By Sunil Rajak (PGP 2002)
Despite being hyperconnected through various online modes many of us decided to join our veinte reunion (20 years) at the IIMA campus during 23rd to 25th December 2022. Our SAC (Students Affairs Councillor), Jasneet Singh, initiated the efforts for the reunion and some 30-32 people signed up for the meet. From the institute side, Mr. Victor Pereira started coordinating. Jasneet was successful in getting us the prime slot of 23rd to 25th December. However, due to his personal issue, Jasneet requested others to take the initiative forward. At that time, Mohan Pandey and I took the baton. We then had a concall and thrashed out the initial set of activities and shared the same with Mr. Pereira and our batchmates. Thereafter, even Mohan got busy and it was on me to take things forward. A WhatsApp group was duly formed for this purpose and all started exchanging messages regarding the upcoming reunion meet. As the date came closer the excitement of meeting one another after so many years started building up. One more thing happened, a few expressed their inability to join the reunion due to some unavoidable issues. And then it almost became a domino effect. One after another started withdrawing citing reasons ranging from date mismatch to parents coming to the home and so. The most curious reason was that many others are not joining so no fun in joining myself. One after one dropped off citing one or the other reason. It proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Finally, seven of us remained in the fray. Prashant and Yolande Dwivedi along with their kids, Zoe, Ayushi, and Millie arrived first on the 22nd of December night itself. Yolande was one of the exchange students in our batch from St. Gallen University, Switzerland. Prashant and Yolande started their courtship from that time and now they are happily married and live in Hong Kong and Singapore, with three lovely kids. Rohit Seksaria and his family – wife Divya, and their kids Rida and Divit arrived next from Chennai on 23rd December evening in the campus. Vikas Gupta from Singapore and Mohan Pandey from Bangalore also arrived on 23rd December but they stayed outside the campus – Vikas at his parents’ place and Mohan with his wife Smita and kids – Abhyuday and Nishreyas in a hotel. Initially, I had planned to go with my family but had to go solo as my wife fell sick. I arrived at the new campus early in the morning around six o’clock on 24th December at IMDC (International Management Development Centre). Kiran Deshpande along with his mother – Mrs Deshpande, wife – Nita and kids – Ketaki and Deepesh arrived late in the night on 24th December and stayed at IMDC. Vineet Virmani, who is now a faculty member at the institute and teaching finance there, confirmed to join directly in a few events planned for the meet.
Our first formal programme scheduled was an interaction with the Director – Prof Errol D’souza; Ms Chhavi Mudgal – CEO, Endowment Fund; and Mr Anurag Choudhury, Associate Vice President, Alumni and External Partnerships, in SR2 of IMDC at 11 am. I could not see any of my batchmates there. Mr Victor called me and said that Director and others are at the venue and there is none from our side at the venue. I said we are joining soon. I checked with Rohit, Vikas, Prashant, and Mohan, and confirmed that they are on the way to the meeting venue and would reach within five-six minutes. As a couple of other guys were also expected but were also not in the sight so I called them but to no avail. I very sheepishly moved towards the venue SR2 and overheard someone from the institute staff side saying, “yehan to koi nahin hai” (यहां तो कोई नहीं है), as if proving my apprehension true. Then as I entered the room and I told them that all confirmed ones are on the way and joining in a few minutes, they all heaved a big relief of sigh.
Finally, Vikas, Mohan, Rohit, Prashant, Yolande, Vineet, myself, and respective families, and kids arrived in room SR2. Each one of us gave a brief introduction of ourselves to the Director and others. As usual Prashant with his mellifluous conversational charm captivated the gathering. The Director and others heartily welcomed us to the institute. All, including the Director, were surprised to see that Vineet was sitting with us alumni. Vineet then divulged that he too was a 2002 batch alumnus. Prof D’souza briefly told us about the current state of the institute, including the latest developments and initiatives like the creation of several excellence centres of research that were established and many others being undertaken. He also shared his insights on the current trends in management education and the challenges like attracting world-class faculty members due to compensation constraints and locational disadvantages, and falling global ranking of the institute due to limitations on student body diversity, etc. that the institute was facing. He also discussed the institute’s plans for the future and the ways in which it was working to stay at the forefront of management education.
After the interaction with the Director, Ms Chhavi Mudgal, CEO of the Endowment Fund of IIMA, briefly told us about various ways in which alumni can donate to the institute. She was very thankful for our batch of 2002 that we were the first one to donate as a batch – a handsome amount of over Rs 5 crore. This has set the benchmark for other batches and started the ball rolling in the endowment efforts of IIMA.
