Anything but Ordinary

This is a post by Jithin Emmanuel Jacob, pass-out of 2013 Mechanical Engineering batch and one of the initial members of The MACE Post.

Most of my social media feed these days are filled with posts of folks trying to figure out a reason for their existence. Almost all of them in their first job out of graduation, unsettled by the disturbingly settled nature of most professions, underwhelmed and uninspired to do anything new in life. There are many threads of attempts to come out of this existential crisis, some trek up the mountains hoping for nirvana at the peak, some party so deep into the night that they put the sun to shame at dawn, some jog around their apartments each day to make even FitBit empathize with them, and some even get married after realizing that there’s nothing interesting to do otherwise.

I met Sidharth for the first time a few days after joining engineering, which is back in 2009. I remember him as the senior who wore his college ID card around his neck while coming to rag us, an outlaw who gave due respect to laws. It was the College Magazine Committee of 2010 that put us to work together for the first time. With the great Shijoy Varughese adopting both of us into his mentorship, we formed a group of amazing individuals at campus. From Ambareesh who had unlimited bursts of energy. Hanna who could think a decade ahead of our times, Amjath who had unmoved nerves of steel and Sanjay who had steady sense of maturity (or immaturity), we were a bunch that had always come back only with a prize at every competition we’d gone to. I’d put down with ease that the best lessons from MACE had nothing to do with engineering, and the best teachers were members of this bunch of people.

“A current student at MACE had pinged me after the results came.” Sidharth told us last weekend, while we drove on a paved road somewhere in the Western Ghats between Aurangabad and Ahmednagar. “She is a civil service aspirant and was telling me about how she is involved with Model United Nations and all. We didn’t have any of that when we were there. It gives our kids so much more exposure. I mean if things like these were there at college, I might have realized my passion soon enough.”

We all had joined engineering because that was the direction in while the wind was blowing when we finished high school. Though the wind gave a few more options after engineering, most of us choose the direction in which it blew the strongest yet again, choosing to go the MBA route. I was lucky enough to get through, but some stroke of fate took Sidharth to start work with a start-up after graduation. Today we look back at fate in awe of what a masterstroke it was, as it had taken Sidharth to Delhi, and opened his eyes to a world which fascinated him, and three years into his start-up job, at a point when he could have moved to Malaysia in a high stakes role without even the need of an MBA, he found himself calling quits to give a shot for what he felt was his calling.

“I’m unsure whether I’ll get anywhere. I’m starting to prepare when I’m 24, and I’m going to compete with folks who have been learning all their life for Civil Services.” He’d say just before he boarded a train for Delhi from Bangalore to restart life as a student. That feeling of vulnerability at the beginning of every grand story of success. I do not feel guilty for making this bit looking like a paragraph out of a Bollywood movie script, for few stories I’ve been fortunate to live through have had this amount of drama in them.

The time I spent in Gurgaon with my first stint as a management trainee after MBA coincided with the time when Sidharth lived in a nondescript rented space in Laxmi Nagar in Delhi, frugal in vices and lost in the middle of a heap of books and papers. His only indulgences then were the occasional biriyani on weekends I’d drop by, a bit of ganne ka rass from a shop below his building and a rare visit to Karims after a Thursday night qawwali at the Nizammudin Durgah. Today the question he is asked the most is on how he spent his ’15 months of preparation in Delhi’, and the most honest response to it would be that a lot of it was spent in a toilet, fighting that frequent Delhi Belly which walked in as an uninvited guest.

“The aspirant girl from college also told me that she was involved with The MACE Post, and asked me if I knew of it.” Sidharth added to our conversation on the road between Aurangabad and Ahmednagar.

A look of surprise and contentment filled Cecil who was there in the car with us. Surprise, from the fact that someone had asked one of the co-founders of The MACE Post whether he knew of it, and contentment, from the fact that The MACE Post was now something kids were proud of being involved with. Sidharth and Cecil were to the right and left of Nirmal to launch the first edition of what is The MACE Post. It came out on print back then, and now it’s a full-fledged website. It has grown into something beyond what we all had in mind when it first hit the floor, and to learn that the initiative you had started has grown bigger than you is a moment anyone would relish. If memory serves me well, it was from Sidharth that the name Takshak came for what was about to be the first combined tech fest for all branches in 2011, though I doubt if even he would remember that bit, for Takshak has grown into something unfathomably huge over the years.

