Disclaimer: This is my story and I reserve the right to say it the way I like. So I have nothing to disclaim about. This is essentially a non-disclaimer.
Warning: This is a very long post.
Note: If you’re an IIT or an IIM aspirant, I’d suggest you better not read this. If you still want to read it, I’d like you to treat this as a story. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s neither meant to dishearten you, nor is it meant to inspire you. But if it does, don’t blame me. Either way, it’s a story. A real one nevertheless.
Another Note: If you’re someone who’s close to me and knows me well, you’d know this already for you’d have seen me through this. It’s up to you whether you wanna read it or not.
First of all, let me begin with a small confession. The word “Ainavaram” in the title has no connection to this story. I know Ainavaram to be a place in Chennai. Neither have I been to Ainavaram nor do I have any clue as to what it looks like. I have just heard the name and it struck me when I was thinking of a title for this post. You have those newbie authors giving fancy title to their works to garner attention. So there you go. I’m guilty too :-)
The smooth sailing, the smart kid and the bright student:
Well, the sailing was smooth. Up to a certain point. I was one of those chirpy kids who get labeled as smart and bright at a very young age. Started quizzing as early as third standard and the inquisitive nature never stopped me. The urge to learn new things led me to read a lot and a smart kid was born. This kid kept building on his strengths and made a mark for himself at the school level. Academically too, I performed well, finishing among the top three of the class always. As a student and a school going kid, it was a relatively smooth sailing for me with the path dotted with many laurels along the way.
The high point:
Every journey has to peak at some point. For me, it happened in 10th standard. I scored 1025 out of 1100 marks (93.2 percent) in my Board Exams and finished third in the school. More plaudits followed and I was hailed as this kid who’s headed for a great destiny. I was soaking in the limelight and was sailing among the clouds for sometime. I didn’t know what lay ahead then.
The big mistake: the IIT Dream Factory
Somewhere along the way in my journey, my dad happened to mention the three letters to me. The three letters that could change my life forever; or so, I thought. IIT. Today it’s so popular with the advent of 24X7 media, but back then, about 10 years ago, it was not as popular as it is now. So when you see a bright young kid winning laurels and making a mark in every field, it’s only natural that you suggest him a place that would fulfill his true potential. That was how IIT came into my life. I dreamt about IIT, I longed to be a part of it. That was where my heart was back then. A senior from school had cracked the IIT with an All India Rank of 31 and made it to IIT Madras. He became my role model by default. My food, my drink, my sleep, all resonated the three words – IIT. It started as a passion. Became an obsession. I joined the only centre providing coaching for IIT – JEE back then in Coimbatore. I joined all the Correspondence courses that I could think of. I studied every day. Sometimes every night. I thought I was on the right track. I thought I had it in me. What I failed to realize then was that my efforts then were merely a fraction of the efforts one would require to put in to get into an IIT. I fooled myself into thinking that I had it me, that I could make it. I didn’t realize that staying in Coimbatore, I hardly had any exposure that one would ideally require to make it to an IIT. In this relentless pursuit, my academics began to suffer. I failed for the first time in my life in 11th standard Half-yearly exams. I failed in Physics, a subject that I liked. I was devastated. But like with so many things, it’s the first time that hurts. Not afterwards. I failed again in 12th standard Quarterly and Half-yearly exams. This time in Chemistry and Mathematics. I hated Chemistry but I loved Maths. Yet here I was, failing in all three subjects that I was supposed to ace in order to get into an IIT. I was clueless. I was helpless. I didn’t know what to do. In school, I was hiding from the teachers who taught me till 10th for all they know was that Ashwin was a bright student. I didn’t want them to see this face of Ashwin. This guy who was a failure.
On the one hand, I believed that I could make it to the IIT even though my preparation on that front dropped significantly. On the other hand, I needed to get serious about my academics, lest I fail in my 12th Standard. The onus was completely on me for I was this stubborn kid who refused to take up tuitions even when all other students in my class went for tuitions. So I decided to give this IIT business a break and concentrate on my Academics. So for the next 2 months, I studied and started passing the subjects. But in a state as competitive as Tamilnadu, a pass would get me nowhere. I had to be in the top brass – 95% and above. I did try hard and gave it my best in the exams. But the results were a big letdown.
The worst phase:
I still remember the day very clearly – 22nd of May, 2006. Probably the worst day in my professional life. I got the results. I passed. I scored 1058 out of 1200 (88 percent). Normally any kid would be happy with that score. But in the environment that I grew up in, that score was a disaster. Being a General category student in Tamilnadu, that score was next to nothing. It was as though my whole world came crashing down. My home bore a look as though it was in a state of mourning that day. Phone calls kept coming in. None of them were congratulatory. It was all commiserations. My parents graciously took responsibility for my failure saying that it was their mistake that they did not guide me properly. I was heartbroken. They trusted me and gave me everything that I asked for and yet I failed them.
