July 18, 2019

My Prep Story to JEE Advanced AIR 731

The JEE is insanely competitive with over 12 lakh people attempting the exam. I achieved an all India Rank of 731 in JEE Advanced, 805 in JEE Main , 199 in KVPY and got through NTSE Stage 1. I will be joining IIT Kanpur this session. This post contains my reflections on the last two years of preparation for the JEE. As a prologue, I must state that things which I was uncomfortable sharing on the Internet, have been concealed from the reader. 

The Rise

Flashback to the beginning of Class tenth, most of my friends joined coaching classes to clear the highly competitive NTSE, but my father put his foot down against joining a coaching class in Class X. His assurance, that I could clear NTSE by preparing on my own with the help of my tuition teachers, rung hollow in my ears.
Me with Hrishikesh Sir, my Physics teacher and mentor.
He made Physics exciting for me and helped me with the
ups and downs during my preparation

Fast forward to one month prior to the NTSE, I lost all hope but not the craving. I knew the larger objective but someone had to break it into doable tasks for me and that’s what Mr. Mishra (a staff at the Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore and a NTSE prep expert) did for me. He advised me to scan the MP Board Social Science Textbooks and mug up all the facts, figures and dates in the book. I condensed the entire book into 32 pages of handwritten notes in the form of fill in the blanks. I quizzed myself while reading the notes 25-30 times in the last few days.

Ultimately, I cleared the first stage of NTSE. There was an influx of greetings and wishes, more so because no one ever expected that I would get through the cut-off. What people didn’t understand was that I was just 1.5 marks over the cut-off marks! I learnt that in a competitive exam, you don’t need to score good, but just score better. Whatever be the case, I was enjoying the kind of recognition and acknowledgment I was getting. I had suddenly risen to be the exemplary!

The Transition

The appreciation that I received profoundly encouraged me to work harder for the second stage. I joined a coaching class and prepared for the NTSE Stage 2 with their yearlong students. I understood little in the class because what was transacted by the teachers often referred to what had already been taught earlier in the year to them. It took me a few days to gather the confidence to ask questions though I never became entirely comfortable, as the giggles and mockery by the bullies in the class intimidated me. I would complain to my dad that I couldn’t understand what was going on, sometimes threw tantrums. But then he would ask me to be patient, face the challenge, ask more questions. 
This is the phone that I used during
the preparation period. Sacrificing a
smartphone helped me improve my
productivity significantly!
Disinterestedness was bound to come as little that was taught was understood. But I was too motivated to get distracted. I struggled through the prep and I worked harder than I ever have in my life, yet, I failed NTSE Stage 2.

So what went wrong? The effort, the resources and the methodology were all in place. It was the most fundamental understanding that I lacked, because I didn’t clear out my doubts.

Two days after NTSE Stage 2, I started my JEE preparation classes with a strengthened resolve to not shy away from asking questions in the class. I started asking a lot of questions in the class, some very silly ones too. The giggles and sneer smiles told me that my teachers and my classmates believed that I am an idiot. Despite that my teachers were patient enough to answer all my questions. The subjects started fascinating me because now, I could visualize and imagine what was being taught.

About a month into the JEE preparation, the first mock test was conducted and I got a fourth rank in Indore. Everything changed after that, the giggles and smiles disappeared. I had transited from my shy self, who had always studied in the protected and comfortable environment of a school into a competitive and confident individual who could survive the harsh environment of a coaching class.

The Stimulation

Two months into the JEE prep, I started losing interest and vigour in what I was doing. Primarily, because my hectic schedule, which was followed with unending discipline, led to monotony in my life and left me with little space to be random (even my recreation hours were so fixed). Secondarily, because I felt disconnected to my ultimate goal (the JEE), as it was too far away. It was like an abstraction for which I was working so hard. Is the work I am doing right now going to help me two years hence? How will I remember what I learned today, after two years? These were questions that shook my motivation. NTSE was a sprint but JEE turned out to be a marathon.

At this point in time, the KVPY programme (the selection process for research colleges in India) came to me like a blessing in disguise. The KVPY exam conducted in the mid-session of 11th standard tests on the syllabus of both 11th and 12th standard in all four subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Biology). With no inclination towards research and no association with Biology, there was little reason for me to study the entire syllabus of Classes 11th and 12th. But the unmissable resemblance between KVPY fellows and JEE toppers motivated me to use the KVPY as a propellant for my larger JEE prep. And hence, in a month long prep, I worked extra hours to skim through the entire syllabus of 11th and 12th standard in all the four subjects and got through KVPY, not due to my depth, but width.

KVPY gave me a realizable short term goal which motivated me to study. Achieving 199 rank in KVPY made me believe that I could put up a similar performance in the JEE (quite falsely though as KVPY has an interview, where I was an outlier; JEE doesn’t have interview) and stimulated me to work harder for my larger goal. Now, my dream seemed achievable!

The Fall

Thanks to my unexpected attainment in KVPY, the teachers and administration in my coaching started looking at me as one of their better students and upgraded my batch. My new batch was a smaller batch of 15 people, 12 of whom lived in the hostel where our classes were conducted, while I lived in my home and transited to the hostel for classes.  My batch change was a big shock which I could hardly handle, for three reasons.

Me with Kapil sir,
my chemistry teacher and a lot more
I entirely owe my success to my
One, class organization was extremely random as a teacher on his convenience would call up/ cancel a class without a prior notice (since most of the students lived in the hostel). Also, in my earlier batch, a daily homework was given and it was discussed in the class the next day. But here, no formal homework was given (as the students were given the flexibility to decide what material they want to do) and no discussions were conducted in the class. Hence, discipline and regularity in my studies ceased and productivity touched new lows.

