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Nishant Shekhar, Class of 2006

Nishant Shekhar, an alumnus of IIT Delhi's Karakoram hostel, is a Managing Director and Partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG)Nishant has recently authored a memoir titled "The Game of Power and Passion." This compelling book delves into the intricate dynamics of ‘Poltu’ (political maneuvering), power, and ambition at IIT Delhi, offering a unique glimpse into the interplay of personal and professional aspirations in one of India's premier institutions.


Interviewer: Hello sir, could you please introduce yourself for the camera?

Nishant Shekhar: Hi everyone, this is Nishant Shekhar. I am an MD Partner at BCG, an IIT Delhi alum from Karakoram. Good to be back on the campus, always lovely to be here. I’m here to talk about my new book, The Game of Power and Passion.

Interviewer: As we understand, you have quite a busy life at BCG, so what has been the inspiration for taking out time to write this book? Does it come from a place of trying to provide a medium for your old friends to recount the ‘good old days’? Nishant Shekhar: When I joined IIT Delhi, I was a left-brained child. This is where I was exposed to the right brain people and opportunities. It started with theatre. Started with small roles on stage, converting to big roles, converting to direction, story writing, and then end-to-end productions. But once you join BCG, I think it allows for less and less time to explore beyond work. Somehow three, four years ago, I just realized that this is a side of my life that I am kind of losing out on, not giving enough attention to. That's why I realized storytelling is something I really love, and while I'm not able to do theater or dramatics a lot more, this is one of the ways I can still continue to be connected with my passion. Interviewer: Could you talk about some of the characters you have written about in this book? 

Nishant Shekhar: So, just to bring things into context, all the characters in the book are based on real people. Some are individual characters, while others are composites of a few people. When the book was released, the most popular question I received from friends or readers was, "Is this character A?" or "Is this character B?" This became a significant topic of reconnecting with many of my batch mates. In fact, there's a lot of social chatter around the book, as it features characters with varying shades of grey and good qualities. People are actively discussing on social media, trying to identify who each character is because they can relate to most of them.

Interviewer: Can you recall some of your most memorable experiences at IIT Delhi?

Nishant Shekhar: Oh, absolutely! Coming to interesting times, so there are many! I think if you just talk about the interesting times, one night will be less to cover all of them.Recollecting a few big experiences from my time at IIT Delhi: First, the initial month was transformative. The exposure to seniors, multitasking, and the intense environment felt like entering a different world. This period, up to the interhostel Fresher's skit, was unforgettable due to its unique rigor, competition, and emotional intensity.There's a different set of rigor. There's a different set of competition. There's a different set of emotions that people go through. And that, I think, always remain with anyone who has been part of IIT Delhi.

also, I would say, while study is not the only thing that you remember here, but I remember when we used to have minors and majors, I think that used to be the time when you almost felt life had become still, because otherwise there is so much happening in life that minors and majors were almost a time for people to rest, recover, and then get into the normal mode. The last experience I will just recall, which I think is very close to my heart, is that there is a lot of politics that happened. And the tension, the excitement, the journey of, you know, the two months just before the election, how everything, how the mind games were going on, you know.

Interviewer: Haha, I think we are just on the precipice of our elections at the moment.

Nishant Shekhar: Ah, elections! You know, we have this smaller group from Karakoram hostel, spanning generations from the 1950s to the present day. But within that, there's a tight-knit group of Karakoram alumni from various batches. When my book came out, it sparked discussions about past elections, revealing forgotten details from 18 years ago. It's amazing how political memories, whether of success or failure, stick with people for years to come.

Interviewer: Fascinating! As you mentioned, many of us are about to embark on a similar journey. You spoke about your involvement in drama and how it influenced your book. Were there other extracurriculars you explored here, and how deeply were you engaged?

Nishant Shekhar: Actually, I wasn't just behind the scenes; I was front and center of it. Writing this book required that level of immersion. When you read it, you'll see the intricate details of IIT Delhi's politics, something only possible by being deeply involved. Merely observing from afar has its limits. To truly understand, you have to be in the thick of it. So I was involved in quite a big part of it. In fact, the two-year journey that has been written is around my batch, around my people, and about me.

