In Search of Gandhi

The MahatmaFor those of you from XL who were out of station, sleeping, disinterested or unable to come otherwise, you missed an intriguing short film. In Search of Gandhi raised some interesting questions, not necessarily answering all of them, and while I don’t agree with all of what Lalit Vachani stated or implied, I was provoked to think; and that, in my opinion, is the ultimate achievement of a film of this genre.

Vachani began by tracing the path that Gandhi himself took more than half a century back, from Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat, on his world famous Dandi march, a fight against the imperialism of the British empire that imposed a salt tax on the very Indians from whose country the salt was derived. The focus in Ahmedabad was divided between Narendra Modi’s prosperous Gujarat and the poverty that plagues the city’s poorest residing in their slums. The irony, behind the state wanting to demolish the slums under the same Ellis Bridge where Gandhi made his historical speech, was brought out well as was the angst of one of the slum dwellers as he pleaded for two meals a day and a roof to sleep under. The megacity, that in its wake promises to leave 40000 people homeless, means little or nothing to these people.

The issue of development, a prominent one at this stage of the video, is one that has been hashed time and again in every forum possible. It is not a situation unique to Gujarat, and in the battle between growth and the equitable distribution of the benefits of this growth to all sections of society, weak, marginalized communities fall prey time and again, a situation that leaves much to be desired and that is rapidly moving to an irreversible state. As I sat sipping a carton of chilled buttermilk and watching the construction work go on around the Ellis bridge, my thoughts went back to recent discussions in a wonderful course we have at XLRI on ‘Corporate Social and Evironmental Responsibility’ – it would seem states need to learn this lesson as well!

The video moved on to talk of the riots in Gujarat, and the havoc wreaked by the majority over the Muslim minority in the state. As Vachani moved further into Gujarat, he met a Gandhian, an old man who on the one hand lived in the memory of Gandhi and his principle, and with equal ease, hated Muslims with a black hate from the core of his being, his head shaking with vehemence as he denounced them. As Vachani and his team examined the situation, they emphasized the religious intolerance, Modi’s hand in spreading the communal hatred and the BJP’s rise to power, riding the tide of communalism.

I’ve always possessed somewhat controversial views on the Gujarat riots. I’ll never be able to condone what happened five years back- the Godhra riots were a disgrace that we, as a nation, should have never given way to. However, one has to realize that every situation has a cause, and more than one perspective. Why it has today become necessary to highlight the militant Hindu and the secular Muslim in every frame, book, video, movie or telecast, to highlight religious tolerance is beyond me. A coach full of Hindu pilgrims burnt to death that day in Godhra. The media conveniently seems to have forgotten that! Nothing is an excuse, however, for mass violence of the kind that happened; all we ask for is an equal representation of the facts. This is not a contest of numbers: ‘how many in the coach, versus how many died in the carnage’ – as a school teacher once triumphantly asked me when I asked her for the full picture; I can speak of far greater numbers of Hindu pundits who perished at the hands of extremists in Kashmir or were driven homeless; this is a clarion call for the need to inculcate the mindset of acceptance.

In one frame Vachani wonders aloud if the reason the village of Napa is peaceful and Gandhian still, is because the Hindus are a minority there. This is not about Hindus or Muslims- this is about intolerance, which stretches far beyond the boundaries of religion into the minds of men, reared as they are on hatred and violence as the only answers to every question. We are but a product of what we are taught, what we imbibe and what we see all around us. The old Gandhian, if one can still call him that, was left with bitter memories and still worse teachings by those who reared him: don’t blame him, blame the mindset he has been inculcated with. Napa, with her peacefulness and spirit of tolerance, should be a lesson to the world at large, equally to intolerant terrorists and holier-than-thou accusers of any one religion or religious community. Godhra was wrong; Gandhi would have horrified and rightly so- but isn’t it time we learned the right lessons from what happened?

