Saturday, July 26, 2008

My HSBC Scholarship Experience

So, I won a full scholarship from HSBC 2 days ago and it still hasn’t sunk in yet. I just felt like writing a little about it because it has been one of the best interview experiences ever.
In the first week of April, I had jus received my rejection for a GSS (Graduate Support Scheme) from LSE and I was very disappointed. At that very moment the HSBC scholarships were announced and in frustration I filled up my form within minutes, obviously not expecting to be shortlisted because I knew how competitive it was…but to my surprise I did get shortlisted and that’s when I started hyper-ventilating. After 2 months of freaking out I finally had my interviews.

First round of interviews :

16 of us were shortlisted out of 327 applicants – Chinmaya, Aastha, Surbhi, Shruti, Vrinda, Nimisha, Parul, Karan, Rohan, Navnit, Shahana, Garima, Kamla, Rashmi, Dia and Me.
We were called to the HSBC office at 8:30 am on the 22nd of July. This was supposed to be the first round of interviews with internal HSBC panel. I was so nervous that I felt numb and especially so after interacting with some of the applicants because they were all so brilliant and had accomplished so much at such a young age. Koninika Mitra from the HR department was extremely genial and supportive and kind of helped reduce some of the stress.

I think I was the fourth person to be interviewed by the head of Corporate sustainability and head of Commercial Banking I think at HSBC. While it was a friendly interview I was asked a lot of questions on present policies and my opinions on them and how in my opinion could certain issues be solved. Smooth interview. I didn’t feel like I gave any stupid answer, but I wasn’t convinced that I had given it my best shot either. It lasted around 20-25 minutes. I was nervous till the end. Finally after lunch, 8 of our names were called since we had been shortlisted for the final round of interviews – Vrinda, Chinmaya, Surbhi, Aastha, Rohan, Nimisha, Shruti and Myself. I was happy that I had been shortlisted, but probably a 100 times more nervous.

The Final Interview :

23rd July was supposed to be the final and deciding round of interviews with the external panel. The panel consisted of Mr. Pride- Country director of British Council in India, Mrs. Indu Shahani – Sheriff of Mumbai and Principal of H.R. College, Mr. Govindraj Ethiraj – famous journalist, Mrs. Pheroza Godrej – Environmentalist and educationist, Abha Narayan Lamba – famous conservation architect and there was one observer – Mrs. Malini Thadani- head of Corporate sustainability at HSBC.

The big names in the panel really scared me, but at the same I was excited that I would actually get to meet them. I generally read about them in the papers, so getting to meet them and talk to them was a very big deal for me. I told myself that even if I didn’t get this scholarship, it would be totally worth it because of the interaction with these amazing people.
So again, I had to report at the Oberoi at 8:30 am. I was the second person to be interviewed. I cant remember how many bottles of water I drank and how many times I visited the still did not quell my nervousness.
So, I enter the interview room. The setting was informal. We all sat around a table. The panel was sipping coffee, having cookies. All eyes on me. Oh my God !!!!! I sat next to Mrs. Thadani. Mrs. Shahani congratulated me on my university rank. Dead silence at the table after I said Good morning and blah blah blah. Finally Mr. Pride kicked off by asking me a question. The interview was a mix of personal and academic questions, current affairs, policy issues, my opinion on certain developments and my purpose in life. At this interview there were many questions that I had no answer to and I said so and at certain times I was rambling (I still feel a little stupid about that). I disagreed twice with Abha Narayan Lamba and I’m not sure if she was too happy about it. Govindraj Ethiraj was furiously scribbling notes in his notepad and asked me just 2 questions or so. I was completely overwhelmed by Mrs. Godrej and felt like a star-struck fan. Well, after lots of questions and nearly 30-35 minutes I was finally done. It was over. Nothing more that I could do. I walked out of the room feeling a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure if that was my best performance. At the same time I must say, the panelists were incredibly nice to me. They did not grill me in a derogatory way and respected every opinion of mine even if it were different from theirs. I felt good about myself after the interview and so did the others. There was a general ‘feel-good’ atmosphere after every interview.

The wait is the hardest part I think..... And to be honest I was really intimidated by every other candidate. They had had more academic training than me, knew more than me and could rattle off theories like Bollywood songs. I felt a little silly actually.

Anyway, after everyones interviews and a few more visits to the bathroom, we finally left for lunch...And throughout I couldn’t stop thinking about my responses and what I should’ve said and what I shouldn’t have said. Oh the agony of waiting !!! I showed some of them around the Jehangir art gallery and then returned to the Ritz hotel and within no time, I was fast asleep on Vrinda’s bed.

