Through the Goggles of a Graduate: Pranjali Manjarekar

For our next TGG, we have Pranjali Manjarekar. Pranjali graduated in 2020 with a Dual Degree in Mechanical Engineering and is now a consultant at McKinsey & Company. She was a Sponsorship & PR core at Saarang and could easily be spotted in the gym or Ramu or Westin. Here, she tried really hard to fit her insti life into words and talk about things she did not know as a freshie five years ago.

18-year-old me had no idea I’d pop out of insti a completely changed human. I don’t know what had a role to play – the people, the teams, the classes or the discovery of ghee roast dosa – or perhaps it is a combination of these things that somehow makes it easier to chart out some of the biggest decisions of your life as a clueless 20-something. 

“See you in two weeks”, were the last words I said on campus to my best friend in March.

The pandemic seemed like a distant terror. I was too busy charting out all I had to look forward to.  And I’m not a planner – but honestly, you only get through the final year by planning exactly the number of Jell-O shots you’d down at a hostel night, the saree you’d get your degree in, the photo outside the office of your first real job and most of all, what moving to a new city was going to be like. And trust me when I say I imagined a hundred different ways in which a hostel night could go wrong – just not having one wasn’t in any of them. 

Me Trying Really Hard to Squeeze my Insti-life

In Goa (where I’m from), we always imagined IITians being a different breed of superhumans – like proper  “aukaat ke bahar”. When I really did get in, I was a 5’5” high pile of 100% ego, ready to take on the challenge. Only to enter campus and be absolutely awed (to be honest I think it was either shock, anger or disbelief) at how talented and smart(er) everyone else was – which put me right back into my place. I think this is what they call a humbling experience? Looking back, I can point out many such subtle lessons insti taught me. 

If I had to compress my insti life, I think it was a series of hits and misses.  

First ever Tech-soc Manual Robotics

I spent my first semester in zombie trance running around with tech-soc supplies in Tunga, passing out on CFI’s brown beanbag after a sweaty NSO session, solving tutorials as a  collective group effort in the library, and OAT movies – everything I could possibly fit in a day. Whether it was volunteering for new teams or a new type of dry noodles at HUL – I was hungry to try everything. 

In the second semester, I realized the noodles had made me far too fat and it was time to double down on what I wanted to do as everyone started picking allegiances to various PoRs and teams. Even as a volunteer at Saarang, I had goosebumps watching the ProShows come together. Pure satisfaction which was derived solely out of carrying fries from Gurunath to OAT. 

And then I knew that PoRs were my first calling. And in true Pranjali spirit, I ended up in teams on both fests – trying to find my sense of belonging. I made some of the most amazing friends and met some of the most awe-inspiring seniors.

Over the years, however,  I realized the real satisfaction was not in watching it all come together, but watching it come together knowing the collective shitstorm you and your team endured to make it happen. 

While I was trying out extra-curriculars in hopes that I had talents that my parents might have possibly failed to discover as a kid. I did the same thing to figure out the bigger picture of what I wanted to do as a career. I’ve always loved my courses and so I started with things I liked about engineering. A senior told me that experience was better than tags and second year was a safe space to experiment – and so I kick-started my professional experience with a design internship at a start-up. With my PoR activities I realised being around people made the most mundane things fun and a supply-chain internship seemed like the next step – it involved engineering and being around people and it was super fast-paced.

By then I realised I loved this set up of solving problems – whether engineering or otherwise – but alongside people. I realised I’d like a people-centric job then.

I decided to use my one remaining summer pursuing a research internship that was a perfect mix of engineering, product development and strategy planning. Every experience brought about nuances that only experiencing something first-hand would do. To all those who know what you want to do – that’s great and amazing. But in case you don’t – try everything there is to offer – as long you are honest about not making half-hearted attempts.

Found the best people <3

And half a decade later, someone who walked in with zero friends found a new family, a fat kid ended up in athletics, a monkey-fearing human started parading with cup noodles around the hostel and a girl who never dreamt of leaving Goa had been to the other side of the world. I tried really hard to pen-down three big (but also seemingly obvious) lessons that I learnt in my time here.

1. The Thing About Plans

I was a girl with a plan. I entered campus convinced that engineering was my calling – I  mean both my parents were engineers, it must run in the blood. And the only way that was going to happen was by excelling courses – everything else seemed like moh-maaya. In school, being a “topper” was my unique identity. And for the first time, right in the first week of insti, I realized I can’t have that title anymore – smart was just everyone’s thing around here. Moreover, they had the drive to pursue things beyond classes. It took me a while to piece together that without the pressure of trying to be good at something, I could genuinely enjoy new things and give it my best shot. There was always going to be someone better than me anyway with all these talented brats in the campus (haha). I think hitting this realization really set the tone for how the rest of my campus life turned out. 

