I visit my parents quite often! Luckily official visits to Delhi just pop up out of the blue, without me having to do even the Om Shanti Om level "sachche dil se maangna". And not one has been a force-fit I swear! (Ignoring the "yeah rights" for the time being!)
So, although I still long for those trips - mum's coffee, Delhi's roads, endless arguments with dad (the only thing we agree on is free market economics and our choice of newspapers!), for me the real homecoming was my trip to Sharavati Hostel, IIT Madras in September 2007!
The alumni secretary had invited 3 alumni (including me) of the erstwhile girls' hostel, Sarayu to talk to Sharav's young ladies about "anything under the sun"! The following is an excerpt from what I spoke:
4 years at IITM formed one hell of a defining experience for me. It is only in hindsight that I am able to understand how and I am sure that is something that most of my batchmates will be able to relate to. I will share couple of stories with you that had a defining impact on my life.
1. The first story is about going out there and seeking "opportunities", rather than waiting for them to land into your lap. If I look back, every opportunity has not been a gold mine, but 1 in 100 have surely been. But, the way life goes, unless you have grabbed and done justice to the 99, you will never be able to lay your hands on that 1 golden opportunity. Sitting on board my first flight to Chennai when I was going to join IITM, I heard a voice at the back saying, "I teach at IIT Madras". Enthusiastic as I always was, I switched my seat with the person on the seat adjacent to the source and introduced myself as an Electrical Engineering student at IITM, only to be handed over a visiting card that read "Ashok Jhunjhunwala: Head of Department, Electrical Engineering"! Anyone who is remotely associated with Electrical Engineering or with IITM knows this Padmashree award-winner who had the reputation of giving nightmares to any student who dares to enter the hallowed portals of the ESB! But that meeting left quite an impact on me, as I would later realise. During that endlessly long flight (technically, I thnk it was supposed to be just 2 hours!), I was quizzed on a range of topics from "why digital media is better than analog" to "why there are such few women in IITs" and as I invented one fictitious logic after another, he decided to drop the quizzing and do a favour to humanity by offering to be my Local Guardian. Now, this part was life-changing primarily because it implied that I would have to dodge the "What’s your CGPA?” question over Sunday lunches for the 4 years of my stay at IIT Madras. However, what left a greater impact on me was a question that he asked me about what my ambition is life was. More out of the lack of creativity than an extreme need for brutal honesty, I said that I wanted to be rich. He masked his condescending smirk with a "bachchi hai" smile and told me that the next time someone asks me this question, I must, at least, say that I want to be an "Entrepreneur"! Now this was a word that I recognized, but it hadn't even remotely been mentioned in the same context as MY ambition! So, obviously, I was quite intrigued by his statement. Driven by my respect for him, I began to study the concept of entrepreneurship and observe the men and women in whose context the word had a lot more appropriately been used in the past!
Well, of course, it took several years from that day for that fascination to get concretized into a dream and then into a calling in my life. But, well, now here I am, finding it impossible to imagine ever not being an entrepreneur!
In hindsight, this is such a simple algorithm - the faster I grab every set of 100 opportunities, the earlier I reach every subsequent gold mine! To this day, I regret not being able to understand and consciously apply it during my stay at IITM - by participating in every event I came across rather than worrying about making a fool of myself, by working on projects with every Professor I had respect for rather than worrying about being labeled "RG" and by getting to know every IITian I could learn something from rather than worrying about being teased for "putting fight for n junta"!
2. The second story is about getting out of the comfort zone. To start with, IIT Madras was far beyond my comfort zone. In DPS, R.K. Puram, where I studied, the notion about Madras was everything below the Vindhyas and the fact that people from Kerala, Karnataka, AP and TN are not all Madrasis, but have their own unique language, food and culture was an unheard-of concept! In the narrow world-view of mine, my JEE rank of 378 was spectacular and I was a multi-faceted person with diverse skill-sets. So, obviously, I joined with a larger-than-life ego of the person who had “arrived”. It took me just 3 months to recognize that I was going to spend the next 4 years with a set of people, who started out thinking of me as a bloody Naarth-Indian with too much attitude! To top that, I also had to come to terms with the fact that they were accurate in judging me, since most of them were culturally fitter, smarter than me as far as test scores went, better sportspersons, superior to me in theatre and choreography, better read and a lot more focused on what they wanted out of their education. I found myself so far away from my comfort zone that it was painful, like life’s biggest lessons are. Months of struggle, that followed the realization, did yield, like most struggles do. For the first time after many, many years, we won an Inter-IIT Women’s Gold and subsequently, the Women’s General Championship. Several other small and large victories later I had graduated with a substantially larger comfort zone. Most other struggles since then (striving to excel at IIMA, running my own company, dealing with the slowdown), have similarly, seemed like opportunities in disguise – to ever keep growing my comfort zone! So, wish you all the best for expanding your own comfort zones, and if you ever wonder, what's the point of a particular Delta X in the zone, don't stop -just KEEP EXPANDING, because you have a long life ahead to figure that part out!