The interiors of Gujarat emerged in all their pitiful lack of development, and Vachani moved on to examine the caste divide that rears its ugly head and slices through the brotherhood of people like a sharpened sword. It was heartening watching the newly elected local leader, a Dalit, who descibed his rise to leadership and his plans for his locality with a mix of pride and humbling modesty. This was, in my opinion, easily the best part of the film- a promise for the future, a sign of the change that is beginning to characterize India.

The film was forthright in its message: Gandhian values barely exist anymore in the home-state of the bapu- Gandhi has, in Vachani’s words (as I remember them), been reduced to ‘a barefooted man who made a fuss over a fistful of salt’; but in the small pockets where they are followed, his principles bring peace and brotherhood. There were moments that made me shake my head in disagreement, but equally scenes that made me smile or nod with empathy: the children playing with one another, indifferent to the turmoil and poverty around them, the Muslim bangle-maker whose shop had been demolished in the riots and who declared, “Modi will never get rid of the slums. The more people you drive into homeless poverty, the more slums there will be!”

A thoughtfully made, well-crafted short film definitely worth a watch- my greatest regret was that so few people turned up to Β appreciate the message and stimulate their own thoughts.


One Year Into XL…

It’s been a year.
One year and a term, actually.
And nostalgia slowly unfurls, fashioning a path made of scattered memories and overheard comments, shared laughter, real fear, diappointment and growing maturity- like a series of photographs unfolding in glorious technicolor before my mind’s eye.
The call from XL, the jubilation, the call to Raghunath sir,- ‘I got a call to XLRI!’
The fraxing even before the interview.

The interview itself, 43 minutes, a marathon session, Fr. James Santhanam smiling and booming, “So, Ramaa… what would you do as an HR manager?” Me: “I’d hire people, pay them and if they don’t work, fire them.” Prabhal Sen being nice as ever. “Name just one public sector bank, one private sector bank and one foreign bank.” Me- “Er.” Pray fixing me with The Eye, and arguing for over fifteen minutes about the merits of Carnatic vs Hindustani music.

And then, the admit. Mad joy, rushing around, congratulations, shopping, nearly bursting with pride, like a lifetime of prayer had been answered in one letter.

Spontaneous bonding with other prospective XL-ers on Orkut. Gtalking. Nicknaming each other (Drama Ramaa). Laughing, trying to get over our little fears and insecurities and wondering about each other, Promising to ‘teach’ each other our graduation-related subjects once we were in XL, little knowing how useless graduation was going to be once we entered the B school world. about this new place called XLRI and how it was going to be.
Opening my mouth in a big O at the openly flirty Neha Sood and her antics on orkut. A littl awed at her instant popularity and the messages coming in from the men of my to-be batch.

Packing. A card from my then 10-year old sister, “We’ll keep in touch and be there for each other!” A big, warm smile, hiding a wobbly lower lip and some tears.
Leaving on the first of many 36-hour train journeys to XLRI, Jamshedpur- Tatanagar Junction.
A long, butterflies-in-my-tummy journey.

Reaching. The auto ride to XL. 90 rupees.
XL. The Bodhi Tree. Random junta gathered under it.
Nervousness. Greeting some people. Keeping slightly aloof, not sure how I’d be accepted.
Reading the white notice stuck in front of hostel- My room- 104, Nilima Acharji. Room-mate- Rashmi Kamath.
Deep breath-exhale. What would she be like?
Cleaning out room, wrinkling nose at cobwebs.
Entry Rashmi. Conservative smiles, handshakes (!)
A long walk with Rashmi (“Committed? Me, too! Since when?” Giggles.)

The first week- Prep Course.

And then- seniors arrival on campus.
Start Project Bhasad.
Fear. Who WAS this unknown in my batch who’d squealed?
Reverence and awe at Akshay Sinha and Aditya Kankaria. Such gentlemen! Cheap unknown batchmate. Curse him.
The showdown.
Watching Hema burst into tears.
Trigger–> Me crying, everything in sudden slo-mo, Aditya laughing, saying, “Chill!”, Priyanka Tandon hugging me, “It’s going to be okay, sweetie- relax”, the REALIZATION, fury at the ‘gentlemen’, feeling foolish, OHhhh!-ness.


