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A New Beginning

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Endless hours of preparation, writing essays and applications, two GMAT attempts and sleepless nights wondering if I would make it to the top B-School — all that I had done for the last 8 months —  and here (so close to living my dream) all I could think of was the weather... hot and humid.

My best efforts to remember every little thing that I saw slipped past – the dingy lanes, the cabbie's I-own-the-road attitude, Bengali women with big red bindis, city streets and the intricate Bengali script that leapt out from the billboards - my first glimpse of Calcutta.

The thoughts kept drifting back to my home, family and friends whom I had left behind. As the cab wobbled, making its way through the crowded lanes, so did my heart, alternating with the gloom of having to let go and the excitement of a new beginning. I couldn't decide which was greater.

But as the bright yellow taxi took me past the iron gates of the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, the jumbled thoughts suddenly gave way to a gushing sentiment - ‘Here I am, finally'.

The elation turned into anxiety soon when everyone except I seemed to know what to do. "I beat 97 per cent of the GMAT candidates to get here and suddenly find myself clueless. If I ask for directions, will it make me appear any less worthy?" I asked anyway and spent the next half hour submitting documents, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Next Big moment - I was shown my room and the first thing that clicked in my mind was the balcony - "it's all mine!" My mind immediately went wandering, imagining idyllic mornings with newspaper in one hand and a nice cuppa in the other (I will soon find out that I will willingly give up the same for those precious 15 minutes of snooze time). After 2 hours of strenuous efforts, my room didn't seem that small anymore, as I already thought of ways to make it ‘home'.

It was time to sample the food on campus. The four years that I spent in a hostel during my undergrad years have made me quite thoughtful about what my next meal would be. The fare available at IIM-C, however, looked promising. My sweet tooth appeased with the mishti doi and gulab jamuns with every meal, every day! I gave the food an 'A'. Plus, each hostel, I discovered, had its own ‘Da' (short for ‘Dada', the Bengali equivalent of ‘Bhaiyya') each with his own repertoire.

No first day at the Joka campus would be complete without the customary trip to the ‘Co-op'. The store had all the essentials that went into a starter kit for the first week on campus from sim cards to IIM C t-shirts and junk food to shower gel. And as I walked back with my purchases – bucket, broom, welcome mat, dustbin – I was unceremoniously blessed by my new found feathered friends, an IIM-C trademark.

Bengalis are mostly friendly and helpful. I entered looking for an ATM in the on-campus SBI branch and came out knowing about the branch timings, location of the closest main branch and bus that will take me there.

I was already feeling better, leave the heat.

It had been a long day and as exhausted as I was, still wanted to see the seven lakes that I had read about (one of the more frivolous reasons that made me want to come to IIM-C). So I set off!

Pacing through the much talked about jetty, auditorium, the iconic blue mini Howrah bridge, the football field, the faculty quarters and the huge white-washed library I had finally reached the shore of seven lakes. (I did count them!) Impatient, I wondered how sitting on the same bench as Arun Adhikari once did, or browsing through a book that perhaps Ramachandra Guha may have leafed through, will feel like.

Dusk setting in, I had retired early to my new home. I gleaned, this could be the last night in months when I will be able to get a full night's sleep. As I closed my eyes thoughts filled my mind, "you might be an IIT-JEE rank holder or a financial whiz kid but once you enter those gates, you become one of the smartest (and privileged) – along with 349 others. You still need to make friends and you need to be ready to learn and no one really cares if you're marked to be the next Indra Nooyi or Dr Mohanbir Sawhney, till you prove it."

"Everyone has a moment – some have it sooner than others - when you feel like you are poised at the cusp of something big, something that was going to change your ideas, your plans, you. This night, was mine."

And tomorrow? I hoped it was going to be a welcome new story.

Neha Nair is a first year student of IIM Calcutta's Post Graduate Programme in Management.