Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gaga Chronicles - Part 2: Happiness enroute to IIM



This is Part 2 of the story 'Gaga Chronicles'. To read Part 1, click here.

Disclaimer: This is a work of pure fiction. All the characters and the sequences are a figment of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to any person dead or alive is purely coincidental.

August 10th 2010:

Ever since that incident, she stopped talking to Nithin and she increasingly hung out with me at the office. I felt really happy at this increased attention that I was getting. As fate would have it, by some strange coincidence, Nithin was transferred to the Kakinada plant along with Vishal and Priya. Nithin was unhappy while the other two were elated. Gayu refused to come to their farewell and I had to convince her and bring her along. All three had left a couple of days back.

I was sitting in the office in the evening with Gayu. I was feeling uncomfortable with her these days. She started trusting me as a close friend. But I started developing something for her. I had to keep telling myself that she trusted me as a friend and I should be that. A war was being waged within me. Every day it used to kill me. I used to wake up early and used to check my Facebook chat the first thing in the morning, hoping for a message or a reply from her. I was becoming addicted to these chats. She dominated my thoughts throughout the day. I kept denying myself at first. Then later, I had to acknowledge that I had something for her. Still I kept telling myself that it was just a crush and that it would wear away pretty soon.
That particular day, I was talking to her and suddenly I began sharing stories about my past with her. Out of nowhere, before I realized, I spoke to her about Shwetha. Shwetha – my junior and crush from school. As time progressed, I realized that it was just a crush that I had on Shwetha, but that crush dominated my thoughts for a good period of 3 to 4 months while at Kakinada. Gayu listened to this story intently. I was surprised. Did she show a hint of jealousy in her face? I felt so and I felt happy. 

A week later:

She kinda became interested in my past and I narrated all the major happenings in my life to her. She seemed impressed. I was under a trance. At those rare moments that I came out of the trance, I felt angry at myself for sharing everything with her. But my mind would immediately convince me that it was ok. 

By now, my feelings for her had increased ten-fold, especially since I shared my story with her. The CAT exam was also drawing nearer. With great effort, I managed to divert my thoughts and concentrate on the exam. I convinced myself saying that everything depended on how I performed in that exam. By now, my mock test scores were also good and I was scoring more than her. I felt happy. She noticed this change in me and asked me a couple of times as to why I looked dull and withdrawn. I said that the impending CAT exam was the reason. That was not completely false. As the exam date drew nearer, I began to feel increasingly restless. My mock test scores were very good and I felt that I should keep up the momentum to replicate those scores in the real exam. My thoughts then were equally divided between the exam and her. But with great effort, I managed to suppress her thoughts and focus on the exam. Her mock scores were also good and perhaps, she took the cue from me and she too started focusing more on the exam. Our conversations in the office also became limited and we decided to stop studying together in the evenings in order to focus solely on the areas that each of us required improvement. Despite the reduced conversations, the chemistry with her was intact and one smile was all it required to ascertain that. There was a tacit understanding between us then to prioritize the exam before everything else. This way we carried on for the next month and a half.

October 14th 2010:

The day of the CAT exam. Since the exam was made online the previous year, people booked slots and took the exam as per their convenience during the testing window. Gayu had taken the exam the previous day. I called and wished her in the morning and she called me after the exam. She sounded very happy and I could sense that she had done really well. I felt happy for her, but at the same time, I felt pressurized for I had to do well.

She called me early in the morning to wish me luck. I thanked her and felt happy. I went and wrote the exam. It kinda went well, but I was not sure if my performance would get me a high 99 percentile score in order to get an interview call from IIM Ahmedabad. Still, I was relieved that the exam got over and went home a happy man. She called me before I could call her and I told her that it went well. She felt happy. Her happiness made me happier for I had never experienced something like that before.

A week later:

The week after the exam was real fun. Normal conversation ensued between us and I could sense my feelings for her come back to their full glory. With those feelings, the pain started. The pain that resulted from my thinking that I was betraying our friendship. It was a precarious situation for me as our normal conversations began to make me feel uneasy. I was not sure if I had to go ahead and tell her about my feelings. How would she take it? Would she get mad at me? Would she shun me completely like she did with Nithin? Suddenly, I felt sorry for Nithin. I could now realize what he might have gone through.