So, start embracing the flow. I know some of the best nights of college happened because we threw plans out of the window. And even if you mess up, I’ve learnt that the hangover is also worth it.

2. The Thing About the Rat-Race

I was not a self-motivated individual. I joked with my friends back home that if I had to give a  thank-you speech for getting into IIT, my peers would be at the top of that list and not my professors. I sought motivation from the fear of getting left behind or missing out. But throw yourself into a pool of hundreds of highly motivated kids pursuing a thousand different things,  that system breaks down. It is simply very draining. 

Found the best spot <3

Thanks to a little push from some brilliant friends (Hi Sanjana, Shreyas, Hari and SinB) – I  ended up trying out for athletics in my fourth year and spent months on one of the hardest things I’d ever done in insti. A bunch of people around campus knew me for my very dedicated afternoons spent at the gym – and it was all because I learnt a valuable lesson. 

It took a burn-out for me sometime in the third year to realize that it is way easier to try and be a  little better at something than what you were yesterday than to keep up with everyone else. 

Insti gives you enough resources to chart your own journey in so many ways. Realize that once you’re through insti’s gates, you’re looking at a marathon and no longer operating on short sprints defined by board exams and JEE. Insti is a safety net to ensure you land on your own two feet at the end of 5 years and no one ever gets left behind. 

P.S.: The only place you’ve got to be better than someone else is fishing out paneer from the curry during lunch on Wednesday.

3. The thing about people

Although I did learn a great deal about mechanical engineering, what I learnt the most was about people. When I entered campus there were kids from all over the country, all kinds of ideologies, languages and personalities. While diversity rocks, I was dead-set on finding my squad and getting by with enough vocabulary in 4 languages to know when someone is swearing at you. Growing up, I was always taught that the world is out to get you and you’ve got to be this super independent superwoman. But being locked up in the same compound naturally brings about a sense of camaraderie, connecting everyone by this same thread.  

I found people who’d actually really genuinely want to help me through an idea block with their class notes when I was too busy snoring through it, be a listening ear when I’m in an existential crisis and then proceed to give me ghar ka khana to get me to shut up.

In times of crisis, it is beautiful to watch everyone come together in one force like unique pieces of a jigsaw. It started with taking down tutorials together and then the floods, the hurricane, the drought and finally a pandemic.

Finally making it to the athletics team for Inter-IIT at Guwahati

The best part about the campus was that you did not have to suffer through the 5 years alone – the system is designed to find you solutions. We engineers are efficient that way. All you need to do is ask. We all do that when picking HS courses – why not apply the same principle for everything. We seniors love to pelofy gyaan.

On a side note, I am not really the kind who believes in luck but there is one thing I lucked out on– it was the pure serendipity of running into all my friends.

Maybe it was returning a borrowed pen, a  collective sigh when events never start on time, asking for a wi-fi password, an accidental text on a WhatsApp group or standing in line at Ramu at 1 AM. I never imagined these would set off a chain of events that would put in place the most wonderful support system of seniors, batchmates and even juniors to get me through college and life thereafter.  Make as many friends as you can. Remember that everyone is going through the same set of struggles, let people be there for you and learn to be there for them. 

Choose what makes you feel inspired – there’s always a nugget here and there that you can steal. There are so many people I’ve always been in awe of and they’ll never know of all the sneaky ways in which they inspired me. 

Saarang team will always have the hearts <3

TL;DR + Some Survival Tips

Ooof that was a long one. The gist is that the people you meet in insti will always be the number one takeaway for me and I’m sure for many others. In case my writing debut put you to sleep, here’s a summary: 

  1. If you’re bored, hang around Ramu sipping chai – you’ll find somebody else’s night to hijack 
  2. If you’re scared of monkeys, hang around Ramu sipping chai – anna will come save you. Or at least the doggos will. Pakka. 
  3. If you’re craving drama, hang around Ramu sipping chai – chai sipping aunties and  gossip is a stereotype for a reason 
  4. If chai isn’t your poison, switching Ramu up with Westin works the same 
  5. And on your way back from Westin, please hang around Ramu anyway – make sure you’re all fed and hydrated for the 8 AMs

You can find Pranjali on her Instagram.

Editor’s Note: You can also read the other articles from this series here.

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