Mr Anurag Choudhury, AVP, Alumni and External Partnerships, also informed us about various alumni-related activities like SIGs (Special Interest Groups) being initiated and conducted by the institute. He invited us to get in touch with him and his team for any alumni-related activities.
Thereafter, we all had a high tea session. Prof Rakesh Basant, who is now retired, also joined. We chatted with Prof Basant over a wide range of subjects and reminisced about our times at the institute. Later, we had a sumptuous lunch in the IMDC mess.
Post-lunch we went for a tour of the old campus, the campus of our times. On the way in the subway, connecting the old and new campus, we saw various photographs hung displaying various milestones of the institute. On the sides of the pathway, we found several food joints and a cafeteria filled with current students. As we exited the subway into the old campus we saw the football ground and the imposing LKP (Louis Kahn Plaza). The emotions started pouring. On the right side, we saw the students’ mess – the same one as our time. We spent some time in the LKP with kids playing in the ground, clicked photos and chatted. Vikas suggested that we go into the PGP classroom and Prof Vineet happily volunteered to guide us there. He made the staff on duty open the classroom for us. It was the same classroom where section C had classes in PGP1. Like the erstwhile PGP1s, we quickly resumed our seats much to the wonder of the kids and spouses there with us. We had a hearty discussion about our times, the scary professors, and the unusual CPs we used to make.
We then visited various dorms. Found them as lively as ever even though they were empty. Kids were very curious to see those red brick rooms, enquiring whether we lived in those monastery-type rooms. Prashant and Yolande’s eldest daughter enthusiastically went to his mother’s dorm room. We visited Dorm 15, which has been renovated and is now being made the archives centre of the institute. We saw various photographs and descriptions taking us through different historical aspects of the institute. We also visited the VSL (Vikram Sarabhai Library), rather than the renovated VSL. Now, each floor has group study centres with cozy sofas, foot rest tables and chairs, well-maintained washrooms, and of course numerous books and periodicals. As we entered the library, we all got engrossed in flipping through the books and thus we got separated from one another. I kind of got lost in it and was unable to find my way out of the library for a good few minutes. Somehow, I made my way out and to my relief, I found others on the forecourt of the library.
By now it was about five in the evening and most of us were tired. Rohit, Mohan, and Vikas went back to their rooms. However, Prashant, Yolande, the kids, and I, went ahead in search of Rambhai. Though we could not find Rambhai, we found another joint across the road where we had tea in earthen kulhads and bread omlette much like our PGP days. In the night some of us joined for dinner at Tomato’s.
The next morning, as scheduled, we visited the CIIE (Centre for Incubation, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship). Ms Supriya Sharma and Mr Vipul informed us about the unique role CIIE was playing in the startup world. They explained to us how they were finding gaps in the startup ecosystem and trying to fill those gaps, in addition to expanding the startup envelope through focused research. Currently, among others, they are focused on reaching out to tier II & III cities and towns for proliferating entrepreneurship. They welcome alumni to get in touch with them and get involved in their activities as mentors, investors, founders, knowledge partners, etc. Len George also joined the session via online mode. It was a very enriching session with them.
Our last formal session was with Prof Jayanth Varma. From the CIIE centre, I rushed hastily leaving others behind towards the venue so that Prof Varma do not have to wait. However, I went ahead of the venue missing the Prof. As I located the venue I found that Vikas and others were already chatting with him! Finally, we all gathered in the same room, SR2. In a role reversal, Prof Varma said today you people ask questions and I will try to give answers. We started firing question after question but Prof Varma was as sharp as ever and gave very logical and convincing answers to all our questions regarding finance, the economy, climate change, and capital markets. Following the interaction, we had a high tea session among ourselves and the families as Prof Varma had to leave since he had squeezed out some time specifically for us on a Sunday.
Many of us then visited the WIMWIAN store and purchased some merchandise. Finally, it was time for us to say goodbye to one another.
On my way back to my room, I briefly caught up with Vikas on an idea that had cropped up in discussion during our visit to the classroom the day before. He had mentioned that during our PGP days, no one felt secure, not even him, the gold medalist of our batch. As I have felt deeply that a course, similar to WAC (Written Analytical Communication), in the area of Oral Communication & Leadership be offered to the PGP students, I suggested to Vikas that we take the lead and help develop such a course. He said that we can carve out a portion of our contribution to the IIMA endowment and dedicate it to the creation of such a course which helps in developing PGP students of the institute to be well-equipped and better prepared to face the world when they graduate. We decided to deliberate more on this among our batchmates. Finally, we said good bye with a promise of “phir milenge” (फिर मिलेंगे).