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August 17, 2012 / Gyanesh Pandey

An IITian at Olympics

(From IIT Kanpur to International Olympics CommitteeStory of Aditya Sheoran)

Aditya’s friends call him Jaat – obviously because he is from Haryana. Though he does not look it, nor talk it or walk it unless you know him well enough.

He was waiting at Café Coffee Day for a girl he was supposed to meet on his trip to India. He lives in Lausanne, Switzerland. And works for International Olympics Committee – IOC. ‘Is there something like that?’ would be the reaction of most Indians to that statement. “And what exactly do they do, or more importantly what do you do in that?” would be an obvious next question. He could see the area around Connaught Place was badly dug up in preparation for the Common Wealth Games 2010. He was curious about the ongoing preparations for the games. Working for the Olympics Committee while his home country hosting a games event of such magnitude was a thing of pride for him.

He was meeting this girl for a possible matrimonial alliance. Aditya graduated from IIT Kanpur in 2002 with a bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering. And since had taken a very challenging and adventurous route to working for a sports organization. Considering what he was doing now, he could not say for sure what role did IIT play in his career but one thing the stamp of an IIT degree got you was a head start in a matrimonial alliance. However, this detour into sports was not received that well.

The girl was a software engineer and a part of the rising youth of India. His meeting went as he had expected. They talked about all the things and finally she asked what do you do in Olympics Committee? Aditya smiled and explained. The smile was not reciprocated. We are still very far from understanding the work in fields other than engineering and medicine. Sport, as a career, is a far faint cry in India and for all the right reasons.

This was not the first time he had had such a reaction and add to that the nervousness of meeting in such an artificial environment, he felt weird.

He had dealt with a lot in his life to be bothered with this event though. About three years ago, after graduating from the Sports Management course in Lausanne, he did not have a job. This was after spending rather heavily for a year studying in Lausanne, Switzerland, after having quit his job almost a year and a half ago – he was staring straight into an uncertain future.

It was 11th December 2007; he had finished his sports management course and was to return to India three days later on 14th December. He did not have a job. On the morning of 11th Dec. he went to meet Mr. Denis Martin to whom he had made the presentation of his project work done during his coursework. This was the most important project a student did during the one-year course in Sports Management. This was his last effort at landing a job, before he left for India.

Aditya was a rather shy person. He is someone who would never go and introduce himself to a stranger at a party, leave aside striking a conversation. He would often be terrified of speaking in public or giving a presentation. Interestingly during the presentation to Mr. Martin, when his partner for some reason started failing to present well or answer questions, Aditya stepped up his game and gave a presentation for almost two hours. He recollects that he had never felt that confident in his life. He answered all the questions that were asked and his presentation simply flowed. After the presentation, Mr. Martin had asked him about his plans for future and Aditya had told him that he was looking for options.

After trying at a few places and facing failure Aditya had ultimately written to him about a possible job opening. So just 3 days before he was supposed to fly back to India, without a clue about his future, he had a meeting about a possible opportunity of employment.

That day when he left the office of International Olympics Committee as he walked into the open fresh air, he thought to himself “What all are you putting yourself through?”

Since graduating from IIT Kanpur in 2002, Aditya had been working in rather cushy jobs, which took care of everything he had wanted and  left some cash.

But now as he reflected on his life, it just seemed to him that nothing in his life came easy. In the year 2002, when he graduated from IIT Kanpur, the recession had gripped the industry. And usually one would understand that a graduate from IIT Kanpur would find a job no matter what, but that year the percentage placement was only about 60%, which was very low considering the usual scenario. Anyways, he did get a job before graduating and joined a software firm named Virtusa in Hyderabad. But the whole process of applying for various jobs and going for various interviews had been quite frustrating.

A job offered him all the best things he had dreamt of – he lived with friends and had money to eat at the best of places, buy all the books he wanted to, dress up, travel and you name it. No pub in the city was left untouched. Friday and Saturday evenings and an occasional weekday evening was more often than not a booze & food party. It all continued until the boredom of work struck.

Software work is not intellectually stimulating by any stretch of imagination. The joy of the job lasted only till hangover of financial freedom. In only about 6-8 months he was scouting for a better job, more challenging environment than where he was. This led him to a job at Tavant Technologies at Bangalore.

Tavant was more challenging and a bit too much because somehow his boss expected a lot from him. The first few months were difficult for him because this was the first time some real work was happening. His earlier stint at Virtusa had not given him the full taste of work since first few months are treated more as training. It took him about six months time to catch up with the new team at Tavant. In a year, he was indispensable to the team. Soon, he was handling the production responsibility onsite in California, USA. Handling a production environment is the Holy Grail for a software engineer, because that’s the real thing and each problem could cost the customers money. How much? Depends on the business domain. It could easily be thousands of USD if not millions.

California trip was very enlightening because now he had a huge responsibility on his head. This was work, as serious as it got. He was working 14-16 hours a day. He worked there for almost six months and in the process learnt a lot. However, at the end of it all, he felt burnt out.

Feeling burnt-out is not necessarily a bad thing. It makes you rethink about your priorities and puts you face-to-face with greater things in life.

