When Prof. Carolyn R. Bertozzi won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, I thought, “Well, there might not be many of them, but I am glad they exist. Countless girls like my sister have a role model to look up to.” Not so long ago, I also had a few dreams as a boy in an unknown village in a remote corner of India. Every evening post-dinner, I would sit on the ground and look up at the sky to spot airplanes flying by. Their blinking lights would make me very happy.

I thought, “I would one day learn to fly one of those.” It is quite hard to spot one these days because of pollution or maybe because they changed the routes, but I dreamt of making an airplane journey ever since I can remember. I am flying halfway across the world, in a few hours to continue my academic pursuits. I could not be more grateful.

I have been waiting to write this essay for quite some time. It seems like we are at that right juncture now.

I left the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur in April 2021. Since then, many things happened: cousins got married, I met my Electrical Engineering degree requirements, and got my degree, and perhaps, most importantly, I got into the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad. If you had asked me a few years ago if I planned on coming to IIMA, the answer would have been an unequivocal NO.

But, as is common in life, circumstances change; some things you control, and some you don’t. I am thrilled that IIMA happened to me. Even though it is not what I originally envisioned, I do not regret my experience, not in the slightest.

Disclaimer: I studied Electrical Engineering at IITK. I am pursuing an MBA at IIMA. The following account is solely based on my personal experience and observations. It is not a critical examination of the failure or success of various bodies, nor is it an exhaustive account of events. Hence, everything I say in this essay should be taken with a pinch of salt.

This essay discusses the circumstances that led to my choices and who I am. So, please bear with me, for the article is long. I originally titled the essay “IITK vs. IIMA: A comprehensive review.” But, it seemed that merely comparing these institutions would not do justice to the reader. So I added background material to inform them why I made certain choices. If you are interested in the numbers, statistics, and comparisons based on them, plenty of websites do it well.

Growing up, I did not know what IITs were or what engineers did. I just knew that one has to either be an engineer or a doctor in life. Since a close cousin (whose marriage I briefly alluded to) already chose the medical profession, I decided I would be an engineer. Obviously, I did not know about IIMs. I first heard about “consulting” in the third year of my undergraduate degree.

I did well in school, mainly because my parents were strict. I am still quite fearful of mom, who ensured I knew everything there was to know and that I did not screw up. I remember an instance from Class 6 or 7: I did not inform her that I had forgotten to note down the half-yearly exam routine because I feared I’d receive an ass-whopping. Instead, I studied for both History and Geography exams. It was a Geography exam that day, and I mainly studied History. Fortunately, I did reasonably well in the exam, and my mom never found out (perhaps until now).

Thinking about the past sometimes makes me wonder, “What went wrong with me?” By some stroke of fortune, I ranked $2^{nd}$ among the Scheduled Tribe (ST) students in the state in Class 10 board exams. I remember receiving a cheque and then stressing out about it because I did not know how to cash it in. I was timid back then and would let mom speak everywhere to everyone on my behalf. It is as if she was my interpreter. It was simpler times - I did not know that there was something other than ST and SC because those two categories covered almost everyone I knew. I definitely did not know that people look down on you because of which category you come from. I would find out the harsh reality some years later. But more on that in a later paragraph.

Due to my test scores, I got admission to a pretty good school in Guwahati, Assam. That is where I first heard the three magical letters- “IIT.” I distinctly remember my Organic Chemistry teacher telling us about various IITs. “There are the old IITs, and then there are newer IITs,” he said. Someone asked which ones were better, and he said the older ones were better because they’re “established.” So, I decided I was going to an older IIT. I did not even know the names of all the older IITs by then.

I joined a CBSE school after a few intense years of writing state board exams (TBSE, in my case). It was common for students of one education board to look down on students of other education boards. During our first week of JEE prep course, they taught us trigonometry. The CBSE students were supposed to be “just introduced” to the concept, but I studied it in my state curriculum for two years. So, I breezed past the chapter. I thought, “If this is how things stay, I am going to one of the older IITs.” I did not at all anticipate what life had in store for me. Days passed, weeks passed, months passed, and we continued solving the sheet, DPP (daily practice problems), and HCV (Concepts of Physics by Prof. HC Verma of IITK). Some of us fell behind, while others climbed the class rank charts. Those two years were one of my life’s most hectic yet rewarding periods. It made me who I am today.