It was 10 days after the CAT exam. I felt that I needed some time for myself to think about certain things. So I took a couple of days off and decided to go on a bike trip to Ooty. She came to know of this and she wished me goodbye saying that she was jealous of me for I could go on such trips. I had half a mind to ask her if she could join me on that trip, but then refrained from doing so, knowing her. She would not even come to the local hill temple when we went with office colleagues. Forget a road trip for 2 days with me.

Those 2 days provided me with a much-needed break to think about things. At first, I was trying to convince myself that it was only an extended crush that would soon wear off. But all the signs pointed to the contrary. So I made peace with myself and reconciled to the fact that I was in love for the first time in my life. This is what those great poets, artists, writers and musicians meant by love. A feeling unparalleled. I have heard my friends say that it causes pain. Now I realized what they meant by that. I had been experiencing that pain for the past few days. So once I convinced myself, I tried one last time to save myself from this feeling. I thought about all her positives and negatives and tried to balance them. But when you are so deeply in love, you tend to convince yourself that all the negatives aren’t negatives after all and that you can manage them. Perhaps this is why they say that love is blind. All your rationality goes for a toss. At the end of this exercise, I was convinced of her and my love for her and decided that I should let her know of it, come what may. I also thought about what would happen if a situation similar to Nithin’s arises. There again I convinced myself that I could handle it. It’s better to tell her about my feelings and face the consequence than not say at all. So I made up mind to talk to her about it.

October 28th 2010:

It was a half a day at the office due to some function and we were free to leave after 1 PM. I decided that this was the day. I decided to ask her to come to lunch with me and then maybe, I’ll tell her about my feelings. I met her at 12 PM at the Boiler room.

“Hi Akshay”

“Hi Gayu”

“Akshay, listen. I want to ask you something”

I was surprised.

“Yes, tell me”

“Are you free today evening? Can you come to People’s Garden restaurant at 7 PM? I need to tell you something. I need you to meet a person.”

I was totally confused.

“Sure Gayu. I’ll come”

“Good. Come to the AC hall in the first floor at 7. See you then. Bye”

“Sure. Bye Gayu”

My head started spinning. What is this girl up to? I was about to call her for lunch and she calls me for dinner and she wants me to meet someone. It all seemed so cinematic. Like in the movies. Perhaps, she’ll introduce some unknown boyfriend of hers to me. Oh God! I was totally confused and didn’t know what was happening. Quietly, I skipped lunch and went home. I tried to sleep but could not. 

Hurriedly, I got ready and went to the restaurant at 6.30 PM. She wasn’t there yet, but she had apparently reserved a table. I went and sat at the table which had 3 chairs. I feared the worst. I was preparing myself for the worst. I expected her to walk in with a guy and introduce him to me as her boyfriend. My mind was killing me. I had to take it normally, wish them and move out. All these thoughts kept playing in my mind and I kept staring at the entrance.

At 7:05 PM, she walked in. ALONE. I looked behind her to see if there was someone. No. There was no one. She looked elegantly dressed and looked like a damsel. She was a good looking girl, but over the past few months, to me, she looked like she was the most beautiful girl in the world. That’s what love does to you. She walked up to me smilingly. 

“Hi Akshay! Been waiting for long?”

“No. Not really” I lied.

“Thanks for coming. You look great in this white shirt and blue jeans Akshay”

“Thanks a lot Gayu. You look beautiful in this kurti too.”

“Thank you”

“So…? What’s special? Why this dinner plan all of a sudden?”

“Well, there is news… but, I don’t know how to start….”

“What’s the hesitation Gayu? It’s me. You can tell me anything. And by the way, you told me that you were bringing someone along to meet me. Where’s that person?”

“Well... I am coming to that. Promise me that you will listen to me carefully without interrupting me.”

By now, I was prepared for the worst. 

“Go ahead Gayu”

“Well, it’s like this. You know what happened between Nithin and me right?”

I nodded.

