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Archive for the ‘Routinated Life’ Category

Writing Book Reviews for City Journal

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 15, 2012

It has been a slow blogging year for me, but a hectic work year. The tough part of being self employed is that you need to be on your toes all the time. Luckily for me I used to be a sprinter in school and we are adept at being on our toes. Continuing the racing analogy, I always used to be a slow starter. It was more fun to overcome your opponents than lead them from front. So, I spend the past year studying my family business, laying the groundwork for future and having systems in place. Fortunately for me, because of price hike and stable demand, we managed to increase our turnover by 40% with a similar increase in the bottom-line. Unfortunately for this year, most of the price hikes have been reversed and we are now lying with a large pool of excess cash in the business.

More on that later.

For the past three months I have been writing book reviews in a local English newspaper – City Journal. The circulation is limited to Thrissur, my hometown in Kerala, but it is a welcome change from the usual drab of the Malayalam newspapers. Incidentally, I am the third generation from my family to be published in this paper. One of my grand uncles used to draw the editorial cartoon when the paper was launched a year ago and a cousin of my dad’s used to contribute the Saturday OpEd.

Our family has had a long tradition in writing and newspapers. In the fifties, one of my grandfather’s siblings used to be a regularly published poet in the Mathrubhumi magazine which used to bring the best of the Malayalam literature in those days to every household in Kerala. He also briefly edited the first newspaper in Thrissur – Gomati. In the sixties, my father, then still in his teens, used to run a printing press with another of his uncles in the attic of our ancestral home in Patturaikkal. Another grand uncle won the prestigious Kumkumam award for short stories in the seventies and used to edit another Thrissur based newspaper – Express. My father had continued his tryst with the media when he went to Gulf by drawing illustrations to many of the Keralite based magazines there. Back home in Kerala in the nineties as a successful entrepreneur, he used to contribute for many of the trade / business magazines in the state, eventually writing his autobiography in 2002.

I, unfortunately, lack the artistic fervour of my Y gene. So don’t expect any classy literary reviews from me a la The Hindu Friday Review or New York Review of Books. And since I review a book every week and more often than not these are books I own, I review new books only rarely. Many have already been mentioned in my annual book review posts. I also have to keep in mind the audience of newspaper while writing these reviews.

1)    God Save the Dork  by Sidin Vadukut – Published on 13/02/2012
2)    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Published on 23/02/2012
3)    From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple – Published on 16/03/2012
4)    The Siege by Ismail Kadare – Published on 30/03/2012*
5)    34 Bubblegums and Candies by Preeti Shenoy – Published on 13/04/2012
6)    The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – Published on 21/04/2012
7)    Barbarians at the Gate by Bryan Burrough and John Heylar – Published on 28/04/2012
8)    Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston – Published on 05/05/2012
9)    Litanies of Dutch Battery by NS Madhavan (Translated by Rajesh Rammohan) – Published on 12/05/2012
10)  The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino – Published on 18/05/2012
11)  In the Name of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy – Published on 26/05/2012
12)  V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd– Published on 01/06/2012
13)  Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller – Published on 10/06/2012 [Possible Spoilers]
14)  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Published on 16/06/2012
15)  Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – Published on 23/06/2012
16)  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Published on 30/06/2012
17)  The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris – Published on 07/07/2012
18)  The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler – Published on 14/07/2012
19)  The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy – Published on 21/07/2012
20)  The Day of the Barbarians by Alessandro Barbero – Published on 28/07/2012
21)  Jem by Frederik Pohl – Published on 03/08/2012
22)  Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons – Published on 10/08/2012
23)  A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C Clarke – Published on 18/08/2012
24)  The Enemy at the Gate: Hasburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe by Andrew Wheatcroft – Published on 26/08/2012
25)  Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis – Published on 02/09/2012
26)  Ice Station Zebra by Alistair McLean – Published on 09/09/2012
27)  The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien – Published on 16/09/2012
28)  Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson – Published on 22/09/2012
29)  The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – Published on 29/09/2012
30)  Along Came a Spider by James Patterson – Published on 06/10/2012
31)  A History of South India by KA Nilakanta Sastri – Published on 13/10/2012
32)  The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – Published on 20/10/2012
33)  The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov – Published on 27/10/2012
34)  Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan – Published on 03/11/2012
35)  Imperium by Robert Harris – Published on 10/11/2012
36)  Satyajit Ray’s Feluda Mysteries: Danger in Darjeeling by Subhadra Sen Gupta & Tapas Guha – Published on 23/11/2012
37)  The Bonfire of Vanities by Tom Wolfe – Published on 01/12/2012
38)  The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman – Published on 08/12/2012
39)  The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester – Published on 16/12/2012
40)  Dr Bloodmoney by Philip K Dick – Published on 22/12/2012
41)  Who Let the Dork Out? by Sidin Vadukut – Published on 02/01/2013
42)  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Published on 13/01/2013
43)  The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – Published on 20/01/2013
44)  Nightfall by Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg – Published on 27/01/2013
45)  Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer – Published on 04/02/2013
46)  The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara – Published on 11/02/2013
47)  The Popes: A History by John Julius Norwich – Published on 26/02/2013
48)  Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk – Published on 04/03/2013
49)  The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock – Published on 11/03/2013
50)  In Xanadu by William Dalrymple – Published on 20/03/2013
51)  The History of the Church by Eusebius

I had to halt the column in April 2013 since I had to spend more time on my business.