Interviewer: People often have varied opinions about campus politics, some seeing it as essential, others as a waste of time. How has it impacted you, and what do you think its general effect is, especially on those heavily involved?

Nishant Shekhar: It's quite philosophical, really. I don't think it's a life-or-death matter, though when you're immersed in it, it can feel that way. Over time, you realize its importance dwindles. Whether it's a good or bad use of time depends on individuals. Personally, I gained a lot from it. Forget the outcomes; let's focus on the process. Negotiation skills, convincing others, balancing individual and team goals—there's immense learning there. It forces tough decisions, matures you, and forges friendships while sometimes fading others. It's a journey of growth, but one should detach from its results. Successes and failures are part of the process, but there's more beyond those few years. I had my successes and failures, and I was attached at that point in time. But you soon realize, either through your seniors or your own journey, that there is much more beyond just getting attached to the outcomes of the poltu in those 2-3 years.

Interviewer: You mentioned incorporating various aspects of campus politics into your book. Can you elaborate on some of these elements or characters?

Nishant Shekhar: In a true consulting style I actually created a list. I created a list on what are the unique elements of IIT Delhi Poltu that I have to cover. One crucial aspect was the intricate hierarchy of responsibilities, essential to explain the rationale behind people's pursuits. There's also internal and external politics, with hostels forming alliances and strategizing for votes. Terms like "1.0" hostels, where the entire house votes, and "carpet votes" add depth. Emotional dynamics, reactions to success or failure, and the lingo of political times were essential to capture. I've strived to include all these nuances in my book.

Interviewer: Let's veer off from Poltu for a moment. You mentioned an interesting tradition of the campus coming together for ice cream, symbolizing the close bond between professors and students. Do you think IIT should maintain this culture or shift towards a more corporate environment?

Nishant Shekhar: We had several such moments. I'm not sure if it still happens, but back then, we had two significant events in the hostel. One was Fresher's Night, marking the end of the initial formalities, transitioning from addressing everyone as "sir" to a more relaxed atmosphere. During that month, we'd wear full formal attire despite the scorching heat, and then, on Fresher's Night, everything changed. There were no "sirs'' or "bhaiyas'' anymore; it was just batchmates addressing each other by first names or through friendly banter. It fostered informality, crucial for friendships that transcended batch boundaries. I still have close friends from senior and junior batches. Another occasion was House Day, where formalities were set aside for passing on responsibilities and inviting professors as advisors, promoting an informal culture. This helped in passing on the hostel's legacy and values, ensuring continuity. Today, I see a shift towards a more corporate environment, which has its pros and cons. While it offers benefits, it risks diluting the hostel's unique culture and camaraderie. The rise of technology further isolates individuals, replacing group interactions with solitary activities. We experienced collective events like watching the 2003 World Cup together, a camaraderie I fear may be lost in today's tech-driven world.

Interviewer: You said that it has been 18 years since you passed out, and you have just finished writing the book. It has been some time. One tends to think that there are a lot of details that might have gone away with time. So what process did you follow to make sure all of that carries forward in your writing? 

Nishant Shekhar: I will break the process into two. Given my schedule, I get zero time from Monday to Friday. Now Saturday and Sunday if I just pick Saturday, I get 52 Saturdays in a year. This means if I have to do something meaningful and it takes even 150 days, it will take 3 years. So it is a continuous commitment every Saturday to keep making sure that thing progresses. That was one. The second also was you have a set of two or three people around you to keep you honest. They need to keep asking you if you have progressed. How many chapters are done? Where are things moving? So that you also keep pushing yourself continuously. As far as the incident, the anecdotes and the story- more than 80-90 percent of this book is factual. Based on actual things that happened on the campus. Somehow I think I have a visual memory and I may not remember the exact words that were said. But I have visuals in my mind that just get stuck. I still have visuals in my mind of the first year elections. I still have visuals in my mind of when Mr. XX met me after the elections and how he looked, and what was going through his mind. Some of these visual photogenic memories just stayed with me and then I just had to turn it around and convert them into words.

