Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Living Together

It’s been eight years since I came to Mumbai as a starry-eyed teenager and I have been slapped around from one place to another: kind friend’s luxurious apartment, sea-facing student hostel on Marine Drive, working girls’ hostel in Nariman Point, back to student hostel in Symbi (campus life in Pune), and then finally my own rented apartment with the luxury of my OWN ROOM. Each phase was different, each phase had its own share of trials and tribulations, each phase taught me something new, and each phase helped me make some really good friends. I had friends in Kolkata, but somehow the bond that you develop while living with someone under the same roof is something totally different: the initial awkwardness, the politeness, and the effort to make an impression soon gives way to rude gestures, making faces, screaming, and in general, being yourself, as you give up the façade of propriety. Let’s face it, you can’t keep pretending with the person you live with: sooner or later, you are bound to be caught on the wrong foot, so you might as well set the expectations straight right at the beginning. It’s pretty much like getting married. When you see someone with no/semi clothes on, no make up, and first thing in the morning, you pretty much get used to everything. And trust me, it’s nowhere as cool as they make it look on FRIENDS…

Today, as I look back at my journey, from the dingy lanes of Charni Road in an 8/8 small coup which I shared with my first roommate (the Muslim girl who taught me to live on my own) for a princely monthly rent of Rs. 500 to the 1000 square feet furnished apartment in Powai where I have a room to myself, a double bed, a proper closet, and an attached bathroom, barely 10 minutes from work, I feel a quiet sense of achievement. Of course, the next moment I am overcome with guilt at the thought that I am earning for my landlord, but somehow it doesn’t seem like a waste. I respect privacy after being deprived of it for seven years, and in Mumbai, you have to pay a heavy price for it. I am ok with that; I make up for the extra cost by not going out and therefore making full use of the privacy my room offers.

And then I look back at all the people I have lived with and how each of them made my life a little bit better than what it would have been otherwise. And some of them went on to become the most significant part of my life. From struggling to fit in my huge collection of clothes in the two racks of the small cupboard in Room No 311 in the undergrad hostel, to getting knocked off each time someone entered unannounced in Room No 213 in SCMHRD, to finally learning to enjoy the things I never thought I would do (cooking et al)in 1105 it has indeed been a long long journey.

If I have to sum up my experience of living on my own in Mumbai, I would borrow the Julia Roberts movie title: Eat, Pray, Love (the last one being very significant)…

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Something Stupid...


These are very strong reasons to destroy, and at times the temptation to get nasty just gets the better of you.

But then something stronger, something deeper, and something more permanent restrains you, mellows you down, and while it reduces you to tears, it also stops you from losing your mind. The memories only make you smile, the depth of the attachment makes you hold on to it, and the loneliness reminds you how precious it was.

It’s something that makes you forgive but not forget, it’s called love…

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hyderabad Memories

This was my last weekend to Hyderabad, at least as a part of this company. This is the place I fell in love with two years back when I did my summers, this is the company I fell in love with, and this is the company where I just fell in love…

So, it has been an eventful and memorable journey, but finally I decided to put an end to it, I decided enough is enough, and I quit: not necessarily for a ‘better’ offer, not necessarily because I was unhappy with the work, and not necessarily because I was disillusioned. I never nurtured high expectations from the corporate world, I know at the end of the day they are pretty much the same and wherever I go, it will just be a way to make a living till I finally fulfill my dreams of being an author. So once, you have separated your passion from your profession, you really don’t care where you go, as long as you make a decent living, you are respected, and you find good people to work with. And, in this company I had all that and more! May be too much, and so I just had to move on…

Hyderabad overwhelmed me with memories: memories of the good old times, memories of drunken nights, memories of old friends, some of whom are no longer around, and memories of stolen kisses. It was the same AHM, the same luxuries in the guest house followed by a boring evening in a five star hotel followed by the real thing: free food and alcohol (this time I didn’t have the heart to have either). I had a shock because I received an R&R for a project I hardly worked on. I think it was more a gracious gesture on the part of the company to let me know that they like me, especially now that I am leaving. Later in the night, I had a chat with the one person I have known for three years, who had hired me, and who I looked up to, and I was told that if I ever feel like coming back, they would always be ready to welcome me. I almost broke down then: in the last few months, I had developed a lot of grudges, but suddenly it all seemed so small, and I just wanted to take back my resignation. But in the end, better sense prevailed.