From being someone who was sure of doing an MBA back in college, Sidharth has come a long way today, through his career with a start-up, the beginning of his love for International Relations, a start from scratch to study political sciences, befriending of books full of history and opinions, realizing that there were far greater shades in Nehru and Gandhi that what we were taught in school, standing neck deep in an ocean of thoughts and syllabi, and a long standing desire to make a mark for himself, which has taken him today to stand as Rank 15 at the Indian Civil Services exam.

It’s easy to externalize him, to believe that he possesses qualities difficult to emulate, to ascertain that you had been a distracted, lost soul, and not a focussed learning who had always been a toper through your life.

“Those are the kind of people who get these sort of ranks in such examinations, aren’t they? The enlightened ones, those whom you always detest.” Not at all, and that is precisely why Sidharth’s story could very well be yours too. He was, by every definition of the word, an ordinary boy. He wouldn’t think twice about bunking the first hour of a rainy morning after a night when the bed bugs of Kennedy Hostel had ruined his sleep. He would write twice the exams of Mechatronics and Theory of Machines to get over them, only because the university didn’t leave him with a choice. He would slyly sneak away a pretty lady from Civil Engineering in the middle of her Survey Lab session in the OAT for a ten minute ice cream break at Sundaran chettan’s canteen, and get shouted at from the lab instructor for doing so. He would shiver a tiny bit before taking centre stage at the OAT during Sanskriti, but manage to complete the task he had set out for. What made him different then, is one choice that he made, that he wanted his life to be anything but ordinary.

“What is the most common mistake made by any student who aspires to do something else after engineering?” I’d ask him during one of our pit stops during the road trip.

“That mistake is believing that the thing they want to do is an end in its self.”

“What?”

“You shouldn’t believe that getting an MBA, M.Tech or even joining the Indian Foreign Service is an end in its self. It’s only the beginning of setting another goal for yourself. You shouldn’t be just a CAT or GATE or UPSC aspirant. You need to keep aspiring for new things after each accomplishment.”

“You are just saying that because as Rank 15 in the UPSC exam, you are now expected to say cool things, aren’t you?” I’d ask him before throwing the key of the vehicle back to him.

He’d laugh that question away and restart our journey on the highway between Aurangabad and Ahmednagar.

Maybe he was honest after all. I’ve seen way too many people stuck in complacency, and if Sidharth had taken his career to Malaysia, he’d probably still be a successful man in the eyes of many, but a dissatisfied man in eyes that were his own. The bunch of people I wrote about in the beginning continue to inspire me even today. Within our own professions, we’d remain successful, but dissatisfied, if we ever believed that any of our accomplishments were an end in its self.

That said, I did find a picture of Sidharth searching for his nirvana during another stop at a nonchalant village we found after losing track of GPS in interior Maharashtra during our road trip. I’ll end with that note, this picture might just be the best thing you see on the internet today.

siddharth b

Sidharth B

 

About:

Sidharth B is from Mechanical Engineering, batch of 2012. Rank 15 in the UPSC Civil Service Exam 2017.

Shijoy Varughese and Ambareesh are from Mechanical Engineering, Batch of 2011. Shijoy left a job with Oracle to work for the AAP Govt. in Delhi and later on for multiple NGOs in the education sector. He is a signature blogger of the Huffington Post. Ambareesh currently works with the Indian Army.

Nirmal Jacob and Cecil Philip are from Electrical Engineering, batch of 2012, founders of theThe MACE Post.

Hanna Paulose is from Mechanical Engineering, batch of 2012. She currently interns with the United Nations and is a doctoral student at the Ohio State University in the United States.

Sanjay Ninan and Amjath Nazar are from Mechanical Engineering, batch of 2013. Sanjay was the College Union Chairman in 2012-13 and is now a business consultant. Amjath is currently a banker.

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