“I have been a conservative girl. I studied in a girls’ school and only in college, I made friends with boys. I never had any serious crush in my life. There were a couple of proposals to me in college, but even then I did not feel anything. Nithin was the first close male friend that I had. I did not like what Nithin did and hated guys for what he did. But a few days after Nithin left, I met this guy. I knew this guy for some time. We began talking to each other normally and we became good friends. I used to chat with him in Facebook like I did with others. Over the course, I became close to him and I began to like him. I felt something inside me that I had not felt before. I realized that I was developing some feelings for him. I was convinced that it was just a crush and it would wear off. But there was no sign of the feelings going away and I had to convince myself that it was love. A magical feeling. I was feeling shy as to how I would express it to him, but then made up my mind and told him. He was elated for he too had experienced the same feelings. I was happy beyond measure. We have been in love for over 10 days now and I wanted you to know first before the rest of the world comes to know of it.”

Her words felt like a knife piercing right through my heart. With great difficulty, I maintained a straight face and smiled at her. 

“Well, he has also come here. I wanted to tell you all this before I let you meet him and introduce you to him.”

“Oh really? Where is he then?” I asked.

“He’s waiting downstairs for me to call him.”

“Oh, call him then. I’d love to meet him” I lied.

“Let’s surprise him. Or better, you surprise him. You go to him and surprise him. He knows you. I have shown him your pic. He’s waiting downstairs in the reading room. Go down, turn left and go to the third door on the right. That’s the way to the Reading Room. He’ll recognize you. Go surprise him”

“Ok. I’ll do that”

I left reluctantly. I had half a mind to run away from that place. Tears were welling up in my eyes. Only after coming down, I realized that I had even forgotten to ask his name. Heck! Who requires that idiot’s name? I did not even want to meet him. Disappointment seemed a way of life for me. Events from my past flashed before my eyes. Tears flowed out. I wiped my eyes. Guess, this was the first time I was shedding tears in a long time. With a heavy heart, I walked past the doors one by one till I came to the third door on the right. I was contemplating whether to open it or not. With heavy reluctance, I opened that door. There was no room. Instead a huge mirror was facing me. I stared at my own teary face. 


A MIRROR!!

What does it mean? Is there a mistake? I double-checked if I had opened the correct door. Yes, I have.

WAIT A MINUTE!! A MIRROR!! I was staring at myself. WOW!!!

All thoughts raced through my mind!! I was standing there in disbelief. Tears of joy flowed down my face. I stared at myself one long time in the mirror and turned around. 

There she was!

Gayu was slowly walking towards me in the deserted corridor. There was tension and excitement writ large in her face. She saw that I was excited too and slowly opened up.

“Akshay…well… you are the one! I could not sleep properly for the past 2 months and my mind was flooded with thoughts about you. There’s one thing though. I said that I began to like this guy after Nithin left. I lied. I liked you long before that. Ever since the day I saw you at the quiz, I began to like you. That was the reason why I was so mad at Nithin and that was the reason why I was mad at you too when you told me about Nithin. You were always sweet to me. After Nithin left, my feelings for you increased. I was afraid that I would give it away and that could affect both our CAT performances. That’s why I waited till CAT got over. I wanted to tell you about it last week, but you were getting ready for your road trip. So I decided to tell you once you returned. When you told me about the road trip, I had half a mind to ask you if I could come along. Today, I made up my mind to tell you. I was too shy to tell you straight in the face. So I decided to play this little game and surprise you. So … so… I am sorry about this... but... do you... do you... do you like me too Akshay?” She completed that last part of the sentence with hesitation.

I looked her straight in the eye. All I wanted to do then was to hug her tight and plant a kiss on her cheek. But considering the place we were in, I controlled myself. I took her hand in mine and held it tight close to my chest. She looked at me. She got her answer. Tears of joy flowed down her face. I wished the world would remain frozen at that moment. That was perhaps the happiest moment of my life. That was the best day of my life.


Next 2 months:

The next 2 months were probably the best time of my life. Every day, I used to go to office early and wait for her. We spent as much time as we could with each other. I felt very happy around her. We decided to limit our time together only to office as it’d become apparent to everyone otherwise. However, we chatted for atleast an hour in Facebook every night. I grew fond of her. She was not so expressive of her feelings, even though she liked me. 

She never said ‘I love you’ to me even in chat, while I told her that atleast 3 times every day. She just acknowledged it with a smile. This irked me a bit and I complained to her about it. She told me that it’d take time for her and that it’d happen in due course of time and asked me not to rush it. I realized that it’d happen and decided not to press it any further. 