The Award Function :

At around 6 pm we all left for the British Council auditorium at Nariman point where the award ceremony was to be held. The place was full, people from HSBC, British Council, NGO groups, students, us. In the beginning there was a panel discussion moderated by Mini Menon on education, leadership etc. It was very nicely done. After a short presentation on HSBC’s social initiatives, it was time for the awards to be announced. Heart pounding, sweaty palms, dry mouth, numb feeling, everything condensed into those few minutes.
The first award went to Rohan. Lots of clapping (mainly to relieve the tension locked inside me). I did not expect my name to be called out the second time. I was in complete disbelief when my name was called out. OH MY GOD !!!!!!!!! And it was done in pure Oscar style, with a background score and cameras following me till the stage once my name was announced. I received the award from Naina Lal Kidwai !!!!!! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. How many people my age actually get to even see her ??? Best moment of this entire process, especially when she told me that she now expects great things of me. Oh my god !!!What followed was madness, hugs from everywhere congratulatory handshakes, photographs, recorded interview. Wow. It was way too overwhelming.

The Overall Experience :

I loved the entire process for the simple fact that they made us all feel really good about ourselves. It was a confidence booster, even for those who didn’t win the scholarship.....And the kind of relationship we shared with the other candidates was amazing. There was no negative competition and strangely I find myself very attached to some of them. I hope they get the funding they need and make it to the UK so that they will be around next year as well. Nimisha won a DFID scholarship, so she will definitely be there :)
I just am so very grateful to Koninika first of all because they eased the process for us and calmed us when it was most needed.....And of course I have no idea how to thank the panel and HSBC for this amazing opportunity. I do not know what the future holds for me, but I do know that I’m going to make the best of this scholarship and work as hard as I can.

This is surreal. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m relieved, happy, elated, excited, nervous, everything.

The HSBC Scholarship programme :

The HSBC scholarship programme has been active for the past 6 years. This year was the seventh year. Each year 2 scholars from all over the country are selected to join colleges at the University of Oxford , Cambridge and London. It is a fully funded scholarship up to a maximum of ₤25,000 per year. Check this website for more details :

I’m off to bed now. I haven’t slept in weeks and now thanks to this scholarship I can enjoy my last few weeks in India, before I leave for London. I ♥ HSBC :)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Am I really 21 ?

My parents' generation were probably just worried about passing exams or getting married or wondering which bus to take home when they were 21. I do all of that, but there's just so much more to worry about. I can't believe I'm 21 years old. People my age are NOT supposed to be so tensed and worried. Right now I'm worried sick about financing my education. I do still have one scholarship interview lined up and a couple of results pending, but they're just making me so nervous !!! The possibility of not getting any of these scholarships is scary and even my performance at the pending interview is worrisome. I am no doubt excited to go to LSE and have the best(est) academic experience that I've ever had till date, but WITHOUT worrying SO MUCH !!! I'm just freaked out and I need a break. When will the first week of August come ??? Thats when everything will be crystal clear...AUGUST !!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Experiments with Food

It has been one year since I got back from Malaysia and I'm finally putting up some pictures. These are some of the things I'd eaten there, which I've been boasting about for so long.

Background story : I'm supposed to be a pure vegetarian. When I got to Malaysia and asked for vegetarian food, I was given tofu (which I absolutely detest).....Finally, after being fed up by the so-called vegetarian food, I didnt bother and ate anything and everything that filled my stomach...Some of it was yummmm, some were disgusting and in some cases, I had no idea what was going into my mouth... So here are some pictures of more or less everything I ate during my 3 months in Malaysia :

All of this was SO sweet. I had a sucrose overdose !!! And this was just week 1. I dont know why Malaysians put so much groundnut and coconut in every dish. It gets annoying you know.

Roti Canai...The only reason i survived in Malaysia for so long.

Roti something...

They serve juice like that everywhere...Whatever happened to regular glasses

Me secretly sipping dal at a McDonalds outlet...I think this was week 1...still wasnt used to Vivien bought roti and dal from some Indian place, poured the dal into a McDonalds cup and instructed me to eat it quietly so as to not make anyone suspicious. What better way to eat dal than sip it

Hokkien noodles... This was not all. Period.

Ice kacang...not meant for me..... They put crushed ice with some coloured flavoured liquid (very much like our ice golas) into a bowl. Then they add semi-solid steamed corn, groundnuts, some slimy green things..... and its just not my idea of the perfect dessert. Malaysians love it and I just cant seem to understand why. Why groundnuts in everything !?!?!?!

As disgusting at this may look, I actually liked this. Really good chicken, piping hot with sticky rice and chinese green tea.

This is us eating that chicken that you see above.....Look how happy I am. I really did enjoy that meal.

Roasted chicken with salad, curry and rice. Whatever

Rambutans i think...Yummy tropical fruit. You know I had durians too and I actually liked it. Most people hate it. I publicly announce it - I LOVE DURIANS !!!!!

Street food. Again lots of coconut !!!

Some more street food. Baby Octopus sautey. Ok fine, I didn't actually eat this. I just took a picture. I got very close to buying this though. I was on some sort of an culinary experimental rampage. This was after some 6 weeks i guess :)

Pau. Ohhhhhh, my favourite Malaysian mini snack. Its kinda like vada pav...only the stuffing is much better... and the outside whitish bun is amazingly soft and yum. Different flavoured stuffings also. Heaven !!!