* My review of “The Siege” was published during a newspaper agents’ strike. It was later republished on 14/06/2012


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Resolving for a New Year

Posted by RB Kollannur on April 4, 2010

Last year had been one of disappointment. It started off well, getting back on to the “employed” category, after almost a year in the job trail. I had taken a break from work, a year earlier, having walked out off my job citing my employers’ lack of discipline and accountability. Now with a new management and most of the earlier management on their way out (and I am told for their lack of discipline and accountability), I was curious to know how the company had changed. Getting my old job back did not prove to be a problem (despite the fact that I had written one of those exit emails that you can frame and immortalize), since the company struggled to replace me.

But getting back to work led to a huge trough.

It was the break from work that changed a few of my life priorities. Earlier, I was just moving with the flow, going where life took me. It is then I realized there is more that I can do with my life than ruminating away in some office for the rest of my life. Even in my earlier job, despite the fast-track growth path the company had placed me in; it was still too slow for me. There was always a sense of wasting away my potential at work. With no job to hinder me, I was able to search out what I wanted to do and go ahead with it. So, I spend my break developing my writing, brushing up on history and chasing the stuff my dreams are made of (Okay, the last one was a bit of a stretch). Of course, I was not looking to earn anything out of this, since that was not the point anyway.

And I liked it.

Unfortunately, it was not a long term option, because I did have to start earning eventually, especially with a hefty education loan to pay off. So, I got back to work. The intent was to do both – Go ahead with my life and carry on with my job.

That, unfortunately, never got realized.

My writing dropped as I managed to write only one post the past year. The job took too much of my time that I rarely got much time to share beer with friends (Not that I drink, but you got the point anyway). There were some good times, with a bit of travelling around the country in November meeting old friends and making new. Not to mention the long hours I lost in the pages of the many books I read the past year, but it was a bit of struggle in getting my job to yield me that free time. The only high point of my last year of “employment” was a visit to Manila (My first foreign trip since I was 4) for a week, which I truly enjoyed, but that was just an exception. Otherwise, the job mirrored my first year with the same company with nothing much to write home about. And I am as broke as I was before I took up the job.

So, here I am another year later with another throw of the dice. Another resignation, not like the last time though. The new management has cleaned the system, but are now faced with a more serious question of the long term sustainability of the company.

Back on the job trail yet again, moving on from the last year and into the new.

Why do I do it?
Because I choose life – my life.

And in case you are looking for new year resolutions, I’ll settle for two more –

1) Not to buy any book till I read the 37 unread books I own currently (shown below)

2) Run 100 metres in less than 13 seconds (Personal Best is 11.7 seconds set in 1999 during my heydays as an athlete in school)

Author’s Note:  I do understand today does not signify a new year on the Gregorian calendar (Although it is probable that some tribes in remotest corners of the Amazon rainforest or the Siberian wastelands may have their new year now), but I prefer to borrow Arthur C Clarke’s logic on location of equator – Beginning of the year is an arbitrary point in time decided by humans and I decide to choose now as the beginning of a new year.

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Of BarCamps and Tweetups

Posted by RB Kollannur on May 15, 2009

BarCamps started out as “unconferences”  with no formal agenda and schedule with no restrictions on etiquette and protocol. Over time it has evolved a certain level of structure and functionality as its popularity invoked more interest and participation that necessitates a certain level of organization. I came across BarCamps with the presumption that it was a meetup for bloggers talking about their blog and interacting with other bloggers. As a nascent blogger, I was interested and signed up for the first BarCamp that I came across – Bar Camp Chennai 2 (BCC2) in October 2008. I even attended one of their organizers meet, just to have an idea of what BarCamp exactly was.

It was on a Sunday evening in a BPO office in T Nagar. Few organizers had already come and they apparently knew each other from earlier events. There was a vague recollection of the Futurians that I was reading about in Asimov’s autobiography. The discussions started in the lines of organizing the resources, roping in more sponsors and the sessions registered for the event.

On the whole, BarCamp seemed to be exactly what I had expected it to be – A group of bloggers talking about blogging and related stuff, networking and building contacts and the works. But it catered to a rather niche set of bloggers, a set that I was not part of – the techie kind. By the time the organizers started brainstorming about new session topics, I was already lost in the syntax.  I did contribute though, making a mention of plagiarism of bloggers by newspapers, though that spiraled into a completely different, but hotly contested debate. It was fun to listen to the discussions, though my techie knowledge still remained in the fringes of their world.

Despite the lack of interesting topics (For me), I was still interested in taking part in the event, just out of curiosity (Also because I am not the type who likes to miss out on networking opportunities). But as it turned out, I had to give it a miss due to a delayed postponement of my college reunion to the BCC2 weekend.

Coincidentally, the next opportunity wasn’t that far off. I was in the process of shifting from Chennai to back home in Kerala in December 2008, when the third edition of Bar Camp Kerala was announced. Unlike the city based BarCamps that I’ve came across elsewhere, Kerala had a more state oriented view. It made sense to have a state wide location since, at least for me, Kerala is more like a widespread city, than an actual state.

BarCamp Kerala 3 (BCK3) was hosted in the CUSAT college grounds in the city of Kochi. I reached an hour late having traveled from my hometown 70 kms away from the city. The first session was already on the way and not surprisingly it was something techie – About ASP.NET (Hmm, my NIIT days predated .NET).  The next session fortunately was not that techie and I did have couple of queries to ask. A non techie blogger left some interesting live commentary of his experience in the tech driven event, which on the whole was a pretty interesting experience. I met up with the organizers and chatted with some of the participants later on. I stayed on for couple more of sessions and left for a short visit to the city of Kochi post lunch.

BarCamp Kerala 4 (BCK4) followed BCK3 pretty quickly at the IIMK campus in the city of Kozhikode. It was conducted during Backwaters, an annual B School competition at IIMK, though the participants of the event were mostly the techies from the earlier event and some of the IIMK students. The event turned out to be a disappointment, since it came with corporate involvement. Combine a corporate event and MBA students and you can pretty much predict how the event will end up.