I should have realized then that things were not as rosy as they seemed. But my love for her blinded all that. I was extremely happy and I wanted that to continue.

Jan 16th 2011:

The day of the CAT results. I was very afraid. I feared what would happen if this time too I ended up with a score in the 80s , even though I knew well that I had worked much harder this time. Sitting alone in a corner of my room, I typed out my Registration No and pressed ‘ENTER’. The next few minutes were like a dream for me. The score read “99.89 percentile”. I had to double check it. It was a moment of pure exhilaration. With abundant joy, I conveyed the news to my parents and called her. She picked up the phone with a scream. It was a scream of joy. 

“I got 99.12 percentile Akshay! What about you?”

I felt overjoyed hearing that.

“99.89 Gayu!”

“WOW!! Wheeeeee! Hurrayyyy!” Her scream only got louder. 

As expected, we got our IIM calls within a week. The week was spent soaking myself in the congratulatory messages and praises that were pouring in from all quarters. 

I got calls from all IIMs, whereas she got calls from everything but Ahmedabad & Calcutta. She did not mind for it was Bangalore that she wanted. I was somewhat disappointed when I saw that she did not get a call from Ahmedabad. The future stared briefly in my face, but I let it pass.

The next 2 months were spent preparing for Group discussions and interviews and we travelled around from one place to another giving interviews. 


It was March 15th, 2011. We were spent by then, giving so many interviews. The office came to know of our CAT results and since the Manager was also an MBA, he was very supportive of our efforts to do MBA. He appreciated our CAT results and gave us leave to go and attend interviews. So by the time it was March, our work load significantly reduced as we were given less work knowing that we would be leaving soon.

For the first time then, I expressed my fears to her.

“Gaga, did you realize one thing?”

“What?”

“What if I get Ahmedabad and Bangalore and you get Bangalore?”

“So what? You should go with Ahmedabad. That’s the best”

“No. I’ll take Bangalore. I want to be with you.”

“Are you crazy? Give up A to take B? Only an idiot would do that.”

“But that would mean staying away from you.”

“So what? It’s just 2 years. It would fly away in a jiffy. We could be in touch all the time. Don’t worry. You should opt for the best, if you get it.”

“Ok!” I said with a long face.

Separation from her is something that I had never thought about, but that could happen now. I feared as to what would happen to us if we stayed apart for 2 years. Would we be able to sustain the same love? Even now, she did not give a resounding commitment to me and she hasn’t said ‘I love you’ yet. What if she begins to drift away from me if she stays away? I have read numerous stories about how boys come to IIMs hoping to find their dream girl there. How many proposals would she get? How many would she keep turning down? What if some handsome guy with all the qualities she likes comes along and proposes to her? Would she say no even then? Or would she forget me slowly and eventually accept a proposal that comes along? MBA course load would be very hectic. She would be loaded with assignments, tests, cases and presentations all the time. I’d also be loaded with the same. Would we find time to talk to each other amidst all this? Would she pick up if I called? She would be working with many guys on these projects and assignments. She would be with them almost at all times. She would be observing them from close quarters. Would she begin to like one of them then? What if she forgets me and chooses one of them over me? She is not bound to pick my calls and stay in touch with me. Whereas she is bound to stay with them for the length of 2 years in close proximity. One of the guys or many of them would like her, ask her out or propose to her. She is bound to fall for one of them. I’d be a distant memory for her then. Oh God! This can’t happen!


All these thoughts troubled my mind to the core and I lost my peace over the next 10 days. I did not want to express my fears to her and upset her. So I stayed calm.


By April 10th, all IIM results came. Like expected, I made it to Ahmedabad and Bangalore along with a host of other IIMs, while she made it to Bangalore and a few others. I was not happy. She was elated. 

I was beginning to think about Bangalore, but my family, friends and relatives had by then branded me as an IIM-A product. She even told me that she felt proud that I am in a better college than her. 

I had to reluctantly come to terms with the fact that I was going to Ahmedabad, while she was going to Bangalore. My fears did not allow me to enjoy the moment of glory. But I decided to do one thing.

I decided to tell my parents about her and introduce her to them. I told her about it. She hesitantly agreed.