Two, my new teachers, though technically supreme, didn’t try to make the subject interesting. I could hardly understand Physics now, as my new teacher wouldn’t make me visualize the problems. Unlike the earlier ones, Chemistry teachers weren’t humorous or witty and hence, Chemistry classes became unbearably boring.

Three, organic and inorganic chemistry became my nightmares. I was unable to retain the bulk of information that these subjects contain. I was touching zeroes in these two subjects.
I was no longer involved and interested in my studies. I would sit in my room for long hours playing with my pen, thinking of random things. Thanks to this shock, my rank in one of the local test dropped to a new low of 63! Getting a local rank of 63 means you are nowhere near getting into any IIT!

Often, preparedness for JEE is checked by one’s performance in three national exams that happen just before the JEE- the KVPY (happens again in class 12th), the Physics Olympiad and the Chemistry Olympiad. I flunked all the three.

It was the most stressful period of the entire two years. I couldn’t sleep, which decreased my productivity the next day. I started throwing tantrums at home. My dad, showing little maturity, started fighting with me but my Mom would console me and give me hope.

I had fallen to my low just two months before JEE Main! I was scared and I panicked.

The Comeback

The stress during the JEE prep is often condemned but seldom acknowledged as the force that pushes you to your limits.

Due to my discouraging performance, I was so stressed out that I took some time off my studies to reflect and introspect. I realised that in my earlier batch, I was almost entirely driven by the system of my coaching class and my interests in the subject (thanks to my previous teachers who made classes interesting). And so, when the system failed and interest withered, I couldn’t stand on my own legs. But then wasn’t JEE a test of my abilities and not that of my circumstances?

I had started finding problems and expecting change in my coaching class, my teachers and my parents. But was it helping my objective?

I probably didn’t have the ideal resources and circumstances but then they were good enough. Was I doing the best that I could, given the problems in my environment?

These three questions brought a realisation- (in Viktor E.Frankl’s words), “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
This is how my room looks: I made it a habit to stick up formula/concepts that I forgot. Serving as a quick reference and tool for revision, the sticky notes and papers stuck on the desk helped me retain the information. When I realised that I am spending too much time playing with my pen while sitting at my desk, I put up the green paper on the bottom left which says "stop time waste." It consciously reminded me to not waste time. Also, I hung the medal (up centre) I received from my coaching class to motivate myself to work harder!

And so, I made a plan. I started giving one mock test, followed by its analysis, everyday. Since my doubts weren’t being solved by any formal system, I derived my own mechanism. Instead of studying at home, I started studying in a vacant room at my coaching class. So, I sat there for 5 hours every morning and whichever teacher would come to the premise for taking classes (of other batches), I would ask them my doubts after/before their class.

Chemistry remained to be a thorn in my side. I couldn’t retain the information and so, I used the technique of learning by writing. I started rewriting the notes that I had made in the class. I discovered that writing by hand is an amazing way of remembering and structuring information. Organic and Inorganic Chemistry made up around 600-700 pages of classroom notes and reproducing them was a herculean task. It required great patience and effort. But then the yield was dramatic. I started doing well in Chemistry and that gave an unbelievable jump to my rank. This recovery wasn’t sudden but gradual.

Should I skip the mock test today as I have had enough? Why am I wasting so much time in copying notes while others are solving more questions? What is the point in writing all these notes all over again?

 These are all genuine questions, with no honest answers, that arose when no observable improvement was happening initially. They disturbed my conviction. At such instances of self-doubt, I had to be strong enough to tell myself to keep faith on what I was doing and not expect results immediately. The people who top JEE aren’t those with the best approach to studying, but are those who follow an approach for a long term, with a sustained effort.

Finally January 2019 arrived and I got a 99.93 percentile in JEE Main! I had made a comeback like never before!

The Last Lap

After JEE Main, mock tests and classes come to a halt for a two month long break for the Class XII board examination. While I was focussed on my boards, it was important that I don’t lose touch with the JEE prep. In order to manage the boards, practical exams and the JEE efficiently, I made a day by day plan of what all I am going to do on the particular days- spelling out my JEE hours and board hours distinctively. I scored a 92.4 percent in Board with a best of four of 96.25 percent!

I made short notes for each chapter in each subject.
In two-three pages per chapter, I summed up all
major concepts and formula of that chapter
Post boards, I got a little more than a month for a fully focussed JEE advanced prep (the second stage of JEE/entrance for the IITs). I knew the subjects in general now, but I used this time to identify the gaps and fill them. I gave two mock tests a day, to identify gaps and analysed them, to fill the gaps.
 I wrote 15-20 pages long analyses on every test, where for every question I did wrong, I would write the solution I had thought of during test, encircle the mistake I had committed and then write the correct solution. Before every mock test at my coaching and the real JEE test, I revised all my mistakes by reviewing the analysis of all the tests. I started remembering mistakes that I had made and so consciously stopped committing the same mistakes again.

But more than any sort of academic furtherance, the last month was about building an examination aptitude to not be emotionally affected in a tough or easy test; about building stamina and patience to give a 6 hour long test in scorching summers; about building the mental strength to perform well in all possible environmental and emotional conditions.

I filed all my short notes. This became a wonderful tool
for exhaustive and quick revision of the vast syllabus.
And finally, the day of JEE advanced arrived. The exam centre’s condition was pitiable with no arrangements of cooling or water and thousands of computers throwing out hot air.

