Managing Management – Mentored By My Mentee – SPJIMR Mumbai
What is Abhyudaya? It was in my second group interview that I first heard of this term. One of my co-interviewees had mentioned it as one of the factors that differentiated SPJIMR from every other college in the country. Despite my (seemingly) extensive pre-interview research, I had no idea what it meant. So, I did the most natural thing – I nodded my head vigorously and hoped that the interviewers moved on to other topics (hint: they did not).
A month into my college schedule, I was once again reminded of Abhyudaya via an email. We were being invited to Hastantaran, an event in which we were to be introduced to our mentees. One night before this event, the only thing I knew about my mentee (or sitara, in SPJIMR parlance) was her name and the time slot in which I was supposed to meet her. Still, that did not prevent me from cribbing aloud that 8 am on a Sunday morning was not the ideal time to meet someone new. The next morning, I woke up about eleven minutes before the reporting time, and trudged along sleepily to our auditorium, not quite knowing what to expect.
Over the next four hours, I was subjected to experiences that were as eye-opening as they were entertaining. First, we were treated to some amazing singing performances and skits by the kids, who covered everything from patriotism to social ills in their acts. Next up, we were provided with a page-long summary of our mentee’s life history. As it turned out, it was the first year for my sitara as part of the Abhyudaya programme. One thing that was very evident from looking at her summary was that she was a bright student – she had done very well in competitive examinations like Homi Bhabha and Ganit Sambodh. Having participated in these competitions before, I felt somewhat reassured, as if I was venturing into known territory. We quickly forged a rapport that I myself was surprised with. As we waited for her friend’s mother to pick her up, she started telling me about her other friends, likes and dislikes, and I took an instant liking to this small bundle of energy.
During Hastantaran, there were a couple of moments that stayed with me. One was when I handed her a chocolate (I was advised by my best friend to do so). Elated, she told me that she loved chocolates. However, she did not open the wrapper, saying that she would eat it with her mother. Another was when we were discussing home visits. She mentioned that I would not like coming to her house, as it was very small. It was very easy to forget that my mentee came from an underprivileged upbringing, because of her happy outlook and smiling demeanour. But, moments such as these were short, painful reminders of her impoverished background.
Since Hastantaran, I have visited my sitara’s house three times, and each time she has made me pause and think about seemingly trivial things. On my first visit, I picked her up from a school near SPJIMR, and it started raining cats and dogs while we were walking towards her home. As usual, I had not carried an umbrella, and I was concerned about my sitara, as she told me she had had a fever for the last two-three days. Luckily, she was carrying her raincoat. “I had seen how cloudy it was in the morning and decided to carry my raincoat”, she told me. It had never even occurred to me to think about looking skywards before leaving for the day. She then proceeded to tell me about her “duffer” cousin who never carried an umbrella. Implicitly, she was calling me a duffer as well, and I must say, in my drenched state, I agreed with her. My next visit was on her birthday – I tried gifting her chocolates again but she refused to accept more than two (one for her and one for her mother). In my last visit, I found out her goal in life – to be a doctor. She was constantly reassuring her mother that she would earn a scholarship, thus nullifying the high fees that they might have to incur for her education. Her maturity was far beyond her age, and I began to realize why our mentees were called sitaras.
In many aspects, my sitara is very similar to the 12-year old me. We are both fiercely independent learners – she felt that she would be better off studying alone rather than having me as a tutor – which is something I can identify with. She is very close to her mother. She loves reading and talking with a passion. Her style of talking, too, is reminiscent of how I used to converse, with a lot of storytelling elements woven into her conversations. Lastly, we share a common distaste for getting clicked. When she told me that she hated posing for photographs, I was immediately reminded of the following lines from the song Jo Bhi Main (from the movie Rockstar):
Maine yehi socha hai aksar
tu bhi main bhi sabhi hain sheeshe
khud hi ko hum sabhi mein dekhen
(I have thought of this often,
What are we, but mirrors?
Looking for our own self in others)
Despite the differences in the circumstances we grew up in, on several occasions, I could see myself in my sitara, and this was perhaps the bedrock of our relationship.
And this experience has not been unique to me – almost everyone I have spoken to has reiterated the same. Here are a few responses I received echo this sentiment:
“I understood the importance of necessity. Necessity is not only the mother of invention but also the father of instigation. Back then, during my school days, I studied out of love for the subjects but this boy is studying for a purpose. His mother wanted her son to study well so that they could get out of poverty – and that was his purpose.”
“I slung an arm around her and casually asked her what was up in her life. I stood shell-shocked when she replied back that her sister’s engagement was in an hour. I asked her if she really wanted to even study. My sister had got engaged in Feb this year and I remember the month of planning that had gone into it and how I had been driven to distraction by it.
And here was this little one, seemingly so chill with her sister’s engagement starting at 5 pm.”
“As I walked back, I thought about the kind of conditions these people had to survive in. I’ve always tried to make sure that my actions are minded by the kind of privilege I had by virtue of the house I’m born into and yet, how little I had been actually aware of the reality. I marvelled at her tenacity and her will to study harder. Internally I promised myself that I’d do whatever little I can, to make sure that nothing stops this little one from touching the zeniths and beyond.”
So, now that it has been three months since I was first introduced to my sitara, I can venture an attempt at my original question – What is Abhyudaya? The word itself means prosperity or sunrise, depending on which Google search I rely upon. However, to me, it goes far beyond its literal meaning. Abhyudaya is a journey of hope. It is an experience that exposes you to urban poverty. For far too long, I cast a blind eye to the issues faced by the poor, both literally and metaphorically. When I was younger, I used to feel strongly about working towards the upliftment of the poor – this used to happen every single time a beggar approached my vehicle. However, as I grew up, my idealism diminished, and I got used to simply blocking them out of my vision (and mind). However, with Abhyudaya, I was (in a way) forced to confront these very issues. I have to come to realize that while I may not end up being a messiah, even a small contribution – like lending an eager ear to my sitara’s stories or giving her access to internet resources can go a long way in forming a healthy mindset for these kids.
But, even more importantly, Abhyudaya has exposed us to the ambition of the underprivileged. It has helped foster a feeling of social responsibility and humility amongst the mentors. Personally, it has made me more cognizant of the kind of opportunities that have come my way and has given me renewed confidence to deal with difficulties. After all, if my sitara can do it, then so can I!