I did well (I think I actually answered almost all the questions) in some random school assembly quiz. The principal appreciated my skills and thus chose me to speak in public a few times. By the end of schooling, my fear of public speaking had more or less vanished, and I could talk to strangers without mom’s help. I was confident enough to hold a “JEE motivation session” for my fellow boarding students. I had a great time in school in terms of academics, as well as the hostel life. I would look forward to the weekly movie screenings and the canteen day. We would stock up on snacks during canteen day to munch on them while watching a movie during movie night. The whole thing required careful planning and trading of canteen coupons and favors because we were not allowed to keep cash. Deals were made on the hostel corridors and on playgrounds. Reflecting on this period of my life makes me very teary-eyed. What a time that was!

Time passed, and we wrote more exams. More interactions happened, and I learned that girls valued tall boys. To some, a beard seems to matter a lot too. I would realize the same thing over and over again later on; until there came a time when it did not seem to matter to anyone anymore. I was stressed out, thinking I would end up single for life. What a naive kid, lol. Week in and week out, we solved the DPPs, analyzed our exam performance, and had parent-teacher meetings (PTMs). I mostly did well in exams because my biggest fear at the time was having my parents called to the principal’s office for something terrible. They lived in a different state, so that was never an option. I stayed within bounds and went on about my business.

Around that time, I learned about this great institution in the US called the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I dug deeper and discovered that they require the SAT and recommendation letters. So, it was not going to be just test scores. So, in the middle of JEE preparation, I registered for the test and started filling out my application. I found out that the test accepts the passport as the only valid ID proof. Now, that was something that I did not have yet.

A cousin volunteered to help me get my passport. I eventually got the passport, but it was not an easy process at all. We had to travel to Kolkata (twice, if I recall correctly) to get the passport. Years later, when the Honorable External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, during his interaction at IIMA, mentioned that they have streamlined the process and that Indians could get a passport quickly now, I thought to myself, “It was not at all easy for me.” Maybe things have changed because what are we doing as a country if we are not making good progress on all fronts?

I took the SAT, submitted my application to MIT (look at the audacity), and got rejected. I was a little disheartened that I did not get in, but I still had many options open, so it did not bother me much. I took the JEE Mains and then the JEE Advanced. Along the way, I also applied to IISc Bangalore using the JEE Mains scores and surprisingly got in. I also got the option of filling in my choices for departments at various IITs. As I mentioned before, I was pretty sure about going to an old IIT, so I filled in my options during the counseling accordingly. Like every other JEE candidate, I filled “CSE, IIT Bombay” as my top choice even though I knew I would not get an admission offer.

Finally, the counseling system froze EE, IIT Kanpur, for me (it was my fifth choice). The three other choices were (CSE IITD, CSE IITM, and CSE IITK, in that order). I filled in just six choices. I do not know what would have happened if I did not get any of the choices, but I don’t think it would have been pleasant. It was unwise; I should have carefully filled in a few more choices. I would repeat the same mistake when filling out the CAT application form four years later when I had just applied to IIMA and IIMB. I don’t seem to learn from my silly mistakes.

By then, I had admission offers from IISc and IITK. I was in a dilemma about where to finally head to. Both programs were one of the best in the country. The fees were comparable (that is to say, almost negligible), and both places were far from home (this was one of the primary criteria). The teachers, the newspapers, and the internet had only lovely things to say about both. I lost my sleep over it. Talking to my cousins did not help. They kept on telling me to “follow my passion.” Finally, I got in touch with a third-year EE senior at IITK (who now works in Samsung HQ, South Korea), who was kind enough to walk me through the pros and cons of the B.Tech. EE program at IITK. It seemed like a nice place to go to.

My math coaching teacher was very clear on what I should do. According to him, I should go to IITK because the program is quite old and established compared to the one at IISc (which is true), that IISc might be better for post-graduate because that is their focus (which is also perhaps true), and IITK has a broader alum base (which is also true, I think). And frankly, I prepared for engineering, so why pivot to pure-Science? I considered all the options and arguments and decided to go to IITK.

