Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My MBA Journey - I

This is one side of my life that I have never blogged about. My MBA Journey. Two years into this journey I am getting more serious by the day.

I have rarely blogged about this aspect of my life partly because I am yet to achieve something in this area. But now I get the feeling that this is a big aspect of my life and I need to pen down some of my thoughts.

Being an Indian, competition is something I have faced right from the day I went for my Kinder Garden :). Believe it or not, if you are an Indian, if you dont grab the first bite, you dont get a second bite. Fierce competition would be an understatement.

This is most visible in the case of an admit to one of the top B Schools in India, namely the IIMs. I come one of the top colleges in India for engineering, i.e BITS Pilani, and have met some of the best brains in the country there. The BITSian culture has had a great impact on me, and becoming a big shot in the industry one day has sort of become my dream.

I always thought gaining some experience is a must before you get into a B school , and I still believe experience is something that is very valuable for an MBA. The reason is quite simple, if you are just fresh out of college, you donot know one bit about working in projects, being in a team, meeting deadlines, paying taxes, facing real life competition (mind you there is a difference between competition at college and competition at work, ....at college it does not make much difference if you get an A grade or a B grade, but it hurts bad when someone says your work is anything but outstanding), and an exposure to industry and business in general. Also, one matures as one gains work experience and can really decide what one wants to do with his/her life.

The advantage of doing an MBA without work-ex is perhaps that one might still be in touch with the education process (studying long hours etc.) , and the math would be strong. But the actual value that one derives out of the course I believe is lesser for a non-experienced.

Anyways, my journey began while I was into roughly a couple of years of experience. I belong to a very common background - a middle class, engineering graduate with IT experience. I started out by taking the Common Admissions Test (an entrance to some of the TOP colleges in India). My journey started by attending classes to crack the CAT at the TIME institute at Hyderabad.
The very first impression I had when I joined the training was that Math was going to be a nightmare in clearing the CAT exam.

I prepared hard for the Math part of it (we call it Quantitative, and Data Interpretation). I have a decent hold in my English abilities, so I did not spend too much time for preparing for the English part of it. I used to score somewhere in the top 3 odd percentile of students writing the exam and I Was fairly confident of my clearing the entrance.

The D day came. Nov 20 2004. The test : Objective type 150 odd marks. CAT is always known to spring surprises and there was a big bombshell waiting to explode that year. They had introduced a differential marking scheme. Till the year before it was always one markers.

We had to take a spot decision whether to go for low risk low yield 1 markers or high risk high yield 2 markers. I took a higher risk in the English as I was always good at it, and took the low risk route in the Math. My scores finally read : Quantitative : 97 percentile. Data Interpretation : 99 percentile. English : 89 percentile. Overall : 98.43 percentile.

With two years of experience in a multinational, I thought I would certainly get atleast 2-3 calls from the IIMs (I did not try for the lower rung colleges in India, because I did not think their programs were a good fit for me). I got 0 calls. I was even more surprised that year, when many people managed to get a call from these institutes even though their overall score was much less than mine. I could not find out where I really missed out and it left a very bad taste after almost 6 months of practising for the exams went down the drain.

However, I had gained a lot of experience from this exam. I gave another attempt at it. Nov 21 2005. Another bombshell. Too less questions. Tougher exam, and increased ambiguity in some of the English questions. From the earlier experience, I decided to go into spending more time in English, as they seemed to give more preference to it and that was the costly mistake I did in this paper, because apparently, this year I should have given lesser importance to it since it was of very high difficulty level.

Another blotched attempt. My score read Quantitative : 96. DI 92 English 92 and overall 97

But surprise came in the form of an interview call from arguably one of the best institutes in India , the IIM B. I gave it a good shot. Got great recommendations from my seniors. Wrote well thought out essays. And was quite well prepared on the day of the interview. But somehow I could not get in....so will try once more....

More to continue.....

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

My take on Reservation

For a long time I have not blogged and I wanted to start with a decent topic :)...what better one to choose than the one that we have argued so much about....

My opinion on reservation is pretty straightforward : Reservation is an oxymoron and people who think reservation would help alleviate poverty/reduce caste based discrimination/give an equal opportunity etc. are morons.

Arguments which make me give out the above line:

1) First of all let us see why Reservation will not help alleviate poverty :

Consider Rural Poverty First:
a) I have a teammate who tells me that he is from a remote village in UP and he does not even know that there is a college called IIM or for that matter IIT until he finished his B.E (from a college in Mathura). Much of Indias populace is in Rural India, and much of the poverty is in these places.