But then I recalled that JEE is a test of my ability, not my circumstance; that I had to do my best, with all the problems in my environment and that in a competitive exam, I don’t need to score good but just need to score better. My last two years came back to me!

My only accomplishment is that I performed, in line with my expectations on the exam day! It isn’t important to state that I got an All India Rank of 731.

Looking back at the two years, it is hard to describe the immense happiness that you get when you work really hard for something and get very involved. Honestly, I am no poster boy for my coaching class, and my rank is below what I had dreamt for when I got into this prep. And yet, I am really happy because I know I was honest to myself throughout my preparation and that is the most fulfilling feeling!


December 21, 2016

A Visit to Kota- Coaching, Lifestyle, Culture and Business

This week I happened to visit the town of Kota in Rajasthan. Before I move on, let me make myself very clear- I am not studying in Kota but just happened to visit the town. Nor do I intend to go to Kota for my higher studies and so, all my observations are that of a visitor, not a resident which I am sure would be uglier than my romanticized experience.

If you take the name of Kota in front of any Indian guy, the first thing he would link Kota with is a coaching hub with innumerable prep classes for engineering and medical colleges. Not that there is anything wrong with the linkage, but apart from that, Kota is also known for a special stone found there called Kota stone which make themselves visible much before you enter the coaching city. The seven hour long journey from Indore to Kota was the worst that I have ever been on, with only a few good food joints and miserable roads. I wasn't sure how such a remote town ever developed into a hub from where students from across the country came.

But as soon as we entered the city of Kota, our hunger and drowsiness drowned into the excitement and energy that we experienced. It was quite abrupt. One moment we were in a jungle and the next, we were in the town faced by huge structures on both our sides. My perception of Kota as a rusty-dusty town was busted by the sight of a huge empire besides the city mall, as huge as a 5 star hotel. The very sight of the building gave me an idea of the hugeness of the whole coaching 'industry' but then we took a right as we were to visit Allen first.

The Champion Managers- Allen Career Institute 

And so with the help of Google Maps and some sense of direction, we reached a gully, Not an ordinary one but a gully where on both sides we had Allen campuses with different names all starting with 'S.' It seemed as if the whole gully had been bought by Allen. And the few other plots which did not have Allen coaching institutes, had Allen hostels. Everyone in that gully was in a grey uniform boasting their 'Allen' logo. The whole street seemed as crowded as a chowpatty with some students entering one of the many institutes, and others exiting the institutes to go back to their hostels. We finally reached the head office. The head office had a beauty of its own. You could see about 200-300 students sitting in the veranda but not a single noise. Each one of them was studying and not even one of them was talking. I compared this with the noise that is created when a mere 30 student class in my school is asked to study. 

I got into a conversation with some students I found there. One student told me that he had 260 students in his class. Always having studied in a 30 student class and personally tutored, the number scared me. But what was more scary was the cost of it. Each student paid approximately 1.5 lacks every year which when multiplied by 250 (for the sake of easier calculations) gives 3.75 crore rupees. And Allen was running 8 such batches simultaneously at each of their 15 centers. And do not forget that this was only for their IIT-JEE division, medical and junior division not added and other centers (outside Kota) not added. This was unimaginably huge, it was a multimillionaire company in its own sense.  

What was even more startling was that not even one student I talked to was dissatisfied with Allen. I was wondering how a coaching institute could manage, discipline and teach 66 thousand students every year at a single place, yet recognizing and categorizing the brilliant ones and reshuffling them. Allen was truly, a champion manager. Inspite of the grand number they were serving to, they upheld their discipline and morals.  

The Big Arrogant Empire- Resonance

Remember, the huge empire beside the city mall? Our next stop was to be the same building. It was the huge boastful empire of Resonance. It seemed that unlike Allen, Resonance did not believe in buying numerous small plots of lands but making one large empire, which was so huge and beautiful from the outside. The building was a brand of its own, with the Resonance logo embedded in every part of it, ranging from the shape of the gate to the pillar at the entrance of the building.

But when we entered, we were to be met by an unimaginable site of more than 3000 cycles, meticulously parked in rows and columns. It was an exciting view as I had not seen so many cycles at one place ever before. While my parents were having a conversation with the receptionist at Resonance, I just went inside to have a look at the building and by chance a class was going on. I could see the classroom filled over its capacity with more than 200 people sitting on the benches and an additional 50 students sitting on chairs they had kept in the alley and everywhere else they got space. One child sat just at the juncture of the class and the corridor. Had someone even sneezed, he would have been pushed out of the class. And then a bell rung and there was a sudden influx of students from all directions. I was pushed from all directions. The site was horrific and inspiring at the same time. I became nervous and rushed back to the reception or else I would have got dragged with the flow of the crowd.
Resonance was mighty big. Honestly speaking, its atmosphere scared me. It was like a railway station inside with loads of people going in all directions and shops and canteens selling refreshments. Though I think it would be wrong to make any interpretations out of a couple of minutes spent, but my gut feeling told me that it wasn't the kind of disciplined coaching institute Allen was. 

The Kota Difference

The greatness of this place is not just due to the massiveness of the coaching industry there but because of its culture and atmosphere. The kind of atmosphere that you get to experience in Kota, pushes you to study more and work harder. The healthy competition helps you stretch your limits. And if in case you are among the top 20-30 students that they have, they will train you with special efforts, organize extra classes for you, provide you with extra material, extra resources and make the best faculties available at a personal level. This is because if in case they recognize the potential in you to be among the top 10 or top 100 scorers, they would make you work harder and harder as they are motivated towards getting better results. 