I also met my long-lost school friend, I brushed away tears as I said goodbye to my best friend in the company, and for the last time, I exchanged pleasantries with the people who has been an integral part of my everyday life the last one year.
And yes, I also met Chetan Bhagat, who was invited for a ‘motivational speech’. I don’t know if it ‘motivated’ people, but it was definitely entertaining, and all I could think of was if this guy can make Rs. 3 lakhs an hour for dishing out bullshit and become one of the 100 most influential people by Times magazine writing strictly average books, so can I.

So Mr. Bhagat, you are right! We should do what we love to do. And here I come!!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Corporate World Meets Holy Matrimony

I have no experience in the so-called ‘girl seeing’ event in arranged marriages. On the other hand, I have plenty of experience in appearing for interviews. But I have a strong feeling that the two completely different episodes are really pretty much alike.

1. The role of the mediator/broker: This is the third party, which is responsible for initiating it all: doing a due diligence on both parties, matching the requirements of both parties and accordingly customizing the CVs to ensure a perfect ‘profile fit’, and finally introducing the parties to one another. In the case of a marriage, it’s usually an over-enthusiastic, bored, jobless relative while in case of a job, it’s an efficient, no-nonsense, greedy placement consultant. However, the common thread is that this third party seems to be more excited about this ‘match’ than either parties.

2. Embellishments: This is the part where you develop new ‘interests and skills’ which you never knew you possessed, so that your CV can ‘stand out’ among hundreds of other similar CVs. For instance, you know you were doing cut-copy-paste in your last job, entering data in a pre-set model to get results, and apart from the office-boy nobody of importance was aware of your existence. So how can you portray this seemingly useless experience as something which is significant, tangible and ‘makes a difference’? So you start LYING, or in more polite terms, EMBELLISHING. In the area of key skills, you write, ‘industry knowledge’, ‘financial modeling’, and ‘business process re-engineering’ while in the work experience you come up with, ‘Responsible for providing intelligence and insights for client engagement teams. Part of the high-visibility team to develop strategic roadmaps for clients. Demonstrated strong leadership and mentoring skills to proactively generate new business opportunities for the company.’ How or when you did all that, you don’t know, neither is it significant. Your short term goal is to get shortlisted for an interview and long term goal is to acquire all the skills already mentioned as your key skills. Similar is the situation for an arranged marriage. Boy gets introduced to prospective girl by virtue of the tall claims made in his CV: a seven-figure salary (which includes salary of boy, brother, father, and mother: nobody mentioned it has to be boy’s salary ONLY), a degree from IIM (well, they can always clarify later that it was an online certificate course), and a photograph which is most probably borrowed from a decent looking friend. But girl is equally efficient: her photo is thoroughly airbrushed by a professional, her ‘accomplishments’ in the kitchen are exaggerated (by the time they find out that her cooking skills are limited to Maggie and dal-chawal it will be too late), and her ‘trained classical dancer’ claim really stands for dancing to remixes in college fests (nobody wants a classical dancer wife anyway).

3. The Grand Finale: So your broker got your CV to the target audience, your embellishments ensured that you reach interview stage, and finally you are there: at the hot seat, salivating for holy matrimony or the MNC job. You have memorized the ‘right’ responses, you have developed the right ‘values’, and since childhood you have been taught the art of rote learning and vomiting it out on the exam paper. So you are prepared, confident, and ready to take it on. The VP asks, “So why do you want to join our organization?”, you think, “yippie. I know this answer”, and you smile and reply, “it fits in well with my personal and professional goals. I identify with the company’s values which are aligned to my personal and professional values, and I think I am a perfect fit for the profile and for the organization.” Score!! Similarly, girl asks boy, “Why do you think we shall be a good match?”, boy thinks, “Because I am 28, I have a job, I have saved enough for the wedding, so I think finally my parents will let me have free and legitimate sex”, and boy replies, “Because I think we are fundamentally compatible, we have similar values, and we come from similar cultural backgrounds.”

