Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Interview that made all the difference

Some stories need to be told and retold and remembered and recorded, lest they be forgotten before it is too late... so here it is - a story some 13 years old now... my FPM admission interview experience at IIMA on 3rd March 2005.

***

So it was in one of the green-rooms at the RJMCEI auditorium in the old campus. I was 6th or 7th in the list of some 13-15 odd candidates called for an interview in economics area. While I qualified on the basis of CAT (Common Admission Test), there were people with CAT, GMAT, GRE, NET-JRF scores as well. The people going in before me were not very upbeat except one guy. Most of them came out with long faces and did not share any details. So when I was called in, I was totally blank. Nonetheless, so this is how it happened. There were four professors in the panel, whose name I could figure out later that evening during the admission dinner. However, for the moment, I'd call them in their seating order (from L-R) as Profs. RB, RD, SC, and SD.

***

RB: So why are you here?
Me (very enthusiastically and probably a little too quickly): Sir, I want to be a Professor.
RB: Ok, so what area would you want to specialize in?
Me: Sir, I like international trade.
RB: Why?
Me: Sir, I have read that India has no good trade advocates and as a result, we often lose out on the international trade cases.
RB: hmm... so can we ask anything about international trade?
Me: Sure Sir, I will try.

Then RB and I had some long discussion over the Multi-Fibre Agreement (I got one year wrong - 1997 to 1995 - but otherwise, it went well). I knew MFA so well primarily because The Statesman had covered the MFA very extensively with two long Sunday stories. And then, some details of IPRs - that is where SC took over and grilled on TRIPS. The patent regime was in transition and there were some tricky questions to classify product and process patents etc. I remember telling him that in some cases, there is no clarity and WTO is still discussing the same. While I had no clue if it was so or not, SC told me during the evening dinner that I was right and that WTO is discussing the same.

After that, it was RD's turn. RD drew some graphs of a production function, asked about capital intensity vs. labor intensity, and had to cross-check on the last one because we were seeing the same page from opposite directions

Finally, SD started with statistics and econometrics. Although I didn't (and don't) know much there, SD asked me about measures of Central Tendency and dispersion, and thereafter SD (Standard Deviation). I gave him a good definition of SD but when I was asked to write the formula, I offered to derive it for him. The panel was somewhat astonished and probably rejective. I remember telling them precisely that I barely ever remember a formula but I know the principle and I can derive not only SD but also other higher order formulae as well.

So, folks, that is when I think the panel gave up on me - about 17 minutes of disappointments, followed by five more years of the same!

***
When the interview got over, I was so sure of never being able to come back to IIMA campus that I decided to buy the last remaining tee-shirts as a piece of memorabilia. On March 14, 2005, I got a mail in my spam folder from Raghu in FPM office that I have been selected. I was so sure that it was an actual spam that I did not inform anyone (except my mother) for a whole week, till I received the letter of selection and joining instructions.

When I landed up at IIMA for joining on May 31, 2005, I was the only one for the next two months, who had an IIMA tee-shirt, as the shop was not stocked for a while.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Slogans and realities

Choose to be happy
***
भीड़ में अकेला आदमी
***
लड़ो पढ़ाई करने को, पढ़ो लड़ाई करने को
***
Life is unfair. Get used to it.
***
तोड़ो कारा तोड़ो
***

These, and god only knows what, many more slogans covered the walls in my room on the attic in Lucknow. That was some 16 years ago, I guess.

Those were the days of unhindered utopia and untiring optimism. I used to dream and write, sing and talk, plan and dream some more. Now.... now, I survive... I try to survive people, life, plans, and most of all, myself.

All those slogans and dreams and aspirations seem a distant hazy lost past. Jagjit Singh is singing Bashir Badr:

तुम तन्हा दुनिया से लड़ोगे
बच्चों सी बातें करते हो

Monday, March 5, 2018

कहें न तुमसे तो फिर और किससे जाके कहें

आजकल बहुत कुछ घूमता रहता है मन में। कुछ इकोनॉमिक्स, कुछ कविताएं, कुछ ज्ञान की बातें, बहुत सी भड़ास....। बस ये नहीं समझ आता कि कहें किससे!