Maxi Fair.
Committee Interviews.
Bodhi Tree, EL, Dracula, SPIC MACAY- maximum committees enrolment. Cheers!

Term I. First D+, home-sickness, some wonderful seniors by my side, as well as batchies- Krishanu, Priyanka, Prasanna, Chaitanya – too many to name, feeling grateful, and lost, wondering at the same time.
Starting to take long walks around campus.
Subjects, assignments, SUMIT SARKAR!, Xl life, amazement @ Bishu-da, hanging out at Dadu’s, listening to seniors’ stories open-mouthed. Inability to speak a word of Hindi- constant ragging from several quarters.
JLT forbidden, rule broken, promises of bed-dunking.

First term break. Relief, escape, and yet- somewhere deep down- missing XL. Don’t want to admit it.

Term II. Less acad rigor. MG Jomon. EM Rao! Coming out of my shell, making friends, made some wonderful friends. Taking deeper breaths. More committee work. Smiling more. Spending more time at Bishu da. Long term relationship issues. Depression. Friends, acad work keeping me busy.
SIP. Discovering seniors and their value. Truly getting attached to them. Slot 1 placement- ABG. Excitement.

Second term break.

Third term. Kakani-ed.
The phenomenon called facebook. Looking around cautiously. By now, slowly settling in. Exploring the campus. Running my hands across the posters on Floor 1 of the Learning Center as I walk past- Dennis the Menace, Exploitation of Women Workers, witty sayings. Getting to know people better for who they really are- warm, friendly souls- Sumit, Priyanka. Much love. πŸ™‚
Photographs to take home. Taking a video of the hostel randomly one day and all floor mates- people cursing as I video their non-made up faces, dirty rooms, eavesdropping shamelessly on random conversations and recording it all. Namrata’s room. The teddy bear discussions. Femina back issues doing the rounds. Giggles.

Summer Internship.
Too much. Shall put into words later.

Term 4. SENIORS.
Bhasad- our style. Endless Bishuda visits. Sleeping at 7 am. MCCD. Exec Comp. Aaarrrgh-ness. Giving Gyaan. Taking Sumit’s case. The Break-Up. Learning more about myself. Spending me-time. Slipping to a unique XL-style, “Mein senior hoon” lethargy. Better Hindi-speaking abilities –> compliments from all quarters. Better clothes.
Committee interviews- conducting this time. “Which was the last book you read? What was the last line on the last page of that book?”
Arbitness! πŸ˜€
Committee treats. Random dinners, as and when the mood strikes. Regent. Gossip. Novelty-NO! Boredom by now. Good old Chhapan Bhog, and the idly outside for Rs. 10 per plate.

4th Term break.
And the emotions take over, and my fingers type, my eyes smile, my mind races past memories woven together intricately, coming to rest on those unique, unforgettable ones. I break into a grin, thinking of all the people, and excitement, and thoughts, and days, and events, and promises, and comments in the past one year… every single moment… they all coalesce into one shimmering, warm image… one institution, four hostels, millions of memories.

My eyes break their faraway look suddenly. An XL-er pings on GTalk. I will be back on campus on Sunday again for Term 5.

I sigh. And smile.

Two more terms.


il commincio – the journey to XLRI….

(Okay, okay, so I this isn’t a BRAND NEW note. I confess I wrote it a year back, exactly 41 days after coming to XL. Only slightly modified for today’s reading.)

Do you remember how it first felt to come to XL? How was your journey? I’m someone who started out hating XL with every fibre of my being, and then sometime during my internship, fell in love with her. A Summer Internship Convert, as we’re called. πŸ™‚ This is one take on my journey here.

