A Conscientious Creator: Sushovan Das
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
Sushovan Das is not a man of many words but is a firm believer of this quote. Humble, hard-working, dedicated are just mere words and seem petty for someone who has been an inspiration to so many people. From being a student who came into this institution with many dreams to a student who’s in his final semester, he has done revolutionary work for Monday Morning, the Microsoft Campus Club and through them for the institution itself. He has been a part of the team which gave birth to Print issue and the concept of Open House Discussion, which has a set a benchmark for itself by being the bridging gap between students and authorities. Team MM caught up with him on a lazy Friday evening amongst the holidays at JoZ, almost marred by a power outage, as he takes us on a journey, which saw highs and lows but had the important message of never giving up at any point of time. Read on to find more.
MM: Could you tell us about your life before NIT Rourkela.
SD: Till tenth, I studied in St. Xavier’s High School, Bhubaneswar in CBSE board. After doing well in my matriculation exam, I chose to pursue Science in my 11th and 12th in DAV Public School, Unit 8, Bhubaneswar. Although I’m Bengali, I have stayed in Odisha all my life, and I’m often confused as an Odiya rather than a Bengali.
MM: What made you take Engineering and specifically a dual degree course in Computer Science Engineering?
SD: There was no pressure for doing Engineering. Towards the end of my tenth boards, I had a proper serious conversation with my dad, when we sat down and discussed my future options. He gave me total freedom of choice, and I decided to go for PCM as my strengths lay there. My grandfather really wanted me to become a doctor, but I felt that I could save more lives by not becoming a doctor (laughs). Naturally, I decided to opt for Engineering. I started my preparations for IIT-JEE. After 2 gruelling years of study, I appeared my entrance examinations. I screwed up my IIT-JEEs, but obtained sufficient marks in AIEEE to get me into NITR. I’ve loved studying computer science since my school days and had developed a love for Mechanics during my Engineering preparations. I filled choices of only Mechanical and Computer Science, and a couple of other streams, finally ending up with a Computer Science dual degree. I would’ve preferred a B.Tech over M.Tech though. I’m a Computer Science Engineer by choice and a holder of a dual degree by rank.
MM: When did you start making cartoons?
SD: I was around three years old when my grandfather used to read to me the stories of Ramayana and Krishna. I used to draw illustrations for these stories in my drawing book. Seeing my knack for drawing, my parents arranged for a tutor and I learned art until standard seven. I even appeared for all the junior level exams, and one senior level exam in drawing, although I didn’t give all the senior level exams because my tutor thought that it was high time for me to start focusing on my studies.
MM: A lot of people believe that you’re the most talented artist on campus. What do you think sets you apart from the rest of the people?
SD: I feel my strengths don’t lie in my ability to draw, rather my ability to think and present uniquely. The ideas I get are like sparks, striking at the right time. There’s no formula to this. I sometimes wonder how disastrous it would be if one fine day I’d stop getting these ideas (grins). I get ideas randomly, sometimes while walking; sometimes while in the washroom and sometimes in the middle of conversations. My senior Kushal Tibrewal, the person who conceptualized and started the Witsdom section in Monday Morning, is a huge inspiration. He is probably the most creative thinker I’ve met till date. When I initially started making doodles for MM, I used to go to his room, sit and discuss. He used to come up with ideas really quick. I learned how to think from him, how to channel your thoughts, which is really important for a cartoonist.
MM: Monday Morning is known for its rigorous induction process. What is your induction story of Monday Morning?
SD: I came to know about Monday Morning in my first year from my friend Anshuman Patnaik, who went on to become a Chief Coordinator of MM. He used to be a voracious reader of MM, and I too started following the website. Given my love for cartoons, the Witsdom section became my instant favourite. However, the cartoons were infrequent. I used to wonder if I can make cartoons for MM too. One of my main missions to join MM was to make the Witsdom section more regular. I wanted to join D361 as a cartoonist as they were having the inductions first. Then unfortunately or fortunately, my friend fell ill and I had to go to CWS Hospital to get him admitted and I could not go for the inductions. Few days later, I came to know about Monday Morning inductions and went for the same. Initially, I had made up my mind to opt for two sections- the content and design in the written round of the inductions. However, when I first finished the design part and moved onto the content part I saw that we had to write excessively much! Therefore, I chose to stick to the designing part only, and once I got in I could always contribute in terms of articles too! In my second round, I was given the task of making cartoon strips and also a cover photo for the Monday Morning facebook page. Back then I hadn’t learnt how to properly use Adobe Photoshop, and all my knowledge was limited to the basics taught to us in a single workshop organised by Microsoft Campus Club. Somehow, I learned the basics of the software and had made a lame looking cover pic, obvious from my lack of skills. I must tell you my entry was better than the entries I got when I took the inductions in subsequent years (laughs). Also, I had taken all my rough notebooks that I used to scribble my drawings in to show to my interviewing panel. My panel, consisting of Raunak Thomas, Malay Milan and Kushal Tibrewal if memory serves me right, asked me what these copies were. I told them that this was my portfolio (laughs). They were amused and started going through it, there were class notes, interspersed with cartoons and caricatures, and they liked it very much.
