Bangalore, 30th March 1997, 1.30 pm. My father and I took an auto from Majestic circle and crossed the portal of IIM Bangalore for my IIMA interview. I didn’t even know where or what Bannerghatta Road was, much less that a leafy paradise existed there. Entering through those gates, all the anxiety about the upcoming interview fled as I gaped at the imposing stone structures, the skylights, the slatted slate-grey roofs that let in fresh sunshine even in cool Bangalore weather. We walked through green corridors and pergolas, lawns and gardens inside the building so that it seemed that we were in the verdant outdoors even when we were inside. Many years later, I watched an interview with its celebrated architect and learnt that he had been inspired by the 16th century complex of Fatehpur Sikri.
We walked up a stairway to reach my interview room, where my nervousness returned with renewed fury as I watched men and women dressed in formals sitting outside the various classrooms, their expressions mirroring my own.
Getting into the IIMs had been a theoretical exercise thus far, the good showing at the CAT only serving to boost morale and ego, and I had not thought much about whether I actually wanted to study at this hallowed institution. Gazing out at the emerald green juxtaposed against the muted grey stonework, trying hard to drown out the muted conversations around me, I realized that more than anything, I wanted to spend 2 years in this building and these serene environs. I wanted to walk these hallways, recline on this grass under the trees, drown in books in that stately glass-fronted library.
The IIMA interview was a disaster. Perhaps, subliminally I did not want to get into IIMA, now that I had seen IIMB?! Whatever, I walked out rather less disappointed than I should have been and determined to crack my next interview. The rest, as they say, is history.
By the time 1999 rolled around, the dramatic campus that I had drooled over, became the customary background. No longer did I marvel at it. Life became an unending mosaic of classes, grades, assignments and caffeine. When friends from the outside world visited, they would gape as I once did, at the beauty around us and I would preen as though it was my intellect that had conceptualised these buildings, my minds’ eye that had conceived that perfect amalgam of space and light.
In the years since then, I’ve seen the dreaming spires of Oxford, punted on the Cam, strolled through the halls of Harvard and many other august institutions. None captured my imagination as powerfully as my alma mater did, that summer day in 1997 (perhaps because I was no longer a romantic 21-year-old with stars in her eyes)!
Often I wonder, at the random events, these rolls of dice, upon which our lives turn. If I had not been mesmerised by the beauty of that campus, if I had not messed up my IIMA interview, if I had chosen to accept one of my other IIM admits, if my parents had not wanted me to stay close to my hometown Chennai……how differently this life could have played out. Instead, I met my husband, made some wonderful friends, spent 2 very happy years working toward an MBA degree I had no interest in! My destiny led me there, to that time and place, that shaped everything that came afterwards. Sometimes, when life feels baffling and mysterious, when I wonder what I am doing and where I am going, I hold on to that thought, simultaneously dispiriting and hopeful, that there is a grand design into which I fit. I can stop trying to interpret and comprehend individual events. They don’t mean anything, but the great tide that sweeps me onward knows where it going and where it will come to rest.
And sometimes, just sometimes, good things come out of being shallow and judging something by its exterior beauty!