. They were just trying to make us swallow everything they said”
Now began the first full-time responsibility in insti life, and the beginning of a second group of friends and teammates, and another of insti’s races.
Mid-third semester. “What coordship are you doing?”, I asked across the lunch table.
“Coordship? What’s that?”
“Um… They are roles you take up in Shaastra/Saarang or any other such organization here”.
“No, I’m not doing anything”
“How do you spend your time then?”
“I’ve so much to do. Music and books for one. And there are several outside interests I have, unrelated to insti – like religious organizations”
(“Get a life man”, I thought to myself, not realizing how wrong I’d think I was 2 years later)
Saarang 2015 arrived quickly and passed even quicker. Nucleya, Thermal Projekt and Progressive Brothers. The first time I’d attended an EDM concert. A big jump indeed from not attending Saarang in first year to being the all-important guy in the first row. From being a shy person who hated parties, the transition to a hardened EDM fanatic has been amazing. That’s something big that Saarang gives you.
And being the host of the Buzzer Quiz, the first quiz of Saarang, with 400-500 college quizzers from all over South India was an experience. The wows when the audience realized some brilliantly researched funda by me and my co-hosts, Nithin and Vishal, and the slow claps to a question we had set in the sleepless night before. I’d not had enough of it and wanted to be a part of it again.
Mid-fourth semester. “Bro, are you applying this year again?”. “Yes”, he said. “Cool, can you call these seniors to give us fundaes?”. “Oh, so quickly?”. “Yeah man, there seems to be a lot of competition this time, especially given the money that was raised last time. I hope we’ll make it. So let’s get started with meeting people”
Well, well. I guess I (and a whole lot of others too) tend to be a bit too competitive at times, RG as we call it.
And then I made it through again and I felt the initial thrill of securing a PoR with more responsibility, and more pseud. And then I remembered the several others who didn’t make it. And the thrill seemed to disappear as soon as it arrived. I wonder why winning a zero-sum game doesn’t seem to give long-lasting joy.
Don’t get me wrong. It was the best team I’ve ever worked in, and I’ve made 10 deep and (I’m sure) lifelong bonds. The most memorable part was being in the trenches together at Saarang, when the pressure seemed too great, and you needed your teammate to help with something immediately. Another incident was when Chennai was flooded, with no electricity. You needed your team to cover up for your work yet again.
And of course, the highs when that deal somehow closed and the lows when it collapsed at the last moment. Life explained, nothing is permanent. On a lighter note, all thanks to my team for accepting the one coordinator who didn’t speak in Hindi for the entirety of the tenure. If there is something I love and miss about insti, it’s that everyone was so accepting.
Thus 2 years of the teams and the races sped by, leaving the biggest race of all. The final year, somehow was in a different category from all the others. For one, I did no PoR’s. But it gave me an experience which radically changed my thinking.
It was placement season for the batch, and a fair number of us were neck deep in preparation. I was in the interview process for a certain consulting company, a position at which is aspired to by a fair number of “accomplished” people on campus. This company was kind enough to allot each of us two buddies for preparation, usually alumni of insti.
The practise case study was over and the informal conversation began.
Buddy: Have you heard of this guy, X?
Me: Yes indeed, he is the buddy to one of my friends.
Buddy: He passed away last night.
Buddy: Yes, he had a sudden and massive cardiac arrest. There were no prior problems.
Me: I can’t believe it. He had just finished IIM a few months ago, hadn’t he?
Buddy: Yes, he was 27 years old. He was my batchmate in insti as well.
Since then, I have thought of this night over and over and over.
Until this moment, I was one of the classic success chasing rats of insti. I had spent a lot of time on all components of the great resume. However, I was quite honestly doing some of the things I was doing without a very clear sense of long-term purpose as to why I was doing them.
Now, why do most of us want a Day 1.1 job or want to hold a top position in the institute?
Yes, they enhance your resume, help you gain leadership experience, be a part of a great team, and give you some great moments. But I think there is more to it. We do hope that such things will get us noticed by others. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized, but it helps enormously to know that it’s probably the biggest driving factor behind several of our actions. Is anyone going to love or care for you as a person because you were placed at a top company? I think not.
Are a lot of us living our lives just to impress others? Let’s note that people who know us personally, really well, cannot be impressed by these things. It’s only people who know us on a very surface level who can be impressed. And are the opinions of people who don’t know us personally in the least important? Again, I think not.
If you can’t define success for yourself, your batch mates and seniors will define it for you. And in the long run, you may just not like their idea of success.
There is something all of us are going to face someday, whether we graduate from IIT or not, whether we become a company CEO or not, whether we win a Nobel Prize or not. That is, we’re someday going to die. Neither you nor I know when our time will come. Since that fatal evening, I have wondered every morning as to how I would spend the next few years and the things that would be the most important to me now if I were to die at 27.
When you’re going to die, you truly do not think about your resume. You don’t think about telling anyone how incredibly cool your job or your positions have been. You only remember the people who came to see you leave and those you love. That’s it.
Now that I’ve graduated, I’m amazed at how little my resume seems to matter. Even after spending months obsessed with it before placement season. I’d argue that if you graduate with the best possible resume in the batch, but with nobody really knowing or caring about you for the person you are under the external veneer, in so many ways, you graduated broke.
I believe that if enough people realize it, we can transform insti’s definition of success. Away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the best resume when he dies wins, to a better thought out definition of a life well lived.
Writing this article and feeling the rush of memories has been amazing. Insti has matured me and several others tremendously, some more than the most. If I regret anything, it was that I didn’t speak to final years as a freshie to gain their perspectives. The things that a graduating 4th or 5th year cares about is radically different from that of a 2nd or 3rd year.
With that, wishing you readers all the success in your endeavours.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;” and perhaps “it is a far, far better place that I go to than I have ever known.”