At the old campus gate
That red scarf is called a risa. My mother weaved the shirt, especially for the convocation. 30 March, 2024.

This is perhaps the first and last time I’m publishing identical essays on The Windmill and here on the blog. I published this exact essay on my newsletter. If you’d rather read it there, you can follow this link.

I’ve been writing this essay for quite sometime now – I started writing it at a cafe like most of my essays, on different flights, listening to different songs, going through various moods. I was having a tough time thinking about what to write but seeing Mom walk around the IIMA campus, and giving her the campus tour made me realize exactly what I wish to write about – an origin story, a story of growth, and of increasing optimism about the future.

“I don’t even recall some of the kids I taught, but I remember you – from Twitter!”, remarked one of the Professors I ran into during the farewell dinner 1. That was one of the most memorable moments from the convocation weekend. The IIMA convocation happened on 30 March, 2024. Initially, I thought I’d publish the essay as soon as convocation day is over. Surprisingly, a lot of things can happen within a short time span, it turns out. So, here we are, almost three weeks later.

Seeing a few familiar faces on campus helped quite a bit in calming my nerves. I have been feeling a lot of things going into the convocation weekend and after. In fact, I almost abandoned this essay because I thought I would not be able to do justice to all the things I was feeling. Like most of my essays, I won’t narrate the events that happened during the convocation weekend chronologically. If you want to know what happened on which day, you can refer to the official schedule, which I’m sure won’t be very hard to find.

Instead, I’ll offer you a frontseat view of the convocation through my lens – everything that led to that moment. The moment they announced my name on stage. Because at the end of the day that’s all that’s left right? Us, our experiences, and our worldview given our experiences. Let’s start then.

A parent. An elder sister to her siblings, but most importantly, a person who hedged her bets right – I wouldn’t be writing these words had it not been for my mother. I’m even happier that she chose to place her bets on me. My earliest memories of time I spent around her are of traveling an entire day to get to her childhood home, meaning my maternal grandfather’s house. Transport options were limited during those days, with a literal army convoy escorting civilian cars to make sure that the passengers are okay. If you are interested in learning more about the happenings of those times you can perform a simple search such as this “Tripura news 2006”.

Anyway, coming back to that trip to my grandfather’s house – we missed a bus connection (coincidentally, we now live in that town where we missed our connection!), but Mom was determined to get home. So we hopped in a goods truck, hoping that we could make the connection in the next town. Unfortunately for us, the truck driver was superbly drunk and started pressing random buttons on the dashboard. If you have been to the Northeast you know how the roads are. Imagine what that might have been like 10-15 years ago – one wrong turn and you’d end up in a valley somewhere.

I had not thought much about the incident. Until now. We asked the driver to stop and drop us wherever we were – turns out it was the middle of nowhere, lush jungles all around. Remember the army convoys I mentioned earlier? One of the army trucks was kind enough to stop for us (they stopped until they made sure we got on a bus that was headed towards my mom’s hometown). Frankly speaking, I was too young and naive at the time to think about the ramifications – my world was limited to spending time with my school books and between two homes – my mom’s and dad’s side of the family.

I don’t remember if this happened earlier or later than the truck incident, but one of the other core memories from childhood has to do with me slicing off a portion of my index finger. It was right before I started Class 1. You see, we had built a new raised bamboo house and the flooring is usually made using bamboo too – you crack open a bamboo and lay them out just like any other flooring. Kids are dumb, I naturally put my tiny finger in one of the cracks – freshly cut bamboo is quite sharp, so I got a cut. Yes, I lived in a bamboo house, a mud house, and then a pukka building. Some of my relatives still live in a bamboo house. Mom poured some mustard oil on it, and I slept for some three hours and that was the end of that episode.

The point of these stories is to hopefully convince you that life is vastly different for so many people. It was so different for me a few years ago – most days feel like a dream. There are not really that many things to cry about. The convocation weekend reinforced that feeling. I’m not asking you to feel sympathy for me, hell no! However, perhaps you can appreciate the vastly diverse country we call home – because for some of you, it is not an imaginary construct someone cooked up to convince you of a particular viewpoint. Some of you literally ate from the same plate as I did, so you know about my lived experience. I’ll use the IIMA convocation experience to make a few points.

The IIMA campus was beautifully lit up for convocation, and why not? A couple thousand people had come together to celebrate the graduation of some of the smartest people in the country. That I got to live, play, and grow up among these people feels surreal. You know, I was and am an active part of that world. However, I am also part of another world – where my maternal grand mother’s village still do not have electricity, forget about running water. How do you explain to someone the gap between these worlds? Can it ever be bridged? Can I ever do something to reduce that gap?