For the fact oriented people, refer the following link1 , link 2 , link 3

It says:
"However, ruralpoverty remains stubbornly persistent, with the headcount ratio being 42.7 per cent in 1993/94(Dubey and Gangopadhyay 1998). More troubling is the concentration of rural poverty in India in the ‘scheduled caste’ (SC) and ‘scheduled tribe’( ST) population. Though striking, it may not besurprising, since the scheduled groups have historically faced discrimination. Since 1950,affirmative action programs have been at the core of Indian social policy towards the these twosocial groups. According to the 1991 Census of India, scheduled castes and scheduled tribescomprise 16.5 percent and 8.1 percent respectively of India’s population, yet about 43.53 per centof India’s rural poor are concentrated in these two social groups. The proportion of SC and ST households below the poverty line were 49.0 and 49.5 per cent respectively, as compared to a poverty rate of 32.8 per cent for non-scheduled households. There exists a gap in the proportion living in poverty (a ‘ poverty gap’) of 16.2 percent (=49.0-32.8)between SC and non-scheduled households, and a ‘poverty gap’ of 16.7 percent (=49.5-32.8)between ST and non-scheduled households. One major task in the fight to reduce rural poverty is,therefore, to close the gap in poverty rates between scheduled castes and tribes and the nonscheduledgroup."

On the following points, I and the government agree.
1) Rural Poverty is very high (as compared to urban...urban poverty I will visit soon). - I accept
2) Rural poverty is more concentrated toward the SC and STs. - I accept

Now my question:
1) The reservation has been done for OBCs....now if the poverty concentration is more toward SCs and STs...where did the OBCs come into picture...although...I am still against reserving for the SC and STs too in the IIMs/AIIMs/and IITs because of point 2
2) These people who are in the village dont even KNOW these colleges exist. I have some rural relatives, who think passing the 10th class is a significant achievement, while in my house, anything but getting top ranks in some of the best institutes is considered mediocre.

The rural poor, about whom I am talking are the ones, who
4) They donot know how to put their signature
5) They just know one language, their mother tongue, and that too only to speak in it

If you go and ask them who is Mahatma Gandhi, there is a good chance that 50% of these people don't know him. Yes. It may seem surprising, but it is true. Now if you RESERVE some seats in the IIMs/IITs/AIIMs, does it benefit these poor people who form nearly 50% of India's population?

There is a tremendous divide between the rural and the urban people and believe me I have seen it with my eyes.

My "Kula Deivam" i.e my hereditary deity is in a remote village called Ukkadai in Tamil Nadu. It is close to Madurai. In that village the head priest of the temple there has children and grandchildren attending school. They go to a school which is roughly 30 KMs in a town called Ammapettai. There is no school in that 30SQ KM area. They go in a bullock cart and get back in the same.

Whenever I visit the place our car goes through rough roads to reach the village, and the Summer can be extremely punishing if you go in a open bullock cart carrying a school bag daily to school. Those kids, who have rarely seen a 4 wheeler start running behind our car and chase us :) whenever we go there. After we reach the place, I give those kids a ride in our AC car, and they get very excited by that. It gives me great pleasure to see the smile on their face when I give them a ride in our car. To expect these people to know what an IIM is, is truly laughable.

I grew up in Chennai for the most part of my life. I myself heard of BITS Pilani for the first time when I reached my 12th class because my father was discussing the various options I have for education with some of his friends. These villagers , believe me, don't know shit about IIT/IIM etc...they think going to a college is a great achievement. The divide is much much more than what we urban people can really comprehend. Reserving a bunch of seats in these institutes is a laugh in the face of efforts to reduce poverty.

b) Next is the lack of Primary and Secondary education. What has the government done to improve these? I have seen in a serial called "Visu's Arattai Arangam", umpteen number of times, that there are no schools in many of the villages. If at all they need to get education, they need to travel many kilometers to the nearest big town where there is a school. To reach that town , they donot have proper roads/buses etc running. During harsh weather , reaching the school becomes impossible for these people. What has the government done to first educate these poor? In NDTV 24*7 this is what Infosys, Narayanamurthy was mentioning in the serial called BIG Fight and I fully agree with him.

c) Even with these odds, some brightest minds do manage to score a decent enough score to manage a seat in some of these colleges. I am full of appreciation for them and words are not enough to appreciate their sincerity. But....and it is a big but....their trouble does not end with acquiring a seat. There is a great difference between a Rank 1 from a village and a Rank 100 in a school like DAV in Chennai. Once these two people are put in the same college, I have seen many professors who oppose reservation tell in their interviews to various news channels that the people coming through reservation really struggle to get the grades necessary to pass their course. Most colleges follow a relative grading process, and quality of Urban education will take its toll on the poor quality of the rural education.