Before I finally headed to IITK for classes, we had a farewell ceremony at the school. It was one of the best days of my life so far. I got many certificates (which came in handy later on, if you know you know ), a trophy (that seemed to impress the airline’s lady), and a laptop (that was my first laptop, I spent an entire night playing with it). We said our final goodbyes, which was the end of school life as I knew it. I also jokingly told a friend from the commerce stream that we would meet at IIMA someday after our undergraduate. I clearly did not mean it at the time. I did not actually think about IIMA for years while at IITK. It’s funny how life happens at times.

So, we packed our bags and headed to Lucknow. We took a cab from there to Kanpur. The journey to Lucknow was an adventure in itself. A political party called for a state-wide strike in Tripura on our travel day. So there was a looming uncertainty about whether we will be able to make it to the airport on the scheduled day. Unwilling to take risks, we reached Agartala, the capital city, the day before, thinking that even if the worst happens, at least the capital won’t come to a standstill. We should be able to get to the airport even if we walk. Once we made it to our flight, things would be alright. As a 17-year-old, that thought never came to me. Thanks to the foresight of my cousin, who saw through a better part of my struggles. I wonder how many people missed their flights and appointments because of circumstances like that.

That is one of the things about Tripura and the Northeast in general that I hate the most. Some skirmishes happen, governments resort to shutting down the internet, or political parties call for strikes, leading the state to a standstill. I know it is crucial to get things under control, and the right to peaceful protest should be allowed. Still, they should not cause discomfort to innocent students like me. Imagine if something went down and the internet was cut off; I won’t be able to attend my online classes. That is the kind of disruption that the country as a whole should strive to avoid.

We headed towards Kanpur from Lucknow after a quiet night there. A few things stood out to us. Sure, we have a lot of poor people back from where I come, but the level of inequity that I saw was a first. We saw people living under the flyover, and a few blocks later, we saw high-rise buildings and fancy shopping malls. Sadly, that sight was not going to be the last one. I would witness the same a few years later in Gujarat, on my way from the airport to the IIMA campus.

I went to IIT Guwahati for my JEE counseling because that is the closest IIT to my hometown. I won’t lie here; IITG has a beautiful sprawling campus overlooking the Brahmaputra. It is nestled between hills, and the natural beauty is breathtaking. To add the cherry on top, they also have a vast entrance gate that creates the illusion that every old IIT must have a similar gate. In contrast, after we got to Kalyanpur, we crossed a railway track, entered a small gate, and were told by the guards on duty that it was the IITK gate. I was very disappointed, honestly. It has been like that ever since - disappointment after disappointment. No, no. I am kidding.

I sat on my first flight in 2015 on my way to Guwahati to take admission for Class 11-12. I stayed at home for most of my early years, except for paying an occasional visit to my maternal grandmother. One has to walk about an hour from the nearest market to reach the village. I am told that small cars now take passengers to the village during non-monsoon seasons. Clean running water, a reliable electrical connection, and proper sanitation is still a distant dream for them and the dozens of children growing up there. It is pretty hard to wrap my mind around it at times. I can order food to my doorstep like an emperor; powercuts are unheard of here. In fact, to the best of my recollection, the longest powercut that we had during my four years stay at IITK lasted for about 2 minutes. It is a new world that I did not know existed before I walked the lawns and hallways there.

I loved campus life during my undergraduate. The freedom that you get after you enter IITK is unparalleled. We could go out to cycle at 4 AM, and nobody cared. The Wi-Fi network is so fast you can stream 4K videos without lag. There seemed to be people from about every state (it is worth noting that the Northeast representation is quite bad in old IITs and IIMs). The lecture halls were the size of a large movie theatre, and the library had all the books you might need. Occasionally you also ran into people like HC Verma. If you went through the IITJEE journey, you can’t not know who he is.

