Sleepless in IIM-A

Friday, July 29, 2005

Know your facts.

Here are a few interesting pieces of facts which you might want to know. Please note that this is serious stuff and not at all intended to be funny, as any fact is.

Fact #1

Mid term examinations begin on 1st August. 6 exams are conducted over 3 days. When some students looked at the timetable, they were amazed, and for a moment ecstatic on finding that there was a holiday after the midterms. And it wasnt the weekend.

Later they found that there were classes scheduled on Saturday.

Later still, they found that classes were scheduled on every Saturday after that week.

Fact #2

It is probably destined that I'll never have good food anywhere except at my home. The food at BITS and at Oracle was horrible.

The food here is actually good. However quizzes are usually announced after the day's classes at around 1-10 pm, and are scheduled about an hour later, leaving the students some time for lunch.

Hardly anybody leaves for lunch, using the time to put in a bit of preparation for the quizzes.

Recently, they moved the quiz notifications to the notice board next to the mess, forcing the students to atleast come to the mess to check if there's a quiz scheduled or not.

Fact #3

Every dorm has a well stocked pantry. The pantry manager is an important position in the dorm. The importance of the pantry manager is well summarized by the following statement by our dorm rep, "The Canteen is open only till 4. What will you do after that?"

It is somewhat suspicious that after 4, sleep still wasnt considered as an option.

Fact #4

Blackbooks are confidential sets of question papers of the past few years, and are in general considered to be an indispensable tool for exam preparation. One prominent Operations professor declared the mid-term in Operations as an open book test, and said that students could bring anything.

He then said that in his experience any kind of material is useless.

He has over 25 years of experience.

Today he sent the students a mail with all the previous question papers attached.

Fact #5

The day before yesterday, we got a mail from the PGP chairperson.

It began like this.

"Advice to students who want to do well in exams: SLEEP!"

Fact #6

The most common keyword entered on Yahoo seach which leads to my blog is "Kamasutra".

Fact #7

Some bloggers refer to me in their blogs as the sleepless guy.

Fact #8

Its 4, and I just realised that the dorm rep was bloody right about the pantry.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

You sure you wanna raise your hand?

I have so many things to write about, but there's no time.

Not a problem. The situation is not too different from everything else. There's so much to study, but there's no time. There's so much of group work to do, but there's no time. There are so many assignments to complete, but, yeah, you guessed it, there's no time.

When there are so many things to do, the first thing you can do is to prioritize. You list the things in order and make a long queue of tasks (in our case, a queue which has no end). You then pick the first task in the queue and work on it.

So here I am, recording yet another piece of my stay here in IIM-A, so that when I go completely insane, I would atleast know how.

A couple of days earlier, I somehow drew myself into doing an analysis of the styles of the different professors instructing us. Each one of them has a different way of interacting with the student. Each professor has a unique style of responding to the student and getting him or her to think.

For instance, one professor would absolutely refuse to give any answers whatsoever. Almost philosophically, he'd tell us that we have all the answers within us. Probably, like the way God is within all of us.

Student: Sir, if I have received an advance payment for an order, but I havent delivered it yet, do I show it as sales in this year or in the next year.

Sir: Whats your answer?

Student: Umm... maybe the next year, because I recognize sales only when I have delivered it.

Sir: So, whats the question?

By the time we are done with the question-answer session, the professor would have asked us twice the number of questions we asked him. But damn, I never knew I had accounting within me all the time.

Directly opposite to this philosophical school of response is the cut-it-short, make-you-eat-your-words kind of response. Here's an example.

Student A: Sir, the employee doesnt leave probably because he is proud of his work and hence is loyal to the company.

Sir: When you are useless and have no other option, thats the only thing you can do - take pride in your work.

Student B: To motivate the employees, the company has to make them feel at home.

Sir: What are you suggesting? Bring a motherly figure to office to take care of them?

Then, there are others who would turn the question into an opportunity to display their wit and the class ends up laughing like crazy.

Student: Sir, I just cant write it in paragraphs. When I find it a lot more logical to write and read in points, why should I write in paragraphs ?

Sir: Thats because we dont do the logical thing always. Why do you come to the class ? We could probably install a virtual classroom in your dorm, and you could lie as you want (Here he makes a peculiar Nataraja kind of pose) with chips in one hand and a drink in the other. It is lot more logical and easier than getting everyone to gather in this class at a particular time every day. But still we do it.