Interviewer: What were some of the most exciting parts of the book for you to write?

Nishant Shekhar: As I was writing the book, the excitement of those memories flowed through my head. There are many moments that stand out, especially ones linked to the earlier question about memorable times. The story revolves around how an individual, like myself, develops a passion for a cause upon joining an institute filled with talented people. My passion was winning the RCA or the Best House Trophy for Kara, no matter the effort required. 

Seniors played a crucial role in this. They onboarded us, explained the campus dynamics, and taught us about multitasking—what to do and what not to do. Reflecting on that one-month onboarding experience, it was quite fruitful. It made us realize what our campus journey would be for the next four years. That month was pivotal for me, making me understand the balance between studies and extracurriculars, and the importance of dedicating myself to a cause.

There were emotional scenes, like waking up at 4 am every day for a month to take a full round of the campus, cheering and anti-cheering in the lawns, doing physical rounds of the football ground, and then attending classes during the day. From 8 pm to 2 am, we had batch meets where we discussed clubs and activities, eventually practicing music, theater, and other events. This rigorous routine set the tone for the next four years.

When I reached my second year, the challenge was to continue the legacy with the new batch—teaching them what worked, what didn't, and how to manage extracurriculars. Reflecting on this, I realized I was subconsciously following a set of principles that I later consciously wrote about. Major events, like winning trophies, brought back old emotions and goosebumps.

Politics also played a significant role, laden with emotions. It involves the journey of success and failure, starting with anger and bitterness and then moving to acceptance. Capturing the five stages of these emotions was crucial. It's difficult to remain untouched by the negative aspects of power, and observing how people reacted to gaining or losing power brought another layer of emotion.

Writing this book was inspired by real events and emotions from those times, creating a strong sense of nostalgia and connection to the experiences. Politics is indeed charged with emotions—success, failure, anger, bitterness—all of which I aimed to capture authentically. Each stage of the political journey—from victory to the abuse of power—elicits a range of emotions, which I sought to convey through relatable anecdotes and personal reflections. By drawing from real experiences, I hoped to evoke the same emotions in readers, fostering a deeper connection to the story.

Interviewer: Thanks a lot. You mentioned the Karakoram-Kumaon rivalry in the book, with Chetan sir from Kumaon and you from Karakoram. Do you think this friendly rivalry still exists among the batches?

Nishant Shekhar: Absolutely, the rivalry persists. Even when we meet alumni from other hostels, there's always some banter. I recently met people from Jwala, and the jokes about them are still alive. It's fascinating how even alumni from the 80s still reminisce about the Kara-Kumaon rivalry, showing its enduring nature. Personally, I have good friends from Kumaon, and we enjoy teasing each other. As for Chetan, he's almost a legend on campus, so competing with him is quite an honor. I'm sure people will continue to relish stories about Kara versus Kumaon.

Interviewer: We have been told that you value your family a lot, right, and you turned down a job in the US because you wanted to stay close to India. So as an extension of this, do you feel you have developed a relationship with your family? Do you feel you have developed this sort of love or bonding with your batchmates or your seniors in IIT? Is this something that still continues?

Nishant Shekhar: Yeah, I recall discussing this earlier. To provide context, I had an offer from another company, even BCG offered me a transfer. Just two days before my flight, I fell ill, giving me time to ponder. I realized I didn't want to spend time away from my family. Speaking of family, it includes both relatives and friends. You'd be surprised by the number of weddings and other events I've attended. Throughout my life, I've had five key stages: school, IIT Delhi, Samsung, IIM Lucknow, and BCG. Luckily, I've had wonderful friends at each stage, some for over 35 years. I've always prioritized being present for their milestones, whether weddings or baby showers. My friends are like family; our parents know each other, spanning from school to IIT and beyond. Even friends from the US make a point to visit me in Mumbai. So, for me, friends are an extension of family, inseparable from each other.