To sum up We have seen that the rural poor donot benefit from reservation because of the following reasons:
a) Lack of knowledge about these institutes in the first place
b) Lack of proper Primary education/Secondary education
c) Even those that manage to make use of the reservation, find difficulty to finish their course in these top colleges

Now to the Urban Poor:

Except for the fact that these people have managed to come to the cities, points about their ignorance of these institutes still holds good. Though they have a better access to quality schooling, i.e great primary schools may be available in every street, they still donot have enough money to send their kids to school and thereby point b still stays. And here too, those that stay hungry but go to school and manage to utilise the reservation from the government, feel very out of place in these institutes not because this time it is because of the diffculty of the course, but because they cannot afford to live like their richer counterparts in these very institutes. There have been incidences of suicides because students go into tremendous mental pressure because of their poor background and they decide to take these extreme steps.

So to sum up, the poor are not really benefitted, and even if a very small franction do get benefitted, reservation is the slowest way among any other policy which the government can frame toward alleviating poverty.

2) The point I want to discuss is about the utter absurdity of reservation: Take the following excerpt from a newspaper

"According to National Sample Survey's 1999-2000 round around 36 per cent of the country's population is defined as belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBC). The proportion falls to 32 per cent on excluding Muslim OBCs. A survey conducted in 1998 by National Family Health Statistics (NFHS) puts the proportion of non-Muslim OBCs as 29.8 per cent"

So , we have some 27 odd percentage + the 5 odd percent existing already for OBCs, and added together that makes it 32%. So the government says , for the 32% of the people we reserve 32% of the seats.

Wow, that is just great. That means that in any subset of student pool of any batch, roughly 32% of the students would be OBCs and they all now have seats, provided as many seats are there.

The absurdity that I talk about will make a clearer sense if you take this example:

Consider that about 98% of the people belong to OBC (which would mean the whole country is backward....nothing could be more pathetic). And assume government says that 98% of the seats are reserved for this community.

So? What does this really achieve. Nothing. Except that the remaining 2 % of the population may not get any seat because potentially that could also be eaten by the remaining 98%. You are in fact killing the remaining 2 % by doing this. Also, the 98% does not get benefitted much, because they compete with THEMSELVES.

There were roughly 26 castes identified under Backward caste in Tamil Nadu during independence. Now the list has 273 castes. Tomorrow it will be 20000. How is the government going to really identify who is backward and who is not? Reservation spurs casteism more than it does to remove it.

50 odd percent of the country is either BC or OBC , and 50% seats are reserved. What nonsense is this? This year, in the Post Graduation medical exam in Andhra, only the state 1st rank (who was from a forward caste), was able to manage the seat. The STATE BLOODY second rank could not get the seat. How pathetic is this?

3) The next absurdity about reservation is that it helps alleviate caste based discrimination. Bull Shit. In villages, this still goes on. Your giving reservation in IITs and IIMs is not going to change the way the poor dalits are treated in the villages.

Coming to think of it, the dalits are not the ones given reservation, it is rather the OBCs. Which in itself is another farce.

Even if this does eliminate discrimination, all it does is sow the seeds of anger and desperation in the hearts of those really capable students who were denied a seat due to reservation. These people will be the next generation dalits.

So this really is going to be a chain rather than eliminating discrimination.

Untouchability and reservation in IITs are rubber and glue. Totally unrelated. Even the extremely innocent people will not buy this argument. To eliminate untouchability, the government has to take other steps....not reserve seats in some colleges.

4) Nowadays, there is an overwhelming majority of Backward classes in Politics, and they seem to be the ones doing the oppression of Forward castes now. It is really a reveral of roles, and what happened many years ago is not happening the other way round.

5) Ok, lets forget about all this, and get back to the point of oppression that was followed for 1000s of years as claimed by these so called pundits.

Let me take my own example:

I am a forward caste. My great grand parents/grand parents used to live in a place called RajaPaiyyan Chaavadi (a remote village in TN). There was no electricity in their house. There was no means of transport but for bullock cart, which they also borrowed whenever they visit the neighbouring village. They used a "Hurricane Lamp", and they were also poor farmers. What crap ass discrimination makes them forward caste, and what greater benefits did they enjoy than these so called OBCs, who also perhaps stayed in a mud hut, and did pretty much the same things.

