Of Charms, Ebullience and Mysteries: Gaurav Naha
With a stellar tenure nearing its end, Team Monday Morning finally caught up with one of the busiest and most interesting personalities of NIT Rourkela, who has been charming multiple haunts like Placement Committee and Monday Morning, to name a few during his five-year-long stay. During a hearty talk on a pleasant rainy evening, Gaurav Naha, the one with a Dual Degree of wisdom unwound the threads of a glittering past that will surely take any reader by a pleasant surprise.
Monday Morning (MM): Tell us how your stay abroad has helped you grow up as the person you are. Also, mention the culture-shocks you faced shifting to Mumbai, and then Delhi.
Gaurav Naha (GN): I spent my early years in St. Petersburg, Russia as my father was posted there. I had studied there from Grade 1 to Grade 3. I will always cherish my time in St. Petersburg. Although I was very young, I still hold very vivid memories of the place. I studied at Anglo-American School and I remember really liking the school. It was a school run by the American Embassy and had students from all over the world. I would wait for Mondays just to get back to school. This was also the time where I picked up football. Playing during the summer was one thing but I remember we would play during winter in the snow. Moreover, our gym teacher in school was an Australian, so we would also play cricket indoors during the winters. I had the chance to associate with people from various nationalities.
After this, I moved to Mumbai where I studied at Navy Children School. As I moved back to India at a fairly young age, I didn’t particularly face any culture shocks. (Laughing) The only difficulty I remember facing was that of scoring really badly in all my Hindi tests because I didn’t know much Hindi. I lived in Mumbai from Grade 4 to Grade 8, post which I had moved to Delhi. I studied at Navy Children School there as well. I lived there until I moved to Rourkela.
MM: Having grown up in different Metropolitan cities, did you face a bit of a culture shock when you came to Rourkela?
GN: There was a bit of a culture shock when I moved to Rourkela. The connectivity was an issue but then again, the campus is quite beautiful. Throughout my life, I grew up among people associated with the Armed Forces. So, all of us had similar mindsets and a similar way of life. Here, everyone was very different, so it took a while to figure things out and getting used to it. It was more getting used to the people than the place. Initially, I did regret not taking DTU but I involved myself in extracurricular activities and soon got over it. Coincidentally, most of the friends I made during my first year were also Dual Degree students. Hence, my closest friend circle hasn’t really changed over the course of these 5 years.
MM: You have always been a beacon of professionalism, held in high respect by peers, juniors and seniors alike. How significantly has your father’s association with the Navy helped you imbibe the values of professionalism and character?
GN: As my father is from the Navy, he is someone very disciplined and professional. Adding to this, he is also a man of a few words. My mother is the calmest person I have met. So I believe my persona is a blend of character traits from both of them. I strongly think you are the way you are because of the people that surround you. This makes me very selective when it comes to choosing friends and the level of interaction I share with them.
MM: What motivated you to pursue Engineering in general and Mechanical Engineering in particular? Growing up in such an environment, why didn’t the prospect of joining the Navy attract you? You were initially set to be a DTU student but then decided to come here. You ended up giving up your seat there. Why?
GN: Growing up in the Navy, it was only obvious to consider a career in the Armed Forces. After my Class 12, I gave the NDA examination and received a call from SSB. Had I not gotten an engineering seat in a premier institute, Navy would definitely have been my career choice.
But having gotten into NIT Rourkela, I decided to not go to that stream. I figured I could always go back to the forces after completing my degree if I wanted, which isn’t what I want now. I also gave up a seat at DTU for NIT Rourkela. During that year, the number of seats in DTU increased significantly without a proportional enhancement of infrastructural facilities, leading to a possibility of poor pedagogy. I also figured the NIT tag would carry more value.
I have always had a fascination with aeroplanes and cars, so I didn’t think twice before only filling out choices for Mechanical Engineering in all the NITs.
MM: Initially, when you joined Mechanical Engineering you were very passionate about it. You even joined in Efficycle. But over the years, starting from your second year you have lost interest in your branch. In fact, you had even taken up a “Go with the flow” approach. Was there a certain reason that this happened?