What followed in the summer next was I was given a string of design and cartoon tasks to do and I tried my best to keep up with that. The interesting thing, which happened that year, was that MM’s logo was different then from what it is now. We had a structure like a globe and a newspaper passing through it. Kushal bhai and I, collaborated to make a better logo, and we had prepared nearly 40 logos over the course of the summer holidays before Kushal bhai nailed it with the MM logo you see today. Again, for the logo launch, I had to make doodles and I had to learn more features in Photoshop, it was tough and a great learning curve. In the upcoming semester there was an instance where I was unable to come up with good ideas for a poster for the MM Windows 8 app, and Rahul Pasayat, my CC, asked me to sit down with Shantanu Kumar, another design mentor of mine, and not come back till we got a good enough poster. It was healthy pressure and Rahul bhai helped me by being a straightforward critic. He had even rejected my doodle, which I made for the Gandhi Jayanti, asked me to change it whereas he did not know that there was already on the site! I buckled up for the next time as I worked for three sleepless nights continuous, under Kushal bhai’s guidance and finally made a doodle for Ganesh Chaturthi. My mentor Antareep Sharma praised it and said he had tears of happiness in his eyes (figuratively) when he saw it, and that was a great feeling. I transformed from an artist to a designer under pressure as there was no else to do the flyers or the posters.
There are highs and lows, so when you do something good it gives you a feeling that the journey was worth it.
MM: You’ve been churning out ideas for MM from the last four years. Did you ever face creative blocks?
SD: Of course, they’re a part of the whole package. When I used to face blocks in my second year, I used to then ask my teammates for ideas for cartoons on the MM facebook group. Sometimes, talking to my roommate used to give me a lot of ideas too. I take inspiration from everything and everyone. Once people knew that I drew cartoons for MM, they used to randomly walk up to me and suggest ideas too. That void was automatically filled. My greatest blocks used to come while titling my cartoons. I remember chatting with my CCs, Abhipsa Mishra and Rahul Pasayat, until four in the morning, deliberating the title for my cartoon strips! Ah, memories.
MM: Did you have any favourites in your work?
SD: I used to live in Hall-7 during my second year. We had a lot of issues in the hall and I tried bringing them out with my cartoon. It was very well received and was my first cartoon that went viral, with over 2000 hits. This set me off. At this point, I was receiving praises from people I didn’t even know. Although I didn’t do cartooning because of wanting appreciation, these went along a long way in motivating me to devote more and more time for the cartoon strips I made for MM. I had skipped many dinners, socialisation and parties, and these little bits of appreciation always helped. My print issue cartoon, the Smoking Carol is also very close to my heart. It had taken months of hard work to make. Another favourite is the caricatures I made of my entire team. It took me three weeks and was my final cartoon for MM as a cartoonist. It was my initiative and now has become a tradition. I remember struggling with a few faces like Rahul Pasayat and Kushal Tibrewal. I remember me sending it around 2 PM, a few hours after my last issue was published on the website. I have always been bad with deadlines.
MM: Other than MM, what all clubs were you a part of?
SD: I am a part of Microsoft Campus Club. I have worked with DesignTab during their exhibition, Iridiscence and have also tutored the Cinema4D classes. I was a part of a robotics team during my first year.
I joined the Microsoft Campus Club in my second year. We had conducted a workshop on Windows 8 App Development in Feb 2014, and the run-up to this event brought me in good contact with Dhruv Joshi, then President of Microsoft Campus Club, and mentor of Monday Morning technical team. Making questions for Treasherlocked, the after-parties, taking classes for App Development, going for MSP (Microsoft Student Partner) summit were some of the most memorable things I associate with this club.
Apart from that I have been a part of the final year Souvenir design team for the past 3 years and the ISM 2014 design team.
MM: Your SG had dropped down when you joined MM, and you thought of leaving. Could you tell us what compelled to stay and feel for MM?
SD: My GPA had dropped in my third semester, and my parents asked me to consider leaving MM as they thought that it was responsible for the drop in my GPA. I was planning on leaving MM and focusing on my studies. During the time, the final work was going on for our first print issue, and I told the team that my parents want me to leave MM during a meeting. But then there were people who were performing well in academics in spite of working for MM. My CCs gave me a lot of pep talks and reasons to stay in MM, and helped me realise that it had been a mistake on my part, in time management. My teammates weren’t ready to let me go. I learned a great deal from these seniors and teammates; especially their amazing time management skills and those are some life lessons I’ll take with me forever.
