Life Of A 100% Visually-Impaired Student At IIM Calcutta – Ritesh Agarwal
They say every story inside an IIM is a success story. Truly so. Here is the story of Ritesh Agarwal. Ritesh is currently a PGP1 student of Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. I know Ritesh from the very early days in this course.
This short interview was recorded over a half an hour tea session in front of one of the symbolic tea joints inside the scenic campus of IIM Calcutta.
Hi Ritesh. Would you mind introducing yourself?
I am Ritesh Agarwal. I am a graduate in commerce. Passed out in 2018 from Gauhati University. As my name suggests I am Marwari, but I have been born and brought up in the beautiful city of Guwahati. This is the first time I have parted from my parents.
I came to Calcutta with lots of hope as well as anxiety. Hope that a new career was waiting for me. Anxiety in the sense that not only it was the first time for me leaving home but also because I am a visually impaired candidate. While in Guwahati I received a lot of support. But I had no idea how disabled-friendly the campus would be. I had known that for physical disabilities it was fine but had no idea how friendly the campus infrastructure would be for a 100% blind candidate.
Also, my parents were in doubt whether so much pressure of MBA, which people used to tell, I’d be able to handle or not.
When I reached the campus I only knew 4-5 persons from my batch. With two of them, I kept in touch since my interview day. Few others I came into contact through the Conclave program, that the institute organized after the final calls were sent out. When I came I was accompanied by my parents. The day they left I actually cried. I called one of my friends from Assam, who also joined IIM Calcutta. I have good company here.
In the initial days, what challenges did you face?
In the beginning, lots of challenges were there. First was the food. Not the taste of it rather the fact that I cannot take my own food. In the first few days, I would always call someone to accompany me to the dining hall, who would serve me. Then after a week, the mess workers saw me and they volunteered to serve me. This incident made me feel that people are caring here and gave me a sense of independence.
In the classes, the teachers were new. Peers were new. But during admission, I got a lot of help from my peers. They themselves approached me to help me. My forms were all filled by my friends, some of whom were just a stranger to me probably a minute before that.
What about the classes? And the notes?
Here my way of study has totally changed. In my graduation, I have studied through recordings. There in my study group, I would sit with my friends and they would record the parts that they studied. While studying accounting I’d tell them how I think it should be done and they would check whether that’s correct.
I didn’t use the JAWS software during my graduation. The notes would usually be given verbally. No PDF or PowerPoint would be handed out. Hence JAWS wouldn’t be useful anyways. But I was still learning to access JAWS to run such software as Word, PowerPoint, Excel etc.
Before I came here I knew that here nobody would be able to take time and record notes for me. So after I joined the classes first thing I did was I asked permission to record the lectures, which I was given. But I found out that here classes are of 90 mins while in graduation classes were of 45 mins. Even if I did 90 mins recording it would be utterly tedious to listen to them afterwards. I had to abandon the idea.
Here I found that all the course materials were available in PDF form also professors would hand out PowerPoints. All these would work well with JAWS. The problem occurred for Statistics, Economics etc., which were visual subjects with lots of graphs.
I came to know that there are tutors in IIMC (PGP2s or FPs who volunteer to provide guidance), but I didn’t know what they teach and how they teach.
In the first term, we got the same tutors for all DA (differently abled) students. There would be 3-4 tutors for all DA students. But I asked them that I and 2 others would need individual tutors because we couldn’t read the questions. This is due to the fact that for quantitative subjects JAWS is not very useful.
The PGP-rep himself volunteered to be our tutor for Statistics. While teaching us, he learned how we study. Then from the second term onwards each of us was given individual tutors. Each tutor would devote his/her complete time to one student only. It was extremely helpful. In Statistics, which used to be my weakest subject, I secured a 7-point score, which was above average.
What about the academic pressure?