The focus was on innovation and brainstorming and ideation seemed to be the buzzwords. The sessions came and went, though the underlying nature of a corporate event in B School stayed put. I had prepared a slide for the event, which in the end I chose not to present, since I felt it didn’t fit the innovative theme of the event (The slide was on the Second Punic War). Besides, I had old friends to meet. I left by tea to catch up with couple of high school friends in the college canteen (They were in the senior year at IIMK).  Incidentally, we had a brainstorming session there as well, which turned out be a lot more creative and fun.

Tweetups are the latest trend of the social media universe. People on Twitter meeting up for coffee. Informal chat. I doubt there are any regular tweeps (slang for twitter users) who tweet regularly from my hometown. So, I went to Kochi for their second edition of Kochi Tweetup on April 18 2009, referred to as #coktup (“#”, commonly referred to as hashtags, are used to tag tweets to a particular topic, the topic here being Cochin Tweetup, abbreviated for brevity as coktup). It was in a coffee place in Ernankulam and almost a score of Kochi Tweeps had turned up.

Varying topics were discussed ranging from the recent verdict against PirateBay to the IPL match playing on TV in the background. It was nice catching up with people who you converse online every day and good to meet few more. There were attempts to live tweet the event, though the only people managed to were via mobile (No wonder it is one of the main users of twitter). There was a net connection, but there were some technical issues that needed to be sorted out before live tweeting via computer could be made possible. They were still sorting out the issues when I left, having to leave early to get back home.

BarCamps and Tweetups give opportunities to meet new people, to understand them and like all geek groups before them, even Asimov’s Futurians from the 1930s or Dilbert’s Programmers & Aerobic Instructors Community, these also seem to be mostly male dominated in attendance.

BarCamp Kerala 5 occurred on May 3, 2009. But I missed out on that one, as I was traveling with my college buddies from Masingudi to Bengaluru to Chennai. Fear not. Plans for BarCamp Kerala 6 seemed to be already underway and a BlogCamp Kerala as well, which I hope will be not that tech oriented. But it remains to be seen whether I’ll be in Kerala during the time of the events.

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MBA GD/PI Chronicles

Posted by RB Kollannur on April 14, 2009

Author’s Note : Based on excerpts taken from emails I send in February 2005 to my high school yahoogroups. (Slightly modified and appended)

5th February 2005, New Delhi

Good f(x)

Pre Script: f(x) = Morning if time < 1200
Afternoon if time >1200 and < 1500
Evening >1500

This is me reporting live from Delhi.

The weather is cold up here. The temparature’s gone down to -16 degrees below freezing (Added : A double negative, in case you missed it). The dawn crept out of the death of the night life with the sun rising in the east. As the sun sets and the cold winds churn the city, the youth of the city shed the skins of the student life to have fun and party.

Earlier …

I started off at February 1 2005 AD, 1:15 PM 25 seconds from my home with my dad. This was my first time in North India, so my dad insisted he will come, though he was recuperating from an angioplasty. We placed the the luggage in the car. The driver turned the key in the ignition. (If the reader can add the sound of a car starting, it will be extremely helpful).

Everyone knows the sights and sounds of Thrissur (Added : I was writing to my school friends most of whom were from my hometown) , so I am skipping that. The train was late as expected.  So off we went, bidding adieu to the “city” of Thrissur at around 3 O’clock.

The train journey was long. There were a couple of army men going to Kashmir to defend the country from external threats. There was also a group of players from Punjab and Haryana who had come to play the National Champonship for Indoor Cricket.

Yeah. You read that write, Indoor Cricket (First time I’ve heard of it).

Unfortunately for us, they were given only a half ticket concession, whatever that means. So, the compartment was overcrowded for the entire journey. They were pretty friendly, talking about their journey and the cricket matches. There was a mention of how they ordered “upma” thinking it was a sweet dish and found out it was quite the contrary.

We reached Delhi on 3rd of Feb. From there we went to straight to the National Institute of Immunology (Where my uncle worked) and ran into a school friend who was doing a project there. My uncle gave me an introduction of the work he was doing related to the gene mapping of tigers. There was also lot of interesting stuff regarding animals there,

[Author’s Note : The following paragraph about the girls at NII has been deleted, in case the friend from NII happens to go through the mail.]

Back to present …

As I was saying the next day started, with the sun rising in the east.  I had to go all the way to Ghaziabad for my first GD/PI. It was in the afternoon at 1330, but we were not sure of how to get there. Finally, we managed to find an auto to take us to the Delhi-UP border from where we hoped to catch a bus.

The auto guy was pretty trustworthy. He straight away informed us that his meter did not work and informed us of a set rate. (Yeah, right). Anywho, we managed to get to Ghaziabad without much hassles.

What happens next? How were the girls at Ghaziabad? Read my next mail. Ran out of time.

9 February 2005, Hyderabad

Back to Delhi (Well actually Ghaziabad),

So I walked in wearing my new Raymonds suit to give my best for the panel. I ran into a friend from TIME in my hometown. He had just completed his GD in the morning and was about to leave. They were calling people alphabetically and there was no shortage of girls whose name start with R. But it could throw up some funny situations as well. Apparently they had a group of 12 in the morning all with the same name – Rahul. Would be a fun GD especially if the panel wanted to address someone by name.

I had reached a bit early. There was a girl from Ranchi and guy from Delhi who were also waiting for the evening sessions to start. We chatted for a while. The guy had a three year workex, was a Six Sigma Black Belt and had a call from IIMK. Wow. Now, that is a lot.

The GD was good to go. The guy next to me was a Sikh. I foolishly enquired whether he was from Punjab, since I was under the impression at that time that every Sikh was from Punjab. Fortunately, he took it lightly and informed me he was from Noida.