GN: In my first year, Mechanical Engineering and Automobile engineering really fascinated me, thanks to my seniors at SAE. It was later on when I took up a technical project that worked with designing and fabricating a vehicle during my second year. It was during that time that I realized that I lacked the inclination to explore further and make a career out of it. I didn’t see the point of pursuing it any further if I did not want to be the best at it.
Initially, during my first year, I was academically inclined. Later I realized whether I studied or not, my grades ended up being the same (laughs). So, I decided to put those efforts into my extracurricular activities.
MM: What clubs/ activities were you associated with during your first year?
GN: My journey with clubs began with the orientation of the Leo club. Although I went to the orientation, I never ended up going to the Leo inductions. The opposite happened with Rotaract. After insistence from a friend, I decided to go for the Rotaract Inductions. I did end up getting inducted while he got rejected, which proved beneficial for him later.
I was very active in Rotaract during my first year. I made my first friends outside of my hostel in the club. Apart from the social service projects that were taken up, I had a lot of fun during the night outs we had to get work done. I think that was my first taste of social life at NITR. I became inactive in Rotaract from my second year. I was inducted into Monday Morning by then and was more inclined towards Monday Morning.
MM: How did Monday Morning happen? How has the role of a campus journalist helped shape your college life? From being a good reporter to a diligent CC and to an amazing mentor how has the entire journey been?
GN: In the first year, I was not in the best of terms with my roommate for a while. He happened to have gotten inducted into a prominent club and that in some way bruised my ego. I wanted to prove a point and do something worthwhile. The next morning, when I woke up, I saw the Monday Morning flyer and I figured content writing was something I could do. After the first round, we were allotted tasks. A friend of mine, Nishant, had also gotten the tasks and both of us were discussing these tasks. I was supposed to interview Antareep Sharma and do a club review but initially, I figured it would be too hectic. Nishant and I both decided to back out because it was too much work to do. Two days prior to the deadline though, I decided to give it a shot, while Nishant stayed put to the decision.
I guess it turned out to be the best for the both of us because Nishant later ended up being a branch topper and MM had framed my life at that point of time.
Before joining MM, I wasn’t a very ardent reader of MM. However, I did know about it before joining the institute. During school days, a friend of mine had an elder brother who had studied here and was also a Technical Coordinator at MM during his time. I spoke to him before joining the institute to get a feedback. He told me to go through MM to get to know about the institute.
As a reporter, I had a lot of fun. I’m lucky to have gotten a great set of people to work with. It was because of them that I did not feel much of a work load. During fests, we would all do night-outs to get work done. As it is, the campus was very lively during these times so we would make it an occasion and have a lot of fun. As a reporter, I generally wrote a lot of club related articles. I found the Director’s Desk and Chief Warden’s Column to be very serious so I never did those. I also did do some interviews and post-fest analysis articles. In fact, the first post-fest analysis article was that of Innovision in which I ended up getting a little aggressive with my questioning.
As a reporter, I worked a lot with Saideep, Soham and Sidharth Ghosh Roy. I think my highlight article was the review of the Film and Music Society, which has now been named as Arts and Cultural Society after restructuring.
The turning point of my reporter tenure was the Open House Discussion that happened. The scripting of the OHD along with my CCs and mentors and mock drills conducted made me serious about this job.
There was one instance, during the end of my CC tenure, the VPs and Secretaries of SAC sent us a letter criticizing our work. I ended up getting very angry because a lot of it was baseless. I sent a reply email countering every single one of the points they brought up. The next day, Prof. J.P. Kar, our erstwhile Faculty Advisor, asked me why I had sent it but I explained how I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.
MM: How was being the Chief Coordinator (CC) different from being a journalist?
GN: My two co-CCs knew each other since the first year and had a good rapport and it took me some time to fit myself with the duo.
My foremost priority being the Chief Coordinator was to be able to create a working atmosphere in which each and every team member contributes as much as they can to the organization willingly, not forcefully. I was comparatively less aggressive than my co-CCs as it was not in my nature to be aggressive, also it did not fit my objective because MM is a more of a volunteering job wherein one cannot expect to gain in short terms. I felt that my aggression would pressurize team members, make them feel not inclusive in the team and this would stop them from contributing as per their potential.