While going through the course I learned the breakneck pace at which things are taught in this institute. Since I had a commerce background I knew how we were taught accounting in graduation. After I came here I saw them teach the whole concept of “Journal, Ledger and Trial Balance” in a single session. In that class, I struggled to keep myself from laughing because we learned and practiced the same topics over a period of 8 months to almost a year, and here we were learning it in mere 90 minutes.
I was laughing but I was also afraid. Although CFRA was my field of expertise, what about other subjects? What if in Statistics, they taught a year’s concept in a session? I was scared to think how much effort I’d have to put to keep up. I’ll again thank the tutors. Not only the official tutors, but there were also many PGP2s who simply volunteered to teach and clarify doubts.
Also about getting a scribe, in Guwahati, I knew almost everyone. It was easy to arrange for a scribe. I was not sure about such things here. But I was assured that the institute will arrange for it. That was a huge relief for me. Then I could gradually focus on my studies and got acquainted with the system.
Do you think this course transformed you as a person?
In a lot of ways. Before coming here, I was a mamma’s child. I hardly took any big decision. Whatever came I’d ask my mother first, and whatever she would tell, I’d do. After coming here that changed. Now you cannot ask your mother every time something arises, can you? So after coming here, that is something that transformed within me.
I saw people. Each coming from such diverse backgrounds. Everyone with their own difficulties. Notwithstanding, they are striving for success. Also, I heard stories about people landing into great jobs despite their struggles. The support that I got from PGP2s, FPs, and my peers was in a word, unprecedented. I met with so many people including PGDBA and PGPX students. This exposure gave me such a huge networking opportunity that I simply couldn’t imagine.
You wouldn’t believe that I didn’t hear about McKinsey, Bain, BCG and AT Kearney. For us, Big 4 used to be Deloitte, KPMG, PWC, E&Y. Before coming here, I couldn’t have imagined getting into companies whose turnovers are in the range of thousands of crores. Also, not only the façade of the firm but I was also unaware of the culture within such big corporate houses. During my IIM interviews, I didn’t wear a blazer. But after coming here I learned the importance of such things.
What about the placements?
In the first year, we have placement for summer internships. As I already said I had no experience in the corporate world. My uncle has a factory. From there, I have learned a thing or two about the plywood industry. In college, my internship was in an NGO. So the corporate world was absolutely new to me. Managing everything along was a little bit difficult. I didn’t have to make a CV before. Also here I heard about separate CVs for finance and marketing.
My biggest dilemma was whether to focus on finance or marketing. Being from a commerce background I had exposure to both the domains. Moreover, I didn’t know what exactly to put in the CV. Here also mentors helped a lot. I learned how to express oneself. I believe knowledge and skills are two different things. You may have the knowledge but if you don’t have the skills to convey that to the outside world, then your knowledge won’t have an adequate impact; in a way, your knowledge won’t be fully utilized. I learned this through this placement process.
You see, my story is a little emotional. But I didn’t want to show it that way. It should not look begging for sympathy. It was really crucial for me. I didn’t want to convey the message that since I cannot see, that is why please take me. Rather I wanted to relay that I am a meritorious candidate, I am the Gauhati university topper. Hence I should be selected basis my merit and not my disability. So finding the right balance while framing my answers to tell my story without asking for sympathy was tricky, and that is what I learned through the process.
Would you like to share your placement day experience?
On the day of placement GD (group discussion), everyone needed a tracker. All my wines were already tracking someone else. I saw in my section group someone taking initiative to arrange a tracker for whoever is left out so far. I really felt the section support that day. There was at least a person tracking me all through the day, and he/she never left the premise of the room in which I was having the GD.
In the Mahindra GD, they gave a completely different topic. Each participant was asked to talk about one inspirational figure in their lives, discuss upon it for 20 mins and in the last 30 seconds, the group would be asked to decide whose story was most inspiring. Almost 8 out of 12, including me, told about their mothers; and every story was heart touching. That was a very emotional moment for me. I found it little distracting as well. Because on one hand you are having a GD for a job interview and on the other hand you are overwhelmed by emotions.