Every professor at IITK, in fact, seemed to be on a novel pursuit, and teaching is just a secondary part of their job. The whole place reeks of smartness. The labs were second to none. Looking back, it was a wholesome experience, even though I was not too fond of it at the time. You can Read “Courses that I took at IIT Kanpur”. The most memorable lab session was when we asked a friend to hammer the table top very hard, telling him that flattening the spot was a required part of the experiment. He had not been paying attention, so he went hammering until the whole lab stared at our table, and we burst out laughing. The faculty at IIMA is top-class as well. Even though we did not have labs, they taught me to be more human, and to think more about the humane aspects of my solutions and not just focus on technical solution to problems. Even though I did not like every course that I took, I would say I genuinely enjoyed a few courses, and will remember the lifelong lessons. Read “Courses that I took at IIM Ahmedabad”.

IITK was a great equalizer in some sense. It did not matter if your parents were wealthy; if you did not solve that derivation, you could not write it on the test. The institute provided access to resources that most universities worldwide could only dream of. The only thing that was required was the will to learn new things. It did not matter how niche a skill was; there was always someone; a senior, a wingie, a club, or a professor to teach you. Of course, factors such as stable financial support mattered a lot, too, but IITK has been more generous to me than I could ever hope for. Suddenly, I was an adult, and people expected things from me. None spoon-fed me anymore. If I screwed something up, I was bound to face the consequences.

Education, I realized, has immense power. It would take my parents multiple trips to various government offices to get a document or other. Bank staff would look at us with suspicious eyes or flat-out deny service. Once people knew that I have a degree from IITK and am pursuing an MBA at IIMA, things seemed to flip on their heads. Suddenly, I was in the office of a senior state bureaucrat, debating the state’s policies. I even did my hand-movement thing and suggested a few approaches that might improve outcomes. As for the banks, the manager(s) would personally take care of my issues and resolve them. Opening a bank account and availing of services went from days to minutes. All I needed to do was to sign at the right places, and everything just worked out. They even assigned me someone called a “relationship manager” after I deposited my IIMA internship stipend into my account. He would occasionally call me and inform me about the latest offers. When I politely declined the recommendations, they would ask me to call them back in case I had any queries. It is amazing!

I wrote many essays on “Unity in diversity” while in school. The conclusion was always along the lines of, “Yes, we are a diverse country, speaking various languages, with different food habits, and unique facial features, but therein lies the beauty of India. We are united as one, and that is our strength.” As I am growing up, I am not sure if this is precisely the case. It sometimes keeps me up at night. Are we really united? Do we really appreciate diversity in our institutions? If yes, why is there a sense of hatred against people from the reserved categories?

Despite the constant messaging about unity in diversity, appearances matter. More often than not, the guards would ask for my ID when I entered the campus. They would not bother asking for ID from my Hindi-speaking friends unless we entered or exited the campus during odd hours. I am not crying foul play here but am pointing to more extensive changes required for us to be a more robust and “more perfect Union.” When I go to salons to color my hair, I will get asked if I am from Nepal or Bhutan. When I tell them that I am from Tripura, they would ask if that is in India. I almost always tell them that it is near Assam, and they understand. And more often than not, the follow-up question would be, “Do you work somewhere here?” That is the kind of attitude that leads to selective ID checks, in my opinion. If you suspect someone might be a worker and not a student of your campus, you will check their ID to make sure they are one of you.

To be clear, I have no issues presenting my ID whenever asked. However, I wish that did not happen selectively. We need to do a better job at changing the mindset of people and their perceptions about people from different parts of the country. There are various ways of doing that, but I shall propose two ways that might help. First, the mainstream media needs to better cover the Northeast’s events, not just Assam. I do not expect everyone to know everything about the Northeast. Still, they should at least be aware of the seven sisters and the cultures of people living there. I must point out that like the rest of India, even the seven sisters are quite different from each other, each with their own customs and traditions. Second, school textbooks also need to include more chapters about the Northeast. I learned what I know about mainland India from books. I don’t see why more kids outside the Northeast cannot be taught about the region when it is an integral part of the country.

Identity issues did not come up while I was in the Northeast. Almost everyone, if not all, looked like me. For reference: here is a photo of me.

While in college, I read stories about people from the Northeast getting mistreated. It made me feel bad. I came to realize the privilege that I have. IITK and IIMA are perhaps the two places that every Indian parent wants their children to be in. I am beyond grateful to have walked the lawns and hallways of these institutions. Every time I think about that, I choke up with emotions. There are no words to express what I feel. So, I did not face many of the issues my people encountered on the mainland. My experiences were at worst, minor (perhaps ignorant) incidents. Through classes and accounts of other people, I came to know about the various issues we need to work out as a society. At times it is scary: because I have grown up in these protective bubbles, where everything worked as expected, I wonder if I am ready for the real world yet. I suppose only time could tell me that.