There were 12 people in my GD group. And 5 girls. Pretty high number of girls for a GD. Among the GDs I gave last year, only at Amrita University were there more than two girls.

The first girl was from Hyderabad. She apparently remembered me from the TIME classes there, when I attended the post CAT GD/PI sessions. I think I’ve seen her, but couldn’t recollect.

The second girl was from Delhi. She is from Andhra, born and bought up in Trivandrum and currently studying in Delhi and happen to know Malayalam. She had lovely eyes and looked great with her hair cut short. Was dressed kinda informal though, in sweater and trousers.

The third girl was from Punjab. Had a good smile.

The fourth girl was a Delhiite. All executive looking in her suit. Good looking girl. She basically controlled the GD. Was too good. Worked in TCS.

And the last was the girl from Ranchi I had met earlier.

So, that’s it for the girls from Ghaziabad. As for my GD, it was crap. I barely spoke. Don’t think I’ve had worser GDs that these. Not much expectations. The interview was semed more like a formality. They asked five six basic questions. Seemed like they had already rejected me after my weak GD.

After the process was over, my dad and I left for NII. We took couple of buses back, first from Ghaziabad, which seemed to be a marketplace on wheels, with 5-7 vendors selling stuff all the way. From the UP-Delhi border, we took another bus to NII. This one seemed to be sticking to the UP border. It took a gruelling two and a half hours to reach NII. For a while we were worried we had got on the wrong bus, especially when we saw outposts of Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Border Security Force. For a while I thought we had reached Tibet. But they dropped us off right next to JNU (which was adjacent to NII) in the end.

The next day, my dad and I had a trip in the Delhi metro. Was real cool. I was actually expecting a subway like in Kolkata, but as it turned out it was a sky rail. Shows you how much I know about Delhi. Got off a place called PratapNagar. Wish I hadn’t, because it was not a place I would have willingly gone to. The skyrail ride was pretty cool. You should try it next time you are in Delhi.

Dad had some business stuff to take care the next couple of days. We left Delhi on Monday to Hyderabad. Just got here today morning. I have a presentation and interview scheduled.

10 February 2005, Hyderabad

Well, finished my interview today. Was a big disappointment as far as the girls was concerned. Completely unexpected it was though. There were around 500-600 ppl coming in for presentation/interview on the day. The B School had around 14 centers around the country and all were having a combined selections process. There were lot of girls, but nothing compared to Ghaziabad.

The presentation went OK. I had prepared one on “Mergers & Acquistions”. I was part of an 8 member group. The other members in the group asked questions after the presentation. Pretty standard stuff. The interview  followed. Three member panel. Asked questions relating to acads, job and hobbies. No complications there either. Everything was over by 1 o’clock. The complication was that the announcement of the result on the same day. Not many B Schools do that. So, I had to wait till the end of the day.

The results came in at 6 o’clock. Didn’t do that bad. Secured myself a seat in Hyderabad. Well, if things don’t work out elsewhere, I’ll be back in Hyderabad next year.

14 Feburary 2005, Thrissur

This is me back in Thrissur after a long and grueling trip. My third GD/PI was a major disappointment. Just 1 girl. There were a total of 17 in the group. Reached IIM-B an hour early for the GD. The selection was for Delhi based B School. Got lost a couple of times before finding the GD venue, within IIMB. Fortunately ran into someone else who was also searching for the place. (We would join the same B School later). There was a 15 minute essay preceding the GD on “Possible solutions for the Kashmir problem”. The GD was about “Religious beliefs are rational or irrational. Do they do more harm than good?” It went well for me. A satisfactory change from my usual GD performance. The interview was pretty informal. We had an alumni asking most of the questions. That went on OK.

After the GD, I had lunch with few of my school friends. My dad had left for Kerala the previous day. So I was on my own. We went to a pub afterwards and took a couple of pitchers (hic), I mean pictures there. My friend happens to be the worst photographer one can ever find. He took a couple of photos of us and messed it up both the times. The girls who were sitting behind us were more dominant in the picture.

Bought Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear” from Bangalore. Reached half way. Will give a review once I am done. (Added : Yeah, we used to review  a lot of books back then)

20 February 2005, Manipal

My next process was for a B School in Manipal. Met a school senior while I was waiting for my interview. Didn’t talk much. He was in his second year there. Ran into another guy whom I knew from my PC days as well.

The B school happen to have a very long process starting with an extempore. For some unknown reason, I got stuck at the word go and froze. There blew any chances of selection. The GD and PI went okay. Incidentally, one of the faculties in the panel was in my panel the previous year as well, when I attempted CAT the first time.

24 February 2005, Bangalore

Something unprecedented happened when I started off to Bangalore yesterday. The train actually came early. The station announcement said the train was going to come at 10:10, but it came at 10. Mind you, the scheduled time was actually 7:40 and the train was running 2.5 hours late.

25 February 2005, Bangalore

Finished off my last process so far. It was a B school in Indore. My interview season is unofficially complete. BIM Trichy has to put up their list and if I get a call it will be late next month. NMIMS I had already decided to forego thanks to an additional fee for attending the next round. Also, my performance wasn’t that great and I was vary about their reserved seats.

Things started off at 0900. 25 guys (no girls) divided into groups of three. We were divided into groups of eight (I was in an all Mallu group incidentally). Finally a small enough group that can actually have a decent GD without going to the fish market. I was the only non engineer (Might be helpful for selection). Everyone had high percentiles except for me and this other guy with 96.5 percentile. One had 99.99 percentile while another 99.97. Tough.

