I didn’t want the job. Like most middle-class Tambrahms of the early 1980s, I was preparing for the IAS. I was in Delhi School of Economics, doing my master’s in Economics, when Hindustan Lever came to our campus. That was a first — in Delhi University, HLL usually went only to St Stephen’s. My father had heard that HLL interviews were tough and would be good practice for the UPSC ones, so I applied. Neither he nor I were interested in a corporate career for me — my background of boarding school and college degree in economics had made me enough of an outlier already. The first couldn’t be helped really — my father’s career as a civil engineer in the Border Roads Organisation meant frequent transfers and after switching schools a couple of times, my parents decided to send me to Rishi Valley School. Those five years provided me what is today fashionably called a liberal, stress free education and continued to instill the values my family held dear — hard work, honesty, thrift and humility. The location (south India) was also reassuring — my grandmother, especially, was comforted by knowing I would continue to be fed my rasam, sambhar etc.
But then I went on to do my bachelor’s in Economics, from Shri Ram College of Commerce. A characteristic of South Indians is that we don’t bother too much about wealth; your — and your children’s — education is your calling card: “Meet So-and-so. His son went to IIM/ his daughter went to IIT.” At a time when almost everybody else was an engineer, doctor or lawyer, my father sometimes had to explain to his friends that his son was really very intelligent and an honours degree in economics is a prestigious course in Delhi University — many people thought my choice of subject meant I wasn’t bright enough to get into IIT!
You don’t want to be left behind. Do you?
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