Being a CC is obviously much more hectic than a journalist. You realise the significance and scope of the job that you are into. I always looked at it from an entrepreneurial perspective. I had a year to experiment with my ideas and grow the organisation in whatever way I could. It’s a great sense of responsibility and gives immense satisfaction if done seriously.
MM: What were the various agendas whilst being a Chief Coordinator? Did you have pet-projects in mind when you started?
GN: When I took over as the CC, MM was primarily limited to the web issues and the print issue. With time, we realized that for the growth of the organization, it was necessary that we expand horizontally. So, we ventured into multimedia where photojournalism and videos were one of our plans of action during summers. We also wanted to break into the alumni segment because we felt that they were not as much part of MM as they should be. We started contacting alumni, initiated the alumni video messages section to increase the visibility. The forum section was also started with a motive to facilitate communication between anyone and everyone interested in knowing about NIT Rourkela, related to matters like administration, faculty, students etc. Though the forum did not turn out well, hopefully, we can build it to the expected level in the years to come. A subscription module was formulated during that year. We had a plan to make each and every alumni as a by-default subscriber of MM, for which we collaborated with NITRAA to get the entire required database. The purpose of this was to make the alumni stay connected with their alma mater even after they graduate. A data journalism project was also taken up, wherein we wanted to map the growth of NITR on various parameters since its inception.
MM: Tell us something about your tenure as a mentor.
GN: Being the most experienced members of the team, the role of a mentor is vital for shaping the organisation in the years to come. You play an advisory role to the postholders.
As a CC, my role was to maintain a conducive atmosphere so that each and every team member can come up and contribute to their potential. But as a mentor, I already knew that the postholders who have already worked for a year are obliged to take up responsibilities. You know that if they take it lightly then that will trickle down to the team members. And if the team slackens, there will be an entire batch of slackers and that affects the future batches as well. I had to adapt to a more aggressive role to fulfil my responsibilities as a mentor.
MM: Tell us about your internship experience at GRSE.
GN: My internship was a very obligatory one. I believe interning within your department to secure the necessary credits is a very poor policy of the institute since it demotivates students to explore beyond their department. That summer I did a lot of courses on Coursera. I spent a lot of time learning many new things, by then I realised that engineering wasn’t my passion. So I wanted to figure out where my interests lie. I picked up whichever random course appealed to me, one at a time, I even did a course on Psychology. All these really helped me to get a better sense of direction. After the end of summer, I had done a lot of experimentation on my career prospects.
MM: How did you cope up with the time post your tenure as a CC? What motivated you to become a Placement Coordinator (PC)?
GN: As a CC, on the last day of the commencement programme, you can’t wait for it to get over, give over all your charges to the next batch. It becomes a countdown sort of thing where you eagerly await to pass down the baton (smiles) and lead a more relaxed life. The same was with me, I wanted to be free, enjoy my weekends, sleep during Sunday nights.
In my 4th year, there wasn’t a lot of activity I was involved in which bored me a lot. I didn’t feel alive, as I wasn’t doing much, and I didn’t find a sense of purpose.
GATE exam is compulsory for every dual-degree student. Initially, I had no intention of appearing for the exam, it was an obligation because of the stipend. So starting with, it was a financial motivation for me. After a week or two, I realised money wasn’t driving me.
I couldn’t crack GATE because I didn’t have the motivation. That was a negative outcome, but a positive realisation I took back from the failure was that money does not drive me when it comes to pursuing my work.
I was determined to become a PC because I couldn’t spend my 5th year like my 4th. To keep myself busy was definitely my first motivation for becoming a Placement Coordinator. Secondly, I thought that it would be a useful learning experience. I would get to know the driving factors behind the entire job market and corporations and that would help me in my future.
MM: How has your experience as a Placement Coordinator helped, or not helped when it came to you yourself being part of the placement rat-race?
GN: Being a Placement Coordinator is just another position of responsibility. It doesn’t help directly. It depends on how you shape your interaction with the recruiters and correlate your experience with their requirements.
