It was a sweltering summer day. The mirage made it appear as if we were floating in a sea of superheated liquid rather than driving down a highway in Chittaurgarh in Rajasthan. We marvelled at how beautifully deadly the rolling sand dunes were on either side. Hailing from Kerala myself, this was as alien a landscape as I could ever encounter. My driver told me in a crisp Jaipur accent that we would be stopping at the next shanty on the way as he had to feed the goats that accompanied us in this rather uneasy journey. I agreed readily as the insides of the 1995 mini-truck had started to emanate a weird concocted smell of fuel, sweat and paan. The next shanty that we came across was a typical highway stopover. A banyan tree occupied the position of pride, a small run-down dhaba that warned us to stay hungry and a small brick room by the side. I sat down under the banyan and waited for the goats to be fed. I noticed a group of 4 children. They were impeccably dressed in uniforms and on approaching me, I learned that they were speaking English. Bewildered, I noticed them walking into the small room by the dhaba. Not able to contain my inquisitiveness, I followed them. It was then that the rising sun logo of Aditya Birla Group came to my notice. It wasn’t an imposing mark of the group, just a small cardboard-cut logo hung near the entrance. Inside were about 12 children of around 8 to 9 years of age sitting in a very basic learning environment. The walls were covered in alphabets and quotes. I stood there trying to gauge the sheer remarkability of the view. I was in the middle of nowhere, a place where I wouldn’t have stopped if not for the goats, and here I find a classroom where the children speak excellent English. I don’t know how Aditya Birla Group got here, I don’t know how they managed to find teachers to work here and above all, I don’t know how they felt they had to do this. I learned they have English strengthening courses throughout the country. This wasn’t a one-off, and it changed my idea of corporate responsibility. Because this was more than that. This was a genuine effort to educate children in the remotest corner. I can only hope that I stumble upon another shanty in another corner of this country which Aditya Birla Group is transforming.
HOW I OVERCAME A PERSONAL CHALLENGE
It was while I was working in UAE that I decided to appear for the MBA entrance exams to get into any of the premier B-schools in India. I was working as the site in-charge in a very important section of the Abu Dhabi Midfield Terminal Building Project which was a part of the Abu Dhabi International Airport. The work was extremely exhaustive and there were people from many Arab countries, North Africa, and South East Asia working under me. Managing them, with their cultural baggage and the language barrier was a herculean task for a fresh graduate like myself, leaving me little to no time for my preparation. It is quite ironical because dealing with this extremely diverse workforce was what goaded me into pursuing an MBA in the first place. I had a nearly 16 hour day job and when one considers the fact that it was out in the open under the Arab sun, the exhaustion became manifold. But I pushed myself to the limit, using the night time to get as much studies done as possible as my roommate snored away. But I failed. In 2017, I failed to clear any exam. I don’t cry a lot, no, I don’t cry at all. But that day I did. The amount of work that I had put in was not deserving of this failure. But I knew I couldn’t give up. The amount of work that I had put in needed closure. Within two months I started my preparation for 2018. I literally dragged myself through the entire practice once again, always fearing what a second failure would do to me. I started getting more responsibilities at work and found out that it was getting more hectic, impossible as it may seem. I underwent extremely tumultuous periods where I gave up multiple times. But in 2018, it all came to fruition. I cleared my IIFT exams and got into IIFT Kolkata. Everything that I went through was a reasonable payment for this experience. Overcoming that toughest phase pushed me to the edge. I was unsure of my career, my future and myself. But it seems all you really need to do is push against the door a tiny bit more and it will come ajar.