Aug 7, 2008

Lifestyle - Celebrating Success

How convocations have changed!

I remember my convocation at the Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta, it was 1979, a new Government was taking charge, there were signs of change and may be a new order. I was there, not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to meet with friends and the chance to go on stage twice to pick up my diploma and my Honour Roll Certificate. We did not wear a cap those days, but we did wear a black gown that the institute provided.
I got the opportunity to attend the 2008 IIMC convocation earlier this year. On stage were the Chairman, Director, Deans, the Chief Guest, Members of the Board of Governors and the illustrious faculty.
The convocation was held at the wonderful auditorium at the Joka campus of IIMC; in 1979, when I graduated, the convocation was held in the city, at Rabindra Sadan Auditorium right next to the Victoria Memorial, far from the Joka campus where we had spent two years, amidst power cuts, mosquitoes and the occasional flood.
The young graduates now wore a cap, a custom that I was told was started a few years ago.
In addition to the MBA students, there were a host of other students, including some rather wizened PGPEx candidates who were picking up their diplomas.
The number of girls had gone up significantly from the measly 9 per cent we had and interestingly of the top five students, three were girls.

A family occasion

In addition to these obvious changes, something else caught my attention. The large auditorium was overflowing with people, some elderly men and women, even some young kids.
The Chief Administrative Officer of IIMC explained that over the last 10 years, the Institute had found the hall overflowing during the convocation. The number of graduates had gone up, with new streams like PGPEx opening up, but more importantly he said there were just many many parents and relatives who wanted to attend the convocation.
This made me think back. During my time, I could not think of anyone from out of town who had his parents in the audience; may be a few of the Kolkata folk, I am not even sure of that.
Why do we find so many parents wanting to celebrate their children’s success at IIMC
The first and most simplistic answer is that travel, and especially, air travel is no longer a distant dream. With increasing affluence, people are willing to make that two-day trip to celebrate.

When I proposed this theory to an old IIIMC friend who is now a Professor in the US, she pooh poohed the idea and then added that she [and obviously her parents too] did not attend the convocation, not least because of air travel costs.
That leads us to the next theory that came from my mother, who said that these days with only one or two kids, parents have the time and energy to travel to celebrate every small achievement of their kids. In the past there were two or more kids to look after at home. So outstation travel was strictly during school holidays.
The third theory was rooted in the fact that IIM MBAs are prized commodities today, much more valuable than they were 25 years ago. So the IIM convocation is a real big deal. This was the moment that the entire family looked forward to, their kid on her/his way to millions. All their hard work had paid off; may be the kid would look after them in their old age? The last is a cause for serious concern amongst the upper and upper middle-class in urban India, as several studies by us show.

Ready to party

The fourth and possibly the more cogent theory was that middle and upper middle-class Indian families are now ready to celebrate success more openly. We are no longer so worried about the ‘bura nazar’ that we play down our achievements and rewards. We are willing to let our hair down and do the occasional jig.
We are seeing more and more evidence of this in the bigger towns. Families go to restaurants with family and friends to celebrate birthdays, college graduations and awards among others. Fast food restaurants have special birthday packages too.
Similarly, no week goes by without some friend inviting you for a silver wedding anniversary, or a 50th birthday party; often the man or his wife calling up to tell you that it is a ‘surprise’.
Graduation parties too have started happening, especially when the daughter or son passes out of a reputed university.
It is almost as if people are looking for an occasion to celebrate.
What I saw at IIMC was really the celebration of a few hundred parents and siblings. They were joyous at the achievements of their sons/daughters/brothers/ sisters. And, were willing to make a long trip to be a part of the occasion.
Celebrating success is no longer a closed-door affair. And hopefully that should herald many more successes.
(The writer is Executive Director & CEO, Mumbai, Draftfcb Ulka Advertising.)

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