For me, the job profile is the most important factor. If I don’t get the satisfaction, I won’t be able to put my best, it will be a waste of time. So that’s why I had very limited opportunities when it came to on-campus interviews. Again I feel on-campus recruitments are highly overrated. I know of seniors who bagged good offers which did not suit them. Again, I know of seniors who didn’t bag a good job offer or didn’t get placed on-campus, and they are doing very well in life right now.
MM: Having been selected at Gain Theory, tell us about your interview experience.
GN: Gain Theory was the fourth company I had applied for seriously. For a previous company interview, I prepped really hard for case interviews. So despite these efforts, when I was rejected for no obvious reasons, it was really frustrating and after that, I hardly prepared any further. So yesterday’s one, I went with absolutely zero preparation and used all that I had done in December. Luck is a big factor in interviews, it is very difficult to compress every impression about yourself in half an hour or one hour. If you can strike a good conversation, well enough, if not, it won’t happen.
Coming to rejections, in hindsight, I think it is sometimes good to not get what you want. It is an opportunity to toughen your character. It keeps you grounded and out of complacency which is crucial for success in the long run.
MM: What are some of the myths about working in the Placement Committee not many are aware of?
GN: We have a very good ranking and the perception is that this helps attract a lot of recruiters, which is not the case. Because recruiters are busy, they don’t have the luxury of time. A few years ago, they wouldn’t have minded visiting Rourkela for 2 days for the on-campus process, but right now they don’t have that time, it is not feasible for them. So, the ranking only helps to a small extent. That I realised pretty soon.
Secondly, most HRs are unresponsive, that’s a tough thing for us. The work at the Placement Committee can get monotonous since the process is basically the same, you just multiply it by the number of companies you contact. What keeps me going are the people on the committee whom I get along with really well and have fun with.
Many of the recruitment processes are alumni-driven. Hence, establishing a robust alumni network and getting them to willingly contribute towards such activities is crucial for mutual benefit.
MM: How far do you think our curriculum is suited for industrial requirements? What else can be done to improve the placement scenario?
GN: We have a very theoretical approach to everything. Practical knowledge is lacking, as per the feedback that we got from most of the companies. Suggestions have been made to the Senate. 6-month internships are opportunities that some companies provide and others shall in the near future. This makes a lot of sense actually. Instead of a direct job offer, give them an internship, allowing both the candidate and company to gauge each other’s suitability for the role. The institute must adapt to this and amend its policies to remain relevant.
Infrastructural facility-wise, we are among the best in the NITs. Connectivity is an issue but there is nothing that can be done about it. The outreach center at Bhubaneswar will definitely give a boost to placements once established.
We should engage the alumni more aggressively; we have a relatively weak alumni network. We can tap into that, not only for placements but a lot of other activities as well. That was a very big priority for me even during my time at MM, to engage the alumni, keeping them connected to the institute and maintaining a continuous relation.
MM: What was more satisfying to you, your time as a Chief coordinator of MM or that as a Placement Coordinator?
GN: My tenure as a Monday Morning Chief Coordinator gave me more professional satisfaction. Being a PC, the outcome is not always in your hands. There are two key players here—the Placement Committee on one side and the HRs on the other. If they don’t agree with us nothing happens, however you may negotiate with them. The results aren’t in your control. But as a CC, you can really control that. If you chart out a plan, have an agenda, you have a better probability of achieving results. Obviously, in any role, you would like to be in more control, so being a Chief Coordinator really helped more in this regard.
Personally, both of them have been equally satisfying, primarily because of the people I worked with.
MM: You are a Bengali but aren’t a typical Bong. What is the place that you connect to when you think of home?
GN: I don’t particularly see myself as a Bong since I have hardly lived in that state. I don’t particularly associate one place with home. I have spent chunks of my life in different places but not a significant time in any one place.
MM: Going back to this, your friends said you always ask a trademark question—‘Point kya hai’. How did this come about?
GN: Unless I have a sense of purpose I don’t do anything. Because without a purpose, I don’t really connect with it, it doesn’t excite me. So if the work doesn’t excite me, what is the point of doing it in the first place. So that’s where the phrase came from ‘Point kya hai?’
MM: How have you been charting your future plans, now that you are on the verge of graduating?