The amount of entertainment that can be bought today with money is very much more compared to that in those days. Though I accept there were cruel things carried out such as not allowing dalits inside temples, not allowing them to use water etc, ECONOMICALLY the divide was not huge. In fact it really was not there. Both pretty much were farmers or potters etc. In fact, a few generations back, (I am a brahmin), brahmins used to BEG FOR THEIR FOOD. So if brahmins are called forward castes, my God, are they the most pathetic of the lot. Their ancestors were beggars for like 4000 years . And now they continute to beg for seats to this day :)

Reservation is now causing an economic divide as well. The people who benefit from OBC/BC/SC/ST quotas are the third generation of people benefitting from the same.

I have seen with my eyes, a student getting into IIT with a horrible score. His dad got into a great Manager job in Telecom, and his grand dad was a doctor. How is this justified?

6) Another interesting thing is that, we had this discussion once in an official lunch, (with my teammates). All of them seemed to oppose reservation, and I asked "How many of you are BC's", and believe me, half of them raised their hands. Even they feel there is no need for reservation once a generation has benefitted. Moreover, the divide is very less and nobody, atleast in Urban areas can tell the difference of castes unless someone tells it out openly.

7) I read this interesting thing in Wikipedia:

"Reservationists argument of great inequalities in the society is totally wrong. GINI index is the term used to measure inequality. GINI index for India is healthy 0.32(As per CIA fact book).GINI index in India is much lesser than many European countries,USA,Singapore and communist countries like China,Russia etc. "

When there is so less an inequality then wots the point of reservation? Whether or not all are equally pathetic or well off is another question altogether.

8) Wikipedia has many other interesting points to offer. I am pasting them from there:

a) Reservation decisions in India are never taken with scientific basis.Independent surveys indicate Lingayats and Vokkaligas of Karnataka,Jats of Rajastan,Nadars of Tamilnadu are economically sound than forward caste clan. So always reservation decisions are taken keeping political interests in mind
b) that allocating quotas on the basis of caste is a form of racial discrimination which is contrary to the right to equality.
c) that as a consequence, legislation for providing reservation for Christians and Muslim religious minorities in all government education institutions will be introduced, which is contrary to the ideas of secularism, and is a form of discrimination on the basis of religion.
d) .that most often, only the economically sound people (and rather rich) from the so-called lower castes will make use of most of the reserved the seats, thus making the aim a total failure. Political parties know reservations are no way to improve the lot of the poor and the backward. They support them because of self-interest of the “creamy layer”, who use the reservations to further their own family interests, and as a political flag of ‘achievement’ during election campaigns.[11] In fact, several studies show that the OBC class is quite comparable with the general caste in terms of annual per capita consumption expenditure, and the top strata of OBC is ahead in a host of consumption areas.
e) that the quality of these elite institutes may go down, because merit is severely being compromised by reserving seats for certain caste-based communities.

Would you prefer a Backward caste student who scored 40% marks in medical entrance to perform the heart operation of your mother or a 98% student who was denied admission.

f) that the government is dividing people on the basis of castes for political advantages
g) that this can also lead to prolonged reservation system indefinitely.
h) that, the caste system is kept alive through these measures. Instead of coming up with alternative innovative ideas which make sure equal representation at the same time making the caste system irrelevant, the decision is only fortifying the caste system.
i) that the autonomy of the educational institutes are lost
j) that not everyone from the so-called upper class are rich, and not all from so called lower classes are poor
k) that this policy of the government will also increase the phenomenon of Brain Drain from India and the under graduates and graduates will start moving to foreign universities for higher education.This will be in such a case a great set back and will have the most devastating affects on Indian education and economy
l) that multi-national companies will be deterred by this action of the government,and foreign investment in India may dry down, hurting the growth of the Indian economy. Doubtless, urgent actions to improve the lot of the majority, which has not benefited from development — not achieved after 55 years of reservations for scheduled castes — are essential. But this must not hazard improving the economy’s competitiveness in a very competitive world.
m) there are already talks of reservations in the private sector.If even after providing so many facilities to reserved categories during education, if there is no adequate representation of those people in the work force, there must be some problems with the education system. Unfortunatley, in India government never seems to address real issues involved.

Well, for now I think I have already said a lot of things. I am pretty much exhausted with this huge post, I think this is one of the biggest I have typed. I would come back with more later once I get some other relevant points.