Rediscovering Debapratim from a letter written by him way back in 2007… It is a treasure which we would cherish throughout
By Dr. Debapratim Purkayatha
Cotton College (1993-1998)
College life was no different from that of any other average college student in India. Freed from the rigid life in school it was expected that I would be a little spoilt. Bunking classes, movies, alcohol and running after girls, you know. Was lucky to have many friends who were there from the school – Jhankar, Rituraj, Tridib etc. Relations with Sid and Somashis soured though. Looking back, don’t know who was at fault, but considered it a big loss.
1st and 2nd year was spent mostly with friends from the school. Jhankar and I saw many a movie together, the kind we teenagers liked to watch. Also ogled at girls together. But he was not part of my fling with alcohol. The new lifestyle took its toll. Results in first year was a real shocker, but did not prove to be a wake up call. It was much better in the second year but was not good enough to get me a seat at the Medical college. My parents were heartbroken but I wasn’t too disappointed. Some people who missed the bus were ready to sit for the entrance exams again, but it was not my cup of tea. I was not prepared to lose one year of my life under any circumstances.
Thus started my second phase at Cotton College, studying Botany as honors paper. Friends from school were now getting more dispersed. Some like Jhankar went to the medical college, Tridib went for engineering, some went to other colleges, and Sid went out of the state to pursue his passion. Jilted in love and “betrayed” by my closest friend from school, I developed some new friends there.
Some people may think it strange, but I did find Botany interesting. The close group of Nilopankaj, Rishi, Krishnendu and I (the only 4 boys in the 20 strength batch) had a lot of fun together. The indisciplined lifestyle continued. Most memorable moments were the educational trips to Meghalaya (Shillong/Cherrapunjee) and north India (Lucknow, Dehradun, Mushoorie, Allahabad, Hardwar). I think those trips were about everything but education.
The low point was getting caught by my parents with alcohol in my breath. Must have been a real shock for them. I survived with a fractured reputation at home and a long ban on my pocket money. Another major incident from that time was just before the Part I exam (1997), I came close to losing a year. Studying science we did not take the compulsory English class too seriously. Some of us were under the impression that attendance in this class was not important, and we bunked this class with impunity. But we were wrong. I was one of the Science students who was on the list of students to be non-collegiated, the rest were all arts students. We ran from pillar to post to get the sentence revoked, but to no avail. I was spending sleepless nights. Ultimately, my father had to go meet the HOD. Some of us were allowed to sit for the exams. The incidence was a real scare and a major embarrassment for me in front of my family. But there were positives too. In the exam I came close to 1 marks to the top position in the university (Botany). One day a cute little thing greeted me at college. My friends asked me who she was. When I said that it was someone who was running along with us from pillars to posts for poor attendance, Nilopankaj said, “Why did I too not get non-c0llegiated?”
Sid, you will remember that we went to picnic taking the school bus twice after leaving school. It was in 1995 (more than two years after leaving the school). Our school really loved us.
Life after college
After sitting for my final exams, I was casually looking for a job. Hailing from a small city there were not too many opportunities. Right from 1995, I used to scan the job market through ads in newspaper. I did not want to pursue higher education and wanted to be on my feet as quickly as possible. This was despite the fact that my parents were very supportive and wanted me to go for higher education. My father, who was then the Regional Passport Officer for the North Eastern Region, was in fact exploring the possibility of sending me abroad for pursuing MBA. My ego was coming in the way as I was not comfortable about asking them for money anymore. I am grateful to them for always letting me do what I wanted.
(May 1998) With there being not too many opportunities in my home town, I went to Rourkela to stay with my maternal uncle and enrolled for GNIIT there. I believe that staying away from the cocoon of the family is an essential part of ones education. I had a lot of fun with my cousins and was greatly influenced and inspired by my maternal uncle, Kanchan Kumar Dey, who was a self-made engineer entrepreneur.
(August 1998) Meanwhile, I applied for my first job for the position of Medical Representative at Torrent Pharmaceuticals Ltd., which was then the 5th largest pharma company in India. I thought that the position fitted my profile and if one had it in him, growth was really fast. I was shortlisted and called for an interview at Kolkata for group discussion and personal interview. The problem was: a. my results were still not declared yet; b. I had no prior experience of a GD. Moreover, I was not used to speaking in English. My written English was above average as I had developed it over the years mostly as a result of being a voracious reader right from my school days. But when it came to speaking, I had to really frame the sentences and rehearse it in my mind before speaking out loud.
I went to Kolkata and put up at the residence of my maternal uncle, the great Bengali poet laureate Karuna Sindhu Dey. I was nervous but his words were a big morale booster. His first words to me were, “They are going to take you. So, what would be your decision?”