GN: Right now, my plan is to do a job. I also do plan on studying further, but honestly, I don’t know what I would study. So what I will be doing is get the job, gain exposure and figure out what intrigues me, attracts me. Right now, I don’t have the requisite clarity, so settling on any other decision would be a bit premature, and the experience might not turn out to be good in the end.
MM: What is your long-term dream, that you would like to pursue some years from now?
GN: I don’t plan out such things long term, because it doesn’t work out for me. I try to live in the present as much as possible. You plan for next five years, then later decide to try something else, and suddenly that becomes your new priority. So pursuing a job and exposure is pretty much what I have planned to do now in the short term.
MM: What is the most important thing for an organisation like MM?
GN: The most important factor for any organisation is not its material resources, but its people. It’s a pity if you don’t have the right people to utilise the resources. If you have the right team, you can make the most out of limited resources.
MM: Apart from your obsession with surfing LinkedIn, as your friends say, what are your other hobbies?
GN: I try to engage myself in whatever work I do. I try to be a workaholic, I don’t like much free time. If I have to think about what to do next, it bugs me. I do read, not very voraciously though. Recently I finished Richard Branson’s autobiography and I am currently reading Howard Schultz’s, the executive chairman of Starbucks. So basically non-fiction is the only genre I can relate to. The same goes with songs, I don’t like listening to songs with lyrics, even if they have them, I ignore it. I listen to the beats and rhythm and weave my own story as it goes. That way I don’t have to conform to the words of the writer/ composer. It’s a good way for me to introspect. Also, I have developed a recent liking towards calisthenics.
MM: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
GN: I would like to explore as much as I can, which joining Gain Theory can provide. Being a part of the WPP Group and involved in a lot of industries, I can pick up various projects and figure out which industry I am more inclined towards, and based on that I can make a further decision. So currently I am in an experimenting phase. There is a lot of uncertainty and mystery, and that is the fun of it.
MM: What might be your biggest weakness?
GN: Overthinking is my biggest weakness I suppose. To some extent, this might be good. It allows you to think from perspectives you had not considered previously. But too much of that leads to self-doubt. That’s a line you should never cross.
MM: What is your biggest regret during your five year stay at NITR?
GN: In my first year, my friends and I were regular at football. We attended the coaching camp which would start at 5.30 am. Gradually, we all got lazy and dropped out of the camp. That is one regret I have – I shouldn’t have quit football coaching camp.
MM: What were some of your memorable experiences working in the college, for MM or elsewhere?
GN: At MM, we had plenty of brainstorming sessions with our team. One that particularly stands out would be a print issue discussion with Prem Depan Nayak, Rahul Pasayat, Snehasis Hota and Sidharth Ghosh Roy during convocation 2017. We were intensely debating the cost-benefit analysis of the print issue.
During my tenure as a CC, we focussed on videos to enhance our reach. During fests, from morning to night we would be filming and I would be kind of directing them. I wanted to pursue Data Journalism seriously. We had in mind a project in which we wanted to map the growth of NIT Rourkela, since 2002, on various parameters, on an annual basis. I went to Prof. S.K Sarangi with this idea, who appreciated it and asked me to get it done, which he would link to his Vision 2020 document. So he wrote a letter, marking it as important and urgent, to everyone in NIT Rourkela. He asked everyone to coordinate with Monday Morning with whatever information they could provide.
MM: Summing up, what is your one final message to our readers?
My message would be to utilise whatever time you spent at NIT Rourkela judiciously. Most of us are inclined towards engineering when we join, but some of us fall out of it. So if you are still into Engineering, lucky! If not, then explore and experiment with whatever other activities you can, and try to figure out what you want to do after you graduate. Your objective should be to have a better sense of direction by that time. Utilise whatever resources NIT Rourkela provides you, and try to give back to the institute as well. Add value to whatever you do, that is the only way to gain value. NIT Rourkela has something to provide to everybody, you just need to look out for it and seize the opportunity.
An epitome of calm, composure and gentlemanly qualities, a keen learner and a sagacious persona, Gaurav Naha has surely won over a world, since his childhood. Team MM wishes one of the ‘cool’est members of Monday Morning and NITR all the best in exploring new boundaries in the future.