30 December 2005

All I wanted to say about CAT

I recently, heard one IITian say that ‘My Life would have been much easier if I hadn’t heard of these two words (or rather acronyms) – IIT and IIM’.
I don’t know about IIT but I can say the same about IIMs.
So, what’s in these institutions, which has got into the psyche of young, educated Indians.

When you look at the whole army of software geeks (I guess it’s a wrong word when you use it in context of ‘Indian IT services companies’) from Gurgaon to Hyderabad, with great, secure jobs preparing for CAT, you may wonder what else do you need man. You get paid probably 3 times a ‘core’ guy (that’s what they call civil and mechanical engineers who sweat it out at construction sites and blast furnaces), you spend your weekends at discs, you generally freak out at Barista and Pizza Hut, you can’t think of watching a movie at any other place apart from the multiplexes. Then why CAT?
Ask anybody. Why CAT? Why MBA? Why IIMs? They will have loads of bullshit to offer you. Some will say I am just bugged with technical. I can’t code my whole life. The management cadre is where the real action is and to reach there fast, I need an MBA, preferably from one of the IIMs, to rise quickly up the corporate ladder, to fulfill my entrepreneurial aspirations, to get a brand on my CV..blah..blah. But some are candid enough to admit that they are in this race for the sake of pure moolah, those green bucks which can give them whatever they have ever aspired for – from an annual vacation in Europe to a sprawling 3-bedroom flat in some hip locality of some place like Gurgaon, Bangalore or Mumbai.

Then come the B-school rankings by India Today, Outlook, Businessworld etc, each claiming to be more authentic than the rest. They make it a cover story; write great things about these great places of education and all the fallouts of having an IIM tag. This makes many more thousands to dream of a sprawling office at Manhattan, attending board room presentations in pinstripe suits, dining at the best restaurants and all that. And they too join the MBA bandwagon. Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen to the CAT race. All the Best. You too can do it.

Well much has been said about the greatness of IIMs and the yearning of the middle class Indians for a ‘secure’ and ‘assured’ future. I am not going to comment on why 1.75 lakhs are running this mindless rat race when they all know that less than 1 percent is going to make the mark. What are they actually fighting for?

This is the oft taken way to ‘heaven’:
Slog your ass for that revered exam called CAT – Common Admission Test for around a year or two, get into an IIM, slog your guts out for another 2 years under inhuman pressure amongst the most fiercely competitive peer group in this world, get selected into Morgan Stanley, earn a seven figure salary (preferably in USD), do M&A and INSTANT NIRAVANA. Is this all to life?
Yes, you have achieved something in life; an accomplishment and you have ‘earned’ it. Agreed but is this all?
I have heard of Infosys people quitting US assignments to take a year off to prepare for CAT. You take a year off, cut yourself socially and say ‘I need to get through this time’, ‘Its all in your attitude’, ‘If you believe that you can make it then nobody can stop you’ and all that stuff. But is it normal. A guy who has not done anything except studying for 1 year, haven’t watched a movie, haven’t tried to woo a girl. Is he normal? After all IIMs are looking for people with a holistic personality and not the nerd types. They want just the perfect ones, the achievers who have been number one in whatever they did throughout their lives whether it was editing the college news magazine or topping the IIT-JEE or playing national level squash. If they are so bloody perfect then why do they need an IIM degree or diploma or whatever they offer?
Here I come to my favorite pastime – B-school bashing.

They take the best of bests, play around with them for 2 years or rather test their endurance to bear the unbearable and then blow the trumpet that the ‘Who’s who of the corporate world’ from Vindi Banga to Indra Nooyi, from Harsha Bhogle to KV Kamath are our alumni.
But definitely this CAT thing has turned out to be a big money churner for not only the coaching institutes like IMS, TIME, Career Launcher, Career Forum or Career whatever but also for the B-schools. They advertise themselves as if saying you come to us and we will give you the passport to heaven. TAPMI says we ‘create’ ‘wealth creators’. My foot!
MDI, Gurgaon charges 1300 bucks – higher than even the revered IIMs - for applying to each of their programs (you have to buy separate forms for each of the programs) and they don’t even have to conduct an exam of their own. What do they think they are? They call themselves – a school for thought leaders and change managers. Are you sure that you can ‘create’ thought leaders. Well I am not.
Then there are the eternal villains of this whole game – the sucking coaching centers who preach as if they have some magic potion, which will take you past the doors of IIMs. They do all the number crunching about sectional cutoffs, percentiles, all India ranks and all. Their center heads are alumni of IIMs, who found that they could make more dough by becoming the director of TIME rather than slogging their butts off in some goddamn MNC. They write CAT every year only to get an astronomical percentile of 99.7+ and then claim to have mastered the technique of clearing CAT. They tell you all that crap about being focused and all those motivational stuff straight from Shiv Khera or Stephen Covey. They say no exam is un-trainable. Agreed. You rub, polish and do whatever you can to turn a rough stone into a shining diamond, an IIM material in this case. But then where is the scope for natural talent, those who were born to crack CAT, those who have ‘it’ in them, those who clear everything with seemingly zero preparation. They are the studs. Of course, they form a very miniscule percentage amongst the 1.75 lakhs. I guess the coaching wallahs will give me full marks on this.