On the 25th of March 2008, a small, bespectacled, nerdy girl from Chennai, South India cracked the interview to what is now officially India’s fifth, or fourth, or third best B-School (depending on which magazine survey you go by. We, at Xl, of course know there is no contest).

And Then There Was Pandemonium.

The very next morning, next door aunty throttled in at high speed and attempted to dislocate my cheekbones, all the while blowing kisses into the air. “I always knew you would make it. Such a studious child! Like my three daughters. Where to, IIM Ahmeddaaabad aa?”
Vaguely wondering how my mother had managed to trumpet the news by the unholy hour of six-thirty in the morning, I massaged my cheeks, convinced I would have to go in for cosmetic surgery.
“Er, no- XLRI.”
“Oh.” A disappointed pause. Furious thinking. Then, brightening, “That thing in Jam-shed-poor?”
“Yes, aunty.”
“Exs-sellent place”, she pronounced. “Our Madhu’s sister-in-law Kripa’s friend Sandhya’s husband went there. Such an intelligent boy… You don’t go visiting the men’s hostels, you hear? The boys will come from North India”- a shudder- “one never knows what they may do.”

Evening, seven-fifteen or so. By this time, around seven million calls had come in, with callers alternately congratulating me, wanting to know if it was “the XLRI in Nungambakkam, Chennai” and expressing severe disappointment at the disclosure of Jamshedpur as my destination, warning me against cultivating ‘bad habits’, advising me to eat only the purest of vegetarian food, and expressing further thinly-veiled disappointment that I had not made it to the nearest local college offering an MBA.

“Very good college, SIET”, my uncle mourned. “Cheap, too. Very close by. I can drop you in the morning and pick you up also. No auto charge, even.”
“Uncle, it is a residential programme…”
“So what? Reside at home and complete it, no? Why should you travel all the way to Bihar”-
“Jharkhand.”, I interposed meekly.
He glared -“Jharkhand and study? God knows how the climate will be! And you have to stay all alone. Who will take care of you? By the way, it is an all-girls college, no?”

And then, in the middle of all the hullabaloo, there was the task of Packing.

Packing was mother’s domain. A tentative list was made:
1. Soap, shampoo, comb, talcum powder and other personal care items.
2. Meera Shikakai and Parachute coconut Oil- for traditional haircare.
3. Lots of clothes.
4. Priya Pickle bottles.
5. Wristwatch, mp3 player, a few books and the mobile phone.
6. One thousand seventy three other items, with about twenty-six being added every day.

My mother packed and re-packed, and re-re-packed, ably assisted by my sister who made lists and ticked off items and fetched and carried, while my father got the loan documents together and I supervised. My role consisting of chewing masala papad and alternately saying “Yes, I need that” or “No, I don’t”. All in all, a fair and just distribution of work, you could say.

As the D Day grew close, the entire family rallied together- formidable aunts and harried-looking uncles. It was the first ‘big thing’ in ages since the marriage of a distant cousin three years ago, and besides, it was ‘Ex-Yel-Aar-Ai’. Even if most of them were a little hazy as to where exactly it was and what I was going to study, it didn’t matter. It was supposed to be “top” and anything “top” associated with the family was a matter of pride. A parade of faces inspected me and pronounced that they had “known all along that I would go Somewhere.”
Where exactly, I wondered. Besides, atleast 70% of them had never clapped eyes on me before.

Finally the Packing drew to a close, mainly because there was no more space for an extra suitcase, handbag or backpack. On the night of the 11th of June, I boarded the Alleppey-dhanbad Express, accompanied by Sesha who advised me to Meditate Six Hours A Day. It adds peace to life, he informed me solemnly. And what about time for studying? Never mind about studying, he declared, with an airy wave of his hand. That should take care of itself.