Sir: In fact, WAC (thats the name of the course) prepares you for life. Thats what it does, it makes you a man. We take little boys and turn them into men. After you are done with WAC, you would have no more false expectations from life.

Another professor is neither the snubbing nor the joking kind. He would patiently listen to your point, as he does in this case.

Student: Sir, we have two different lines here. We have 36 bins of of 5 shirt material each. We have to split that into two batches such that they can be worked upon by different machines. We could probably split it into two batches of 30 and 6, but when we consider the demand ratio, it would be optimal if we split it into batches of 32 and 4.

Sir: (with a bewildered expression) Thats okay, but why are you telling me all this?

Thanks to these type of tactics, the students have moved away from the group discussion mode where they all clamor for air-time to say the first thing that comes to their mind, to a much more mature type of classroom discussion, at the end of which, you actually feel you have learnt something.

Some things stick in your mind though.

Like this professor, who has an outstanding way of telling you that you are raising a silly question. He does it by producing an analogy which would instantly make you realise your stupidity. Check this out.

Student: Sir, the firm's specialty has always been corporate law. They should cut down on litigation and eventually concentrate just on corporate customers.

Sir: What would happen if the corporate customer requires litigators?

Student: Sir, the company could probably refer the case to a firm with whom the company has friendly relationships.

Sir: Wonderful. If you have a beautiful girlfriend, would you go around introducing her to all your friends?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

What's in a name ?

A lot, trust me.
People aint getting names for nuthin.

But whatever a name may mean in the big good world outside, in IIM-A, a name has a specific meaning. To be more precise, your name is a giveaway to the kind of fantasies you have.

A week after the fresh batch arrives, the dorm seniors hold sessions wherein freshers are expected to let go and express (and in some cases unleash) their fantasies.

Now I am not gonna go into the specifics but the point is, your new dorm name would be picked up from your own words while you narrate your fantasy, and from the ideas it puts into the seniors' heads.

Look at whats at stake here. Your dorm name is unlike your ordinary nickname which people have fun using for a while, and get bored of, a little later. It might very well end up sticking to you for life. You think Vindi is Mr. Banga's first name? This is serious stuff, dude.

To add to the stakes, there are no standard rules for naming people. There are normal names like Billu, Champi, Gattu and then there are interesting names like Noodle, Kela, Tinkle. Then there are umm.. different names like Orgy, Dildo, Mayir Singh (Mayir is a Tamil word for hair - hair not on the head) .

How would you like it if you are christened Dildo, and are unfortunate enough to become famous later on in life ? I mean, I would give anything to see the faces of businessmen reading headlines like "Dildo shakes up the industry by signing a $10 million deal", "Dildo brings smiles to the 3 million shareholders", "Dildo indispensable, if Lehmann is to survive" etc.

Needless to say, no one understood the importance of caution on the day of the fantasy session better than me. I carefully constructed a fantasy involving enough fun and action, but avoiding all the words which might not fit in well between my first and last names.

For some reason, I wanted to be named ghoda (Horse in Hindi). I dont know why, maybe thats the best name I could come up with in the short time I made up my fantasy.

But yeah, I thought it was a pretty macho name, considering that ghoda might also refer to a revolver. Crack shot, eh? Or bring into the picture my dark skin and I could be a dark horse. Cool possibilities man.

Suitably excited, I cautiously narrated my fantasy, emphasizing the scenes where I am riding a magnificient horse (no pun intended here). With as much effort as I would have put into a public speech, I delivered my narrative perfectly according to the plan. After it was over, I sat back satisfied, enjoying the others' narratives and laughing at the dirty little words they let slip by mistake, only to be pounced upon with glee by the seniors.

I wasnt wrong about the importance of not saying something stupid. A couple of days later, in the naming session, one guy was named Softie. Now its upto your discretion to decide whats soft.

Yet another was named Maasik, a hindi reference to periods. Please note that I am not talking about time here. Another guy was named Garmi (Hindi for heat). Yet another name was Pumper.

When my turn came, I was more or less assured that my name would definitely have something to do with a horse.

"Karthik Laxman. His fantasy involved him riding a dark horse, and ambushing a couple..." the dorm rep spoke out.

I had already begun to visualize a tall muscular dark horse, galloping away towards the horizon, its magnificient mane dancing to the tunes of the wind.