Game, Set, Match… (both in the corporate world as well as in the matrimonial world)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The 'Hotel California' Syndrome

“Hotel California” has been my favourite song for a long time. I know it’s old and old-fashioned, it’s very school-girlish and it’s definitely not the ‘in’ thing, but I still can’t help humming it at times. The theme of the song fascinates me and I kind of identify with it.

On the face of it Hotel California seems to be this coveted paradise, where everybody dreams to go someday: it represents all the hedonistic vices money can buy- a flashy lifestyle, women, alcohol; it smacks of sophistication, success, and the high life that you have admired for 20 years and suddenly it’s handed over to you on a platter. And just as you think your life is made, that you have ‘arrived’, and you are one of the ‘chosen ones’, you realize something is not quite right, that all the materialistic pleasures come with an unuttered disclaimer: all the luxuries come with a heavy price, i.e. your freedom!

So here is the analogy: as vivid in my mind as it gets. Brought up in a middle class family inculcated with middle class values, and restricted to a middle class lifestyle, you grow up (happily mind you), and then you watch TV, you interact with people, and you start yearning for more: not just in terms of money, but also in terms of respect, social status, and ‘success’ defined conventionally. So you do all the ‘right’ things: you work hard, you go to a reputed B school, you get a job with a well-known MNC and at a fairly early age you ‘achieve’ all that you had set to achieve: big brands (to wear and to be a part of), lifestyle, and possessions. Of course, the fact that your neighborhood aunty thinks you are best role model for her teenage daughter, is a huge boost for your secretly fragile ego, because you know what you do for a living: sacrifice your creativity, your passion, and your thinking as you get straight jacketed in a “process driven organization”.

So yes, in a way you are trapped inside the plush Hotel California: “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”…

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Two Way Street

Sunday evenings are the worst: I am usually on the verge of a breakdown after two days of emptiness, loneliness, and nothingness. Also, the entire week stares in front of me, with nothing exciting to look forward to except the drudgery of work that you no longer care about, that you no longer want to do, and mostly with people you have spent 18 hours a day with in the recent past but cannot look in the eye right now. The only thing to look forward is random calls from placement consultants or potential recruiters!

While I have been too consumed with the job hunt, I kind of lost perspective of what is really important to me: family, a balanced happy life in a Tier 2 city, friends, vacations, spending my life with someone who is my best friend, and of course, making a career out of writing. Just as we had planned for the last one year.

Right now, I am doing things which are totally in conflict with those plans: running after a career in finance which really doesn’t interest me (and therefore screwing up in interviews), struggling alone in a big city and paying for all the vices (rent, traveling, loneliness) while the benefits of the city doesn’t excite me too much (a happening nightlife, array of options to eat out, party, and shop, and the sense of freedom), reconciling myself to the idea of being a corporate slave, staying away from family, and having a virtual relationship with my friends. Before I know it, I would be sucked into the life in a metro, and doing everything that an average Mumbaikar does, for reasons not clear to me.

So how does it make sense? It so doesn’t… but so doesn’t everything else…

Monster.com... Now I know why it's called "monster"

Well, we all know how I made it through to my current job: It was a piece of cake. Company comes to campus for internship, company gives long case study, company shortlists 15 people from 150, and company selects me. Two months of internship, company understands it invested way too much money in me, so company decides to offer me PPO. I write my way through MBA, I avoid studying like a plague, recession hits, and I accept PPO! And everybody is happy…

Six months into said company, I realize what I have gotten myself into, that I am overpaid, and I have no skills. To make things worse, I fall in love, lose my focus at work, and one year down the line, I realize my career is going nowhere. So I start job hunting, and that’s just the beginning.

In the last six months, I have taken some 20-odd interviews, some of them in really odd companies: Private Equity, Banking, Equity Research, Investment Banking, Sales Support, Consulting, Journalism, Credit Rating, Social Media, Micro finance: you name it, I have tried it! The best part about my profile is it’s versatile, it has all the right sounding degrees and the right sounding brands: so I do get flooded with calls from excited placement consultants, a fair amount of which gets translated into actual interview calls.