The Kota lifestyle and culture plays a very important role in producing sharp brains. The kind of culture where coaching institutes keep their centres open throughout night so that students can study and you can see crowds studying even after midnight. All major coaching classes and hostels are concentrated in a very small area. No one in Kota wastes time on travel. You can easily get a hostel just in front of your coaching class because of the huge number of hostels available. 
However, as every coin has two sides, Kota has some cons as well. Because of the crowd in Kota, you might get lost in case you aren't focused and motivated to do well. In that case, the consequences might be worse and no wonder, a number of students end up deteriorating their performance after going to Kota. Surviving in Kota requires a lot of energy and determination and you need to work with perseverance. 

Wrapped by Education- How Education Fuels Business in Kota?

The society, lifestyle and business environment in the city are all centered around the coaching industry. When we asked a local where we could find a PG (paying guest arrangement) in the city, he said, "Sir, pura Kota hi PG hai." (The whole city is a PG). The interesting thing about the city is that every normal household has commissioned 5-10 rooms in their own homes and earn money by offering students accommodation in these rooms. Other smaller houses offer PGs. Moreover, the competition between hostels has led to more standardization. Every hostel has a more or less same package, inclusive of food, laundry and cleaning but exclusive of electricity cost. Every room in almost all Kota hostels had their own electricity meter where the student is charged as per the electricity used. The cost of the package, though, widely differs depending on the quality of rooms and food. In fact, it goes right from a mere three to four thousand rupees to twenty five to thirty thousand rupees. There are hostels that are miserable in condition and others which are no less than a three star hotel with their own club and screen in the canteen. One of my uncles who went to Kota to study and passed out of IIT- Delhi joked,"If someone chooses to stay in such luxurious hostels, he would not be able to survive in the miserable IIT hostels." In order to facilitate and encourage outstation students' admission and stay, many associations have been formed by the coaching institutes to maintain quality standards. 

Image result for roomkartIndians are known for their entrepreneurial mind. You say opportunity and you will see an Indian making business. Same applies to Kota where a number of people have come up with innovations and business model fueled by the influx of students in Kota every year. One such example is "Roomkart" which is an app providing information about hostels and PGs along with a 360 degree view for students coming to Kota and lets you book it online. Another example is the city mall which  is located right in the middle of the city and runs only and only on students. Can you imagine people selling books and textbooks in entertainment malls? Kota is the place where it all happens. In fact, you can see loads of canopies and stalls selling tabs with loaded classroom videos and exercises. You could buy one tab and start learning at your own pace or catch up on some concept you have missed in your class. 

The coaching business in Kota is inter-woven in the society and economic character of the city. Students and coaching have not only become a brand for Kota but greatly influence the culture and lifestyle of Kota. Every interaction in the city reflects on the kind of mania JEE and AIIMS have become in this country. No wonder, the town of Kota succeeded to excite me. It was so different from all others. The town was pretty small yet the unimaginably huge in the number of students it welcomed every year. It was amazing in a sense and depressing in the other. My words are no justice to the massiveness of the students and coaching institutes in Kota. You would only understand when you visit.   
Thank You and Regards!

All your feedback, comments, appreciations and criticisms are welcomed at abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com ! 

June 19, 2016

The Tragedy of Commons- Answer to All Major Problems

Every country wants to build a nuclear arsenal while threatening world peace is in the interests of no country.(I did not say North Korea). Everyone installs an air conditioner to fight the high temperatures while ACs release CFCs (chloro fluoro carbons) which in turn increase temperature by contributing to global warming. No one wants parks, public places to be littered but we all litter, urinate in public places. These contradictions seem extremely surprising to me, and I became curious. Some browsing and reading helped me find the explanations to these contradictions.  
The answer lies in one of the most  interesting and lesser known theories of rogue economics. It is called the tragedy of commons. 

What is the Tragedy of Commons? 

Forster Lloyd
Tragedy of commons says that in a situation where multiple individuals act individually, they will deplete a shared resource, even when it is no one's interest. In 1832, the Commons in England started depleting due to overgrazing by nomads who fed their cattle. They were Commons, a shared property. It was in no one's interest that the grass in the Commons were ruined as logically, each nomad would want to sustain the grass in the Commons for future grazing. But the commons were being ruined.

This was explained by Lloyd, a political economist from Oxford. He said that adding a cattle to a herd would yield the whole profit to the nomad but the loss of pasture would be 'commonized' among all herdsmen. Lloyd, hence explained that, since the profit earned by the nomad by adding a cattle to his herd was much more than the nomad's share of the common loss of pasture. Therefore, a nomad was incentivized to add a cattle to his herd even when destroying the pasture wasn't in his interests. This was the birth of the Theory of Tragedy of Commons. 
To me it seems magic as it satisfactorily explains all problems in the World. Let's take for instance the depleting population of fishes. Earth's fish populations are owned by no one, so they are indeed a shared resource. Multiple fishermen compete for this resource. Each fisherman would catch as many fishes as possible to maximize profit but it is also in the fisherman's interests to leave enough fishes in the water so that they can repopulate and there are fishes left to be caught in the future. So logically, each fisherman must catch only a sustainable amount of fishes. But unfortunately there persists a lack of trust. A fisherman, acting responsibly, limits the amounts of fishes he catches, he would probably suffer a great deal of loss in the market, if others do not. So, just because each fisherman feels that the other would catch more fishes than their sustainable share, every fisherman tries to catch as many fishes as possible, depleting the fish population. Lack of trust is the problem here. 