"We thought we could name him ghoda.."

The dark horse throws his head and utters a triumphant neigh, drawing awestruck glances from the other species.

"But we thought that the name didnt suit his personality..."

The horse freezes mid-neigh. Wait a minute. What the...

"So we decided on the name Tattu." (Hindi for pony).

fuck !

My tall, muscular, neighing, dark horse suddenly shrunk to a pale, shivering pony. Gone were the muscles. Gone was the splendid mane. The frightened creature tottered to its feet and let out a little yelp.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Staying Alive.

"You have committed a crime today."


"What were we discussing now?"

"I dont know Sir."


"Sir, I dozed off."

Introducing to you, Section D's new sleep(ing) manager, Ravi.

The man, the superhuman, the dude who had the temerity to drift off in one of the most unlikeliest classes - HR. (Refer to my earlier post to get an idea of how an HR class is like.)

Ravi sits in one of the corners of the C shaped benches, comfortably away from the professor's view most of the times. Most.

If you ever feel sleepy in a class, which I assure you, you will, just take a look at Ravi. Watch his eyes and forehead play tug of war, each trying to drag the eyebrows towards itself. Often his neck enters the picture, tilting his head almost onto the shoulders of the lady TA who would sit next to him. You'd stop feeling sleepy and start laughing.

This is, I guess, one of his responsibilities as the sleep manager. The other responsibility is probably to divert the attention of the professor by getting caught often and in the process save all the others who might be drifting off. We're still working on the list.

These are the kind of things which keep the people here inches away from the tempting grasp of insanity.

When your batchmates have all been toppers or outstanding achievers all their lives, you know you are gonna find the competition getting to you. You might have been a topper yourself all your life, but there's every chance that you fail here.

A lot of people face a rude reality check in their first few weeks in IIM Ahmedabad. Going through such a phase is not easy. It will leave your self esteem humbled and your ego shattered. But thats okay. Only when you get depressed and feel like giving up, you have a problem.

We had 4 surprise quizzes this week. When I returned to my dorm after the first quiz the situation was something like this.

Oka: Arey O Samba ! How did the test go ?

Samba: I have to tell you this man !

Oka: What happened?

Samba: I knew that there would be a quiz today. I prepared hard and I wrote every damn thing that was asked. I mean, I predicted that there would be a quiz today.

Oka: Hey, thats cool man. Good for you !

The day I had the second quiz, the conversation went something like this.

Oka: Samba dude. How did it go ?

Samba: My prediction tool is awesome man !

Oka: Oh, you predicted this quiz as well ?

Samba: You bet ! Tell you what, I am gonna make this prediction tool and sell it for $1000 a package. Our dorm mates could have it for free, as part of dorm loyalty.

Oka: Ha ha. So you cracked it today as well, huh ?

Samba: Ummm, I just predicted that there would be a test. I didnt prepare for it. I told my group mate. He prepared for it and cracked it out of shape.

Oka: Ohh.

Samba: But who cares man. I have a prediction tool which works !

So long as we all are happy.
After the third surprise quiz, as usual I asked Samba.

Oka: Hey, did you predict the quiz today ?

Samba: Shit man, I have a small correction to make in the tool. I wrongly assumed that if there's no class of a particular subject on a particular day, there wouldnt be a quiz on it the same day. I have to add an extra constraint to my tool now.

Oka: Hmm. I see.

On Friday, during the final class of the day, when we were fidgeting in our seats waiting for the professor to finish and usher in the much awaited weekend, we realised that there was going to be yet another surprise quiz.

By now, comfortably numb to such surprises, (Indeed, its not a surprise quiz if you are gonna have it every day) we had little trouble in giving the quiz, flunking it and forgetting all about it.

I return to my dorm to find Samba lying half naked in his room (representing the weekend freedom perhaps), reading the newspaper.

Oka: Hey... you are all dressed up. Whats up man ?

Samba: (reading from the newspaper) London stands united. It takes a bomb for these people to be united. Assholes.

Oka: Bomb in London ? What are you saying ? When was this ?

Samba: A couple of days back. Terrorists blew up the subway. A dozen dead and a lot many hurt.

Oka: Is it Al-Qaeda ?

Samba: Who else?

Oka: Man, we should hire them to drop a bomb over this place.

Samba: I doubt if it would make too much difference. Profs would still hold quizzes among ruins.

