August 07, 2020
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An MBA In The Vanity Bag

Had corporations been mindful, I would not need the badge. Clearly, they aren’t.

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An MBA In The Vanity Bag
Illustration by Saahil
An MBA In The Vanity Bag

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a young man (or woman) in possession of a good BTech, must be in want of an MBA. Arre, you have been released from prison—that glum engineering campus in the middle of nowhere. You now have a placement, a salary, a visiting card. Just do your mindless job every day and ­enjoy the free food, free gym and free company transport (sage advice from dad). But no, yeh dil maange more. If I were  Isr­aeli or from England, I would pick up a backpack and come to India, spend six months in the company of hippie travellers and mosquitoes, ponder on life, the universe and everything while sitting on the pot with an upset ­stomach. Find an answer to the ­questions: ‘Who am I? What am I looking for?’

But sir, I am an Indian through and through. I have father, mother, sister, brother, uncle, auntie and neighbour. They are all counting on me.... So I start studying for CAT.

Like a soldier on the battlefield, I must charge through fortifications. Decimate my fellow test-takers, at the Battle of Percentiles.  I have joined a weekend coa­ching class, to wage war on vocabulary. Sir says my English is ‘apocryphal’, despite reading all of Chetan Bhagat’s novels.… But I think I can crack it.

The mock tests are a boost to my ego. Solving QA and DI and LR reminds me: ‘I am smarter than I think!’ All I need is a badge that says so.

It seems like we spend our whole lives in search of validation. In kindergarten, we want a ‘star’ from the teacher for writing A, B, C in a straight line. This need never really goes away.

That is how Louis Vuitton sells its ugly handbags. That is how B-schools entice us with their degrees. Both are brands that tell us something about the person in front of us.

A Louis Vuitton handbag is made with finest leather, an exclusive piece humongously overpriced. Those who can afford it have ‘arrived’. An IIM MBA is made with finest graduates, an exclusive piece humongously overpriced (in the job market). Those who can enter it have ‘arrived’.

Then there are knock-offs. Painstakingly made copies of the original, made with equally good leather perhaps. But they never command the same price. There are so many B-schools that painstakingly copy the original­—down to the red brick campus. The output is often excellent in quality, but does not command the same respect.

The vast majority of ­business schools produce ­graduates who can ‘do the job’. Most of these jobs, however, do not need MBAs in the first place.

The vast majority of people are satisfied with a handbag that simply does its job. PU foam will do instead of leather, for a bag sturdy and functional. The vast majority of B-schools produce graduates who can ‘do the job’. Most of these jobs, however, do not need MBAs in the first place. But since they are available so freely, so cheaply, why not?

The handbag contains the vanities of a woman, the make-up she uses to paint her face. The MBA contains the ­intellectual vanity of its owner, the make-up we use to paint our resume.  The paint hides our blemishes, our pimples and warts. The beholder sees beauty and so do I—in that flawed little human called ‘self’.

Had my self-worth been higher, I would not need this label. This handbag. This degree. Had corporations been mindful, I would not need an MBA. To whisper, ‘I am good…hire me!’

But the world is what it is­, and the show must go on. So put on your paint and your make-up, go forth and conquer the world! Make lots and lots of money, go out and buy a Merc. Enjoy the perks of existence. Maybe you’ll even enjoy the work. It may be just as mindless, but at least you know for sure. The human condition is like this, it is essentially a bore.

Relieve yourself of boredom by running a marathon. Take up power yoga and redecorate your home. Join Sri Sri’s ‘Art of Living’ and breathe your way to peace. Go ahead, start writing that book, which nobody wants to read. Make a business plan and start a business or two. Or ­become an angel investor, so the world runs after you.

When all else fails, you will pick up that backpack, go out and explore the world.

I hope you finally answer those all-important questions: ‘Who am I? What am I looking for?’

(Rashmi Bansal is an MBA and an author)

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