But then the trouble begins: I can’t convert them! Companies who want me, can’t match my current salary and companies who are willing to pay me, don’t find me good enough. Also, there is something called this illusive ‘profile fit’ which often leaves you baffled, especially after you have had the best interview (or so you thought) and yet it doesn’t get translated into a 2nd round. And then there are times, when you almost make it and sheer bad luck stands between you and that coveted job. Finally, there are those embarrassing interviews which make you feel like you are illiterate (which is very often the case with me)

Then there are always these doubts: money or profile, lifestyle or learning, work culture or work? You can’t have it all of course, but balancing the trade-offs is a tough ask. The fallacy is that companies like mine compensate you for bad work, while in other companies you pay the price to learn and deliver. The responsibilities, the significance and the satisfaction of your work is inversely related to your salary. So you choose: would you rather sit in an AC floor, work five hours a day, stay close to home, enjoy a MNC culture and flexibility, and have a good life or would you travel in local trains, live in a coup in the name of a room, have no savings, no MNC tag to boast about? The former right? The catch is that the MNC tag gives you the glamour and the money and no job satisfaction, while the latter gives you the real experience which makes you a sought after person in the long run.

My best experience: I started writing random emails to newspapers, asking them to let me contribute to their organization as writing is my passion. I never really expected anybody to respond, and I was pleasantly surprised when a senior person from a leading daily took the trouble to call me. Finally it didn’t work out, but I am grateful that they check their emails and respond to them!

My worst experience: American company shortlisted me for a Business Analyst role. I had no freaking clue what the profile was, though I was keen on the brand. HR sets up telephonic interview with a senior person in America. Due to technical difficulties, the call doesn’t work out. Firang guy asks me to call him back!Unwillingly I make an ISD call, he interviews me for 50 minutes, and I realize it’s the kind of work that I wouldn’t do even if I was starved to death. Obviously, Firang guy doesn’t foot the bill of the ISD call, and I am poorer by one grand.

I know I reached my personal low when I responded to a shortlist for a television reporter: for the first time in my life, I had to send a snap for a job application. I wasn’t shortlisted, but I refuse to believe that I am too ugly to be on TV. I am sure it was a case of ‘profile fit’.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lost in Translation

So after a hiatus of almost nine months, I am back again, and hopefully back for good!

The past few months have been quite an experience really: I was happy like I have never been before, but like all good things, it didn’t last forever. And I guess, the happiness you experience in the first six months of the year, is directly proportional to the heartbreak in the next six months. And now that I am probably going through the worst phase of my life, what best way to cheer myself up than turn to the one thing that had given me the greatest support in the last three years: blogging!

So the question I am sure everybody is all agog to know: what was I upto?
While I am not fond of peddling my personal life on a public forum (and that was the reason I stopped blogging in the first place), I can convey this much: I was living in a fairyworld, where everything seemed perfect, and that life couldn’t possibly get better, and then one fine day, it all came crashing down- just like that! And now I am back to the harsh reality, the struggle of LIVING suddenly seems to be overbearing. I wouldn’t say I made a mistake, because that would mean insulting the best thing that ever happened to me; I wouldn’t say it was a lie, because whatever happened, happened because we all believed in it; and I wouldn’t say I regret it, because it was the most beautiful six months of my life…

The truth however, the way it stands is, that I am alone, struggling to get by each day, reliving the memories, and trying to make sense of it all. Professionally, I am confused: I know I am stuck in a dead-end job (but then again, who isn’t?), I have been looking for a change for some time, and taking some innumerable interviews with very little luck. Also the fact that I spent my two years of MBA blogging and writing and ignoring my major (Finance) is taking its toll on me now, as I find myself woefully short on confidence and fundamental knowledge. The fact that I had the easiest run for placements, ensured that I never put in any effort and preparation. Well, as they say life has a strange way of evening things out! Personally, I am devastated, shaken, and still in shock- trying to find a way and getting more lost in the process.

But the good thing is: I AM BACK!