I told my parents. Initially they were a little skeptic, but once they saw her, they were happy. They never denied me anything as I was their only son and my happiness was paramount for them. Having made it to IIM-A, they were overjoyed with me and they wouldn’t deny me anything then. 

She came home one evening, dressed elegantly as ever. She stayed home for a couple of hours and had dinner. She spoke to my parents and by the time she left, my parents were overjoyed with my selection. I could not ask for more. 

I wished she would do the same and introduce me to her parents, but she was not ready yet. She however introduced me to them at a public function, as a colleague. Not even a friend, but a colleague. I spoke to them for some time and they seemed to like me. Infact her mother invited me to her home.

But what irked me was her indifference. It wouldn’t have hurt her to introduce me as a friend atleast. But no.
I should have sensed it and realized it then. But love blinded me again.

I asked her about it and she gave her customary reply that she was not ready yet and asked me not to press it. I did not want to fight with her in the last few days and so I dropped it. 

We quit the office together and gave a party to our team and Manager. They were all aware by now that we were a couple and they joked that this was like a pre-wedding party and that they would expect our wedding party soon. I smiled at the joke while she did not like it. 

After the party, when everyone left, I gifted her a rare pen stand that I found in an antique shop. I had seen her look at it in awe once when we were crossing by and I remembered that. She was floored when she saw the gift. Without a moment’s hesitation, she hugged me. I hugged her back. This was the most physical contact that we ever had. I asked her if she would say ‘I love you’ then. She gave a mischievous smile and replied “Not yet.”

The last 10 days were spent in packing and getting ready to leave. I was to leave earlier as my college started a week earlier than hers. With every passing day, the thought of leaving her wore me down. Yet I convinced myself that we would constantly stay in touch with each other. I spoke to her about it and she assured me that she would stay in touch with me. I believed her. Another mistake as I was to realize later.

June 4th 2011:

The day of my departure. I was kinda depressed, but I did not show it for the sake of my parents, friends and relatives who had come to see me off. I was there at the station, waiting for the train. My entourage was there and everyone was wishing me in their own way. But I was looking for only one person. And then she came.

I excused myself and went to the adjacent platform with her, away from everyone’s eyesight. My eyes welled up with tears for only the second time in the last 2 years. I wanted to say so many things, but words never came out.

She sensed my situation and closed my mouth with her hand.

“Akshay, I love you!”

I kissed her hand and hugged her, but immediately withdrew. I held her hand tight.

“Thanks Gayu! I love you too, my dear Gaga!”

“Akshay, I wanted to tell you that these last few months with you were magical. Thanks for that wonderful time. Thanks for everything! Wish you all the very best for your career! Do well!”

What was that supposed to mean? Aren’t we going to be together for a long time to come? I had no time to ask her all that. I simply thanked her and moved to my entourage as the train slowly arrived. I bade goodbye to Coimbatore and left for IIM-A.

She left a week later for IIM-B.

As I sat in the train, my phone beeped. This newly launched messaging app called ‘Whatsapp’ was wonderful. I had two messages. One was a goodbye from Gayu, the other was a message in the newly formed group in Whatsapp comprising of students from the state who were going to IIM-A. It had 4 members – my school friend Ashwin Ram, who was also my quiz partner at school and two girls named Ananya and Sahana. We all met through a Facebook group for those who had converted their IIM-A calls. I discovered that Ashwin had also made it to IIM-A through that group and later we discovered the 2 girls who were also from Tamilnadu. We formed a group in Whatsapp for us. Well, they welcomed me to IIM-A in that message for they had already reached. 

I was not going to be alone in Ahmedabad. I had friends. But my mind longed for only one person I’d have wanted to be with, in Ahmedabad.

Gaga...my dear Gaga…

But what was to become in the next 2 years in MBA and how it would turn my world upside down was something that I had not imagined even in my wildest dreams.

For now, it was Mission IIM: ACCOMPLISHED!!

(To be continued in Part 3 ...)