We had a case study for GD. A bank gets robbed. The teller lets the thief leave with the money, chases him down and captures him and becomes a hero. The problem is he broke the rule by chasing the robber. Bank policy was to wait for the cops. The Manager is been advised to let him off as well as to punish him to make sure it does not set a bad precedent. We discussed for 15 minutes and a 5 minute discussion summary followed.

As for the interview, they asked me a few questions from acads and some GK stuff (mountain ranges in India, earthquakes, tsunami, monsoons). I think the interview was quite short compared to others, but it isn’t easy to figure out from the interview room. Anyway, expecting the results in early April. They have interview on 31 Mar anyway.

Funny story. While we were chatting before the interview, we were comparing the percentages of engineering given out by different universties in Kerala. One of the guys who was from REC Calicut said, his friend’s neighbour had criticised him for getting only 75 in engineering. She was saying her granddaughter was getting 99 percentage. The funny thing was that her granddaughter was studying in LKG. Nice way people compare marks. Don’t expect the Indore guys to do the same anyway. Incidentally, though all of us were from Kerala, none of us spoke a word in Malayalam.

After the interview I caught up with another school friend at the Koramagala CCD. He had also completed a long inter state journey for MBA admission. Fortunately for him, he had cleared one of his interviews and was headed for Pune in the spring. I also bought a copy of Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress and Deception Point for reading on the way back.


Author’s Note : I do sympathize with my friends who had to read these mails in 2005. My PJs are really bad. But it will be unfair to them if I let off others from reading them.

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My First Job

Posted by RB Kollannur on April 12, 2009

25 May 2004, NIIT Residency Road, Bangalore – It was an early start to the morning. I was staring through the window watching people run for cover as a drizzle came from the heavens. Luckily, I was safe inside an air conditioned classroom with a cup of cold coffee in my hand.

I had two interviews lined up for the day –  A tech support job in a Hyderabad based startup and for a database administration role in an FMCG company. The first company took its time in getting there. Blame it on the traffic. At least, I could relish on the last sip of cold coffee from the machine as I watched water droplets trickle down across the windows.

It was a curious turn of events that brought me to Bangalore in the first place. I had been here only for a week, on a bootcamp from NIIT Ravipuram (Kochi). After enduring a fruitless couple of months of MBA interviews, I was distraught over the options available. With only a BBA from the local university, I didn’t see many immediate career options. CA was too tedious and long. I wanted to make better use of my memory than remembering all the legal nuances attached (I still have trouble forgetting the definitions in the Indian Contract Act 1872). I did not like auditing either. It felt like doing an autopsy, when you could have spend time finding a cure. So MBA, it was gonna be.

I went back to the Java book that I was fishing through. It has been two years since I wrote my last program and everything drew a blank. No. Cross that. Void, as per programming parlance.

… If you use too many nested ifs, you might end up being a headcase. Use switchcase instead … Int is a datatype and has no connection with the Ents in LOTR … The other datatypes are short, long (Hey, is this the stock market?), float, byte (?)… .

Time for a quick bite.

CAT was easy enough. I didn’t have any major concerns, though an IIM call was unlikely. But GDs have always been my Achilles’ Heel. I prefer to wait till everyone is done talking before I start.

(Hmm. This sandwich is good.)

But I needed a filler while I attempted CAT again. And that meant looking for a job. 😦

The recruiters have finally arrived. They will be conducting some written tests and will be coming up with another shortlist after that. Damn! There goes the thin layer of hope I was holding on to. Back to the drawing board.

Getting a temporary job in my hometown wasn’t difficult. But I had been there for most of my life. I wanted a job outside Kerala, to learn about the people outside the state. For that I’ll need to rely on my computing skills than my accouting ones. And so I went back to my old NIIT center to see if they knew of any jobs available. It had been two years since I had gone there. In all likelihood they won’t even remember me.

The written test went ahead smoothly and I was shortlisted for the interview. First hurdle crossed.

I had shelved a programming career for a management one two years ago. I had completed a two year course at NIIT, but I still had two more years to complete my degree. Now with an year gap, I would have to get back to my programming roots.

The interview was a bit tricky. Though the job was for technical support, they were looking for good candidates who can become programmers may be six months down the line. They were not overtly concerned about your programming language skills either, since they used Delphi, which not many knew.

In hindsight putting my CAT percentile on the CV (On my mom’s insistence) was tactless. It was obvious that I would not be looking to commit to the company for a long period. Post MBA, it would be easy for me to get a job for ten times the salary they were offering (Which incidentally I did get) and given my academic background, MBA would have been the natural next step.

I reached the NIIT office early morning, but they were not able to help me much. Fortunately for me, I ran into one of my former faculties who was still teaching there. She informed me they’ll let me know if  anything comes up. I wasn’t expecting opportunities to prop up out of thin air, but at least I’ll be in the checklist for a while.

Having realized that I was a bit nervous as I awaited the final results. The other interview was to be in Whitefield, in the outskirts of the city. But I needed to stay at the center till the results came, in case there is another round of interview. As the clock ticked on, it grew more and more likely that I’ll have to skip the interview at Whitefield. There was no communication from the first company either. Dejected, I walked back to my hotel in Majestic and booked for my tickets back home. I called back home to inform of the results, rather the non-result.

The next day I got a call from Kochi telling me to report to Bangalore in two days. Apparently there was a bootcamp being organized for recruitment and they needed to sent a team. Couple of the students had dropped out in the last minute and they needed someone to fill in. As I had gone there only the day before, I was drafted in. Everything fell in place at the right time.

My dad told me to get in touch with NIIT. NIIT had contacted them (Since I had left my home phone as the contact number) to inform that I had cleared my interview and had to report to the Bangalore Stock Exchange the next day for induction (The company had a support team there).