Interviewer: The book mainly covers the first two years of college. Do you envision a Part 2, and if so, how do you see the themes or characters evolving?

Nishant Shekhar: Yeah, there's a part two in progress, mainly comprising anecdotes and facts from my visual memory. The upcoming installment will continue with the characters from my year, with seniors fading out and juniors stepping in. Expect intensified politics as stakes rise in the third and fourth years. Friendships will evolve into more complex layers with new objectives leading to disagreements and agreements. Anticipate doubled drama and surprise, with unresolved questions from the first part answered. Drawing inspiration from the Mahabharata, where every action has a ripple effect, the sequel will delve into causal impacts from actions in the initial years. This complex causality will link events, providing insight into why certain actions occurred, offering a deeper understanding of the characters and their journey.

 Interviewer: So, what takeaways do you feel readers? I mean, readers should get away from this because there will obviously be a lot of people from IIT Delhi who read this. But even otherwise, if there are people outside, what takeaways do you think should be there?

Nishant Shekhar: So, summing up, let me break it down into a few key points. Firstly, for newcomers stepping into college or starting their careers, I believe trying new things is crucial. Don't fear failure; it's part of the learning process, especially early on. This is especially relevant for those from smaller towns or less privileged backgrounds who might feel overwhelmed by new environments. Embrace experimentation to discover your strengths.

Secondly, passion is paramount. If you're truly dedicated and give your all, success will follow, albeit sometimes with time. Passion can evolve, so trust the journey, whether it's pursuing admission to IIT or exploring diverse interests post-graduation.

Thirdly, remember that tough times often precede good ones. Maintaining balance during adversity is key; it's a sign that better days are ahead. Don't let challenges discourage you; they're opportunities for growth.

Lastly, during your college years, prioritize building friendships over mere networking. Actively seek ways to support others; this investment in relationships can yield unexpected returns in the future. In the vibrant campus environment, surrounded by talented peers, lending a helping hand fosters a sense of community and reciprocity.

These principles, gleaned from personal experience, transcend academic institutions like IIT and offer valuable guidance to anyone navigating the complexities of early adulthood and career exploration.

Interviewer: So, I think last question for this session. If you had to do all of this again, what do you think you would have, you know, what approach would you have taken? Would you have changed anything? And like you said, IIT has changed a lot in its culture. Do you feel that there are certain elements today that you might not have understood have back when you were here?

Nishant Shekhar: If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change much. Successes and failures shape us, and over the long term, people end up where they belong. One lesson I've learned is the importance of seeking and offering help, especially when navigating overwhelming environments. Regarding changes, infrastructure stands out. Nowadays, campuses boast AC rooms and lecture halls, a luxury we didn't have back then. Additionally, modern communication technology has transformed relationships. Previously, staying connected required effort, with emails or SMS being the norm. Without platforms like WhatsApp, maintaining friendships post-college was challenging. Some bonds endured due to proximity or deep connections, but many faded as people relocated or changed numbers. Improved infrastructure and tech-enabled communication have undoubtedly changed the dynamics, making it easier to stay in touch. However, cultural shifts are harder for me to gauge, as I haven't closely observed recent developments. Ultimately, while advancements have their benefits, they also alter the fabric of our connections and experiences.

Interviewer: So, I think all the questions from our side are done, anything you would like to say to the camera or to the readers?

Nishant Shekhar: In closing, regarding the book, I want to emphasize two points. Firstly, unlike typical college narratives, this book delves deeper into the human aspects of student life, aiming to humanize the experience beyond just fun and romance. Secondly, drawing inspiration from films like "Jo Jeeta Hai Wohi Sikandar," "Chhichhore," and "Rajneeti," the goal is to create a meaningful narrative that resonates with readers. By merging these themes, I hope to offer a unique perspective on student life. Thank you for the opportunity.

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