-Ashwin Murali

Gaga Chronicles - Part 1: Friendship turned sour; love – the culprit

My dear readers, 
It's nice to be back in the blogosphere again. The last one year in IIM has been fun. It's not like I have not been writing in this period. I have been writing a lot. I even got an opportunity to co-author a book in this period and I successfully completed my part. The book is scheduled to be released soon. The other writings have been those mundane project reports, assignments and other similar stuff that you do in an MBA. I didn't find time to write a nice, juicy blog post during this period. Finally got some time to finish a story that I had been writing for over 2 years now. I first got the idea for such a story after I finished Engineering in 2010. But the real work started in 2012 when the outline for the story was formed in my mind. Since then, it has undergone many changes and we have the current version here. This is the first time that I have tried my hand in writing a romantic story. Let me assure you that the story is purely fictional and is in no way connected to me or any person dead or alive. I have written the story from a first person's perspective just for the ease of writing. Since, it's a long story, I have split it into 4 parts. You can find Part 1 below. Will subsequently release the other parts one by one. Enjoy! Happy reading!
-Ashmur



Disclaimer: This is a work of pure fiction. All the characters and the sequences are a figment of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to any person dead or alive is purely coincidental.

October 28th 2013:
I could not believe my eyes. I never thought it would come down to this. I sat there reading and re-reading the mail that I had just received. The subject line read “Wedding Invitation”. 

Dear Akshay,
I am very happy to inform you that I am getting married. PFA my wedding invitation……
……. Please treat this as my personal invite. ……..
Regards,
Gayu

Hurriedly, I opened the attachment and read the name of the groom. “Kaushik Raveendran”. That loafer. I suspected something was going on between them but I trusted her. I never for a moment thought that she would fall for him. She deserves better. Definitely better than that stupid loafer. I could not take it anymore. I sat down on the chair and looked up at the table. On it was a nameplate that read ‘Akshay Srinivas – MBA (IIM A)’. Beneath it was written ‘Manager (Supply Chain), Amazon India’. I stared at it for a long time and wondered how insignificant my life had become despite having everything on the professional front. 

I took my phone and hurriedly typed out a message and sent it to a group in Whatsapp. Within the next few minutes, I got messages that read “Don’t worry...we’re there for you…blah  ...blah blah…”

I was in no mood to read them. Immediately, calls started coming in. The first one read “Ashwin”, the second one read “Ananya” and the third one read “Sahana”. I did not answer any of them. 

I switch off my phone.

I closed my eyes. Memories came flooding back. They were killing me. I don’t know if I can survive this. Slowly my mind raced back in time.

November 28th, 2009

I was sitting in my office at M&T Thermal Solutions Ltd., a leading MNC with a rich history. My office room was at the Boiler Control House. My most favourite place in this remote town in Kakinada District of Andhra Pradesh. My phone rang. I picked it up. A couple of minutes later, I called my boss. 

“Sir, they’re transferring me to our plant in Coimbatore. Just got a call from HR.”

“Do you want to go? Are you happy?”

“Really happy sir. It’s my hometown. Why wouldn’t I be happy? Moreover I can prepare for CAT exam too if I stay in my hometown. I wish to do MBA from an IIM. You know that, right?”

“Yep. Glad that you’re happy. I’ll issue the relieving orders then. Wish you all the best Akshay! You were an asset to us. You’ll be missed.”

“Thank you sir. I am sure that you’ll find a good replacement.”

December 9th, 2009
In my Manager’s room:

“So Akshay Srinivas…”

“Yes sir.”

“I went through your profile. Pretty impressive. Your previous Manager had nothing but words of praise for you.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Since you know everything about the company and the plant is an exact replica of the Kakinada plant, I don’t think you require a formal Induction. I’ll introduce you to your team members and you can start work right away.”

“Sure sir.”

He called someone on the phone.

A couple of minutes later, she walked in. THAT moment! How I wish I could undo a few things now in my life!

“Akshay, this is Gayathri. She’s also an Assistant Manager here. She’ll show you around the plant and introduce you to your teammates. Gayathri, this is Akshay. He has been transferred from our Kakinada plant.”

“Hi”

“Hi”

The next 1 hour was spent in going around the plant and meeting people. She had an air about herself that I did not like. She had this small attitude that I hated. I learnt that she was 6 months junior to me in the organization. She also graduated in Engineering in the same year as I, in 2007 from another college in the city. She instructed me around the plant and I hated it. I hated her.

It is said that it’s ok if you like a girl when you meet her for the first time. But if you hate her, it’s trouble, my dear brother. 

I was to realize this later.

December 31st, 2009:

I was sitting in office lazing around as my work was done. Gayathri walked in. 