I do not have an answer to any of these questions. And perhaps that’s cool – why should I know the answer to those questions at this stage in life? I’m only 24, right?

I love the Vikram Sarabhai Library. 30 March, 2024.

The convocation, to me, meant something of an official transition – of shedding old guard, leaving the old world behind for the more fast-paced, shiny world where I can summon a taxi within minutes, order fresh chillis when I realize that we’re out of chillis and there’s a boiling pot full of veggies. Someone will hear you out patiently and offer refunds because someone else forgot to pack fresh mushrooms for you. In contrast, my grandmother grows most of what she eats including rice, chillis, pumpkins, etc. The nearest market from her place is about an hour away on foot. If you need something from the market, you got to walk that distance and back. I can order whatever I want via an app and an actual person shows up to the house.

I would be lying if I told you that I do not like this new world. Now, there’s an actual proof that I’m a part of this new world. They announced my name on stage (probably the first time ever that someone uttered the word “Reang” on stage at IIMA), the Chairperson, Board of Governors said “Congratulations!” and handed me my degree. Turns out it isn’t a dream after all – there is paperwork now. I’m officially a graduate of the best B-school in the country. Also, of IITK and the Vienna University of Economics and Business, for good measure.

You can view the moment they call out my name here.

Then again, on some days it still feels like a dream. But inviting Mom, who saw much in her life, to the convocation, and seeing her smile (because my sister won’t stop pressing her to smile for the photos) made me realize that perhaps the life I vaguely dreamt of over the years might finally be in motion. The struggles, the sleepless nights, the constant feeling of “everything is coming to an end” – all of it felt like it was worth it when I saw her walking around the campus, recording everything. I now even know what some of the trees at IIMA are called in my mother tongue.

It’s sort of weird, funny, and coincidental that I was one of the first people to go to campus from my batch, and one of the last ones to leave, at least officially. I’ll be 25 in a few months – the time spent at IIMA also serves as a reminder that there has been immense growth personally. It taught me to embrace things wholeheartedly, but also to look out for and look after myself. One of my friends said, “None else is going to look after you, if you don’t.” That is sensible advice. No? Please don’t confuse that as me being cynical about anything. Growing up is actually pretty cool if you think about it – you come across both the pleasant and unpleasant things, and then go, “Oh, right! I actually saw this before. Look at me, I’m still alright. Cool (say this in John Oliver’s voice)!”

The experience after high school has taught me to actually believe in humankind, and the convocation night only made that belief stronger. I did not imagine the convocation day to go the way it did. I felt like I was going to collapse to the ground when the two people who mean the world to me stood up and waved at me on my way back to my seat. Someone’s relative was waving at their relative during the convocation procession, I waved back at the strangers and they just waved back at me – it was beautiful. Actually, beautiful would be an understatement. And if you are feeling cynical, and doubtful, I offer you one of my favourite lines from my favorite book:

“… accept and account for the fact that you’ll occasionally be cheated. That’s a small price to pay for the luxury of a lifetime of trusting other people.” – Rutger Bregman in Humankind: A Hopeful History. Read the book note here.

I asked Mom how she liked the IIMA campus. She said it’s beautiful – I agree with her. At the same time, it left me feeling a bit empty because I could not show her around the IITK campus, yet. When people ask me about the IIMA campus, I tell them it’s like the IITK campus but $10\times$ smaller. I could not attend the IITK convocation in December 2021, because the country was going through a once-in-a-century pandemic at the time, and I had my exams at IIMA right after the IITK convocation. I did not go to the WU 2 graduation ceremony held in November 2023 because it did not make financial sense to me. So, the IIMA convocation was my first ever convocation, and it did not disappoint. Well, I hope it’s not my last ever convocation. There’s a lot of life to be lived, and I’m here for it.

Coming back to the campus tour. Both campuses are beautiful and I consider myself fortunate enough to have gotten the opportunity to walk their hallways. I had to remind her that the longest powercut we had at IIT Kanpur lasted for about 2.5 minutes. I do not remember of powercuts at IIMA. And Vienna is Vienna. Leading the campus tour for Mom and sister was fun. Telling my sister who Dr. Manmohan Singh is, and why he’s standing next to PM Modi in that photo, telling them about the Ahmedabad heat, and how I ended up in Dorm 19 from Dorm 10 was quite the task. They said Dorm 10 looked “very sad.”

