It wasn’t a particularly interesting day when I was contacted for the ‘Uninvited’ Series – supposedly, a tale of the underdogs of the institute who grit and grind, managing to come out on the top by the very end. I explicitly remember the day because I’m very well acquainted, if I might say so, with the word “underdog” because of my engagement with the Dramatics Club since my first year where underdog stories are the bread-and-butter trope among college folk. Thus, it struck me quite distinctly that I, too, am considered one.
I won’t lie – I kind of always knew that I’m thought of as an underdog, but it wasn’t something I consciously considered; this interview gave me a chance to. It made me realise that contrary to the usual journey of the “normal” people consisting of alternate, relatively easy-to-navigate crests and troughs with the end result either amplified or damped, the underdogs go through a surprisingly simpler path. Their journey can be rather ascribed as a logarithmic graph, with a steep start and a rather plain ending. This journey is, at once, both boring to witness as a bystander and harder to quantify when living it. Not a very unique thought, as my interviewer told me – Leo Tolstoy once said pretty much the same thing in one of his letters, and with a lot more economy, I presume. Quite cliché for an underdog to repeat stuff people better than they have said, isn’t it?
Anyways, I’ll put aside my contemplations and misgivings and present to you my underdog journey. After all, that sweet ending is what people are here for. So, take it and make what you will of it, and like we do in drama, maybe take some morals from it.
I’ll begin at the very beginning, and explain it to you like I do with the scripts I’ve worked on these four years for the Dramatics Club.
Hello! I am Tarun Rajora, a fourth-year undergraduate student who came to the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi in 2018. If you desire, I could easily give a melodramatic account of my JEE Advanced prep for entering this famed institute, but that would be futile. I’ve rarely met anyone who has had smooth sailing to IITD, so skipping all that, I’ll rather begin with my first year.
I entered IITD and soon enough, the dreamy fresher turned into a carefree ‘faccha’. This statement, I think, sums up the entirety of my first year. After spending two dreadful years studying for The Hardest Entrance Examination In The WorldTM and hearing my coaching teachers reiterate about the nearly-overwhelming and totally-orgasmic (*cough cough*) fun awaiting me in IIT, that was all I was in the mood for. Obviously, I partied, and played, and danced, and just thoroughly enjoyed myself in all ways I was able to think of.
However, there were two cultural activities – as my seniors called them - or hobbies – as I would rather - that I picked up: Dance and Drama. I was captivated by both of them since the first, most fleeting glance in the orientations and I’ve followed them relentlessly since. Thankfully, both these hobbies have stayed with me so far, and I hope they will in the future too.
But remember, this is an underdog story. Positions of Responsibility are one of the earliest success parameters defined in IITD, and I was not even qualified for the elections, let alone have a chance at winning or losing.
After the first semester, I had a CG somewhere in the later fives, a figure so resoundingly below the required seven that I wasn’t even considered as competition. Yet, I was not really affected. I truly wasn’t. Maybe it was because of my socially frowned upon life ideologies. Consider it indulgent or call it privileged, but I think it’s better to live out your life the way you want first, and then start working. At the time, I was too preoccupied with the illusions of IIT life that my teachers had instilled in me and fulfilling them was crucial for my mind to properly function again. I was not yet accustomed to societal standards and the unmentionable yet ever-lurking requirement to realise them.
Nevertheless, it took me the whole ‘faccha’ experience to understand the very real importance of a good CG, which, while not being a precondition to your happiness, is of absolute necessity in many unavoidable circumstances. Thus, at the end of my first year, I decided to be stricter with myself, these thoughts becoming the permanent and favoured residents of my musings. Yet come past the summer break, I was back where I began. Not even where I began if I’m being utterly honest; it was way worse. I could not quit my habits easily, and thus, loitered away a significant part of every day.
Then came the stark realisation that left me dumbfounded and even more scared - I hated my core courses. But there was, in fact, a silver lining: most of the courses in my department, Textile Engineering, weren’t content-heavy, and even though I’m not the one to claim this with convincing authority, it was relatively easy to go through them the day before an exam and score relatively well. This gave me another opportunity to figure out what I really like.
Like everyone else, I was drawn toward Machine Learning. I’m cognizant of the fact that I was initially attracted to it for the same superficial reasons everyone else is, just another rat in a rat race. But now, having spent more than two years honing my skills in every manner, I like to think that it was my personal interest that led me further on. This was what my third semester consisted of – hating core courses, dancing and doing drama, and learning ML. With the onset of the fourth semester came the unpredictable, unprecedented COVID pandemic, and just like that, we were all back home.
Now I know how dangerous and awful the pandemic was for the populace in general, but for me, it was a boon in disguise. Satiated with my quench for entertainment, at last, I sat back and studied in my safe space – my home. Core courses were merely an online inconvenience, for which there existed all types of contrivances and ‘jugaads’. Since dance and drama aren’t activities that are well suited to the online spectrum, I had even more time on my hands to learn and code.
From then to now, this best encapsulates my life. My CG reached the middle sixes, but I soon understood it to be the upper bound as the semesters added up. Eventually I started up with drama and dance again, but this time in due moderation. I even studied my core courses on my own, to a certain extent. All the while ML was firmly set in the crosshairs of my trigger, and it was all I wanted to shoot for.
My CG being too low, I was mostly left to my own tools. Luckily enough, I managed a decent third-year ML intern off-campus. Not very long before the job placements, I realised I had written ML notes worth two, whole, bulky notebooks. Knowing my hard work and passion were aligned, I decided to focus solely on ML jobs. It was a brash move, but I was confident in spite of being aware that my chances of securing a good ML job were next to impossible. To state the obvious, I wasn’t even allowed to sit in most job interviews. The few that I was, contained little personal Pandora Boxes of their own.
Here, I recount the interview that got me my future job. Some problems occurred on the day of the interview, causing the interview to be preponed to eight in the morning, while the company profile showed the original timings. I received this information at seven forty-five.
Since the interview was online, I was free from the mental stresses and physical hassles of making it to the correct place at the correct time. I just prayed and wished for the next fifteen minutes, anxiously roaming around in my room, not being even mildly composed enough to go through my ML notes. In the end, I didn’t even use the notes that I had bled and sweated for in the last two years. Seems like the last underdog problem, no?
Despite acing the interview, I’m too befuddled to tell anyone how. I like to pretend it must’ve been something filmy, like Raju Rastogi in 3 Idiots. So even though I can’t claim to be the entertainment-flavoured underdog, I worked hard, fought against the odds and got an amazing job even without my notes, because of the hours I spent making them. Hard work always pays off and an underdog is just one who works hard despite the lack of short-term payoffs. And it’s a rather encouraging thought, isn’t it?