“Hi Akshay, done with your work? Not going home?”

“Will leave now.”

She peeped in to my laptop.

“Oh, Facebook? Nice. Give me a Friend Request.”

With that she typed her name: Gayathri Ganesh and gave a friend request herself from my account.

“Good. We can chat via FB now. I’ll ping you. See you then. Happy New Year!”

I was least interested. God, I hate her! Why you do this to me God?

January 9th 2010:

I sat in my home and typed in my Registration No. The website read catiim.in

The marks appeared.

83.18

Gosh! WTF! 

I stared at the screen in disbelief for some time. It’s all over. Another failure in CAT!

I went to the office with a dejected face. I noticed Gayathri sitting there with a forlorn face. She noticed me and asked why I looked dejected. I tried to hide my face and said that it was nothing. I asked her the same question. She looked at me.

“I wrote CAT exam and the results have come. That’s why”

“Really? I am dejected because of the same reason.”

“I don’t know if you should get dejected at all. I got just 86 percentile.”

“Well, I got only 83”

That cheered her up a little. She smiled. Now there was something common to the 2 of us – CAT. Well, she’s not as bad as I thought she was.

 February 2nd 2010:

I got a message in my phone at 8 PM. “Come to Facebook chat” it said.

I logged in to FB. Never a fan of the chat feature, I reluctantly logged in. 

“Hi Akshay” she pinged.

“Hi Gayu” Everyone in our team called her Gayu. So I also started calling her that.

“Congrats on the Quiz win. You were brilliant today.”

“How did you know Gayu?”

“I was there in the audience. You would not have noticed.”
………
The chat lasted for over 2 hours. This was the first time I have chatted this long anywhere online or using a phone. I sensed there was something different happening. Also it was probably the first time anyone has responded to me in a chat or SMS for this long. Well, she’s a nice girl, I thought.

March 25th 2010:
At office: 

It was about time for us to leave. My team members left and I was sitting alone with Gayu. She struck a conversation. 

“Akshay, shall I ask you something?”

“Sure”

“Are you preparing to take up CAT this year too?”

“Yes”

“Are you going for some classes?”

“No. I am just taking TIME Test series.”

“Nice. I am planning to do the same too. Shall we sit and study for sometime in the evenings if that’s ok with you?’

“Sure. No problem at all.”

“Where are you aspiring to get into through CAT?”

“Where else? IIM-A. I could not do engineering from a top-notch college. So I have to reverse that in PG. What about you?”

“Same. But I am more fascinated by IIM-B than A.”

Then out of the blue, she asked me.

“Akshay, do you have a girlfriend?”

“No. What about you?”

“No. But I have to tell you this. Of the 5 boys in our team, barring you and Nithin, the other 3 have proposed to me.”

“You mean the 3 Vs – Vivek, Vinay & Vishal?”

“Yep.”

I was startled, but did not show it.

“That’s why I like Nithin. He’s like my best friend out there. He’s closer to me than even Priya.”

I smiled. I don’t know why, but when she said that about Nithin, it really irked me inside.

April 4th, 2010

I was sitting in a state of shock in the office. Gayu came in. 

“What happened Akshay? You look shocked?”

“Gayu! Good that you came. I don’t how to tell you. I went to the boiler room now and went to the switch board at the far side facing the wall. There… there...”

“What there?”

“There I found Priya and Vishal kissing each other passionately.”

She was shocked too. But then she recovered quickly. “It’s ok. Happens! Don’t worry about it. As long as they do their work properly and as long as it doesn’t affect the team, don’t worry about it.”

By then Nithin walked in and he playfully pinched Gayu. She went around chasing him and they played like kids in my presence. It really irked me. By then, I was starting to think of Gayu as a very nice girl.

May 2nd 2010:

Gayathri and I were sitting in the office revising some CAT notes. We both felt a little bored and she asked me to put some songs in my laptop for relaxation. I opened my audio library and from nowhere Lady Gaga popped up. She got interested in Gaga and asked me what did Gaga stand for?

Till then, it never occurred to me. I told her that it did not stand for anything. Then it struck me suddenly. I wrote on her notebook: Ga Ga – Gayathri Ganesh. 

She mockingly hit me with a notebook.

I laughed at her.