Building Trust to Overcome the Tragedy of Commons- Successes and Failures

Let us take another example. the race of building a nuclear arsenal. The US built its nuclear arsenals. In response and due to the lack of trust, Russia built a mightier nuclear arsenal. This set into effect a a race of building nuclear arsenals. More countries build there nuclear arsenals, threatening world peace which is no one's interest. Every time a nuclear arsenal is developed, it poses a risk on the whole world (Earth- a shared resource). But we try and overcome these problems by building trust like for example the nuclear non proliferation treaty was signed to resist the proliferation of nuclear weapons by evolving trust. But the time when even a single Party breached the trust, the proliferation of nuclear weapons resumed.
However, it is worth listing some successes too. The US and Russia signed a START Treaty to reduce their nuclear weapons. They evolved trust and have successfully reduced their respective arsenals to less than half. Market associations, associations like UNGC for sustainability also work successfully by evolving trust and overcoming the tragedy of commons. 

I spent my vacations in a small town called Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh  where one of my relatives runs a medical shop on the road of the district  hospital. There is a very stiff competition due to the concentration of medical stores in the region. The shopkeepers used to work day and night, 7 days a week to earn money. To tackle this problem, they formed a association and decided that only one shopkeeper will open his/her shop on a Sunday. Chance-by-chance each shopkeeper gets a chance to open his/her shop on Sunday. The consumer was assured that they get medicines while the shopkeepers were assured that they could enjoy there Sundays as every shopkeeper would have to work on only one Sunday. They built trust and it worked.
The objective of this post was not to appeal for a drive against global warming or nuclear proliferation but just wanted to share the fascination of this concept of tragedy of commons with you all. If you think this helps  in solving the aforementioned problems, well, that is completely coincidental.
Thanks for reading!

All feedback, suggestions, opinions are welcomed at  abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com !
Read more articles at FasciNative !

April 14, 2016

Travel Diaries: Bhopal- Moderating Debate, Challenges Faced

I got a call from an organization I had previously worked with. I missed it. Called back, they missed it! Finally after a series of such uncalled calls, I was talking to a guy in Mumbai. He informed about a conference that was scheduled to happen in Bhopal three days from the day they called and they asked me to chair it! Glory! 

In 2013, I had attended my first United Nations simulation in Indore. In 2014, when the organization came back to Indore, I applied for the post of a Vice-Chairperson. After a  set of interviews, I got selected and the conference happened. Here, I am in 2016. Never applied for the post in Bhopal but they say that I was recommended and so was offered the post even without application. So I accepted the offer. 

The procrastinator in me brought me to a situation when I had my tickets done for the next day but absolutely no preparation. But, thankfully, in Tim Urban's language, the Panic Monster helped me prepare just well in time. 

The next day, I was there in Bhopal. On the first day, with only an opening ceremony planned, my  role was largely ceremonial. But for the next two days, we were to conduct and moderate sessions as a chairperson. Usually in a mock UN, the participants are divided into multiple committees each simulating a particular agency of the United Nations and discussing and debating upon multiple agendas. A chairperson is appointed to each of these committees and the Chair has to moderate debate, direct it into the right direction and make the experience of the delegates more enriching and intriguing. So to sum it up, I was looking forward with great anticipation to two days of enriching debate and competitive discussions to find solutions to global issues. 

Overcoming my Fears

So there I was in my committee room, standing almost half in size. My greatest fear was that I was going to chair participants who were about 4 or 5 years elder to me. People looked at me and I could see that initial surprise, subsequent mockery and gradual awe on their faces. When I used to be a participant, I usually observed that the participants often make fun of their chairs like students  in class try to make a fool out of their teachers. I feared that now that I stood on the other side of table, I would be subjected to the same reaction considering that a large number of people were elder to me. But then I knew there was no space, no time to think about it. I started with the first session. 
I told myself that even though I was junior to them in age, I was placed higher in the hierarchy. My unrealistic arguments never convinced my rational self. The only thing that gave me confidence was the self conviction that I had researched very well and had done a lot of preparations. So I came over my fears and spoke up. Thank god, the awe on their faces remained. 

A couple of sessions passed and I realized that they were a lot of more professional than I thought, even though they were first timers in mock UN. They did not ever bully me, in fact, respected the hierarchy. The environment was very positive. In fact, by the end of the day, they started addressing me as 'Sir!' 

 But how did this happen? 

Mr. Herb Cohen,
World's Best Negotiator
World's best negotiator, Herb Cohen, has an answer to this- Power is Perception. We have much more power than we often realize and it is often important to project yourself as a powerful and influential ( even if you aren't) person in order to gain respect and subsequently win such situations. Introspection tells me that the reason the delegates actually respected me and held me high in their perception is because I never let my fears come on my face. In fact, I tried and stayed aloof, not inaccessible or unfriendly, but aloof. I never said but always projected that it was I who was going to chose the award winners. 
Having said that, the power-is-perception strategy in itself did not gain me all the respect but at the end of the day the content and learning did. While the power-is-perception strategy cannot gain you respect, not practicing it could have probably lose respect. 

Challenges Faced

Now, usually a committee constitutes of two kind of people- one, who have been to such debates and UN simulations before and hence have an experience. They might not necessarily be the most reasonable and logical participants but they generally, are the best negotiators. They try and use their expertise asymmetry to bring people on their side. And hence, they usually speak with a lot more confidence. Also, very often, an experienced participant tries to dominate the committee and its proceedings.   