Oka: Right. Forget it all man. (I turned to go back to my room)

Oka: (turning back to him) Hey, what happened to the quiz? How did the prediction go?

Samba: Fuck the prediction tool. And fuck the quiz. I am gonna sleep.

Oka: Right. I am gonna go blog.

I clicked opened the lock on the door and entered my room. I turned towards a paper I had pinned up on the wall, and put a cross on it. The third one in a row.

Three weeks over.

I am still alive.

Monday, July 11, 2005

To put a point across...

When you have group meetings all afternoon where you discuss Operations and juggle around with numbers, trying to figure out how the production engineer in your team worked out which one is the bottle neck...

When you spend all your evening trying hard to find insights into the Human Resources case which, in your opinion dont exist, but would seem all too obvious when the prof brings it out in the class the next day...

When you spend all night working out the accounting problems, exhausting a couple of pens and a bunch of paper in the process and then at about 4 AM drift fitfully off to sleep, only to be interrupted by nightmarish visions of balance sheets with you under liabilities and the system under assets, the sheet as usual not balancing...

... the only place left where you dont do any studying and therefore potentially is a place to sleep, is the class.

But the greatest amount of learning happens in the class, and you lose out a lot if you doze off. So what do you do to not miss all that learning ?

The answer is, dont worry about it. The profs will make sure that you dont drift off.

Typically (and especially in HR) the prof enters the class and goes on a spree of cold calling - picking on all those who exactly at that moment, pore into their notebooks trying to find that elusive case fact or those who take notes with a furiousity which they never knew was there in them.

Try sleeping then.

If you have a prof-view-zone antenna and manage to open your eyes just in time when the prof turns around to look at you, and nod your head as if there could be no one apart from you who has grasped better the essentials of what he just said....

Try answering the question he asks you and try defending it.

These are some of my observations and take aways from today's HR class. The class is one of a kind. You'd be ruthlessly ridiculed, embarassed and mocked in front of 80 odd people, but at the end of the class, you'd still want to bow down in front of the prof and say "Respect."

Enough of theory. Look at what happened in the last couple of classes.

(The first case is about a chip manufacturing company which has to meet high quality standards.)

Student A: Sir, the problem they are facing is that theyare not hiring properly. They should hire the best talent.

Sir: You have a room with a machine in there. The worker's job is to come in the morning, switch it on, look at the machine all day, and then switch it off in the evening. Do you need best talent for that ?

Student A: No Sir...

Sir: Come on, its absolutely ridiculous ! You dont need the best talent for that. You need a duffer for that.

Student B: Sir, I think the employees should be motivated.

Sir: How will you motivate a guy whose job is to switch a machine on and off all day? Will you ask him to keep looking at the button and derive motivation from that ?

Student B: But...

Sir: No, no, no. Your capacity to think is limited.


Sir: Okay, what are the implications of a rating system ? Where the employees are not ranked with respect to each other, but are given grades rather.

Student C: Sir, there wouldnt be much competition, and they wouldnt work as well as they would if they had been ranked with respect to each other.
(You cant blame the guy. Just a while back, the ranking system was discussed where it was concluded that it brings out good solid work from the employees. But look what shut him up.)

Sir: Do you think that the professors in IIM-A arent doing their jobs well ?

Student C: Umm...

Sir: Twice a year, I get rated and some sort of a raise. Because of that, do you think I am not doing my job well ?

(The second case is about an international hotel resort company which has a high employee - read GO - turnover problem.)

Student D: Sir, they shouldnt fire all at once. If they could do it in intervals, maybe they wouldnt find it so hard to find replacements.

Sir: (who had his back to her till then, turns around slowly) Do you know, there are two ways to cut a chicken. One is the jhatka wherein they chop off the head in a second, and the other is the halaal where they cut the neck slowly. Which is more painful ?

Student D: (No response.)

Student E: Sir, the GOs are probably having differences with the customers and end up fighting with them where they should be polite.

Sir: What if the customer wants to fight? What if he likes a bit of aggression ?

Student E: Sir, the customers are sophisticated people.

Sir: How did you know that ?

Student E: Its given in the case that their average age is around 37.

Sir: Oh, even after all these years, I still dont think I am sophisticated !

Student E: (obviously no response.)

Student F: Sir, they arent conducting any exit interviews. That way they are losing out on some useful feedback.

