Friday, September 02, 2005

Tom Sawyer For A Day

Only that this time, I did not make people bribe me, so that I would allow them to do my work. Like undergrad engineering in India, the MBA class here is divided into 6 sections. The first year courses and timings for the entire section are the same most of the time. This, however, is uncommon at the M.S level, where you have more control of courses and timings. Therefore in M.S, you might not go through all your course work with the same batch of students. Here at Michigan, first year MBA, Section 1 folks are special in a way. Whirlpool (yes! The washing machine/fridge makers) and Habitat for Humanity ( a NGO company) are working together to develop a poor community/town called Benton Harbor, that abuts the Lake of Michigan and is 1 hour away from Chicago. I think the CEO of Whirlpool (or is it the other company?) is a Michigan Alumni and he was in Section 1 when he was in Michigan. So he set aside an endowment. This endowment provides money every year for section 1 MBA students to travel to Benton Harbor and do some community work. So this year 55 students went in 3 buses for a 3 hour ride to Benton Harbor.

I haven't been on a bus ride with a group of batch mates since 8th semester undergrad (where we made our Nth group trip to MGM ). So I was kinda of looking forward to it. In the bus ride to Benton Harbor, people had to start off the group activities, by saying 1 embarrassing personal story. The bus had a wireless mike and stuff. The bus was awesome. Never been on this kind of a luxury bus before. Anyway back to the story -- Hey! I am the king of embarrassments. I think in life I have had more embarrassing situations than the entire population of Korea did/does in a life time. Lets say my embarrassing story had people laughing until they (almost) wetted their pants. And I am quite popular now because of that. So the story more or less broke the ice (the way it got boys and girls talking during my undergrad 1st year trip to VGP). Now when I meet my class mates they ask me "are you the guy who told this story"

Michigan Lake is so big. You can't see land on the other side so its doesn't make a difference if you mistake it to be a beach/ocean. We had a American style 6:30 PM dinner and attended a Whirlpool corporate presentation. The gist of it is this -> It seems Benton Harbor was once a prosperous community but now people are unfortunately leaving this place. It has now become poor because of neglect, water contamination, crime and all the other bad stuff. Tax dollars are dropping and race polarization is happening. The business question was -> How to develop the place that's 1 hour from Chicago and 3 hours from Indianapolis and Detroit? They have devised a complex solution, that does not involve charity. They are doing community work with a business mentality. Jack Nicholas and Golf fields are involved in this business plan. The plan as such is too deep to mention in a blog. But the intentions are noteworthy. Bottomline -- if they build a golf field that's world class with J.N signature, it'll attract rich people to Benton Harbor and make them build second vacation homes here. This leads to employment and tax dollars. I think the presenters were happy that a diverse bunch of students had arrived and maybe thought that students from India and China would present their views on how similar problems were solved back home. However, I had never seen the marriage of educational institution and community work before. This is such a good idea that I can't understand why such activities cant become a separate course in every college in India. 1 course in 4 years. Doesn't hurt anybody and at the same time provides a lot of value. So we had nothing to offer but much to learn. So what was our role here? We, as future "business leaders" were being exposed to how certain problems were solved. If we built some houses in the community, we'd know how reality works.

Hold it!

"Building Houses" -- that translated to "real" work (with units like joules and equally nauseating things involved). I've done work where we typed a lot of characters into a keyboard, scratched my head, attended meetings where we talked a lot. That was the definition of work for me. Carpentry, hammer, building walls, where a lot of sweating was involved, just didn't make it to my dictionary. I wanted to raise my hand and say "ask my mom! I never do work.." Immediately my mind started working on the "Work" problem. As soon as the corporate presentation ended I ran to the sign up sheets and signed up for painting (that involved the least amount of work), thinking to myself, "Tom Sawyer! your story better be true".
Later, that evening, we spent the whole night in a nearby Karoke bar ( that's a tradition too). Students get to pick their songs and sing along. I didn't sing. Didn't come close. Slept at 2:00 AM and got up at 6:30. Not my cup of tea dude!. I was pretty groggy when I got to the work site. But painting was fun. I actually got to paint a picket fence white. I created a white picket fence. I am an artist baby!!! -- okay I'll stop now. Anyway, this was something I wanted to do all my life. So there I was (with another dude) painting the fence white with a brush. Super day. Not hot. Surrounded by grass and silence, we were painting the picket fence. We then were promoted to painting a shed. I have never painted anything before. Not even painted my U.K.G (Upper Kindergarten) class color book. So Imagine my excitement. We then were given rollers to paint the shed. Then after painting all the stuff we had nothing to do. Somebody spotted us idling around. We got busted and I was made to do real work like carry huge boxes here and there.
Meanwhile, you might be wondering what our spouses were doing. They had to participate in the Spouses Club, charity activities. My wife was driven to a village nearby only to find that except for her and a few friends, nobody else showed up. So for half a day they were made to cut shrubs and bushes and basically weed out an entire community. My wife is from Madras. I think anybody born after 1970's would not have seen shrubs, bushes etc in Madras . So not even cutting with huge scissor like things was new to her, shrubs were new to her too. Just kidding. To conclude, let us just say the husbands of the spouses who were made to cut for 5 hours haven't heard the end of that till now.

When we came back to Ann Arbor, what we didn't expect was the shock reception from the other section mates. We have a competition called SHOUT OUTS. Its like writing your own "cheer songs". We wrote stuff like "Section Ones!! Chosen Ones!!". The point is to write cheers (like the cheer squad does in basket ball games) that praise our section and demean the other section -- like "that's alright! That's okay! you will work for us one day". We shout these cheers/slogans on the road and public places against each other, as a group. While we were warned that the competition for shout-outs were war-like, I guess we didn't take em' seriously. When we got out of the bus, Section 4 and Section 3 saw us all semi-drunk, half-asleep and dead tired. They decided to be aggressive and just waded into us and started shouting slogans against us. We were ambushed, confused and began to throw out our slogans in random. The whole public was watching us. This was in the roads of the university and when we hit them with the slogan mentioned above. What we didn't expect was clever improvization. They shot back " that's alright! That's okay! at least we don't use the same cliche". With our important slogan shot down, we became confused and had to split and recoup. So we trudged to a far side of the field, amidst boo's and jeers by other sections. The public walking on the roads were watching us. Our initiative was positively screwed. In our defense we were really tired and didn't sleep at all in the night. We were the only section to go through this outside trip. We were, as I said, ambushed. But we will be back bigger, stronger and better. The other sections better watch out. We are the wounded lions.


Harish said...

hey, that sounds fun.. as long as I'm readin abt ppl doing all that work, of course! :)

can we have that embarrassing story as ur next post? Please? :D

Anonymous said...

I have become almost a regular reader of u r blog. Do post u r em-bare-assing story. Will check for it tomorrow....Gung Ho

Hawkeye said...

harish anon,

its too embarassing to say it in the internet. my mom reads these pages. so sorry :-)

Ram said...

you could use my blog if you wish... I mean for the embarassing story ;-) I have a lot of real estate to rent out on that blog and I do not think ur mom is reading that one ;-)

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

I cannot help copy-pasting harish's comment here, but I guess in some other guise some day... :)

BTW, your blog seems a nice place to visit... will stick around :)