एक ज़माने में कुछ 5-6 दोस्त थे, जिनके फ़ोन नम्बर ज़ुबानी याद थे। फ़ोन महंगे थे और बातें खत्म होने नहीं आतीं थीं। अब फ़ोन की पूरी मेमोरी भर हज़ार नम्बर हैं, फ़ोन सस्ते हैं, और कोई दोस्त नहीं, जो खाली साथ बैठ कर सन्नाटा सुने।

फेसबुक तो वाहियात, राजनैतिक, और बकवास जगह हो चुकी है। फेसबुक या व्हाट्सएप्प स्टेटस भी बचकाने काम लगते हैं। क्वोरा पर लिखते थे तो उसमें भी सवाल बेहूदे और कमैंट्स पॉलिटिकल हो चुके हैं। ब्लॉग भी अभी तक लैपटॉप खोलने का मोहताज था। अभी अभी बस ब्लॉग का एप्प ढूंढने का ख़याल आ गया तो ये लिखने लगे। वैसे अब इसको भी कोई पढ़ता तो है नहीं, तो यही सही और यहीं सही।

बड़ी लम्बी रात है तन्हाई की...

कहें न तुमसे तो और किससे जा के कहें,
सियाह ज़ुल्फ़ के सायों, बड़ी उदास है रात।

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Budget 2018


I was asked by two different newspapers for my quick opinion on the Budget 2018. Just copying those here:

This budget does not look like an election year budget at all. The fiscal prudence is surprisingly anti-political. I find the focus on health coverage, health insurance, and medical education is commendable. The agricultural sector also gets a lot of attention and money. While there are a lot of sops, efforts of structural reforms are largely missing. MSME getting a respite is also a welcome step, which is in sync with the goals of MUDRA, skill development, and job creation. Another good aspect is the continued emphasis on disinvestment and ease of doing business.

While the salaried class may find the budget dry for them, the government has already benefitted them by pay commission, MSMEs, business and entrepreneurship opportunities, mega spending on infrastructure, and insurance schemes. However, such indirect benefits may easily get overlooked in an election year, posing a political challenge.

Overall, like previous NDA budgets, this one is also an economist's budget, perhaps more on welfare side this time. However, ambitious targets, implementation issues, state elections, and political realities make the budget assumptions fragile.




चुनाव वर्ष में भी इस प्रकार का अर्थशास्त्र उन्मुख बजट निश्चय ही विस्मयकारी है। मेरी राय में स्वास्थ्य सुविधाओं, संरक्षा, और शिक्षा के प्रति यह निष्ठा सराहनीय है और समाज के निम्नतम आय वर्ग के लिए विशेषत: सहायक सिद्ध होगी। बजट का दूसरा केन्द्र कृषि क्षेत्र है, जो सामाजिक न्याय एवं समरसता के लिए आवश्यक है।  हालांकि कृषि हेतु बजटीय प्रावधान तात्कालिक सांत्वना देते प्रतीत होते हैं, इन से किसी भी प्रकार का दीर्घकालिक संरचनात्मक सुधार होता नहीं दिखता। जब तक इस दिशा में ठोस प्रयास न किये जाएँ, कृषि क्षेत्र की परनिर्भरता एवं अस्थिरता बानी रहेगी. लघु उद्योगों के प्रति इस सरकार का रुख पहले की भाँति ही सकारात्मक दीखता है। लघु उद्योगों को बजट की कर - सहायता सरकार की मुद्रा योजना, दक्षता, एवं रोज़गार सृजन से सटीक तालमेल इंगित करता है। विनिवेश, निर्यात, आधारिक संरचना, स्वरोज़गार, और व्यापार सरलीकरण आदि के कारण यह बजट दीर्घकालिक सुधारों की दिशा में एक महत्त्वपूर्ण पग है।  

जहाँ यह बजट समाज के निम्नतम ३० प्रतिशत के लिए अत्यधिक सहानुभूतिपरक लगता है, समाज का मध्यम वर्ग इसे लगभग निराशाजनक मान सकता है। यद्यपि मध्यम वर्ग और वैतनिक वर्ग को कोई सीधा लाभ मिलता नहीं दिखता, इस वर्ग को नवरोज़गार सृजन, उद्यमिता, आधारभूत संरचना, और आर्थिक विकास का सर्वाधिक लाभ होने की आशा है। हालांकि एक चुनावी वर्ष में यह आशावाद और जन-प्रज्ञता सरकार को भारी पड़ सकती है। 