Two, those people who have never  been to such a simulation before and hence, are unsure of what they have to do. They might be the most intelligent and smart delegates but they lack confidence and hence, even after being qualitatively better than the experienced ones, they do not speak up due to the fear of mockery. Their suggestions usually get suppressed by the dominating delegates. 

Moderating Debate!
Balancing between the two kinds of delegates is the greatest challenge that I faced. In my committee what happened was that the set of experienced delegates got together. When someone even dared to stand against them, the dominating participants used to attack them personally with remarks like 'Grow up! You are a kid now' for short heighted people and ''Fatty and dumb" for fat people. Out of the some who resist this personal attack and still stood against the dominating participants, the next degree of domination is making fun of their proposals. The dominating participants mock on the new delegates' completely sensible and logical suggestions and project as if they are senseless. 

Result- Very few participants dare to express any disagreement with the experienced participants due to the fear of making a fool of oneself. And the some who do, finally gets discouraged by the attacks and counterattacks of the dominating debaters and no more remain active in the debate. And even after observing all of it the Chair remains confined to his duty- moderation! 

So, I tried my best to stay confined to my mandate and yet, help the nervous first-timers by actually subtly but very effectively backing and adding legitimacy to their sensible suggestions by a tool called- Rephrasing. The tool worked with considerable success and resulted in the formation of a new alliance of the new delegates against the dominating participant alliance. 

But finally, its success was limited to in-committee debate. I could not and cannot moderate the interactions that happen in lunch and in breaks. So the block of the first-timers formed gradually disintegrated because of the interactions behind the scene. Left to observe, I saw the dominating delegate persuade the delegates of the other bloc to get into their alliance. The weaker ones were easily persuaded and as everyone saw that the newly formed Alliance was disintegrating, a negative environment formed and everyone left the first-timers alliance as momentum gained. 

I could see the leader of the first timers' Alliance trying extremely hard to get people back in her Alliance and win over. Continuous failures led to a great depression and she broke down. She was slowly losing hope. Well, I was always a secretive observer present everywhere but still nowhere. 

On seeing her miserable state, I went beyond my mandate and tried to pacify her. I told her that it matters but it does not matter that much that she need to cry. She was somewhat convinced and on my request, she still agreed to lead that now 4 member Alliance (only 4 members were left as all others had been persuaded by the dominating delegates.)

The break ended and the next session started. I was told and I listened pretending innocent as if I never knew, that there are just 4 people left in the first-timers Alliance and the rest had gone to the dominating delegates Alliance. 

The whole committee gradually moved towards its logical conclusion and the 4 member-Alliance failed to receive a 2/3rd majority and their proposal failed. The dominating participants get their proposals passed and they win. 

And as I saw the disparity persist, all that I could do was condemn. While I still regret and feel guilty that I could not keep the committee balanced and minimize the disparity, I sometimes think that persuasion is a skill and since the experienced participants mastered that skill, they deserved to win. Regardless of all these counters, I have always felt guilty of letting someone in my committee go to the extent of crying. On the other hand, my mandate clearly did not allow me to influence the debate. I was left with no choice but to let time fly and leave its shadow behind.....   

Regards, Abhimanyu! 
All feedback is welcomed at abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com !

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February 26, 2016

Singapore Flash- A Photo Album

On 10th January, at about 1:00 a.m. in a Jet Airways flight which might be somewhere above the Indian Ocean making its way to Mumbai, I got this amazing idea of reconciling the moments I had spent in the last ten days in Singapore. So when the whole world had fallen asleep, I though of writing. But I had nothing to write on. So this blog post is a result of my cluttered notes on some Jet Airways paper-napkins. So let us go touring!    

Singapore Port from the top of Merlion!

Random Notes

On the streets of Universal! 
I walked down the road to the bus stop! It had just rained but nowhere could I see water logging. As I reached the bus stop, my uncle who had been living in Singapore since a decade checked his smartphone to check when the next bus arrives. While he checked his phone, I looked at the other side of the road, there were a couple of very sophisticated road equipment which one usually doesn't get to see in India. The bus arrived and we were off to Sentosa Island at about 11:00 a.m. in the morning. We returned at 8:00 p.m. and voila, they had reconstructed the whole road! 

Singapore as a city seemed very interesting and impressive to me. I loved walking on the roads of Singapore, as they had a very consistent footpath unlike India where footpaths, cycle tracks are still a rare features. 

Get your eyes tricked? At Trick Eye Museum Singapore
The most amazing picture sets that will trick your eyes! 
In India we are endangered by the problem of pollution which we say is the result of growing industrialization. But Singapore, which is a first world country, doesn't have this problem. I wondered how Singapore maintained an air quality  cleaner than what one usually gets to breathe in India. We complain about traffic jams and long transit time in India. In Singapore, you do not get to see more than 10 cars weighting at any traffic signal. How does Singapore tackle the problem of excessive traffic?

 In Singapore, the widest road that you get is a 4 lane road. Therefore, they leave the rest of the space for green patches, which can be seen consistently throughout Singapore. These green patches are not only well maintained and tamed, but also beautifully landscaped. 

Fish! Fish! Everywhere!
Interacting with the most fascinating
sets of fishes in S.E.A Aquarium.
Second, very few people in Singapore own cars. Even the upper class travels in the very efficient metros and buses. Due to the efficiency of public transport (which I am later going to elucidate about in this post) and the high cost of parking a car, people prefer to not buy a car but use the seamless public transport. 