“This is the perfect name for you. Let everyone call you Gayu. I don’t care. Henceforth, I’ll call you Gaga”

“Noooooo!”

“Yesssss!”

And thus I started calling her Gaga.

In May and June 2010:

We carried on with our routine and Gaga & I became very good friends. We used to finish our work and before leaving, we used to sit and study for CAT every day for an hour or so. This helped us a lot as we started scoring well in the mock tests.

She was close to Nithin as usual and they used to go out for lunch together sometimes. Even in office, they found time for each other. This used to irk me a lot.

I didn’t know why, but slowly I started detesting Nithin for no apparent reason. His closeness with Gayu was unbearable for me. It used to pain me a lot.

So one day in June, when we were out somewhere, I casually asked him if there was something going on between him and Gayu. He did not give a direct reply, but I got the indication that he was actually looking for something more from her.

A couple of days later, I met Gayu and asked the same question.

“Gayu, can I ask you something?’

“Tell me Akshay”

“Is there something going on between you and Nithin?”

“Ha ha ha :-D No Akshay. We’re good friends. That’s all. What made you think so? I understand others asking me this. But you Akshay?”

“I’m sorry. Sometimes it’s better to ask and get things clarified. That’s why I asked. Are you sure that there’s nothing more at all. Does he also think the same way?”

“Yeah, I am sure. I don’t have anything more than a friendly feel for him. What made you think that I’d have feelings for him? If at all there’s someone I could hypothetically develop feelings for in our office, it’d be you.”

“WHAT??”

“Relax. I said hypothetical. I’ll never fall for anyone here. None of them have the tastes that could connect with me.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean nobody here likes the things that I like. I have an eclectic taste in music, food, books, sports, etc. I don’t see that in anyone here. So it won’t be possible for me to connect with any of them. That’s what I meant. By the way, why do you ask this question and why are you so curious? Are you jealous of my closeness to Nithin, eh?” She winked.

“No. I just got a feeling that you may be all innocent, but please do remember that Nithin is a normal guy. He may have feelings too. You play around with him, you spend time with him, you talk to him in phone for long, you chat with him online, etc. It’s natural that he may develop feelings for you and think of you as more than a friend. Just wanted to tell you that.”

“Ha ha :-D Guys may be like that but Nithin is not like that. He’s a very good friend. I know how to handle him. Please don’t talk to me about this again.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll drop this topic.”

July 3rd 2010:

It was about 7.30 PM. I was working late on a pending work. I got a call from her asking me to come to an ice-cream parlour near her house. I was surprised. She was not the kind who would go out for dinner and desserts with friends. Except Nithin, maybe. 

I went to the ice cream parlour. She was sitting alone. She looked very dull. I asked her why.

“You were right Akshay. I was wrong about Nithin” She said so with tears in her eyes.

“Calm down Gaga! Tell me what happened.”

Apparently, she went out in the evening with Nithin to a coffee shop it seems. He expressed his feelings for her and proposed to her. I was not surprised at all.

“You know how shocked I was! I shouted at him and left the place.”

I had half a mind to laugh. But I controlled it and just smiled.

“What are you smiling at? You know how upset I am?”

“Relax Gayu. I told you this could happen. And come on. I am sure you can handle it.”

“Don’t mock at me. You guys! You’re all the same. You know how much I trusted Nithin as a friend. I never thought he would do this to me.”

“Come on Gayu! Don’t behave as though he had committed some unforgivable crime. All he did was express his feelings for you. Now that you’ve made it clear to him that you do not feel the same way about him, just forget it. He’ll understand. Don’t make it look a bigger problem than what it really is.”

I sat there talking to her and consoling her for the next 20 minutes. When I felt that she had become normal, I bade her goodbye and left the place.

That night she chatted with me on Facebook. Apparently some self doubts had crept into her mind. She asked me if there was any problem with the way she behaved with guys. I had to reassure her that things are fine.

Strangely, I felt a sense of calmness that night that I had not felt over the previous couple of months. Nithin was out of the way. I felt happy. (Continued in Part 2 ...)

To read Part 2, click here.

- Ashwin Murali

Saturday, September 7, 2013

From Ainavaram to IIM: A true life story



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. 


The vow:

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 Redemption: 

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 :-)


Some Insights:

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.