When I went to Torrent’s regional office for the interview, I realized that I was lucky to be there as the 100 odd people who were vying for the position had come to this phase after getting short-listed after first round interviews and GD at various places of Eastern India. The GDs were conducted with 15 people in each group and it was total chaos. There were a good many experienced guys and they knew very well that if anyone is not able to speak, s/he is out. This was the first time I understood the meaning of the phrase ‘butterflies in the stomach’. I could hardly say three sentences. In the interview that followed, the HR chief who had flown down from H.O. told me, “I observed that what little you spoke up there was spoken like a gentleman. They were trying to shut you out, you kept trying and ultimately you succeeded. This is what I liked about you.”
The company had actually goofed up in calling me for the interview not realizing that I was not yet to graduate. The HR chief, Dr. Prasad told me that he would call me for the final interview at Ahmedabad. I finally joined Torrent in Oct 1998. Training was at the Karnavati Club at Ahmedabad. The training was made lively as on a weekend there was a live show of Shaimak davar at Karnavati Club.
Once in the job enjoyed the new life & responsibility. Displayed immaturity at times (that would account for some instances of insubordination). Biggest learning from this job was that my perception of the doctor changed considerably. A huge majority of them may have a ‘God complex’, but they are human after all… if not worse.
In Dec 1999 joined Zydus Cadila, one of the top five pharma companies in India. Soon started realizing that without an MBA career may not take off. By that time I had developed a dream of becoming a Product Manager – without an MBA that wouldn’t fructify. In 2000, enrolled for the MBA program at Utkal University. Knew what I wanted to achieve, just wanted the degree. New place, new friends, new learning, new bad habits. Many would find it odd, I got hooked to smoking during MBA.
After MBA joined as a first line manager at Themis Medicare. I was looking after Upper Assam and a some parts of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The regional manager was one of the most sweet-speaking bastard one can come across. After around 7 months was forced to leave due to ill health. Kept working despite being ill until literally collapsed on the job. Doctors advised bed rest, but company wasn’t supportive. Lesson: Health comes first.
In 2003 joined a Management institute as a Associate Professor. RJ School for management Studies was a business school located near the picturesque Chandipur beach in Orissa. Working there was like being cut off from the rest of the world. I was wondering why I had gone there. But it seemed that I was destined to go there as I soon meet someone there who was to be my wife in two years time. It did not take me long to understand that Somali Mukherjee who had enrolled for the MBA program was very fond of me (just like all the other n-1 girls who studied there). I too found myself getting attracted to her and ultimately proposed to her.
Shortly after, in 2004, I left RJSMS to join as a Product Manager (PM) at GenX, a pharma company based in Hyderabad. Ultimately my dream of becoming a PM came true. I was soon handling the Gastroenterology range which had some multicrore brands. The company also had a very good Antiretroviral range (Anti-HIV/AIDS drugs). Here I also got involved in training and also developed a strong interest in the field. That is how I got enrolled in and completed DipTD (Diploma in Training & Development) from Indian Society for Training & Development, and MS in Psychotherapy. Had trained more than 500 executives and managers in that company. As part of the job had to design branding strategies for my brands and also travelling across India at least once in a quarter to communicate the strategies in Sales Development Meetings.
All this time I carried on the long distance relationship with Somali. Despite the odds like difference in caste, etc., everything worked out well in the end and we got married on August 11, 2005. After marriage I realized that I was not able to give enough time to my wife as the job of a PM was very demanding with long hours. After a lot of deliberations, I joined ICFAI Center for Management Research (ICMR) (Visit www.icmr.icfai.org for details). The GM and MD in GenX tried to dissuade me saying that there was no limit where I could go in Product Management. But I chose work life balance over ambition of being a VP by 35. Call me a loser but I am happy with my decision.
Looking back, I don’t thing I did too badly in the first year at ICMR. Case studies written by me had been internationally acclaimed. Of the three case studies I sent for case writing competitions, each one won an award. In 2006, won the first prize (corporate category) European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) Case writing competition. Won the second prize in 2006 John Molson Case Writing Competition, Canada, and the third prize in the 2007 oikos Sustainability management case writing competition, Switzerland. In 2007, I also bagged another first prize – – my son Supratim was born on June 4, 2007.
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Dr. Purkayastha is a Professor of Strategy and the Director of the world-class IBS Case Research Center. The AACSB-accredited ICFAI Business School, Hyderabad is one of the world’s leading case publishing schools, with more than 6,500 cases, that are used in classroom and online modes.