Third, all major places in Singapore have been joined by cycling and walking trails. As a result, people walk and cycle a lot. In my 10 day visit to Singapore, I walked more than my how much I usually do in India. It is interesting to observe that in India, conventional wisdom says that the less we walk and more we travel by a car, the higher standards of living we have. However, in Singapore, the richest of the rich walk down (and why will they not, it is so pleasant!) 

You are watching a show and then a plane comes right
in front of you from nowhere! The scale at which these shows
were organized is unimaginable! By the way,
Waterworks at Universal Studios!

Public Private Partnership

The Glorious Marina Bay!
Singapore is an excellent example of what we usually refer to in books and theories as Public Private Partnership. The mobilization of this concept of PPP has a great role in strengthening every aspect of lifestyle in Singapore. For example, their public transit system, which I have been so proudly mentioning. The bus stops and metro stations have been connected to all major places by strategic walking bridges and subways to encourage people to rely on public transport. Marina Bay, an architectural wonder is a private hotel that you can see in this picture with three towers and a long skyline. This hotel has a metro station, in its basement and a bus station inside it. Moreover, a walkway bridge joins the hotel's interior to public gardens constructed by the government. This not only becomes profitable for the Singapore government as all people travelling to Marina Bay, nearby gardens and other destinations at a walking distance from Marina Bay use public transport. But also this is profitable for the private hotel too as even though the public gardens and all other nearby public recreational facilities are not owned by the hotel but they become a feature of the hotel. Moreover a metro stop in their basement makes their hotel more accessible.  
Spot the ever revolving Universal globe!

Also, the fares for all public transport systems metros, buses and some cabs are paid through a common card. This card can not only be used to pay fares in buses and metros but also can be used to use and buy tickets for many other facilities in Singapore. Such a card integrates all transit systems and eases up the whole process. Also, such a card just has to be tapped on a designated device placed at the entrance of buses and trains. Therefore, it becomes a paperless system. The requirement of a ticket issuer and a ticket checker is cut in Singapore. But the greatest problem that such a card would face in any place of issue would be its mobilization. This has been ensured again by PPP. 7-Eleven having a very wide ranging network has been made centers for recharging these cars. These cards can be issued and recharged at all 7-Eleven stores. As a result, you can get a recharge outlet in every few kilometers. Moreover people who have to recharge their cards, look out for a 7- Eleven store and even if they don't enter the store to buy something, they end up buying something as they recharge their card. Therefore, the public private partnership model has been brought into execution at various aspects of life in Singapore and has definitely had a revolutionary effect on life standards in the positive sense. 

No Theft, No Crime, No Bypassing Systems! How? 

Desperate Times.......
My greatest astonishment (being an Indian) was that no one tried to bypass any laws or regulations or cheat bus drivers or bribe them. My first observation was that every place worked in a system starting from a Subway shop to a Cruise center. They had systems for even small things that we, Indians, tend to manage without any laid out systems. Everyone in Singapore had grown up following those systems and people do not even think of cheating or bypassing the system.

Though there systems are well in place with measures to prevent any cheating or bypassing, however a typical Indian might easily find ways to bypass such a system (like I did find, just too many). Therefore, even though it was relatively easy to bypass any of those systems no one did so and that brings me to my second observation- motive. Every theft, crime is driven by a motive. Bypassing systems are usually motivated by financial needs. But Singapore having a high GDP and low population, has a very high GDP per capita. Therefore, there general population is rich and even casual labourers earn enough. Therefore, they don't have a motive to commit any theft. 
But even if there might be some people who would have found ways to bypass systems and would have had a financial urge too, they do not indulge in such practices because of the fear of getting caught by the Singapore Police. We got a glimpse of this fear when we called for a taxi and the driver refuse to take 5 people in the taxi as 4 was the maximum number of people allowed to be taken in cars as per the Singapore law.

On the top of the World! Siloso Beach, Sentosa

The Dark Face of Sytematism

Spot the cheetah! The other one, please...
Singapore Zoo
How did they actually make such an organized system possible? Apart from having an educated and trained population, another facilitation of such a system is that they do not have pure democracy which means swifter decision making and faster executions. Second, they have a strictly censored press which helps in maintaining a positive environment, suppress dissents and make the place healthier and quieter.

Amidst the wild! Bird Park! 
Therefore, they are much more organized and systematic in their way of working and living than one gets to see in India. As said above, they have a system for almost everything which we, Indians, tend to manage without systems. As a result they are able to manage huge crowds very efficiently.  This is because they have clear instructions for everything. However, these very systems that enable them to cater to thousands of tourists have reduced creativity at individual level to almost zero. Since they have clear standard  instructions for each and every thing, they do not use their intelligence in day to day life. As a result even when there are merely three or four people waiting for a train, the whole process of queuing up is still not bypassed. However, it is interesting that this very dumbness of theirs has actually led to zero-like crime rates and negligible instances of breach of law.

Having a Birdly experience! Interacting in Virtual Reality
Singapore Science Centre
Therefore, on a concluding note, Singapore is an ideal vacation place because they have endless rides and fun places which you can go on exploring for months together. Moreover it is a very impressive place as in every few meters you get to see structures which you would have never seen before. Remarkably, not even one of the skyscrapers in Singapore is like the other. Therefore, Singapore is a well crafted city. However, India is a new adventure everyday just because it is not so organized and that is exactly where India's beauty lies. You might be elated after spending a week or so in Singapore but as I landed in Mumbai and started packing my paper-napkin notes, I realized that one living in Singapore might get bored getting ground in the same system each and every day while one living in India has an adventure each day!  
On a cruise! Unmissable experience...
Superstar Gemini
With love, Abhimanyu! 