One day and two nights later, I got down, groggy, filthy, and badly in need of a hair-bath, at the Tatanagar Station. And some thirty minutes later, reached the gates of XLRI, Jamshedpur, and collapsed under a shady tree at the entrance that seemed like a saviour at the moment. Father Enright Men’s Residence, I read, looking up at the nearest building. Next-door-aunty’s warning came to mind. Full of the rush of excitement that comes with starting something new and momentous, I stood up, picked up seven groaning bags and started walking down the path to Nilima Acharji Women’s Hostel, wondering what life was going to throw at me for the next two years…

It’s been about one year and 1.5 months since I got here. My hair is now washed (at intervals- don’t ask me how regular). Bodhi Tree has become a fond, familial part of life – to cry under, to grax, to simply lean back and listen to Raag Ahir Bhairav or the Beatles. The Father Enright men’s Hostel has seen far, far more of me than next-door-aunty would like.

And, So Far, the ‘North Indian’ boys Haven’t Done One Single Thing.

Well, one can only hope.

You Know You’re At XL When…

You know you’re at XL when…

1. There’s a 6pm class going on, and at 6-53pm, 97% of junta are busy pinging each other on Facebook to find out whether ANYONE has gone to attend the class.
Often called: MASS BUNK

2. A smiles at B, C reports this to D, who claims to E, F and G that A took B out. E, F and G tell I through P that A and B have been going steady for 6 months. They in turn tell all their friends, who tell their friends, who tell…
Next morning, A finds his Facebook flooded with “Congratulations! When’s the Wedding?” questions from 1,479,456 users, most of whom have no idea who A is, but who just want the gossip.
In other words, GRAX.

3. There’s no time to eat and even less time to sleep, because work fills all available time (apparently), but there’s always time to catch three back to back episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, attend a Drac quiz and bungle it up, and loudly cheer a grainy version of Harry Potter and the HBP in LH 1 until2-30am. And then go back to the room and crib about there bring no time to do anything.
Otherwise known as FRAX.

4. It’s 3-45 am in the morning, the world is dead to all noise and movement, and inside a whitewashed room, sixteen people are asking at the same time for bread burji, aloo cheese sandwich, gobi aloo cheese paranthas, omelettes, fried maggi, cigarettes and nimbu pani. And they ALL get exactly what they asked for in record time.
The eighth wonder of the world: Bishu-da.

5. The class is in full swing, the prof is asking B for a two-line definition of Motivation; and Q jumps up and explains it in 3765 words, with two diagrams and a chart thrown in, as well multiple pointed references to the textbook authored by the same prof (and still doesn’t manage to explain what it is to the class, which has by now fallen asleep with mouths wide open.)
In brief: DCP.

6. Prof asks for the meaning of Transfer Climate- and R begins: “Well, sir, to look at it from a general perspective, I am convinced about the veracity of the definitions given by Roiller and Goldstein, however, to put my own views in a nutshell regarding the subject matter under discussion and throw a clearer light on things as they stand”-
Pure, unadulterated-by-facts, GAS.

7. On July 1st, a deadline of July 15th is declared for a project submission. Till 14th, there is no reponse, only lethargy, inertia- and on 14th night:
At 11:00pm, with a sudden burst of spontaneous energy, people are darting into each other’s rooms, asking if anyone else has done it.
By 1:00 am in the morning, mass prayers are being organised and Google worship is under way.
By 3:00 am, 50% of people are in Bishuda’s looking like escaped convicts and groaning in acknowlegement of each other.
By 5:00am, 66% give up, put in arbit shit and 4-5 random graphs and hit the sack.
By 7:00am, the last few survivors vow never to postpone work ever again and collapse over laptop.

Next week, another deadline- same story.

XL meri jaan! πŸ™‚

The Spirit of Bodhi Tree

… and I’m back in Bodhi Tree.
The reasons are too complicated, and anyway this post is not about why I left last year or why I re-joined this year.

Last night, I was trying to find some sleep at about 00-15am (too early by standards), my window was open, when suddenly the sound of a guitar being strummed and male voices streamed in like light through the window.

