IIM Shillong’s Fab Four: Two musicians, one painter and one ISRO engineer keep perfect balance between their passion and academics


May sound very Yash Raj Film-types, but amidst the misty winds blowing at IIM Shillong, one can often hear the soft strains of a guitar or the gentle taps of a piano. And this is no dream sequence as it would have been in the film, it is only Sourjyo Das strumming the guitar and Rukma Jayaram on the keyboard, both second year students of IIM Shillong. Sourjyo left a famous rock band group back home in Kolkata to pursue an MBA in Shillong while Rukma Jayaram, a world-class first-rank holder in piano let go of a music teacher’s job to pursue the same degree.

A few hostel rooms away on the campus is Sweteleena Mishra, who has taken temporary leave as an engineer with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to pursue an MBA and and still a few rooms away is Prajna Dash, a shy yet budding painter from Orissa.

These four are often known as the outliers of IIM Shillong and their individual talents are a point of much appreciation and discussion among students at the campus, especially those who get lessons in music and painting from the foursome.

While Sourjyo, Prajna and Sweteleena are pursuing an MBA in marketing, for Rukma it is finance.

outliers at iim shillong painters isro musicians trinity

Sweteleena Mishra

Why MBA

With such illustrious talents, some of them being money-spinners, why did the four of them opt for an MBA?. That too, at a time and, when they could have easily put in maximum energy into their god-gifted talents.

For Sweteleena, the ISRO engineer, the need was for diversification. “If I continued at ISRO, the future would have been in R&D.; If I did my MBA and then went back to ISRO, there will be more options for me.” For the painter, Prajna, painting is and will always remain her biggest passion. “I can paint all my life but I will not get many chances to study. I wanted to do an MBA and partake in various competitions. I want to give it whatever it takes to be on top in the corporate world.”

For the musicians, it was actually music that got them to go for an MBA. Says Rukma: “Having worked as a teacher, I realised that the only way I could unwind from work stress was playing on the piano. It balances me. My father and brother are both IIM graduates so I know the pressures of an IIM. And there is nothing better than a piano to help me to go for the MBA degree in a better frame of mind.”

Sourjyo wanted to pursue higher studies in a college either in Bangalore or Chennai because the music scene in both the cities is very upbeat. “I did my engineering at Vellore so that I could continue in either of the cities. But when my CAT score came in and I realised I could get into an IIM, I decided to go for it. Besides, the music scene in this part of the country is very popular too.”

outliers at iim shillong painters isro musicians trinity

Prajna Dash

Before IIM

Before the IIM calls, all the four were known in their respective fields and pretty snug in their personal lives too. They told Pagalguy that their families encouraged them at all times – whether it was pursuing their passion or taking a sudden jump into academics. Rukma says her mother is also a known pianist and whether it was for learning the piano or opting for an MBA, her family always understood her and supported her every decision.

Prajna painted vigorously before the IIM phase of her life and was known for her art among her circle of friends and relatives in Orissa. Though not a professional painter, the ‘Pattachitra‘ (painting on cloth) style of painting was and will remain her forte. She has specialised in it and has plenty of them at her home. One day, she hopes to put up an exhibition of them all. Pattachitra is known to use natural elements to make colours, prepare the canvas and also the brush.

For Rukma, musical success came around 2002 when she took her solo piano eighth grade examination conducted by the Trinity College of Music, London. With 91 per cent marks, she was ranked among top five in the world (from among those who had taken the same test at the same time). Since she was the youngest, she was crowned the first rank holder. Then, Rukma made national news and also got film offers.

Sourjyo has been part of many rock bands for most of his growing-up years and a familiar name on the Kolkata music scene since he played in hotels there, including the Park Hotel. Sourjyo also plays the piano and has one at home. Sweteleena, of course was in a place (ISRO) many only wish for. “I was pretty happy at my job. It was a great learning experience and I was working with some very smart people,” she said.

outliers at iim shillong painters isro musicians trinity

Rukma Jayaram

Does the campus help?

The musicians and the painter are a big hit when it comes to cultural activities in the college. For the musicians especially, it is understood that they have to put up a show every time there is an event. The duo sometimes also hold classes for their batch mates and willingly teach a tune or two to anyone interested. “The guitar is easier to pick up and can be taught quickly to anyone seriously wanting to learn,” says Sourjyo. The guitarist has a guitar with him in the campus but kept some of his base guitars with a friend in Guwahati and often drives up there to practise. He also sometimes plays in a local north-eastern band called Snow White.

Rukma has a keyboard with her (which is a far cry from the German antique piano she has at her home in Chennai) and also teaches those interested. “However it is necessary to have a keyboard or piano to practise and since nobody has either here, it is difficult to keep interest going. Sometime, my batch mates comes to my room and play on my keyboard,” says Rukma.

As for Prajna, some students do approach her to learn but they visit her room more to see her working than anything else. Prajna says that painting is something that gets better with practise and one has to have the basic love for it. Prajna adds that for her type of paintings, paints have to be stored in coconut shells which is not practical on the campus.

And as for Sweteleena, her colleagues just like to listen to her tails of working in ISRO. “My experience at ISRO helps me in my MBA. There are basics taught in class which are easy to catch since I have been part of ISRO. Also, while here, I keep talking to my colleagues at ISRO to keep abreast of developments there. This helps me understand my course work here better.”

All the four make time to pursue their individuals talents even while working hard on daily study assignments and living the pressures of an MBA under-graduate.

outliers at iim shillong painters isro musicians trinity

Sourjyo Das

MBA-connected goals

The four are certain that the MBA degree will not only give them a sense of confidence but also something to fall back on if their talents do not net them the kind of work they intend to do. It seems, the Fabulous Four want the best of both the worlds.

For instance, Prajna wants to spread her talent, teach painting and also do something for the poor painters in Orissa. “There are many good painters among the poor back home but lack of government help and opportunity, makes sure that their talent never comes to the fore. With an MBA, I think I will get more of a confidence to promote them on an official scale.” Prajna says she will enter the corporate world and that will give her the power to ‘market’ the poor painters from Orissa to the rest of the country.

The ISRO girl, Sweeteleena, says that she would like to enter an FMCG and work on branding and strategy. “And I also want to do a Phd. and pursue research. I want to do research which will help my country practically.”

Sourjyo wants to definitely cut albums but before that wants to make his regional presence known. “There are a lot of regional groups across the world that have done well and cut albums. Junkyard Grove, Touch Wood etc. This shows that people can come up from small towns. I believe I can too and an MBA will at least give me the push to pursue what I want to finally do.” But immediately post the MBA degree, Sourjyo has decided to enroll into a 6-month course at the renowned Tamil Nadu-based Swarnabhoomi Academy where he will go deep into music and also get to learn from foreign bands which are part of the academy. “After that I will get into marketing and IT but simultaneously keep my passion for music going steady.”

For the petite pianist, Rukma, Finance is definitely a career plan. “I will work because I would like to be in a corporate set up but my music will stay with me always. I will continue to compose on a more serious scale once am done with MBA. I will teach music over the weekends.”

For the time being however the four have decided to concentrate on their proximate goals – to bag good placements and do well academically. But there will always be room and time for their passion, they say. What more could the painter want than sit with her easel, brush and canvas in the midst of the foggy campus and paint the peachy-orange sun dive down the the distant mountains.

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