सर्वसमावेशी, मेरी राय में, दीर्घकालिक सुधार के प्रति निष्ठा और राजकोषीय स्थिति के प्रति विवेक बनाये रखना किसी अर्थशास्त्री के लिए भले ही स्वप्न सरीखा हो, सरकार के लिए यह राजनैतिक तौर पर महंगा साबित हो सकता है।

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

दूसरों की ज़ुबानी, हमारी कहानी

कहा था ना, मेरी सारी ज़िन्दगी कोई न कोई तो अपने शेरों में, अपनी नज़्मों में, अपनी किताबों में लिख चुका है। अब खुद ही कहना हो तो अलग बात है वरना केवल दोहरा देने भर से ही सब बात हो जाती है। जैसे जॉन एलिया का ये शेर - 

दौर अपनी खुशतरतीबी का रात बहुत ही याद आया 
अब जो किताबे-शौक़ निकाली, सारे वरक़ बरहम निकले 

ऐसा लगता है जैसे ज़िन्दगी चुक गयी है। एक और मित्र का उद्ध्र्त कथन याद आया - I live in the past because most of my life is there. ऐसे ही कुछ और शेर हैं जो ऐसे कह देते हैं कि हमको न कहना पड़े।  


अपना दिल भी पुरानी दिल्ली है 
जो भी गुज़रा है, उसने लूटा है. 

लेकिन हमेशा ऐसा नहीं था।  एक अच्छा भी दौर गुज़रा है।  

हम सुने और सुनाये जाते थे 
रात भर की कहानियाँ थे हम

और सुनाने को तो वैसे इसके आगे शेर भी बहुत से हैं और किस्से भी.... लेकिन 

सुना सिद्धार्थ* साहब महफिलों की जान होते थे 
आजकल चुप हैं, न हँसते हैं न रोते हैं।  

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

From Quora: Be Batman!

By now, you would know how self-obsessed and Narcissistic I am. And therefore, as a logical extension of that, I read my old FB posts, blogs, and Quora answers again and again. And then I thought, why not share some favorites from Quora over my blog as well. Therefore, here it is - a new series.
So, of all the answers I've written on Quora, I am particularly impressed with this one, as copied below:

Career Advice: What should I become in life?
This question previously had question details. You can find them in the question comments.

Siddhartha K. Rastogi, works at Indian Institute of Management Indore
Updated Mar 15, 2016


My impulse response is - be BATMAN. If you cannot be Batman, then even I can give you a few advice. To begin with:

You are too young to know effectively if topping twice and winning some awards will lead to a great future or not. It is possible that you are actually a great achiever and will scale great heights. It may also mean that your competition was poor enough and therefore, you outperformed them easily but the world will be a tougher place. So, here is my first advice - do NOT base future path on your past performance alone.

Now my second advice - do not think of life in terms of careers, like engineer, IAS, MBA etc. Those are beaten and trodden paths - these are means to a life, not the life itself. It would be a real tragedy if you are a genius but decide to get tied down by the known chains. Now, this gives rise to the obvious question - if not like this, then how should you think?

There is my third advice - think of the life you want. And I do not mean that you should think of poor or rich, despondent or comfortable, dull or happy, criminal or law-abiding, dejected or satisfied... (though I hope you want all the second choices in all these pairs). Think in terms of activities you like. For example, this is how I thought - I do not like 9 to 5 jobs so government jobs like banks are out; I do not like 9 to 9 jobs and that's how MBA jobs are also out; I do not like to be a part of a system that is corruptible and I may be forced to be a part of that, so IAS is also out; I do not like taking orders, so defense is also out; I like reading and writing - so I could be author, researcher, teacher, poet, and similar things.... but I do not like the uncertainty of an author's life and I do like maths, economics; most importantly, I wish to affect positive changes in people's life - directly through teaching and indirectly through policy research. And so on... it was an intermittent loop of arguments to decide and strive for the same.