A classmate replied to one of my stories, “You guys got the benefits of reservation; what else do you want? Some families have used reservations to their advantage for two or three generations. 16-17 year old kids who thought they were equal citizens feel otherwise when they see four separate columns when taking admission in colleges.” Other replies had a similar tone to them. There is a whole “influencer movement” on LinkedIn around the subject of reservation. Some of you might disagree with what I say here, which is okay.

The notion of equality that the reply talks about is a flawed one. First, the mere idea of these kids dreaming about equality is a massive thing. Think about the kids who do not have such audacity because they are always treated as second-class citizens. You cannot possibly think about uplifting a whole section of a population that had a late start without affirmative action. Of course, the argument for equality would make sense when everyone in India had the same status and access to opportunities as everyone else, just as we got independence. Sadly, that is not the reality. This is the kind of argument one gets when you take the definition of equality out of context.

I am sorry, but you cannot possibly claim that because somebody’s father availed the so-called “benefits” of reservation, their children should not be given reservation. You cannot treat affirmative action as a one-time coupon. It is not about the economic upliftment of a family but rather about a section of the population having a seat at the decision making table that has long been denied to us.

Another common but shallow argument is about a particular generation suffering because of the actions of their ancestors. I am sorry, how are you suffering exactly? I don’t think you have a problem with the reservation system; your problem, my friend, is that you did not get into your preferred college or profession. In fact, I have not seen people fretting about affirmative action outside of college admissions or job offers. Can you get rid of caste-based discrimination before talking about abolishing reservations?

People seem to value my opinion or hate me for them. It is either of the two. In most cases, I found that people genuinely care about what I say. One of the things I came to understand as I was growing up is that people’s actions and opinions are based on their own experiences and, in most cases, not out of the wickedness of their hearts. Then there are days where you go, “They are so dumb; how can they think like that?!”

Speaking someone else’s language is the key to their heart. While at IITK, people would try to speak English to me, assuming I couldn’t speak Hindi. Who would tell them I can express myself in fluent Hindi thanks to Doraemon? My Hindi improved considerably after speaking it for years at IITK. I don’t think it is close to how a native speaker would say, but I manage to get by pretty well.

I did not speak Hindi all that extensively before going to Kanpur. I understood what people said, though. I mostly learned Hindi from watching the hit cartoon show Doraemon. Before that, I spoke some Hindi during my high school years in Assam and to CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) jawans returning from patrol duty. When we lived in the village, we would watch them walk back to their base camp every evening after the day’s patrol. We would often salute them, and in the rare case that they asked us, “Kya chal Raha hai? Sab theek?” I would reply, “Saheb, kuch nahin chal raha hai. Haan sab thik hai.” That was the most Hindi that I spoke. Growing up, I mostly conversed in my mother tongue (Tripuri and Kaubru) and Bangla. They had scary long guns, and we village boys would ensure we were on our best behavior. To their credit, we never faced any interruptions in our day-to-day lives. Later on, in B-School, I would learn about the circumstances of their deployment and the legal provisions under which they function. It would help if you read about The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA). 1

Classes at IIMA gave me a lot of freedom to discuss various issues facing our country. In a time of intense polarization worldwide, we must come together as a society and talk to each other. I think we can solve these problems if we have a reasonable dialogue. One of the most striking differences I found between IITK and IIMA is precisely that. IIMA allowed me to think beyond equations, machines, and lab manuals. It let me be a little bit more human. In that regard, coming to IIMA was one of the best decisions of my life. I am still unsure if I dislike engineering, even after what I said about it in this essay. Read This Ain’t It Babe. I have immense respect for engineers. I might go back to get a Ph.D. in one of the engineering disciplines; who knows. I am keeping all options open.