Less than 2 years after college and he had already seen so much to make him wonder if this is what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. The stress of work made him introspect and think real hard about what he really wanted to do in his life. It was as if he sat down to revisit the film of his life and select the more important scenes to choose what his film was going to be about.

He came back from US and while working at the Bangalore office, his introspection continued.

One of the possible things to do was what every other engineer would do – take GMAT to pursue an MBA. Boredom was the primary motivation to do an MBA and chase a fatter paycheck.

Humanity has achieved a lot trying to escape boredom.

He started preparing for GMAT while continuing with his job. As he prepared for his GMAT exam, he kept up with his reading. Aditya had always been an avid reader.

It is amazing how much can be accomplished, if we like what we are doing.

Aditya had been exposed to reading quite early. His parents were teachers. He had read Dostoyevsky, Maxim Gorky, Premchand etc. very early in his life. So much so that he sometimes regrets it thinking that reading such material at a very young age makes you a little gloomy.

Aditya has the countenance of a rugged thinker – never too happy or too sad about anything in his life. He would only break out sometimes while watching a game of cricket or football.

These days he was actively working on compensating for the early onset of gloom. Bangalore is a great place for indulging in music and alcohol – it is a breeding ground for all kinds of music, especially Rock. Bangalore has been host to some of the biggest rock concerts in the country Roger Waters, Joe Satriani and many more. He was living his life as much as one could.

On his way back from US, he had picked up a Canon DSLR camera. It took him sometime to learn it. It was not exactly like using any other scientific instrument. One thing an IITian is good at is figuring things out, however that does not necessarily make you artistic. But eventually he did learn to use his camera well. So much so, that he was assigned as the photographer for a Joe Satriani concert in Bangalore for Rock Street Journal, one of the most popular magazines in its genre.

Amongst all the hustle bustle of life, GMAT, as one can imagine, took a backseat. He had seen a whole host of business graduates from some of the best business schools and neither their work nor the money motivated him to focus on the exam. All this impacted his motivation to pursue that career.

He knew better than those often misguiding newspaper articles in business magazines and newspapers about the fat paychecks of business graduates.

While he was busy working, dragging along GMAT preparation, taking photographs, dining & wining, reading and introspecting there emerged a pattern that he loved reading about sports and had been a keen spectator of all major sporting events in the world. He remembered that when he had moved from village to New Delhi city, in Xth standard, which was an extremely difficult transition for him, he still got special permission in his hostel to see the Olympics. He was the only one in the whole hostel interested in the event. He still remembers watching Leander Paes win the Bronze at 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA. His interest went beyond the usual cricket fever in India, which would sometimes extend to football world cup too. He had even tried getting admission into a Public Sports School, Rai in Haryana at an early age. He had tried twice but failed in both the attempts, as he could not qualify the physical round. He had cleared the written exam but failed when it came to actually playing a game. He had a peculiar relationship with sports. He always loved sports as a fan. Like many sports enthusiasts he loved Sachin Tendulkar, Agassi and such sports personalities but his fantasy would lay in spending time with them, enjoy their company not to actually play the game.

Sports seemed like an option he could pick up with passion. Also, looking at the condition of sports in the country, so much could be done. Well not everyone would probably look at this way. But there is a very interesting story in this context: Once a shoe salesman was sent to an island to sell shoes. No sooner than he got there, he reported that nobody wears shoes here. We can’t sell anything here. While another salesman got there and immediately sent a telegram saying ‘Send as much stock as possible. Nobody wears shoes here’.

As far as Sports in India is concerned, Cricket is where it starts and usually ends. Sports persons from other sports are pretty much hand to mouth or bidding their time at some odd jobs. It is funny how we, as a country have got here. At the outset, whole country seems to be crazy about education. From the mother who can barely afford a meal to the most senior executives in the country, the education of their child is the most important thing. However, when and how did we fix the definition of education as bookish knowledge or “Akshar Gyan”.

Akshar Gyan a term popularly used in Hindi/Sanskrit Literature to the stage in learning which is confined to literal lessons and not the lessons that one gains through practice and experience. The ideal of any education has to be beyond Akshar Gyan and this is not even a necessary step. But still if you happen to walk into an Indian Household with a kid just young enough to speak, the first thing parents take pride in is his or her ability to count upto 10, recite ABCD (Ka, Kha, Ga, Gha has been discarded for a long time.) and if the kid has to raise his game then “Johnny Johnny yes papa”.

And more often than not, the kids spend their lifetimes saying “Yes Papa”.

Johnny go to Engineering School!

Yes Papa

Johnny be a doctor!

Yes Papa

Johnny now do an MBA

Yes Papa

Jonny time to get married

But Papa…

WHAT?

Yes Papa.