I got up, changed, and made my way up the stairs that lead to the music, conflicting emotions raising hell inside me as usual.

I pushed open the door and walked in to find Shubham strumming, and both Shubham and Vistar were singing. Not much of a Hindi-music-knower (or even English for that matter), so to speak, I had no idea what they were singing. A laptop was lying open on a folded rubber sheet, and some lyrics were on it. These guys were sitting on some chairs haphazardly arranged.

I went closer, and bent down to take a closer look at the laptop, and read the lyrics of a song called Kandisa, (by Indian Ocean, Shubham later told me). Manan walked in and joined them. Kandisa was followed by ‘I want to Fly’ and ‘Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai’ and a couple of other songs.

And I listened, my head turning from one to the other as they un-self-consciously sang, fully enjoying what they were doing.

Between them, were: one guitar, two mikes, three guys and a simple passion for music that I listened to and tried to understand. It wasn’t a public performance, it wasn’t the poshest of settings, there was no stage, they weren’t singing for or because of anything.

It was disconcerting.

They were simply singing, three people, united by a love for music, utterly, simply happy to sing in that room at at 30 minutes past midnight, uncaring of who was listening to them downstairs, and jamming in no particular structured order.

It was initially beyond me. And I’ll tell you why.

Here I was.
I’d spent sixteen years learning a classical form of music.
I’d spent eleven years performing that form.
I’d sang solo and group on the stage.
I’d thought real music didn’t exist beyond what I’d learnt painstakingly for years and years.
Structure, formal learning, practice, my keywords to music.

And here were three guys with one guitar and some mikes, in an unfurnished room inside XL, singing away to their hearts’ content.

And here was the crux: This was real music too. As real as it gets. They loved it. They sang it. Simple.

And with that came the dawning realization – the spirit of Bodhi Tree- which I hadn’t understood in a whole year. Or maybe it’s my interpretation of the spirit.

It doesn’t matter what you sing.
It doesn’t matter if it’s on stage or off stage.
It doesn’t matter if you’re singing after years of practice, or an off-key singer in the mood to experiment.
It doesn’t matter.

What matters?
To love music, to breathe music.
That’s all that matters.

And to me, since past midnight yesterday, that’s become the spirit of Bodhi Tree.
Feel free to disagree- this is my interpretation of it.

I learn, and I grow. πŸ™‚

And I Survive

I know what it feels like to sit in a class of sixty five and not belong.
I know what it feels like to talk and laugh and feel a raging emptiness deep inside.
I know what it feels like to take endless walks around a campus, listening to the same songs, not wanting to, yet feeling compelled to.
I know what it feels like to make a a mistake, while realising at that moment that I’m making one.
I know what it feels like to betray someone who loves me and go to bed with that bitter taste in my mouth.
I know what it feels like to be disliked.
I know what it feels like to receive pity.
I know what it feels like to be disconnected from everything happening around me, like a bewildered, lost child who has been unexpectedly slapped.
I know what it feels like to be confused, to want to share the confusion, but not have anyone to confess to.
I know what it feels like to hurt so badly deep down that I can’t cry, just feel lost.
I know.

And yet…

I fight back.
I live.
I learn.
I mature.
I smile.
I keep my chin up.
I face the world.
I survive.

Because I have parents and a sister who love me.
Because there is a man in my life who loves me not just for who I am, but in spite of who I am.
Because I have a few, precious friends, rare as gems, who will always be there to hold my hand.
Because each one of us has his cross to bear. I know only mine.
Because the future beckons like the fleeting touch of a beloved mistress.
Because this too shall pass.

And I love this crazy, crazy world.

Promise keeps me going.
Theatre keeps me going.
Imagination keeps me going.
Music keeps me going.
Love keeps me going.
Passion keeps me going.
Family keeps me going.
Hope keeps me going.
I keep myself going.

And I survive.

Love you, Ramaa.
Lage raho. πŸ™‚