Soon, all entrance exam results followed and as expected, I did not clear any – be it IIT or AIEEE or other tests. Panic struck and in a state of desperation, I was enrolled into a B.Sc. Computer Science course in one of the prestigious Arts & Science Colleges in the city as the Engineering admissions were more than a month away and I faced the real possibility of ending up in a third-rate Engineering college. So I went to this BSc course for a month. People around me were all happy for they had made it to the best college in the city but I could not take it. Here I was, dreaming of getting into IIT only a couple of months back and yet here I am. I hid from everyone back then. From friends, from relatives, from my teachers, from everyone. I didn’t want them to look and sympathize with me. It was probably the worst phase of my life. Engineering admissions happened and I got admission to a decent college in the city. It wasn’t a great college, but it wasn’t bad either. Somehow, I mustered up the courage to come out of my hiding and tell everyone that I got admission to so and so college in the city.
Still the IIT dreams hadn’t left me. I was floating the idea of giving IIT again. I could not bear the fact that I was doing Engineering from an ordinary college when all my friends were in better colleges. Once I was arrogant enough to reply that I won’t look at anything other than IIT when a person suggested the names of Anna University or PSG Tech. On the first day of Engineering, our HOD told us “What you do in the next 4 years will determine how your next 40 years are going to be like.” I took his words seriously. Even though I had one eye on giving the IIT again, I vowed that it should not let my Academics suffer at any cost. I worked diligently. As a result, I topped my class in the first year of Engineering. Though I gave IIT again, I knew the result beforehand for I hardly put in any effort. I accepted that this was my college and this is where I had to shape my destiny from.
The next 3 years saw me redeem myself to my past glory. I started going out to competitions and started winning prizes too. Quiz was my forte and I did not miss any quiz in the city. I was not ashamed of my college anymore. I realized that it was something psychological and it was my own creation. I realized that people saw me for who I was, not for my college. Yet I learnt to feel proud of my college and declare that I was from Sri Ramakrishna Institute of Technology (SRIT). My school friends stood by me. We were a closely knit group of six people and we had absolutely no ego. We did not care about others’ colleges or other aspects. My quiz partner was one of them. He ensured that he invited me as his partner for every quiz in the city despite the fact that he was from a prestigious college in the city and had better quizzers there. For the six of us, college hardly mattered. We were the same buddies from school. The world of quizzing introduced me to some of the best people that I have ever known. There was this quizzer from PSG Tech, the most prestigious college in the city, who wrote how people judge him based on his college and how it should not matter if he was from PSG Tech or some XYZ Engg. College. It’s the person that mattered, not the college. Reading that gave me fresh vigour. Now it did not matter to me if I was from IIT or SRIT. Infact during this period, I visited IIT 3 to 4 times and realized that the people studying there were mere mortals too. I revered the students there the first time I visited the campus. The reverence slowly wore off as I began to realize that they were just like me. Infact, I was better than some of them in certain aspects. It’s just because of the fact that they had managed to clear an entrance exam that I could not, they were here and I was elsewhere.
I did well academically too during this phase and landed a good job with Vedanta Resources. My redemption was complete when I was awarded 2 gold medals for being the Best Outgoing student of my college and for being the Department topper. Ashwin Murali was no longer the guy who fared badly in 12th standard but a gold medallist.
The next dream factory: IIM
When I failed to clear the IIT for the second time, somewhere in my mind I decided to target the other dream factory, namely the IIMs. I started preparing for the CAT from the third year of college onwards. Though I was focused on my preparation, it lacked the intensity that one would require to clear the CAT. As a result, I ended up with an 84.5 percentile score in my first attempt. Since I had a job in hand, it did not bother me much and I went to work with Vedanta Resources in Jharsuguda, Odisha. I gave CAT again, this time with no preparation and ended up with a score of 89 odd percentile. Though it was good, I knew with some more effort, I could hit a 98-99 percentile and target my dream factory. So I started again. In the months that followed my joining Vedanta, I grew really homesick and started cribbing a lot. I’m really thankful to the people who had to put up with me during that phase. I was lucky to have had an excellent bunch of people around me back then, who motivated me enough to take up CAT again. This was going to be my third and hopefully last attempt at CAT, provided I made it to an IIM. I studied hard juggling work and studies. I used to sit and take a mock CAT after a tired day’s work. Though I tried hard, I knew there was something lacking. Still I gave CAT hoping that I could improve on my 89 percentile score from the previous year. Within 20 days of giving my CAT, I was transferred to a plant in Tuticorin. I checked my CAT results from Tuticorin . 83 percentile. I was devastated. Three attempts at CAT and all three were unsuccessful. It was a throwback to the IIT preparation days again. I didn’t know what to do. I decided to concentrate on the work in hand.