Epilogue : I would shift to Hyderabad later, where after one month of further tests and training I was shifted into programming (with a marginal salary hike 🙂 ). I left the job a few months later, before a GD/PI filled February 2005, satisfied with the learning acquired over the past months.

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25 Random Things About Me

Posted by RB Kollannur on February 8, 2009

I’ve been tagged on facebook by my good friend Sreejith. Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

(To do this on facebook, go to “Notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people, then click publish.)

1. I am a Malayali, though I have very few recognizable Malayali characters except being a hard-core non-vegetarian.

2. I am an INTJ as per the MBTI test.

3. I love to eat, but only if it is non-veg and I hate seeing food go waste. I make sure that no roti or chicken is left behind, when I go out with friends

4. I skip meals a lot, which may seem to be a contradiction to the earlier point. It isn’t.

5. I do not drink, smoke or do drugs. I never needed to.

6. I hate jogging. If I want to reach somewhere I’ll either run or walk. As a form of exercise, it disrupts the rhythm of my mind (My God. What kind of excuses will I make up for not exercising?).

7. I also do not work out in a gym. The reason for this is the cold in my chest acts up when I put stress on it. (I’ll stoop to any level to find a reason to not exercise).

8. I am a history buff (Mostly European history, though), my favorite hobby is trying to understand the mind, people’s behavior and reaction and my favorite author is Isaac Asimov. You can choose or not choose to connect the three.

9. I have a very short temper. If you see me shouting or throwing things at people or kicking stuff, I’ll recommend you leave the area. However, anything that does not involve even the slightest attempt to destruction of property means that I am approaching it after clear thought and consideration.

10. I take mostly after my mom in character. I approach things with an analytical frame emphasizing on logic rather than creativity.

11. I have some genes of creativity, from my father, but I keep them in check since I am worried how it may fuse with my short temper and general liking to destroy things.

12. I am extremely disorganized in the short run, preferring to let things clutter on my desk. However, every now and then I clean up my desktop, inbox, reader and even my table and cupboard so that I appear organized in the long run.

13. I prefer to listen to people without maintaining an eye-to-eye contact, unless it is absolutely necessary (like in a one-to-one conversation). It is easier for me to visualize what is being said, since my eyes do not have a changing reference to deal with, and hence understand it better.

14. I crack too many PJs. This is partly due to the sadistic pleasure I get by bringing misery on others but mostly due to the thrill of being able to connect two far off seemingly distant points. It is a test of associative memory, developed into a reflex.

15. I am a statistician and a programmer by nature, though not by academic background or profession. I maintain four excels to maintain my day to day activities and one of them has a macro.

16. I find it extremely difficult to lie, but that do not mean I do not tell lies. I’ll let my friends be the judge on this.

17. I have the parasitic tendency of consistently wrecking my future when it is going well. It is more due to coincidence than any conscious decision.

18. I maintain two blogs – one to express my logical side and the other to explore my creative side slowly and carefully.

19. I hardly ever talk to people. Even in conversations with friends, I drift unseen into a silent corner, till I crack a PJ to everyone’s anguish.

20. Of my crushes so far, only two can be classified as love at first sight. I saw both of them in the second half of 2007 while traveling in Chennai. Fortunately or unfortunately, I know neither of them personally.

21. I prefer to play basketball barefoot, even on a concrete floor. This is because I rely on my toes to move quickly or jump. Normal shoes hinder its action. My sole has been hardened by playing on concrete, so I’ve never had any injuries from it. Forgive the pun.

22. I’ve set some goals for life. I’ve posted them on my blog earlier.

23. I consider my memory to be 99% perfect. I keep a 1% buffer in case I have to forget an assignment or an email.

24. I can recall any movie I’ve seen within 10 seconds of any frame of the movie. I don’t find it remarkable, but there are others who have.

25. I quit going to church when I was 14 around the same time as I quit studying and being a geek, became an athlete, started using a comb and got a haircut every month, instead every three months.

26(Bonus). Advice for the people I’ve tagged. Got a NY Times article of how to fill these random things. For me, #26 was the best one.

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B School Placements in the Yule Tide

Posted by RB Kollannur on January 26, 2009

Disclaimer : The following post is fictional, though inspired by real events.

The pleasant winds of Christmas bring tidings of hope and propsperity in the New Year. And so it was, two years ago in 2006, when a group of MBA students eagerly awaited their placements before the Yuletide.

With careers on the line, placements are the most fought over incident in a B School life. The students have to be emotionally roused to perform at their best all the time. Few bad exchanges in a group discussion or some bad advices are enough to spill the boiling pot. So, the chances of something giving away are always strong. However going with the spirit of the season, these batch of students sought to tackle their placements together with a touch of solidarity.

It all started a month before Christmas. The campus was frenzy with rumors of our “step-sister institute” (so called because though they had better facilities, they catered to a lower rung of students who demanded more) to reach into our placement kitty. We were pushed into a corner by these concerns and attempted to address the situation by meeting the administration. The Director, however, stood steady as a rock (like the current Pakistani President) in light of the furore, which left us unsure of whether he knew what was going on. Fed up with his flip-flops and left fending for ourselves, we called for an “Open House” to see ourselves through the placements.

Open Houses are part of our college tradition, where the entire batch is called up in the middle of the night to discuss some factor affecting all of us and reach a consensus (though many a time it rarely did). Usually it will result in a flurry of ideas coming forth from all directions, like the outdated brainstorming sessions, and they will have to be resolved in more Open Houses. Since this was in the pre-twitter era, the option of live tweeting these Open Houses did not exist, so these valuable sessions are forever lost. The general rule was that every student had the right to call for two and a half open houses.