They also said that the library is beautiful. I loved spending time in the library especially when I lived in Dorm 10 because it helped me escape the heat. I even donated a book (Northeast India: A Political History by Samrat Choudhury) – hopefully, it will inform the readers a bit about a region of India that is so dear to me. I also had to explain to my sister why getting a toy dog from the IIMA Store might not be the best idea. Why? You can read more about it here. She got it anyway.

Oh, before the campus tour, we went to Alpha One mall 3 (or whatever they call it these days) because IIMA said I need to wear a white shirt to the convocation, and if you know me, white shirts aren’t really my thing. One thing led to another and Mom said she liked this black H&M bag. Now, in my time at IIMA I heard plenty of things about H&M and its sustainability initiatives, so it wasn’t like I was not well-informed. But, of course I got her the bag. I was helpless.

The toy dog, and the H&M bag remind me of a line from one of my favorite books –

It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you. – Tara Westover, Educated. Read the book note here.

And that's my beautiful mother who raised me, but who also apparently likes H&M sling bags? 30 March, 2024.

I consider myself fortunate that I get to call Mom my mother. Growing up, women of the village treated me like their son – perhaps that’s why they say that it takes a village to raise a child. Convocation represents an official culmination – of the efforts of so many people, primarily my parents but also so many others. It is an official validation, if you will. It felt real when the PGP Chairperson announced my name and the Chairperson, Board of Governors said “Congratulations!” It felt quite dreamy before that.

In the underpass that connects the old IIMA campus to the new campus, there is also a photo of Indira Gandhi. My sister asked me who the lady in the photo was, so I pointed out to her that she was the former Prime Minister of India. If my paternal grandmother’s accounts are to be trusted one of the hydropower projects in Tripura was implemented during her tenure. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, though. My grandmother and folks from her village had to leave everything behind and relocate because of it. She told me that they were warned that in case they did not vacate the village, the army would be sent in.

It’s oddly unsettling, thinking how well-meaning projects can affect common people, both in good and bad ways. If you are a policymaker reading this, please think about how your decisions might affect the masses. My grandmother’s accounts are heartbreaking, and I hope none has to go through something like that in the future.

So, here we are – the grandson of a woman who lost her home because of a hydropower project, and another woman whose village still don’t have electricity or running water. The son of two people who did not finish high school, who happen to be from different tribes, and who fell in love at one point. To think that the best B-school in the country would call my name out loud in front of so many people and confer on me the degree – would sound delusional to most people. Perhaps you got to be a bit delusional now and then, honestly.

Some people said that I’m a “cross” 4 because I’m the son of a Tripuri mother, and a Reang father. Well, you don’t have to hate; celebrate. Celebrate the fact that people are different, and that is okay. Everyone is trying to live a version of their life that they saw for themselves. Growing up a lot of people said I’m not Reang enough, or that I don’t look Indian enough. Then again, what is a Reang? I speak the language, my grandmother is my grandmother, I proudly wear the Reang outfit and celebrate our unique culture. Aren’t we all trying to figure it out?

This is it then? Well, not quite. I’m only 24, there’s so much to do, so much to feel, and so much to live for. I won’t claim to know what I want to do exactly but I’m happy generally, and over the years I’ve come to learn about what I do not want, so we are making progress. I’m optimistic about the future. Things seemed kind of arbitrary, and still do on some days but in retrospect most things made sense – the sleepless nights, the obsession with learning about the world around me, and the constant movement in search of better opportunities. All of it makes sense. And life goes on.

Thank you for reading till this point. All the best with everything. Keep dreaming, and be a bit delusional. Cheers!

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  1. IIMA organizes farewell dinner for the outgoing batch each year, the night before the convocation day. Mom was fasting that day so she did not eat any of the curries because all of them had “sour” ingredients. So, she just had plain rice and some rotis. She said the best thing on the menu was the icecream they served later. I suppose, IIMA got to level up their farewell dinner game. 

  2. WU stands for Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien, or the Vienna University of Economics and Business, not WhatsApp University, gosh! 

  3. Did you even go to IIMA if you haven’t been to that mall? 

  4. The exact word is “laskar”, after a breed of pigs because apparently my ears looked like that. I don’t really know how much merit their arguments had, but as a child who spoke the same language as everyone else around me, ate the same food, bathed in the same river, it was quite hurtful. Yeah, I think “hurtful” is the right word to describe what I felt then. 

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