Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"I'm telling you, the guy is Rambo"*

Our first few weeks in IIMB represented the harvest season for the campus grapevine. As we unsuspecting lads groped around the vast campus finding our footing, know-it-all seniors passed down all the legendary stories that had been passed down the years. Facchas sat awe-struck in the L-square, hearing tales of exemplary students and terrifying staff members who had left their mark on the institute’s history. But no one was as discussed as one particular professor- little did we know he was soon going to ensure that a third of the batch would discuss him even more fervently, day and night, over the next three months. “Rambo” was the name we heard from every senior’s mouth in hushed tones. Real name S. Ramesh Kumar, professor in marketing.

Seniors spoke about his strictness and how he insulted, nay ripped apart students in his class. His chief weapon was the term project which he called the Apex (short for Application Exercise), a component that actually accounted for 30% to the course score, and yet required 40% of the total effort for all courses put together. We heard with amazement that his current behaviour was a lenient version of his earlier self. The hype Rambo had created about himsef was a classic case study in branding- a professor applying the concepts that he taught, to his own world.

For us Section A students, the enigma and curiosity was uncontrollable, because we never saw him around. Rambo seemed like the loch-ness monster- everyone talked about him but no one in our section had seen him. And having a bumbling story teller as our marketing professor only made us more interested in Rambo. Rambo’s class tests results were more eagerly awaited than ours- I waited with bated breath every week hoping my Section C friends would get off the mark. For his part, Rambo left no stone unturned in keeping up the hype. Having had to call off a class 15 min earlier than normal because of urgent work, he held a 15-min lecture that afternoon, attended by 100% of the class. (our prof’s lectures were also 15 minutes long, as far as content was concerned) But nothing was more initriguing than the sight of a group preparing for their Apex- they stayed days and night in the Computer Center, working frantically on it,skipping lunch and dinner and every social activity that transpired in the last week before their Apex. Tempers ran extremely high- heated discussions abounded in the group and friendships were broken over it. It was an intellectual reality show. The name was apt- it was the ultimate Apex of one’s survival in IIMB.

My blind curiosity ensured I wasnt going to lose another chance to meet the man- I took his elective Consumer Behavior (ConB) in the 2nd year. For a man with such personal influence, Rambo was a stocky man, and walked with a bent shoulder and a slow pair of legs. Rambo?!, I wondered. He spoke softly too, and resembled more a scientist past his prime. But it was not long before he lived up to his name- in the 1st class he mercilessly flayed an over-enthusiastic CP’er (class participation) for dubious content. This was going to be fun.

Rambo’s lectures were highly theory-oriented- and it was in the form of frameworks. He explained them using antique projector slides and a weird formation of his hands- both hands horizontal and at right angles to their normal state, pointing towards each other- that became the famous mimicry act on campus. Experts soon came to the conclusion that the distance between the two hands increased with the complexity of the funda he explained, a theory that could not be verified (Rambo could not be approached for comment). But his major power came from his words- they pierced through the ego of the hapless victim and proceeded to puncture the temporary sense of security that onlookers somehow mustered. In the 1st year’s last Apex, Ali's desperate answer was complimented by “You should have better concepts at this stage of the course.” In ConB, he once showed an advert to illustrate a concept. The moment he put it up on the projector, our man Dushyanth Jayanty immediately recognized the model as Deepti Naval and even blurted it out in a surge of excitement. As Rambo stood smiling at him with that look of amazement on his face, the silence turned to muffled peals of laughters. Then he said, with his hands in position, “I would really appreciate if you would rather concentrate on the concept that Im trying to explain.” Deepti Naval would have wished she wasn’t there.

Our Apex days are still vivid in my mind. We had one less member than the others and ours was the first one- so there were no mistakes to repeat. Seven days of sleepless nights and yet on the day of the Apex it was still a sinking feeling. Wierdly, the last hour before the Apex is when when we were most relaxed, because by then we had left it to Fate. I still remember the rare moment of glory as Rambo smiled. Our joy knew no bounds. His words of praise still linger as fond memories.

Clueless about the future and content to stagnate, Id settled into a vegetative existence in IIMB. The Apex revived me into action, and revive it did. Seven non-stop days of slogging away and surviving on countless coffees somehow proved to myself that I still had that dedication and commitment that I once prided myself on. For me, the Apex was the base of the mountain I was to climb.

Rambo was overacademic and his course lacked application, say some. But, isn’t that the role of academics? History has long rewarded those who created a science out of an art, and those who created an art out of a science. With his obsession with linkages, Rambo deserves his little bit of credit for providing us with a scientific perspective to the field of marketing- long considered an art. Thank you, Professor.

*The title of the blog is taken from the film Wall Street, in which two men in a bar when speaking about a 26-yr old executive who has made $650,000, refer to him in those words.