The Open House was called for and all of us assembled in the college auditorium. The topic was set and ideas poured in on how to tackle terrorism the overreaching attempts of the other institute to disrupt our placements. As expected several strategies came up, ranging from completely illogical (collective bargaining with the management and the administration) to more sensible ones like kidnapping a Cabinet minister (It was alleged later that the persons who came up with this suggestion had just been smoking marijuana growing on the volley court, after playing 48 hours of Counter Strike non-stop). Fortuitously, things resolved itself amicably as the other institute completed their placements well before our process had started. However, the whole episode brought the batch together into a cohesive unit which would see us through to placements.

The Placement Slots opened a week before Christmas. Early morning, the mess staff were greeted by a long queue of “student managers” surprisingly wide awake. They had gotten used to seeing us stumble to our breakfast tables half asleep (and in some very rare cases half drunk) seconds before the mess closed. Our juniors were also in early, as they had to handle the companies coming for placements and organize the entire placement process. Fortunately, the mess was well prepared to tackle the sudden onslaught of hungry students, though it was still pretty hectic out there.

The companies came in soon, some with shortlists in hand ready for the group discussions. The juniors met them at the gates and, unlike Horatius Cocles, let them in and took over from there, taking care of the interviewers while we moved on from one company to another. The tension was visible on many faces as the second shortlists came. Many missed the cut, but there were no drooping shoulder in sight.

My mentor for my summer internship had mentioned how crucial the support of your friends are in times of placements, to keep you motivated. The batch acted as the catcher in the rye holding together the dejected candidates telling to them keep their chin up and pepping them up for their next group discussion. As for the ones who got through, there were always a lot of “global” gurus to prep them for the next round.

Few of the students had been placed prior to the placement process having received pre placement offers from the company they did their summer internship. There were also couple of companies who had come earlier owing to their long term relationship with the institute (One of them got one of  the highest packages on offer that year despite having one of the lowest CGPA, shattering any myths about CGPA). Of the ones that were placed early, most stayed back, helping out their batchmates advising them and motivating them. (One annoying chap, however, stayed back to note down where everyone got placed, to the extend of staying outside the interviewer’s rooms questioning everyone, inviting the ire of the dejected candidates). Overall, the entire batch acted as a unit making sure nobody fell midway and everyone came through in he end. The juniors did a meticulous and efficient job taking care of the recruiters. The placement committee ensured the process went through without a glitch. A well-oiled machine was put to test and it came out with flying colors.

As the companies went by, most people came through. We crowded around whenever a final list was revealed cheering for the ones who cleared. Each list was greeted by a celebration, as more students got placed. The camaraderie among the batch was clear, evident and resounding. There were no signs of bad blood or disgruntlement over lost opportunity as everyone took part in congratulating the ones who got through.

Day 1 arrived, but by this time most were placed save less than a score. A horde of companies had to fight it out for these last few and the CV of these companies were good enough that few of the students placed earlier, chose to appear for some of them as well.

Day 1 also saw the campus back to full atttendence. Few of the students who were placed early had left for their homes, but now everyone was back cheering on the last few as they came from their interviews. The news of the last few getting placed was met with great zeal that cannot be easily rivaled. And so, the batch saw through the hectic placement process and all were smiles at the end, right on time for Christmas.

When all was said and done, we went around the campus for a quick money collection and a last minute party was organized in honor of the juniors who had come through for their seniors. But soon everyone had to hit the books as exams approached post Christmas.

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Water Jammed in Chennai

Posted by RB Kollannur on October 25, 2008

Chennai roads. Heavy rains. If you are familiar with Chennai, you will already be picturing waterlogged streets. Add to this, the office leaving traffic, the weekend traffic and the Diwali shopping traffic and you know it will be not be easy to find a breathing space in the city. If you add a human chain showing solidarity with Sri Lankan Tamils and you can gladly assure yourself that it will be days before you see any daylight out of the traffic. So when two of my “overworked” IT friends (I mention “overworked” out of sympathy for their upcoming misfortunes and the minor fact that they had an all-nighter at work) chose to go home for Diwali at this most inopportune of times, we had deep misgiving of a tragedy waiting to happen. The likelihood of a missed train or a flight was more than Barack Obama becoming the next US President.

The two started off from Thiruvanmiyur, a nice town in the outskirts of Chennai. The train was at 2015 hours and the flight was at 2100. Keeping the evening rush in mind, the train seeker started off early at 1800, with a comfortable cushion of over an hour. Even in heavy traffic, an auto will only need close to an hour to reach the Chennai Central railway station. So, he was good to go. But the other friend of mine chose to live dangerously. He chose to risk it, cutting it close, taking his time getting some much needed sleep, leaving at 1900 for the airport. I cannot comment on how long it will take to get to the airport, but as my friends assured me it will be close. When queried about whether he will make it on time, he replied with a cursory “Ho jayenga” glance.

The recent rains in Chennai have played spoilsport for the neighborhood kids trying to celebrate Diwali. No sooner the crackers are unwrapped from their packets, the heavens intervene and put a dampener to the children’s merry making. But on the downside, these rains also filled up the low lying areas of Velachery, lying between my airport going friend and the airport. The roads to Central are much higher and more immune from the rain. Like cruel friends that we are, we had a pool going and placed our bets on who will miss their journey. Sure enough the air traveler had the odds heavily stacked against him.

An hour and a half later, to our surprise, it was the train seeker who called; to report that the plane seeker has missed the flight and is searching for the airline’s number. Soon, we received a frantic call from our air traveling friend at Kathipara Junction (The junction near SIDCO in the map) asking us to stop the plane, by all means necessary.