Plato in his treatise titled “The Republic” says “We cannot build Utopia with young people corrupted at every turn by the example of their elders. We must start, so far as we can, with a clean slate.” Hoping that some enlightened ruler would empower them with the best tools. He goes on to add “In any case we must give to every child, and from the outset, full equality of educational opportunity; there is no telling where the light of talent or genius will break out; ”

Nobody knows where that effulgent spark would emerge from, one cannot manufacture it.  In his very same treatise Plato adds “For the first ten years of life, education shall be predominantly physical; every school is to have a gymnasium and a playground; play and sport are to be the entire curriculum;”

He dedicated first TEN YEARS of life to physical education, so that their HEALTH is their supreme asset. He goes on to stress the importance of philosophical thought, musical training for the cultivation of soul and other aspects of personality. The ideal was to cultivate each child into a well-rounded MAN! Or Woman.

If you have seen Yogeshwar Dutt’s final rolling trick to get the Bronze, Mary Kom’s fight for the Bronze, Saina Nehwal’s struggle, the splendid concentration of Vijay Kumar in 25 m Shooting or Sushil Kumar’s maneuvers; you cannot deny that the EDUCATION they have gone through is the supreme education. Alas! The intelligent policy makers of this country fail to look at it that way.

If Plato was to visit contemporary India and see the standards of education, he would have to drink himself senseless to swallow the state of affairs.

Anyways, our Aditya, having finally chucked the idea of an MBA, started exploring the field of sports and found out two good Sports Schools. On finding two such schools of repute he got into it with all his might. Right from writing essays to getting recommendations and the whole works. Eventually he was offered admission at International Academy of Sports Science & Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Now it was time to either quit his job or just to continue in a mundane software job. Now, it may seem obvious to quit one’s job and follow one’s passion. But anyone who has done this knows that it is much easier said than done.

However Aditya quit. And this story would not be written, had he not.

He hasn’t had much conversation with his parents until now. His conversations with them would usually landed up being a stalemate with them wanting him to get married. Actually he had never listened much to anyone when it came to deciding what he wanted to do with his life.

It was August 2006 and he was to start Sports school in January 2007. He had to spend almost 6 months at home with his parents. He decided to take some time finding out about the reality of sports field. Also, his mother was supposed to have a surgery and he wanted to be with her during the operation.

His parents were devastated by his decision. They had in their mind to have their well earning, very well educated Johnny married and have him settled. But this sudden action shattered their dreams and they made no bones in making this clear to him. Staying at home with his parents became a nightmare. During this time, he was meeting people from the sports industry to understand the overall scenario a little bit better. The feedback from various corners about the sports industry was also not very encouraging. An Asian Games medalist athlete told him “I have sent my kids to Australia and told them never to step into sports”.  The sportsman leads a quiet life of desperation.

But the deed had been done. He felt like riding a bumpy flight, which was not headed anywhere.

As he walked out of the Mr. Martin’s office and headed towards his home. He recollected that from those days till that moment after his meeting with Mr. Martin, he had seen the most difficult times. But today he had his first easy breath with a job offer from the International Olympics Committee (IOC).

This event had almost been a climax in his life so far. However, there were many more which had hardened him enough to take these blows. He had moved to Delhi Public School, RK Puram after passing X standard exams. This transition was nothing short of a nightmare as for most of his life he had lived in small villages where his mother taught in Navodaya Vidyalayas – special schools set up by The Central Government in rural India. To be suddenly put amongst New Delhi kids and that too in XI standard was like dealing the sharks and not just inside the classroom. He was living in a hostel.

His friends at IIT Kanpur would also call him a fighter. Before he went to IITK, he spent two years preparing for the exam at FIITJEE while pursuing his higher secondary education. He could not make it in the first attempt. It was the biggest shock of his life. He had never been disappointed as much. The next year was the most clinically efficient time he ever had in his life. He studied so well that he secured a very good rank in the JEE, which lead him to a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. So, he more than deserves the title of a ‘fighter’. He looks more like a rustic Zen warrior standing 5’ 10” tall and with a rather composed look on his face.

Now working in one of the most prestigious sports organizations in the world, he often thinks about the state of sports in India and wonders what could be done. While it has been an end to a lot of other stuff, but his true journey just began with the job at IOC.

He was there in Beijing to cover the 2008 Olympics. He is currently at the closing ceremony at London Olympics 2012.

He life is what is called living a dream. And each time you see a video link of Olympics not playing on Facebook, it is Jaat who is to be blamed for he handles the media at IOC 🙂

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7 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Abhishek Ojha / Aug 17 2012 8:31 pm

    Wow ! This is your 2nd post I read after Prof. Manindra Agarwal’s story. Awesome 🙂

  2. Supreet Agrawal / Aug 18 2012 2:04 am

    Very nicely written…..this I feel is the need of the time,choosing what one really want to do and not what the society expects one to do.I feel that the society expects out of an IITian that he be earning a fat paycheck to make sense of having studied at an IIT.Making one’s passion as one’s profession is really a difficult thing to achieve and hats off to Aditya for having achieved this.

  3. Akhil Yadav / Aug 19 2012 12:26 am

    a wonderful story very aptly written….Ganesh..i’d be really thankful if you could give me Mr. Sheoran’s email address… I’m a student at IITK myself..:D

  4. Dr Gogna / Aug 21 2012 12:15 pm

    awesome, narration is superb.

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