The author is Ashish Viswanathan (2007/BT/CH). He worked at Shell in Amsterdam after IIT Madras, before joining IIM Bangalore in 2008. He is currently a VP at Deutsche Bank in London.  Here, he talks about his life and activities as a student, and about the best thing that had ever happened to him at insti.

My Life at IIT Madras

The Class of 1974 tower loomed ahead in front of us. It was late at night and four of us with nothing better to do decided to climb up to the top and wait there till the sun rose in the morning. Lying down on my back and looking up at the stars in the sky, I wish I could claim that several great philosophical discussions were had and deep insights were gained.

Truth be told, I remember very little of that night. And perhaps that is the deepest insight of them all for me.

When I was asked to recall my life at IITM and beyond, the first thing I felt was a pang of dismay at how old I had become. This is a feeling that starts gnawing at most people I know who, like me, are closer to 30 than 25. The next thing I felt was that I was going to become one of those people who start their article with “When I was asked to write an article about my life at IIT-M…”.

Having reconciled myself to the inevitability of the first feeling and having narrowly avoided the second, I can now confidently say the following.

The best thing that ever happened to me was at IITM.

I was very laid back for the first two years at IITM. The first semester I spent there was torn between exploring my new found freedom away from the intensive JEE prep and half hearted attempts at that futile holy grail which several people pursue in the first semester – the branch change. The next year and a half (time is so beautifully compartmentalised in IITM isn’t it?) was all about just doing whatever I felt like with no thought about the consequences. Quite predictably, this lifestyle was not very kind to my CGPA (feels like ages since I used that acronym!). The year and a half after this was spent in salvaging the above, and somehow getting a placement in Shell.  The final semester was all about clutching desperately at what was left of undergrad life.

The narrative above must feel very familiar with most readers who have been to IIT-M (or any other college for that matter). But (to insert the obligatory geekiness into this article), life is a path function, not a state function.

To say that what I am today is a result of my experiences at IITM would be quite banal and only partially true. But nostalgia is never about logical statements like the one above.

As I write this article, with music pounding away in my ears, I realise that it was IIT-M that I really started to listen to music. Some of my fondest memories of IIT-M involve jamming away in the music room, having endless discussions on the music of different eras and dealing with the insecurities of our band’s excellent guitarist (Hi, Buh!). Did I accomplish anything worthy of note in the field of music as a result of all the above? No. Was it fun? Oh, yes!

Quizzing. Ah, where to begin? At least music is readily available everywhere. It is pure folly to walk into a pub quiz in London expecting to be faced with questions on the lines of “X and Y met in the lobby of a hotel, at an event organised by Z…” All those evenings at CLT, lazing around and listening to people saying, “Basically, the funda is…”. Did I truly become a more inquisitive person because of all this? No. Do I get exasperated looks today when I say, “Actually, the guy who wrote this also wrote something else in 1999…” Definitely!

Movies and computer games. All those nights in the wing, the incredibly passionate analysis and heated arguments that happened as a result of these! I would love to say that they shape your character and whatnot. But we all know that’s not true. However, there is a growing section of alumni who believe that these are a waste of time, that the LAN is the biggest curse that befell the Insti and that people aren’t going out and talking to each other more often. Maybe this theory is true. Maybe it’s not. However, I sincerely hope that the Insti doesn’t fall into this trap and starts denying its students internet access on this pretext.

Apologies for the digression. I was talking about my experiences at IITM, wasn’t I? But the way this article is rambling on, perhaps it’s best to stop here.

What does all this have to do with the Class of 1974 tower, you ask? The fact that I remember very little of that day and several other days like that tells me two things. One, I have a lousy memory. Two, for most of us, we are not shaped by specific events but by the totality of how these events add up.

Trying to trace specific things I did in IITM and distil that into a readily digestible article providing advice was always going to be a tall order. Especially, given that I am not great at giving advice and what I did at IITM was hardly remarkable.

However, the one thing I will tell all students who might read this is the following – advice is often coloured by personal experience. When someone gives you some advice, think hard about it before accepting it as gospel.

Oh, and the best thing that ever happened to me? I met my wife at IITM.