The first idea was to call in a bomb threat, but those things only work in bad movies like “Road Trip”. Finally we decided the saner option of checking with the airline company. After a long automated reply that lasted close to ten minutes, we finally got through and found out the plane has been delayed by thirty minutes and is now scheduled for 2130. We passed on the message to our distressed friend and enquired how far he has progressed, only to discover he has not moved an inch in the past fifteen minutes. We strongly suggested he get alternate travel, even to the extent of suggesting he make a run for it. Okay, that was a stretch, but we did suggest he take a train or flag a ride.

What he chose to do next will remain outside the premises of this blog, but I am told the airport authority was a bit surprised when they encountered a water drenched passenger running to check in, drenched in rain, slush, sweat and certain other liquids that I’d rather not mention.

One good thing about airliners these days is that they would gladly wait for their customers, since they don’t have many. Fortunately for my friend, he was not alone in his search for the skies. There were other passengers held up in traffic as well and my friend made the flight just on time thanks to a further delay by the airliner to get their passengers on board. Finally, the flight seeker made his destination on time and presumably so did our friend on the train. The rain’s intense need to claim another victim was staved off for the time being. But.

Late night at 2245, the door of the house opened with a grinding resistance (Because it was water logged, like Chennai) by our train traveler, with a foolish grin on his face.

The traffic did what the rain couldn’t. Having smartly ignored the MRTS, he spent two hours in traffic till he reached the Adyar signal at the corner of LB Road and Sardar Patel Road (Adyar in the map). Having realized the train would be long gone by the time he reached the station, he decided grimly to turn back. Another two hours later and a wallet 380 bucks thinner, he finally managed to get back to his home. In the end, after a round trip to Adyar, he was back where he started having traveled in the same auto for over four hours, when on foot the journey could be completed in ninety minutes and 150 bucks max on auto, even if you are a lousy bargainer. I guess the rain had the last laugh, after all. So did we.

Map Courtesy : Google Maps

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Birthday Mayhem

Posted by RB Kollannur on October 3, 2008

(Disclaimer: The following incident is fictional, though it borrows heavily from couple of unrelated incidents that happened in the past three years)

The painful birthday bumps. The gruesome reminder that you are getting older. The annoying insistence of your friends to give a party. These days, it is rare for people to associate a happy memory with their birthday. The only solace you get for a birthday is the gift. But even that is in danger of accompanying the Alaskan Moose on the endangered species list*. In short, birthdays are no longer the cherished moments of happinedss that you long for; at least when it is your own birthday. Luckily, it was my roommate who had the misfortune of becoming an year older recently.

It was a clear night sky few hours before the midnight, not a star in sight (?). We took it as a good sign and started off for the bakery to get a cake for the “surprise birthday party”. After all, the onus of buying the cake fell on the roommates. Midway to the bakery, the heavens opened and a heavy downpour ensued. What followed was a mad scramble to the bakery while we were drenched to the bone. No sooner did we reach the bakery, the rain stopped on cue. If it was in a day, we could have seen a rainbow smiling on us after soaking us head to toe.

Cursing the wretched luck, we wrapped up the cake and were just about to leave when the electricity went. Quickly, we went to the next shop to buy candles, birthday candles, that is. We decided to get numerical candles. (There would have been way too many candles to fit on a single cake). I asked for “Two, seven”, which my roommate promptly misheard as two sevens. What followed was an interesting conversation between my roommate and the shopkeeper, repeating “two, seven” till they finally understood each other. Bagging the candles we were about to leave, when another of our roommates (There are five of us in our apartment) called up and told us to get drinks. My roommates needed no excuse to drink alcohol and since it was a birthday, there was no stopping them.

Fortunately there was a wine shop (In Chennai, wine shops do not sell wine, they sell alcohol) across the street. But there was a large puddle of water blocking the entrance to the shop, thanks to the one minute rain that we had while on the way (Chennai roads, sigh). My roommate carefully tread across the puddle, made it to the shop, bought five bottles of beer and brought it carefully one by one back outside. With the last bottle in his hand, the remaining four and the cake in mine, we started off for the bike we had parked not far off. By the way, did I say it had just rained, there was no light on the streets and the roads were a tad too slippery? Before we knew it, my roommate slipped on his feet, dropping the bottle, breaking it. A bemused cop watched over him, wondering why all of a sudden someone chose to touch his feet. All said and done, we took the remaining four and the cake and the candles back to our apartment, without any further casualty.

That is, until we reached home.

We have a nice refrigerator at home that we rented on a six month lease. But, that was over an year ago. Now, it takes up half of our electricity bill and makes an entire freezer of ice everyday (See below). We have a sneaky suspicion that the person we rented it from has abandoned it, worried we might sue him for the extra cost. In a hurry to keep the bottles chilled, my roommate thrust one bottle into the freezer with all strength he can manage. I think it will suffice to say that my roommates were satisfied with the remaining three bottles.

Moving on to the next day. We finally managed to get the birthday boy to throw a party at Moonrakers (In Mahabalipuram, outside Chennai). One of us was keen on going to Mayajaal (which is on the way) preferring its food court over the sea food at Moonrakers. So, we set off on three bikes to Mahabalipuram. Since it was a long journey, one of us (The one who wanted to go to Mayajaal) recommended we fill our tanks to a certain amount of fuel, since he had been to Moonrakers few times. Trusting him, we filled it up as he said; only to later realize the fuel was just enough to take us to Mayajaal. So, we finally went there for some starters, cursing our roommate all the way, while he hitched a ride to get some petrol. Finally, we were back to our road trip to the temple town, after a one hour delay. The rest of the trip went uneventful, except for a punctured tire or two on our way back.

That wraps up a delightfully miserable birthday. Until next time, if I live to survive this post.

No bottles of beer (or moose) were harmed in the process of writing this post. The ice filled freezer, in case you d ont believe me.

* Moose does not seem to be in any endangered species list, but if Sarah Palin has her way, you never know.

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