I tried various things while at IITK. I dabbled in research projects, quizzing, writing, and even dance. The first version of this blog was set up while I was at IITK (a night before an end-semester exam for MTH102A, I think). I fell in love with cycling and often wandered mindlessly around the campus with my best friend (she was the only girl in the Mechanical Engineering Department). Campus life represented an escape to me - away from all the stress of real life. Everyone seemed to be doing something all the time. There is a sense of life that I did not come across anywhere else. I would run into people on the hostel corridors and spend hours hatching an idea or talking about life events. There was some event or the other almost every day of the year. If I could, I would do IITK all over again. There was a sense of excitement in the eyes of that 18-year-old. I felt as if I could be anyone that I wanted to be.

In contrast, I found IIMA quite focused and settled. Most students here seemed focussed on crafting the perfect resume for their dream employer. Everything happens for a CV point. Even the hostel life is quiet here. Running into people on the corridor and spending time with them chatting about various things is a rare possibility. That does not mean that people here don’t socialize at all. We do, but it is very different from IITK. Maybe this is all by design, and I would come to appreciate various aspects of the B-School life a few years later. Campus-wide events happen but not with a similar enthusiasm as that during UG. People participate in competitions and events to write their achievements on their resumes. Most people do not bother participating in sports or other competitions if they cannot get a CV point. If IITK was a maze where most people did not know how to get out, IIMA is more like a highway where people seem to know exactly where they want to go and how many lanes they have to change to get there.

I found the IIMA campus much more empathetic. It might be because people here are older on average and have the emotional maturity to deal with other people. Or it might be the curriculum that molds people into sensible people, but whatever the cause, if there is something that I love about the campus, it is its people. In contrast, I found most students at IITK quite indifferent toward the feelings of others. If there are issues, most people resort to ignoring them and carrying on with their lives. I know they are training engineers, but I wish the curriculum offered more courses from the social sciences and humanities so that the students are not disconnected from reality. Both institutions have a pretty similar attitude towards women, though. Remarks such as, “she got that job or that role because she is a girl,” are common. I wonder if that is because most IIMA students are engineers or if that is the general attitude towards women in Indian institutions.

Both IITK and IIMA have world-class libraries. The PK Kelkar Library at IITK is one of my favorite spots on campus (after my room and CCD). Its collection probably is one of the best scholarly collections in the country. You could find almost every book that you might require for your academics. The collection of non-academic books is minimal, however. They even have a fountain now. That would make for an excellent Instagram photo background. The Vikram Sarabhai Library at IIMA goes a few steps further. It is arguably one of the best libraries in the country. Name a book, and you will probably find it there. If they don’t have the books that you want in their catalog, they are happy to order them for you. I asked them to order At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, Anna Moschovakis, How the World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide to Our Past, Present and Future by Vaclav Smil, Both/and: a life in many worlds by Huma Abedin. And they did.

The only aspect of IIMA campus life that I did not like was its management of animals inside the campus. I got a dog bite, and now I fear going for a solo walk late at night. I almost always never carry food with me and prefer ordering everything to my room. I could roam around freely at night at IITK because they somehow figured out how to manage the animals on campus. No, I am not proposing that the institute eliminate all the animals on campus. However, there needs to be a productive conversation around the issue and at least implement some measures. Writing to the internal email list is not enough, apparently.

I wish they had taught us personal finance in school. IIMs are substantial financial commitments, and even though the banks offer loans with generous terms, the admission process requires some financial commitment early on, at least till the admission formalities are sorted out. I was living with my friends in New Delhi when the IIM admissions were going on. I left home because I feared for my safety at the time. Everything seemed volatile; differences that I could not resolve and complications I did not dare to face head-on. So, I did what I did best: I avoided confrontation and just ran.

A scholarship offered by the Government of India helped me buy a laptop of my choice. Their generous stipend supported my monthly expenses. Contrary to LinkedIn wisdom, money actually matters a lot. Poor people are not dumb; they lack cash. The additional support from the government helped me experience my college life fully. I would have hesitated to get that cup of coffee or go out with friends for networking (which is invaluable) if I had not had the financial cushion. I am also forever indebted to my parents, who probably skipped countless meals just so they could save up for me and send me to the best schools. Without the support of my family and the government, I don’t think I’ll be writing this essay today. It’s amazing what a little help during crucial periods of one’s life can do to that person’s life.