MM: You were the only cartoonist in MM who was given the post of a CC, but still rejected it. Why?
SD: I was compiling the shortlist of the written interviews in BM/BT we had received for that year’s inductions when the CC interviews were going on, along with my CCs. They then went to the ground floor to interview Snehasis Hota for the post of CC. 40 minutes later, I get a call asking me to come to the LA lawns. I go and find my CCs, mentors sitting together. They started asking questions. I had never had the ambition of becoming the CC. One of our mentors asked me whether I wanted to be the CC, to which I replied that I hadn’t given it a thought, and that there were better candidates than me for that position. On being asked why, I told them that my department, Computer Science demanded more time and projects, and it was high time I started focusing on my branch activities. Becoming a CC wouldn’t permit me time to pursue those interests of mine. I was also asked to become the Technical Coordinator which I rejected, since I was not qualified enough for that either. They then let me go after a few questions. During the Annual Commencement Party, when my name was announced for the newly conceptualized post of Creative Head, I was really surprised and went numb for a minute. The rest is history.
MM: You’ve been here for five years. What changes do you think have been very prominent? Do you think MM played a role in this?
SD: There have been a lot of changes, infrastructure wise. Conditions have improved a lot, such as reduction in power cuts, more uniform water supply, etc. Basically, the issues I drew cartoons on or MM wrote about were brought into the light of the authorities and worked on. MM did go a long way in informing authorities about the issues. There have been a lot of instances wherein authorities were oblivious to the problems and MM told them about it, and it helped in data driven decision making. For instance, my team members used to write hall reviews with an exact number of working and dysfunctional taps, showers, geysers, toilets, urinals, etc. with photographs which helped let the authorities take corrective measures. Issues in security, internet bandwidth etc. were also taken care of after the Open House Discussion, which was conducted by MM in Feb 2015.
MM: How do you think OHD helped our institute?
SD: The Open House Discussion or OHD was the first time a platform was given to the people to directly interact with and listen to the authorities concerned. The OHD didn’t aim at resolving issues, but help point these issues out. The majority of the problems we used to face were due to the gap in communication, and MM helped bridge it.
MM: You’ve seen MM grow from a small organisation to what it is now. What do you think is in store for us in the future?
SD: The app is the next big thing for MM, after OHD and Print Issue. It gives people a very easy base to read campus news. Every step, from making the first print issue, to a responsive website has helped it come to a mobile state, but the app can help on a totally new level. It also gives the next technical team and CCs more ideas to work on in the future.
The second thing I think that we need to focus on the Student Mentorship Program. I think that channelling our resources in this direction can really help us achieve better results. MM can have more info-graph based articles. The creative team and the journalists need to work in tandem, reading the huge amounts of data, and converting them into info graphs, which will help the data to tell stories themselves. Making Info graphs is a time taking process, but they are very effective, for example in the case of Hall of Residence reviews. Also general articles can be presented in the form of a timeline, for example, the evolution of a club, the construction of a building, etc. The members of the creative team need to come out of their rooms and become a part of the problem-finding and redressing process through their creative ideas, which may reach out to many more people, as there are many who don’t like to read long articles. This way information will be spread to more number of people and lengthy articles could be avoided.
MM: You’ve been known to make many sacrifices, both in your personal and professional life for MM. Could you tell us how much MM means to you?
SD: Yeah, I have sacrificed a lot for MM. I couldn’t watch any series or movies in my second year apart from the ongoing ones (laughs). I have missed out on events, socialising, parties, outings, sleep etc. It takes a great deal of time to make well-designed posters/ flyers. Back then, we only used to make illustrations for the Poll Analysis. I would wait for the article to come to me and then make a relevant illustration. It has also happened that there was no one to write the article, and I ended up writing the article and making the illustration. I also worked for the technical team, when Manu and Sandeep were short-handed. I never had a problem with feeling overworked, though. It gave me an immense sense of purpose. If two or more things clashed, MM was always my top priority.
I used to feel really proud when my illustrations would be put up on the MM website, and that would make all the sacrifices worth it.
MM: Please tell us about your internship at Social Cops? What do you thing are the advantages and disadvantages of the same?
SD: Before Social Cops, I had gotten an internship offer from Eco India Financial Services, a payment startup, through our campus. The problem with this one was the lack of any stipend. My seniors and the Placement Coordinator back then recommended interning at a startup, citing better opportunities and growth. My telephonic interview was held during the MM Commencement Dinner. So yeah, I was giving an interview standing outside the function hall while my co-workers were having a gala time at Moksha. The 10 weeks I worked for Social Cops as an app developer and graphic designer were the most productive weeks of my entire life. I never realised that I had the potential to work at the efficiency they wanted. I was used to the workload, for I was used to working for MM and MS club. The only difference was that I worked for weekdays during my internship and weekends for MM.
