‘The only thing that motivated me was my desire to attend school’ – Ramaswamy Venkatarajan, XLRI, IIT, Flipkart PPO holder
Most people who have made to B-school following a stint at an IIT would reckon that getting through such reputed institutions was a task unto itself. Most of us though, happen to be able bodied people. What about people who suffer from debilitating medical circumstances? I had the opportunity of talking to one such person in my batch who is one of the handful of people in this world who suffer from autoimmune disorders – he also happens to have laurels like an IIT degree, work experience at TATA Motor Finance, a seat in XLRI-BM and a PPO from Flipkart under his belt. He is Ramaswamy Venkatarajan. Below is an excerpt from our conversation; hope this provides as much of inspiration to you as it does to me, and reinforces the fact that nothing is impossible!
Tell us a bit about your background, your parents, siblings, childhood?
I was born into a Tamil Brahmin family. I did not use the orthodox word before Tamil Brahmin because both my parents were born in Mumbai, so there was very little influence of the Tamil Brahmin culture on me. I have one brother who is a year younger to me. Both my parents are bankers, my father retired as a manager (taking VRS) with BOB and my mother is currently an officer with Canara Bank.
As for my childhood, I will say about the period before the onset of my problem. I had a very strict father who had this obsession to keep things orderly at all times. It was close to a nightmare for me and it won’t be wrong to say that I still am afraid of him. But in hindsight today a lot of the things that he emphasized upon make a lot of sense!
So when did you first come to know about your condition? What was the first reaction? Were you in denial?
My first “attack” was on the morning of the 14th of February 1999. It was pain in my right hip and I was unable to walk properly. When the pain did not subside after a week I was taken to an orthopedic surgeon thinking that there might be a broken hip or something. The x-ray revealed nothing. I was pull on traction (weights suspended from the leg) to untangle any rolled over nerves and so on. But nothing worked. To be frank the thought of denial never occurred because you can only deny that which you know for sure. There was so much commotion and confusion regarding my case that I did not find enough time or space to react. All I remember is that I was in pain, a lot of pain which subsided whenever I took my pain killer tablets. And I was on them for a long time apart from also being on steroids to control the swelling in the joints of my legs which started to appear in a month or so since my first attack.
While your treatment was going on, what kept you motivated and going?
As I said the correct diagnosis of my situation only happened in 2005 when a colleague of my mother suggested a rheumatologist rather than orthopedic for me. The period post 2005 has been very good since I progressively improved. However, to say that the period from 1999 to 2005 was an ordeal for me would be an understatement. Without a proper diagnosis it was getting difficult since I was put under a variety of medication. I have lost count of the number of tests and x-rays that I have been through during that period. The only thing that motivated me was my desire to attend school. I was a topper all through my primary school and did not want to give it up so easily. This may sound childish but it is very necessary to have that one thing which motivates you to tackle such a problem and for me that was my top rank in school. Also, my health condition is just that, a condition, a disorder, not a disease. This means that the symptoms come and go in highs and lows and while the highs were difficult to cope, the lows were reason enough to console me that my current phase is temporary. I need to be patient and one day all the highs of symptoms will become lows eventually.
You goals and your achievements were huge-IIT, XLRI-how does it feel to have come so far with everything else going on?
Like I said it was important to look at it from the point of view that your pain, your trials and your tribulations are just that, yours! Also as I mentioned earlier, by 2005 end the correct diagnosis of my condition gave a lot of confidence to me. I read up on what my problem entails, what are the preventions and precautions I need to take. Acceptance and acknowledgement of my condition was the vital thing. I wanted to medicine and I had even prepared for my medical entrance in early 2005 but I was advised against it by my doctor to take up a course that was less stressful physically. I think it was the only time I ever felt what wrong have I done. I quickly brushed aside the thought and adding a spin as always decided to become excellent in whatever I was going to eventually pursue. Math and Stats was an obvious choice since they are least taxing physically. It will not be wrong to say that I took to these subjects with a vengeance. I was by now used to spending copious amounts of time at home and this meant I had all the time in the word to study Math and Stats. I wanted to max every paper of my first year to give a self-esteem the much needed consolation that I can still do wonders in my default field even if it is not the field of my choice. I topped my first year at college and that was the icing on the cake. There was no looking back afterwards and I totally embraced Statistics as my subject, my very own subject!
XLRI on the other hand happened at a much later stage when the stakes were not as personal as before. It had more to do with the kind of recognition and reward that I was getting at work which I felt was unsatisfactory. So you could say the issue had now reached a higher level in the Maslow’s hierarchy! I studied knowing fully well that with an improved sense of mind and body a good B-School should not be much of an issue. It is all about practicing and giving time and patience and resilience are pretty much things that came naturally to me so it was not much of a struggle!
What would you like to say to those people who get despaired about their lives over relatively minor issues or simply give up?
To be frank I really do not see myself as a person who can give such advice to other people because as I said each of us has their journey, their own trials and tribulations of which the others have no idea about. But I do have this to say to everyone who every get depressed. Remember two things in life:
The first is that, “The only permanent thing is change. Everything else is temporary.” Just think about it. We are part of a medium sized solar system of a medium sized galaxy in a vast never-ending universe. Every second millions of stars, yes stars like our sun, die and new stars are born somewhere in this universe. Also, our very own sun has lived half its life. This only means that something we give the position of God (Sun God) isn’t permanent either! Then how can the problems, the issues of yours, considering you, who is one among 6 billion inhabitants of one among 9 planets in one among billion solar systems in one among trillion galaxies that make up this universe ever be permanent. Things have to change. Period. All you have to do is hang in there. It is but a matter of time!
I understand it is easier said than done. Many times, the issue at hand might appear insurmountable. How does hang in there at such times? That gets me to the second point. I believe and have also experienced all that requires to hang in there is inspiration and the best way to inspire yourself is to stop, pause for a second and look at all those people who are less endowed than you and are yet handling much bigger problems than you. There is no better way to motivate yourself than to compare your situation with someone who is in a worse state. And believe me, it is really easy to find such a person and get inspired. They say you can find God if you search well enough. Considering this it is really easy to find that one person who is holding his own whilst facing an obstacle that dwarves yours any day of the week.
That’s all I would like to say from my end. I have faced every issue since my health problem along the same two points as stated above and it has always held me in good stead. As I have once heard Rahul Dravid say, “It is all about perspective. One should never ever lose sleep over anything. Never at all. If the situation is in your control, then you need not worry about it. And if it isn’t in your control, then there really is no point in worrying about it anyways!”
Cheers! And keep smiling!!!
As told to Akriti
Akriti Gupta, BM class of 2015 student at XLRI Jamshedpur. She is a writer by hobby, a speaker by vocation, a painter on whim and a student by compulsion. She hails from Delhi-NCR and has been to Delhi Public School, R K Puram and Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University to study about..well..things that she doesn’t remember any longer.
Follow Akriti at InsideIIM at akritigupta.insideiim.com