I arrived at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad with my friend from Jodhpur University on the 6th of July 1965. I still had 23 more days to go before I was 17 years old. I came here with lots of hopes, fears and uncertainties in my mind about the future, but also a lot of confidence. I had done well in my college final examinations, despite not having studied much. I felt confident about facing the IIM-A environment.
As soon as I entered, however, everything began to change. All the people around me were older, more sophisticated, and smartly dressed. I was completely lost. I had had a similar experience at the time of entering college - but this was more severe. At college, at least communication was no problem. I could talk to people in Hindi, but here everybody was talking in English and I could not even speak English correctly and fluently.1 I had only studied 'General English' as a subject during school and two years of college. I had never written my other papers in English and occasions to speak in English had been very rare. My friend, who was 23 years old, came from an English-medium school and he could manage in this environment. But he was to stay in a different flat2 than me, and I was completely lost.
The orientation programme created more fears in my mind than it cleared. The first week of classes frustrated me even more. I could not even finish the first reading of cases and assigned readings during that time. I did not know what was happening. People were participating in class, but I couldn't open my mouth even once during the first month. Some of the courses were heavy in mathematics. Mathematics has never been my favorite subject, and here it brought me to the brink of collapse.
Many people were thinking of leaving the course and the dropouts had already started. I gave a thought to this idea and immediately rejected it. I had come here on my own, absolutely on my own - in fact against my family's and relation's wishes. I couldn't go back and say that IIM-A is too difficult for me to go through. I wrote back home to say that I wouldn't come back unless I was thrown out. By the end of two months, the rate of dropouts had increased. Our first set of grades had come back, bringing another wave of shocks. My father came down to Ahmedabad and so did my friend's father. I told my father not to bother about me. I wouldn't leave IIM-A. I would like to fight with all this.
About 20 days later, after another shock wave of grades had hit us, my friend left the institute. He was very frustrated. His arrival at his home in Jodhpur created trouble in my family and my aunty3 advised me by telegram to come home if I was not comfortable. But I had decided to face all this. By this time my flat mates and I had come closer and could share this frustration. But all of them had adjusted themselves better than what I had done.
|IIM-A students (LRB is 2nd from left) crowding around Louis Kahn, the celebrated architect, and Prof. Ravi Mathai.
About a month after the second term had started, however, I fell sick4. I had to be out of touch with studies for more than 35 days. I again became skeptical about my existence at IIM-A. The thought of whether or not I would be able to recover the study time I was losing kept eating my mind all the time. But all the instructors were impressed by me and were very sympathetic after I came back. They gave me all the help required and I was soon able to cope with the class. Now I was amongst above average students. My performance in the last term was very encouraging. I secured second rank in the institute missing first by one grade point.5
1. Mr. Madan Mohanka, who was LRB's batch mate at IIM-A, remembers how Prof. VL Mote helped them get over their problems with spoken English. He lent them a tape recorder and advised them to record their own conversations in English, play them back to themselves. He said that it made a big difference.
2. The IIM-A campus was still under construction in those days and from July 1964 to March 1966, PGP students lived in flats that the institute had rented from the Gujarat Housing Board. They were located a couple of kilometers from the campus. In the middle of March, 1966 they moved to the campus, but not to the dorms, which were being used as faculty and administrative offices. The students, instead, lived in houses built for faculty.
4. We have little information about LRB's extended illness. One story comes from his batch mate, the late Mr. Bipin Bhatt, who remembered that LRB suffered a head injury as a result of a prank. This remains to be verified. In a curious co-incidence, LRB spent some time during this illness convalescing at the campus dispensary, which was, at the time, located in what would become house no. 316, LRB's home from 1976 to 1988.
5. This remarkable turnaround would have a deep impact on LRB's mindset and his beliefs about the factors that determine success. In another section of the 20-page document, he speaks about how it helped him overcome a common belief he had imbibed from his friends and peers at university (and to some extent, also at IIM-A): the idea that if you are intelligent, you do not need to work hard. Indeed, he speaks of how people who worked hard were seen in a negative light in his peer group at Jodhpur University and at IIM-A because it implied that they were not very intelligent. At university, this peer culture influenced him and he took his studies lightly - relying on his natural intelligence to get him through. His struggle-filled experience at IIM-A, however, drove home the value of hard work and to appreciate the value of improving over time. He began to hold the view that your natural ability might influence your choice of career, but eventually, your success will depend on your sincerity and willingness to work really hard. In modern psychology, this would be referred to as a shift from a 'fixed mindset' to a 'growth mindset' and for LRB, was at the heart of his transformation. Three years later, he would call IIM-A his 'break' in life.