If you’re not into working for long hours, working at a Start-up can be difficult. Many a time, people take up a light summer internship and prepare for placements. For such people, Start-ups are a no-no. Of course, if you’re talented enough, you can finish your work within the stipulated time. The office environment was very cool. The people there are very humble, even though they’re nothing short of geniuses. They are ready to teach you anything and help you grow. With X-box, WiFi, and food on the office, it felt like college. The pep-talks we get from the start-up co-founders, the random car trips or scouting for parathas during the night made it more memorable.
MM: What was the total amount you received as stipend?
SD: My stipend came up to INR 37,500 for 10 weeks, and I was given a bonus of INR 20,000, as the founders found my work appealing. Also, TEQIP gives away awards for the best summer internships, and I won that, after a presentation. I was given a prize of INR 12,000.
MM: What hobbies do you have and what do you do in your free time?
SD: I have a few hobbies, first being drawing and that is satiated through the work I do for Monday Morning. My second favourite pastime is reading books- novels and stories associated mostly with two genres- crime fiction and fantasy. Agatha Christie, Sidney Sheldon, Arthur Conan Doyle are my favourites and Sherlock Holmes is my favourite character. I am a huge fan of Harry Potter series, with JK Rowling being a constant inspiration. I owe her my childhood and I consider her one of the best designers in the world. I also watch a good number of movies, TV series, anime and love listening to soundtracks. I like to go for cycling, not a huge fan of travelling but do it with friends occasionally. In addition, I love to go to eateries and have fulfilling dinners!
MM: Now that you have a Masters in Computer Science and Engineering. What next?
SD: I do not have any plans for further studies. I am looking for a suitable CS based company in this placement season. However, my heart will always remain with something, which is more designing oriented. I have been improving my portfolio so that I could get jobs in the UI/UX section and this is one of the reasons I had taken my app designing tasks seriously. I will be trying to apply off-campus for such jobs and I guess Social Corps will definitely be one of them. I had already given an interview in October, but my CV was more graphic design oriented, which definitely weren’t enough. Therefore, I am looking forward to taking up some app and website designing projects. I talked to Anubhav, currently at XLRI, one of my friends came up with this great idea of keeping a track of my activities because deadlines help me a lot and the reason I did well for Monday Morning was the Monday deadline. Therefore, I am bringing deadlines back into the picture so that I can do my best in the upcoming four months. My department may not be best in terms of infrastructure but it does provide very good scope and that is a bonus.
MM: You must have made a million memories during your stay at NITR. What is something, which has stayed with you?
SD: The second Print Issue is something I hold very close to my heart. Every moment of working with my co-CCs - Anubhav, Snehasis and Anshuman - during those challenging days is memorable, each of them stepping up to shoulder whichever responsibility handed to them. Designing the MM website along with Manu, during the summer would come a close second. The Open House Discussion is also a fond memory but it was the CCs who had given their heart out for making it work. I also got a chance to work with some really talented and dedicated designers and artists, both from my batch - Abhisek, Swarup, Abinash, Ashish - and junior batches - Venketesh, Nischit, Subrat, Reetika, Aswin, Debadutta, MadhuSudan, Pranjali, Utpanna, Ayush and Sibasish. I also cherish each and every moment I spent with my branch-mates and club-mates. I would say, everyone, I have interacted with - my mentors, colleagues, juniors, teachers and friends - has been an inspiration to me. Therefore, I’d say working with and spending time with these people would remain the fondest memory of mine in NITR.
MM: Is there anything, which you would want to turn back through a time machine during your stay over here?
SD: Umm... (Pauses), I was in my first year when the professor of NSS had asked me to build a website for the same. I clearly told him that I could not do it as I had been preparing to write the IIT-JEE exam again, and I had no idea about website designing. I regret not agreeing as it would have opened a new dimension for me, not only as a person but also as a designer. Since I realised my mistake I have tried to never say no to any learning opportunity that comes my way.
This never-say-no attitude did make life tough for me, as I find it difficult to refuse anybody’s request to help in designing! One such instance was during my third year when Rahul and Abhipsa, my mentors, called me to Rengcol and was told that I was to attend a meeting and was a part of the team to design the final year souvenirs! A couple of months back, Mitesh had called me up at 3 o clock in the night for making an illustration. Maybe because of the passion, or maybe out of the nostalgia which pushes me further and brings out the best in me every time, I sent the illustration.
It was my childhood dream to get my cartoons published, MM gave me such a beautiful platform and I am just trying to do my best since then.
MM: What would your message be to the readers?
You need to make the most of the time which you get in the institute. You have to work hard and work smart at the same time. If you feel somebody is better than you, observe him or her, find out what exactly he/she is doing differently, learn it, modify & imbibe it to suit you and level up. You need be perseverant, have good time and resource management skills and be passionate about whatever you do. Never stop improving