Nando's chicken. Not bad.

Nasi goreng (fried rice)with chicken, salad and pickles. Without doubt the best meal I had at any Malaysian restaurant. A big thank you to Firdaus's mom who took us out for lunch that day.

I have no idea what this is. Not too fit for consumption.

Thai pineapple rice. Nice.

Japanese sushi and other seafood. I didnt have all of it. It was ok I guess.

The protruding fish tail put me off.

Yummy Korean side dishes. I LOVE Kim Cheeeeeeeeee...Slurp :P

Cold wheat noodles. Korean of course.

After the waiter cut my noodles with a scissor.

Some sort of weird Korean seafood broth. Didn't like very much.

Chinese dinner at someone's birthday party. I realised at this dinner party that I actually do like Chinese food.

Traditional Malay family dinner. This is what Firdaus's mom cooked for all of us. Thank you sooooooo much Auntie. Bestest dinner in the whole world. I hogged like a pig at this dinner party.

Multicultural farewell dinner, hosted by Claudia, Aika and myself. HongKong + Kazakhstan + Indian cuisine. Obviously people got intoxicated at the end of it and what followed was an unforgettable night with silly games, stupid talk, butt dances and ahem...more

Aika's special Kazakh lamb dish. Do you know that horse meat is a delicacy in Kazhakstan. You know I can eat chicken and lamb and fish and all..... but horses, I mean i ride them. I cant imagine digesting something taht I ride on. Will try it though. For sure.

Claypot chicken rice. So-so.

Kuey Teow I think. Better. Nithiya's favourite.

Nithiya's mom's special chicken-cooked-in-oven dish. Excllent excellent meal. I ate so much chicken that night, I can't even remember.

Breakfast at Nithiya's home. Some brown powdery stuff with some ochre coloured sugary stuff with banana. Nice and filling :)

Seafood extravaganza with Nithiya's family. This lunch officially qualifies as my initiation into the not-so-elite club of non-vegetarians. I ate everything on the table... and surprisingly liked most of it. My first tryst with all kinds of seafood.

Huge shrimp coated in groundnut. AGAIN

Fish with fancy fins and tail. This tasted GOOOOOOOOOOD

Crab. Not that good, but not that bad either.

Hammering the crab to crack it open.

Sotong (Baby Squid). I HATED this. Not only did this taste bad, but I always felt that their eyes were staring right back at me. Creepy baby squid. I did like the regular sotong goreng (fried squid) though. Very chewy and tasty. Babies just should not be consumed. Strict rule.

After eating everyone compares the heap of crab shells and shrimp heads next to their plate. This is what mine looked like. Wait till you see the next one.

This is what Nithiya's uncle's plate looked like. HOW do they eat SO MUCH seafood ?!!??!! And how can you put all the remains on the table with such a pretty table cloth !??!?! It's a Malaysian thing.

Well, that ends my guided tour of my experiments with food. I musy say I was very inflexible to begin with. Slowly learnt that if I want to see the world, travel to different places, I MUST learn how to eat EVERYTHING. I still can't get myself to eat pork and beef. No red meat yet. Lets see. In London perhaps.

I feel confident now that I can survive anywhere in the world without being too fussy and choosy..... And I'm happy about that. My dad however sprinkled some Ganga jal on me when I told him about everything I ate :D

I know I'll continue to try out new things and I'll continue to experiment with food. When I tried all this out, I felt such a strong sense of accomplishment and I enjoy that feeling and I want it I will continue eating like this. It makes me happy to know that as every day passes by I become more and more flexible as a person. I've always been rigid with fixed ideas and opinions. I'm glad that's changing. I hope I turn into a better person with each passing day.

My conclusion : If you want to be a better person, start with food. Serious.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Freedom..... I need it now more than ever. It’s luring me in, enticing me..... Never before had I felt such a strong need for freedom. I know I will have lots of it once I head for LSE and it’s so daunting. I just realise now that it has been nearly 22 years that I’ve lived a life, partially my own, but mostly based on what others expected of me... And although this has come late, this sudden sense of rebellion and this desire to be completely on my own is just too overpowering. I want to be able to wear the clothes I want to, visit places I like, do things I enjoy, spend time with people I love and speak my mind without having to worry about what my family would say…Urrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh !!!!!!!!! I WANT to be independent.... And I know that it involves a lot of hardship, a lot of compromises and probably more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’.....but I WANT it. I love my family and as horrible as this may sound, I think I need to get away from family...not for a short period, but for quite some time. I feel stifled sometimes conforming to a pre-determined way of living and conduct. I need my space. I need some independence. I need the power to make my own choices..... And I want all the responsibilities that come along with it. I know it won’t run away from them. Two and a half months more. Freedom wont elude me any more.

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labour in freedom - Albert Einstein