Finally, whatever you decide, remember two things - One, you are too young right now and you are fit to achieve anything, if you are sincere in your efforts; Two, money does matter in life though but more of it gets progressively useless, therefore, do not think in terms of money alone - if you are good at something and enjoy doing whatever you do, money will always follow.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Siddharthus The Narcissus incohatus

About 8 years ago, in the days of plenty of time, when  life had a different meaning, and Facebook was a novelty, I had made a quiz on Facebook and then wrote a post about it too (find it here). After ages, last year, someone asked me on Quora about things which most people won't know about me. I wrote a few points there but the list kept going on inside my head. So, sharing the Quora points first and some more here:

Assuming that my life is worth knowing, here are some things that I can share:

  1. I am really scared of the “unknown” (ghosts, paranormal, scary faces). My imagination is so fertile that I don’t even watch trailer of horror movies - not even the bad - sad scary movie, walking dead, or Ramsay brothers movies.
  2. I am really technology neutral. Despite owning and using all of the following, I don’t like talking / buying / searching / thinking / surfing about mobiles, computers, cars, and similar gadgets. Essentially, gadgets don’t excite me at all.
  3. I am hyper-organized. Reason - I am always scared of missing on something important. So all my mails are read and clearly labelled. My table, chairs in office, furniture at home, doormats, cutlery, kitchen, bedroom, soaps…. are always set in a particular way. All my books are sorted by type and almirahs have shelf-wise indices. All my clothes (including handkerchieves, socks, and shorts) are sorted by types, age, occasions, colors, and patterns.
  4. I like to take really good care of my skin and hair. On a daily basis, I use about 3–6 types of bodycare - haircare products.
  5. I love making lists - work to do, favorite things, favorite people, superpowers I want, people I would kill happily, and so on.
  6. I have learnt (mostly on my own and hopefully, reached a decent level of achievements once in a while with) languages, poetry, photography, ornithology, snake-catching, history, kite-flying, comics, mythology, psychology, astrology, massages, body-language, palmistry, reading, writing, publishing, consulting, and also, economics.
  7. There are many many many more items but I know that the secret of being a bore is to say everything. (And yet, I am now, going to say a lot more - still not everything though).
  8. I hate dogs and cats and lizards and mosquitoes and houseflies. Although I like birds, some animals, butterflies, snakes; I like all of them from a distance and do not like to touch any of them. 
  9. Animals have their genitals, stomach, heart, and brain at the same level, while humans have their genitals the lowest, stomach next, heart above that, and mind above all. I believe that is for a reason. I also believe that most people do not graduate beyond the lowest two levels of existence. I really look down upon people who are food obsessed and "live to eat" or talk a lot about food. I really despise such people, conversations, and thoughts.
  10. And while we are on food topic, I like bitter things - high dark chocolate, bitter gourd (karela), and black coffee. Still, I would not obsess to find opportunities for such conspicuous consumption.
  11. I think memory is a place, which one should visit inside the head only and not physically. When one visits those old people, friends, places, streets, schools and so on... they have moved on and so has one's own self. Seeing the past getting transformed and so different and mostly for worse is really heart-breaking.
  12. I believe in a supreme powerful God, who is an embodiment of the energy of the universe. I believe in astrology. I believe that the energy of the universe, the energy of planets and celestial bodies, and the energy of our thoughts, surroundings, and people affect us for good or for bad.
  13. Long back I read a long quote - I man should be able to fight a battle, change a diaper, balance accounts, write a poem... and that specialisation is for insects. I think I have always lived by that. While I have nothing against specialisation, I don't want to let go of all the fun things and explorations and experiments the life offers.
  14. I like listening to different languages' songs. I have playlists for Sanskrit, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Punjabi, dialects of Hindi (Awadhi, urdu, Bhojpuri, Haryanvi, Brij etc.) few European languages including English and French, and many more.
  15. I think most people are plain stupid, that free speech is overrated, and that I would happily get rid of most people I know.
  16. I over-analyze, over-plan, over-evaluate things, actions, people, plans, places... I am also very self-critical and live with constant judgmental gaze (and guilt) on myself. 
  17. I have spent days reading quotes, anecdotes, memes, and comic strips. I always did and still do - far less in frequency now but well!
  18. I really like teaching and I really like writing. But somehow, I don't feel enthused for either anymore. I have abandoned teaching as much as I could and writing has abandoned me for now.
  19. Now I want to write so many more things but I won't. What I really want is a quality conversation. I like talking to interesting people - who have done a lot of different things and whom I can listen to for long... and people, who can listen to me for long.

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