Today, I am going to write about my experience with CAT.
About the times when you feel guilty for sleeping 6 hours a day, when the first thing you talk about in Monday morning in office – of course in hushed tones lest your manager hears you - is the anticipated cutoffs for yesterday’s mock, when the word ‘cutoff’ attains new meanings, when you get damn depressed with your scores in mocks and feel that you are fighting a lonely, futile battle wherein the odds are heavily stacked against you with studs like 10 pointers from IITs, BITS clearing the cutoffs like a breeze, when every moron on this earth seems to score higher than you, when the CAT jargon like sectional cutoffs, RC, verbal, time allocation strategy, quant, DI caselets all become a part of your life and your everyday discussion, to a point when they start to drive you nuts. When people start doing Vedic Maths to increase their speed. When you wake up early every Sunday morning and brave the Mumbai locals to go to Dadar, where by looking at the crowd, any person unfamiliar will Mumbai will say that half of the metropolis is up on this Sunday morning to take the IMS mocks. After all they are the ones most of the students take and they supposedly give you the most realistic position of yours ‘vis-à-vis’ your peers.

And finally comes the D-day. You go to the center with a million prayers on your lips, with the blessings of your parents and best wishes of hundreds of your friends. You are on your way to achieve the unachievable, to attain the unattainable. You switch off your mobile 2 hrs before the test and decide to calm down, soothe your nerves. You don’t talk with anybody lest you get distracted because you have to give your best during the next 2 ‘most imp hrs of my life’. Then you dare to look around your ‘competitors’ and see people chanting ‘Gayatri Mantra’ with closed eyes, some anxious dad giving water to his daughter and her mom praying frantically so that her daughter justifies all the sacrifices they have made for her so far.

You come out of the 2 hr show, only to see the STAR NEWS crew just outside your center and a couple of policemen trying in vain to direct the traffic because of the unimaginable crowd of young ‘MBA aspirants’ coming out of the center after writing the most important exam of their lives. You overhear the STAR NEWS guy getting hold of an already unnerved guy and asking him the difficulty level of CAT-2005 and then he rambles something in his microphone about today being a red letter day for 1.75 lacs young men and women. You go and switch on the TV at home and you will probably see the expected cutoffs of this year with the TIME, CL gurus discussing the nuances of this year’s CAT as if they are discussing ways to eradicate poverty from the developing world.

Why is there such hype about just a 2-hour entrance test? There are other imp things taking place in this world. People are starving in spite of our boasting of self-sufficiency in food production, US are bombing Iraq for the sake of Oil and the innocents are getting killed, jihadis are mindlessly killing innocents, thousands of kids die of diseases like diarrhea which can be treated easily if they get medical attention in time, millions don’t have access to proper sanitation or safe drinking water or electricity for that matter, countless are being deprived of quality education and schools. But nobody talks about them. These are things we urban middle class take for granted – electricity, water, education, healthcare. Anyways I won’t go into my nationalist philosophies because I myself am not doing much for the country. And I guess you should first practice what you preach.
All these make me remember what Allwin Angel – founder of Pagalguy.com had written into one of the posts. He had said that you people are taking a very simplistic view of life – cracking CAT, getting into an IIM and be set for life. There are things much more meaningful in life than cracking CAT like getting someone smile, helping somebody without expecting anything in return.
But I guess pinstripe suitwallahs don’t have time for all that.
Another article I remember reading was by an IIM- Calcutta dropout. He had quit IIM – Cal after 1st year to pursue his dreams. He said that he heard his inner calling. In that article, he had said that an IIMC pass out has a swanky office at Nariman Point, if not Manhattan, a trophy like wife at an equally elegant home and every time he lifts the phone, he says ‘Ciddybank’. But there are things more important in life which ‘Ciddybank’ may not offer you. Then, you have to listen to your inner calling and take your own course.

Meanwhile the race for CAT 2006 has just begun. All the Best and happy running.

In all the above places, I have used ‘you’ but this ‘you’ actually includes me because I too am running this rat race just in the hope that one day I will get hold of that elusive pot of gold. I have been doing all these things, which I have bashed above, since long and will probably continue to do so for some more time to come. This article is not to judge what is wrong or right. These are just my personal opinions and you may feel at many places, the tone is that of ‘Grapes are sour’. But I just don’t care about what you think. Now, you need not to be Albert Einstein to understand that I belong to the unfortunate majority who couldn’t ace this ‘rat race’. This bashing is just a way to vent out the frustration I feel. I bet it feels better after bashing somebody, something. I know IIMs will continue with their invincible charisma and IMS will continue to rake in the cash. But still somewhere, at someplace I feel that this is a mindless pursuit. You may call me a loser, an underdog, who takes solace in finding flaws in the system and preaching great philosophies but lacks the courage to stand up to fight the system or swim against the current. Here again I just don’t care what you feel.
But I won’t say that I didn’t learn anything from the CAT exp. If not my aptitude has increased many times. I have come across some of the most competitive people I have ever met and the best thing was that they believed in healthy, positive competition – ‘Co-operate to compete’. I may have made a mockery of the simCATs but they used to give me a strange feeling of competition, mixed with awe and a burning desire to ace the next sim. Acing one mock used to make me happy. Yes, happiness comes from accomplishment. You benchmark yourself against the best and keep on raising your bar. Nothing is enough. But I guess the best way to survive this strange competition is to compete against yourself. In all it was a nice experience in itself – I am more matured and I learnt a lot of intangible things which I may not have learnt otherwise.

Not everything in this write-up is original. I have taken ideas from ‘Making of an MBA – Snapshots from Hell’ by Peter Robinson, ‘The IITians’ by Sandipan Deb, some ‘Outlook’ articles and some posts from Pagalguy.com, a brilliant site inhabited by some brilliant people.


Thought said...

That was a big blog...

Amit said...

hey that was a very well written piece...i agree with u in most of the cases...

i have always been against the system as a whole. in 2 hours u cannot decide who is the best. anything could happen on that day. and with so much hype n hoopla these days, the fear of failure haunts every mind...more so coz of peer, parental and social issues.

i feel we should move towards a more standardised test and one which is held not only once a yr.

still...a great blog

sawan said...

thats an alter ego of me...the descrip about urself and the post....its so real