Sir: Who should conduct the exit interview ?

Student F: The chief, Sir.

Sir: Oh, the chief is the one who fires them, and he should conduct the exit interview ? What feedback do you think the GO will give him ? He will tell him that he's an idiot.

(and now the clincher.)

Student G: Sir, the problem is that they arent assessing the candidate properly when they hire them.

Sir: What should they do?

Student G: The candidates should know the type of job they are going to be involved in.

Sir: Do you know IIM-A ?

Student G: If they could assess the GOs properly before they hire them, they wouldnt find them incompetent later on.

Sir: In the half an hour that I interviewed you after CAT, was I able to assess that you'd give such stupid answers in the class later on ?

Respect man. Respect.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Mills and Goons.

The best few hours in a day in IIM-A are, quite counter-intuitively, the classes. The professors are extremely intelligent and immensely capable of forcing you to think the right way. This, they do through questions, interrogation, ragging, mockery and ridicule often bordering on the outrageous. Sometimes, you end up being the laughing stock of the class. But thats something the professors are especially fair about. Everyone gets his or her chance to be laughed at.

To give you a background of the case (its always a case) we were discussing today, there's this company whose mill in Indiana is old and overstaffed with people who arent exactly productivity gurus. This mill is running into heavy losses and is offsetting the profits the company makes in its other mills. The decision to be taken by the case actor is whether to spend a considerable sum of money to modernize the place or to shut it down, the dilemma in the latter option being the town's heavy dependence on the mill for its survival.

Of course, if there's some other innovative idea the class comes up with, it would be discussed and built upon.

Here's an excerpt from the discussion in the class. (I really really wish I could record the whole thing so that I can reproduce it all here. Now you will get to hear just a tiny fraction of it.)

Student A: Sir, the building at Indiana is five storeyed, whereas the mills at the other places are much smaller and hence more productive.

Sir: So, you are suggesting we chop off the top three floors.

(Scattered laughter)

Student A: No sir, we dont use all the floors for the operation. Maybe the other floors can be lent out and used to generate some other form of revenue.

Sir: Oh, you mean we open a restaurant on the fourth floor and a disco on the fourth floor so that all the people in the town come and dance ?


Student B: But sir, we have to remember that the town is under economic depression. So it might not be possible to generate revenue like this.

Sir: Yeah, they are all depressed people. So how about this, lets get a psychiatrist there, and then all the depressed people can come in and seek counselling thereby generating revenue. We can also open a disco on the top floor and keep the depressed people happy. Indiana would be the only place in the United States where the depressed people are happy.

(A roar goes around the room. After the laughter's died down...)

Student C: Sir, the problem with this place is that the people are not productive. Every employee should be under vigil by their superiors and should be told that if they dont work they would be gone.

Sir: So, we should put a gun to the workers and say "Work, otherwise I will shoot you !" and the production will shoot up. (He points his forefinger at the temple of a student on the front row, and nearly startles him)

Student C: No, Sir..

Sir: Actually, it might work. If the labourer doesnt work, his supervisor will have to shoot him, and since the supervisor's boss would have a gun on the supervisor, he would have to shoot him as well, since there's no labourer to do the work. We might avoid the lay offs and get rid of the labour problem completely, without having to pay a dime by way of severance pay.

(Students take a while to recover.)

Student D: Sir, how about sending some of the people in this mill to the other mills which are doing well. They can get trained there and we would avoid the problem of lay offs too.

Sir: Hmm.. essentially you are proposing the parasite model. These are the people who have sucked the mill dry. And you want to send these people to the other healthy mills telling them, "Go to those healthy fat mills. They have a lot of blood. You can suck them to your hearts content". Ultimately, the bloodsuckers will suck the life out of every mill, drown the towns in depression and we can close down.

(This time, there's quite a gap before the student retorts. I am clutching my sides.)

Sir: You think, the other mills will accept such people ?

Student D: No Sir, those people can be given some time, in which they can be monitored and if they arent good, the management of those mills can fire them.

Sir: Oh, this is even better. Instead of killing the parasites ourselves, we export the parasites, export depression and then let those people kill them. Thereby we solve all the problems.

(Another uproar, and this time the noise culminates in a uniform thumping of desks. The point of the day, however, is yet to come.)

Student E: Sir, why dont we sell everything to a competitor ?