The next 4 months in the Tuticorin plant were the hardest that I have ever worked in my life. My job was so hectic that I hardly had any time to think about CAT, leave alone, study for it. It was April 2012 and I knew that I had had enough. Though I was performing well on the job front, I was not enjoying it. I had to do something about it. I thought hard and bravely, I put in my papers. I went to T.I.M.E. Coimbatore and spoke with the Director who I hardly knew back then. He looked at my past CAT scores and was kind enough to offer me a Faculty job in the area of Logical Reasoning & Data Interpretation after seeing that I had scored in the high 90s consistently in that area in all my three previous CAT attempts.
The final push: the T.I.M.E. journey:
The one year that I spent at T.I.M.E. was one of the most fruitful periods of my life. I learnt so many things about life during that period. You can read about it here.
After joining T.I.M.E., I made up my mind to give it my all for it’s going to be now or never. I can’t keep postponing my higher studies any longer for age was catching up with me. Within days of joining TIME, I realized that I had to work extra hard for my colleagues were all a step ahead of me for they had been in TIME longer. I slogged real hard for the next two months. I slogged day and night. Slowly my mock CAT scores started improving and I caught up with my colleagues and eventually I overtook them. That was when I started relaxing a bit for I felt contented as my mock CAT scores were soaring high.
I now believe that when you’re competing for something, it’s never ok to feel completely contented. The moment you feel that is the moment your efforts take a backseat. That’s exactly what happened to me. A month before the CAT, I grew confident and was contented and this slackened my preparation. Still I gave CAT and this time, I scored 97 percentile. I knew that I could have scored 99 had my preparation not slackened, yet it was a big relief for me. This score meant that I was going to end up in some good college if not an IIM. Soon I followed it up with scores of 98 percentile in SNAP and a 95 percentile in XAT.
Four days after my CAT results, I got an interview call from IIM Kashipur. I was overjoyed. Even with a 97 percentile score, it was still possible to get an IIM call. Probably my work experience helped me there. Though it was a call from the newest IIM, it was still an IIM – a dream factory and that’s all that mattered to me. There were also calls from other good colleges like MDI Gurgaon, XIMB, Symbiosis, IMT Ghaziabad, IIT Roorkee, IIT Kanpur and a couple of other colleges.
The next one month was spent travelling around the country giving interviews at various locations. I did fairly well in all interviews and got admits to all the colleges except MDI Gurgaon where I was placed in the waitlist. But I was not worried about these. I knew my big prize was waiting. The IIM results got delayed and I kept waiting. Finally the results came and I was wait-listed. Disappointment. But I was hopeful of making it in the second list which was due in 5 days for the IIM interview was probably the best interview that I gave in the entire season.
Joining XIMB and the good news:
By now I had decided after detailed research that I’d be joining XIMB if IIM doesn’t come through. The second list came and I was again in the waitlist. Disappointment again. I didn’t know what to do for the date for joining XIMB was getting nearer. With a heavy heart, I decided to bid goodbye to my IIM dreams and join XIMB. I went and joined XIMB, by which time the third list had also come and I was wait-listed in that too. I started liking XIMB and took to the place so much that I even forgot to check the fourth list. In the evening, I opened my mail casually to find a mail from IIM Kashipur saying that I had been admitted. I didn’t know how to react then. It didn’t sink in then. Then slowly I realized. Realized that here was the dream factory, the place I longed to be in for 6 years and I have finally made it.
The next one week was packed with frantic activities – withdrawing from XIMB, vacating my hostel, booking tickets for Kashipur, Medical tests, etc. The journey has almost always been frantic for me. I’m used to it.
The dream realized: Just the beginning
Finally I arrived at IIM Kashipur on June 29th, 2013. A dream was realized. The redemption was complete. But my experience had taught me that this was just the beginning. The Director’s speech echoed the same sentiments – “ How you make use of these 2 years would determine where you end up?” Sounds familiar? ;-) Time to start all over again :-)
Looking back, through all these travails, my parents were a huge support for me. They stood by me through thick and thin. So did my brother who believed in me when nobody else did. Then I had this wonderful bunch of friends from school and a small group of friends from college. I also had an excellent group of people around me at Vedanta. Not to mention my favourite gang from TIME. I would be no one but for these people. So my first insight is to surround yourself with the right people and your job is half-done.
I heard a young speaker in a recent TEDx convention say this: “Everyone has an ego. At some point, your ego gets hit. The sooner it gets hit, the better for you.” Mine got hit in 11th standard. What was till then an infallible impression, got shattered overnight.
I learnt this important lesson in college – You’re inferior to none and you’re superior to none. The moment you think of yourself as superior to someone is the moment you start losing. Similarly the moment you start thinking of yourself as inferior to someone is the moment you start giving up.
Finally, I’m a firm believer in the immortal words of Swami Vivekananda – “You are the creator of your own destiny.”
Go ahead and create your destiny!! All the best !!
- Ashwin Murali
PS: I wanted this story to be told for a long time for there could be many out there who might feel like giving up at different points of time. I hope they carve out a path for themselves and realize their dreams.
PPS: Since it’s a real life story, you may have sensed a bit of emotion here and there and I may have unconsciously dramatized certain things. Forgive me if that was the case anywhere.