My mom offered me to use a portion of the Fixed Deposit that she had saved up years ago for her children. That helped me meet my admission and other expenses at least until I could complete the paperwork. Without her unwavering support, I wonder if I would have made it to IIMA. Thanks, mom! This MBA is for her. I should also thank strangers on the internet - juniors at IITK, people I ran into at some point in time, who came forward and contributed towards my living expenses. That helped me wrap up my UG degree properly, helped me get home, and instilled enough confidence in me to leap higher. My life trajectory would have been very different without people’s help. So, as I write this essay, I feel nothing but gratitude, and a deep sense of “How did I get this lucky? What did I do to deserve so much kindness?”

My IIT-IIM journey went smoothly for the most part. I fell ill several times at IITK, but the institute cared for me well. I found the campus very well managed; everything seemed to work. My time at IIMA passed by smoothly as well. I was hospitalized because of dengue fever, but the soup and coffee they provided at the hospital were excellent. Of course, I would never wish to go back there, but the doctor and the staff were extra friendly after finding out that I came from the opposite end of the country.

Falling ill away from home was probably the worst few days on my IIT-IIM journey. During my second year at IITK, I fell pretty sick and had to spend four days in the ICU. I fell ill once more towards the end of my UG degree, but that was not as bad as the previous one. The first time I fell sick, I worried about the massive medical bill. To my surprise, the doctor or the hospital staff did not ask me for money. Everyone seemed extra nice to me when they came to know I am from Tripura (near Assam) and IIT. The institute footed the entire bill, and the whole process was seamless. My parents and I were equally surprised. I would be astonished about medical bills again in the future - this time at IIMA.

The surprise turned out to be an unpleasant one, unfortunately. Let me explain. I was hospitalized with a dengue fever about two months after coming to IIMA. Since my platelet count was decreasing rapidly, I decided to go to a nearby hospital. As expected, the hospital bill was significant. But unlike at IITK, IIMA’s group health insurance did not pay the entire bill, and I had to pay a substantial portion of the bill out of my pocket. My friend had a long discussion with the insurance provider and other authorities, but that did not help. I learned a lot about health insurance and the institute’s medical insurance policy after the experience. IIMA really needs to step up its medical insurance/healthcare cover game. If IITK can do it, you can do it too. Perhaps, you can even manage it better. If you are at IIMA: talk to SAO and figure out the details of your institute’s medical policy. Find out what is covered and to what extent. If you feel the coverage is insufficient, you should perhaps buy health insurance from another provider. Things such as medical insurance were unheard of where I come from.

I learned a lot about myself during my post-high school years. It has resulted in strains in a few relationships. I stopped talking to a few members of my family because they could not appreciate me for who I was. Standing up for women in the family earned me irk from other family members and relatives. I sometimes wonder if whatever I am doing is worth it. When sleep does not come, I often think about what went wrong. How can those who encouraged me to succeed academically turn on me? My exposure to the outside world has also clashed with the society I come from. When I pointed out that some practices are probably too inhumane to carry on, the villagers would laugh at me or whisper behind my back. When I took a stand for what I thought was right, they said, “How can he do that, being all that educated and all?” More often than not, I find our value systems conflicting, and I can’t seem to find a way out. My biggest fear is that I’ll die a loner because my value systems do not match that of the others.

I am fortunate to receive so much love and kindness from strangers wherever I go. Except for the few instances I pointed out, people treated me fairly and kindly, stepping up for me whenever I asked for help. I am grateful for that. I tell my friends and family that I believe in the goodness of people’s hearts. I know change will not happen overnight, but I am optimistic about India and its people. I hope people will learn more about the Northeast and eliminate their presumptions and stereotypes. If that happens in my lifetime, I would be a happy man on my deathbed.

What’s next? At least in the immediate future, I am going to continue my academic pursuits. I am heading to the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration (WU) to pursue an M.Sc., in Strategy, Innovation, and Management Control. No, I did not drop out of IIMA. I am joining WU as a double degree student. You can read more about it here.

I shall write more about it as I get more time and settle into the program. For now, I must bid goodbye. Until next time.

Please feel free to leave a comment or write to me in case you have any questions.

1. AFSPA was withdrawn from Tripura in 2015.

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