My story was different in the sense my mother is also visually impaired, and I have been immensely inspired by her. I told about the teachings she has given me about how to become self-dependent in society. I have seen her – she is a self-dependent woman. In the end, I’d say almost half of the group had chosen my story as the best while others were mostly like “we can’t decide”. Even the moderator of the GD himself said: “Ritesh, your story was very good”. I personally believe everyone’s story was great.
How did the interview go?
In the interview, they asked me how I’ll be able to serve. They thought I can’t see the paper, hence how I shall read it and do my work. I told them that I can access them through the digital platform. Digital media and technology, in general, have been a boon for me. It’s a gift of God for me. And it’s because of this that I have become a self-reliant person to a large extent.
They also asked me that since I am not a chartered accountant and the role was a finance role why should they select me over others. I told them that although I am not a chartered accountant, I have a zeal to learn. There were five months from then before the internship started. I asked them about their requirements and I said that I won’t let them complain about that during my internship. They asked me some of the concepts from finance. I could answer some. I couldn’t answer a few. I told them that I hadn’t learned them yet. It was my first corporate interview and I cleared it.
What were your thoughts before entering the interview room?
I remember the night before the interview. I totally broke down. I was thinking among other things, whether I could do better if I had a vision. I mean I was self-dependent and all but not 100% self-dependent. So I was worried lest I have to accept my condition as a constraint.
I have lived both lives. Before the 11th standard, I could see. So I kept thinking whether I could have a better chance at it if I had my earlier self. I consider myself a very positive person. But that night I couldn’t stop the thoughts. I kept thinking what if I don’t get a good firm, or the firm doesn’t have the right infrastructure etc. When my mother called I couldn’t stop the tears. My mother said “Why are you crying? The company shall take you.” I asked her what if the recruiters don’t know that I can read and do most of the tasks without help, and what if they consider me a burden. She said, “You have lived so many months in the institute and you have performed so well that no one considers you a burden. So the recruiters too won’t consider you so.”
After the interview when I called her back she couldn’t stop the tears. She told me that I would get a good firm and I cracked the first interview that I sat for.
Looking back how do you find the journey to be?
Right now I am really excited about the internship. I have received communication from Mahindra. I am leaving for Mumbai on 13th March. My internship starts on the 2nd of April. Retrospectively, the journey in the last year was much of a rollercoaster journey. I have improved my GPA from 6 to 6.7 in the last two terms. Wish to achieve 7 in term 3. I like the way FP students do their research here. Gaining inspiration from them I am doing my own term paper.
I believe that failure and success is a part and parcel of our lives. So even though I had very little chance of getting into CEMS, I applied, gave an interview and got rejected. My philosophy is that: Go for it. If you want it then try. At least you’ll not regret that you have not tried. If you fail then you should be happy that at least you tried; and if you really want to do it, then why not try again? I don’t feel that I cannot do anything. I can do most of the things. In fact, everything. And I am willing to take any challenge for that.
So what’s next Ritesh?
I have heard from a lot of people that they get inspired by me. I have been featured twice in the leading Hindi daily of North East India, “Dainik Purvoday” – the first time when I secured admission in IIM Calcutta and a second time when I topped my university. I feel that if I can bring a single person from depression to hope, my life would be a success.
I want to I keep achieving new challenges so that this series of motivation goes on. I aspire to become a motivating figure like Helen Keller. Other than my mother, Helen Keller is my idol. I am blessed with listening and speaking skills. I can at least express myself through words. Helen Keller couldn’t do that. Moreover, at that time there were no such technologies. Despite that, she learned swimming, horse riding and wrote many books. Yes, she is an idol for me. She never gave up in her life. Hellen Keller, Louis Braille, Károly Takács, when I read about them I want to be more like them – never giving up on my goals.