Change is the only constant in life, and this was one lesson that I acquiesced in. My father serves in the army and frequent postings is a feature of army life. This meant that I had to embrace new schools, friends, and cultures very often. As a child, it never was easy to assimilate so many changes. But now when I come to think of it, I realize how this helped me in more ways than I had ever imagined. It helped me polish the art of ‘spotting opportunities’ and making them count. The sports bug bit me very early in my childhood and I could not do without sports. I learnt tennis in Jammu, swimming in Delhi, golf in Secunderabad, squash in Bangalore; because it was the best that these places had to offer. More often than not, these opportunities did not come easy, I stretched myself to avail them. As a 8 year old, I went to the swimming pool at 6 am to practice; with no one to coach, I spent hours at the tennis wall in Jammu.
There was more to my childhood than sports. Yes, I went to school too. Schools to be honest. As many as 8 of them. My parents were big believers of quality education and were uncompromising on it. I was sent to the best schools but that wasn’t always possible as many a times my father got posted to tier 3 cities too. While I fell in love with the eloquence of idiomatic English of my friends in Bangalore, I learnt to appreciate the charm of rustic vernacular in Mamun; while I perfected the nuances of social etiquettes in Delhi, I celebrated the exuberance of life in Pathankot. This helped me learn one of the most important life lessons yet, that of appreciating the diversity that envelops us and imbibing the best from different cultures while retaining the little idiosyncrasies that make me unique. Within my school I participated in almost every activity: quizzes, elocutions etc., and never shied away from being the prefect or the sports captain. Unknowingly, I was unearthing the true essence of school education; constantly broadening the horizons of my knowledge and perfecting my skill set.
All this while my academic performance was top drawer. I had done rather well in the school olympiads, national exams like NTSE. Soon I passed out of the 10th grade and had to decide on what stream to pursue further.
My first real brush with engineering was encapsulated within the army workshops. This was when I formed the nascent idea of pursuing engineering. Besides, I always swooned at the thought of building a new device . Thus, choosing non medical sciences was a very natural choice for me. As my father was posted in Pathankot, my mother decided to move to Chandigarh for my coaching for the hallowed IITs . I probably studied more in the two years that followed than the 10 years of my schooling combined before this. Though, it sounds like a scary prospect but I surely enjoyed every bit of it. The coaching institutes often draw a lot of flak for institutionalizing rot learning but in my very humble opinion these two years tantalized my brain. Apart from the academic rigor, I shall remember these two years for some wonderful friendships I forged. We discussed for long on phone and in classes the nuances of concepts any of us may not have understood. This was when the power of peer learning dawned upon me. As days turned into weeks and weeks into years I soon gave the IIT-JEE exam and was jubilant on seeing the results. I chose to study mechanical engineering at IIT Kanpur, the reasons being manifold. I had a rather inexplicable aversion to study electrical engineering yet the desire to build a new device (and I was quite sure that it wasn’t a passing fancy ) had not faded if anything it had grown stronger.
Exulting in my success on having cleared the JEE, I was quick to realize that this would be a fleeting high. As I stepped into the next phase of my journey (4 years of college), I was sure it was going to transform me whether for the better or for the worse, contingent on the choices I made. This is where the role of a mentor in one’s life becomes so important. They help ensure that your hubris doesn’t become your hamartia. I realized that college life was massively different from school life, the options at our disposal are much broader, the reins of control a lot more slackened. This is one’s chance to challenge the status quo and the shibboleths, and it always helps to have a mentor who can help one come out of the rarefied bubble that one may otherwise live in. I had my share of mentors, mostly seniors from college.
At college, it was my constant endeavour to find that one thing I would want to do in life. I took up research projects under professors, went for a research internship to University Of Tokyo only to realize that while I enjoyed solving the problem at hand on each of my project it wasn’t something that I would want to do for a very long time, as I thought academic research was very slow moving and I lacked the patience for it. Then I decided to explore how an industry works. I interned at Unilever, Leeds, U.K. and was handed a project on inventory optimization. It was one of the most eye opening experiences to learn about the operations, logistics, and R&D that goes into things we take for granted. My take away from the internship however, was the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed problem solving and strategizing, not so much spending time on the shop floor. Even while I played sports, what I enjoyed the most was the challenge of competing against a stronger opponent and strategizing, solving for how to get the , better of him. Engineering too is about problem solving. By now I was very clear, I wanted to set sail on a career in a field which involved problem solving, strategizing at its very core. Also, I am a strong believer in the philosophy of being a student for life and there is no better means to learn than from your peers, an important lesson I learnt way back in class 12. The role of a consultant at McKinsey & Co provided all that I ever looked for. After preparing hard for my interviews I was besides myself to have been extended an offer to join the firm.
Amidst all these internships, I made sure my academic learning was never compromised and also I never missed out on sports. While I was always scoring top grades in college, sports remained an integral part of my daily schedule ; I won plenty of medals for the institute in squash and tennis and was recognized by the students gymkhana for the same. I was not going to miss out on the very reason I took up mechanical engineering, ‘the desire to build a device on my own’. In my final year at college I designed and built a dual axis solar tracker. The convocation ceremony was a validation of my efforts, I was awarded:
1. The best bachelors project (solving a common man’s problem) award
2. For academic excellence in mechanical engineering
The convocation ceremony marked the end of yet another chapter in the book I treasure the most, the book of my life.
Walking out of college, I realized a lot of my learning and interaction in the past few years had been limited to the engineering sciences and people within this domain. However, a few years ahead, I imagine myself as a leader with a holistic world view and for that to happen my learning needs to be more comprehensive. Network Capital (NC), is one platform that transcends professional and national boundaries. It has on board some of the most brilliant minds from the most diverse fields who are ever willing to help, and I experienced that first hand when I received meaningful help and direction on a post of mine where I sought clarification for a cousin, who was an OCI, wanting to represent India in olympics. Hats off to Utkarsh Amitabh for bringing togetheron one single platform, people from the upper echelons of all worlds. The very tenets of NC resonate with the fundamental beliefs I hold.
The Mentor India programme, Atal Innovation Mission on which NC is working closely with the NITI Aayog, gives me the opportunity to explore different avenues and grow holistically.