December 23, 2015

Just Another Year for Putin!

We all are desperately waiting for another New Year. People stay awake to witness the clock strike 12 midnight and celebrate as they enter the New Year. They regard the New Year with some expectations, ambitions and resolutions but for the great strategist Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, it will be just another year of his autocratic yet dexterous rule. This post hovers around Putin administration and the way one of the most opaque systems work in Moscow! 

Russia is a federal democracy tainted by corruption and massively influenced by the power and personality of one man- Vladimir Putin. Russia, the largest nation to evolve out of the erstwhile USSR, adopted a new constitution in 1993 preceded and followed by a coup and constitutional crisis respectively. Both of these efforts weren't able to challenge or in any way affect the absolute power that the President had been given thanks to the new Constitution.

This trend of autocracy commenced by President Yeltsin and passed on to his handpicked successor Putin, has made the Russian political regime, centered rather than centrist (as the political party United Russia claims it to be). The current political structure in Russia though constitutes of the State Duma and also the Federation Council, the political life in Russia is dominated by a coterie of generals and KGB veterans called as siloviki.

The result- an atmosphere of paranoia and aggression. Officials seen as sympathetic towards the West are sidelined and the ones who wanted to stop Russia from entering another Cold War with the West are discarded from Putin's circle. A lot of critiques say that there is a danger of Russia going backward. Realizable (if you have a look at the negative GDP growth rate of Russia)!  

Why Putin is Irremovable? 

Really interesting is the way the siloviki works or rather the way Putin makes it work. It is very difficult to break into the opacity of its working since its members have not spoken to media for years together. But a political expert created a diagram titled Politburo 2.0 which remarkably gave a believable insight into the siloviki. The members of the siloviki are old friends of Putin. He trusts people who are true and tried. The reason why the Politburo remains united is because of the personal bond its members have formed with Putin.

One of the most significant features of Putin's politburo is that it doesn't have general meetings. The whole siloviki doesn't ever sit together. It instead consists of certain elite groups which can be referred to as security, political, technical, business etc. Putin meets a single elite group at once rather than the whole Politburo at once. Putin, therefore, keeps his circle divided into clans and factions that seldom meet once. This helps any group from creating a coalition against Putin. Putin remains, even if unpopular, irremovable. Very smart on Putin's part, I have to accept. 
However, there are some drawbacks too. As rival factions in the same Politburo compete with each other, they exaggerate the threats that Russia faces. For example, the intelligence service might overstate the threat of foreign spies while the oil and gas tycoons might exaggerate the risk of external competition. Since Putin meets each faction separately, he hears of threats everywhere.. This informal system gives rise to paranoia and creates an unhealthy atmosphere. Rather than solving problems that pertain for the whole nation collectively, the Politburo stresses upon personal interests or the interests of a particular elite group. 

This kind of an informal relationship, has another flaw and that well, is very evident. There is an over dependence on one man. As I said above it is more of a centered system rather than a centrist system. The nation is Putin and Putin is the nation. The working of the siloviki without the already 63 year old, is as of now unimaginable. 

Well Played, Putin! 

Putin is popularly known as the strategist (No wonder). His ambidexterity has not only made him the center of Russian government machinery, but also his visionary strategies have tightened his grip over Russia. Constant efforts of making Putin unpopular, have been reflected to benefit Putin. One of the many such instances is the case of Western sanctions. The members of Putin's circle have their children studying in the West, their bank accounts in the West. They own Western assets. The sanctions imposed by the West on Russia was a method of creating an opposition to Putin's radical policies against the West. But sorry! The West lost here. 

Putin had been urging elites to store 'their fortunes in Russia instead of stashing them in the offshore bank accounts' (as TIME magazine puts it). Many of them were slow to comply before the sanctions put their assets at the risk of being frozen in the West. However, now the fortunes of these elites are much closer to Russia, in other words, the elites are much closer to Putin. So if Western leaders were expecting Putin's allies to mount a palace coup, disappointment. It not only allowed him to tighten his grip on the siloviki, but also intensified the everlasting and unending altercation between the West and Russia. Thanks to Putin's adroitness, the Western sanctions seemed to be gaucherie.     

A New Year for Russia or not?

Putin's term ends in 2018, and he is going to stand again as President in 2018. If he wins a second term, which he surely will (legitimate or illegitimate), Putin is going to be in his early 70s by the time he ends up with his second term. Therefore, there are no signs of the political structure changing in Russia till 2024 (not even a New Decade, forget about a New Year). 

Not only that, as TIME magazine presents it, in a system where 'all institutions are eclipsed by one man, there is no way to know' what happens when he is gone. Of course, Putin isn't immortal (though his persona is). The question is what happens, if say he has a heart attack. An already shambled Russia would be in disarray as the struggle for control would break and some of his friends would be in 'slivers of flesh.' 

Putin is clever, diplomatic and as I fondly call him- strategist. But having said that, I somewhat agree with what one of his chief adviser once said," I don't think that it is out of cleverness that Putin has made everybody afraid of his departure. It's just that he doesn't know how to do it the other way."     

A salute to the Forbes #1 "Most Powerful People" for his dexterity, a happy New Year to all my readers and well, a happy 'just another year' to the Russians! 
Yours truly, Abhimanyu! 

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