By V Pattabhi Ram and Mithun D’Souza
Wafers finished her packing. She was to board the Mail; the train that would take her to Bangalore to attend the course on General Management and Communication Skills (GMCS). GMCS was ICAI’s mandatory 15-day finishing school program. Now why the lady should hop to Bangalore when the program was also available in Chennai was a little secret that she would share with no one.
“Mom hurry up with the cucumbers” screamed Wafers. Of-course Mom wasn’t packing cucumbers for dinner. The cucumbers were to be placed on and around Wafers’s eyes. No, Wafers was not one of the Miss India wannabees; but anyone who had cracked CA Final would certainly have a fair share of blackening of eyes caused by endless sleepless nights. And remember Wafers had gotten into the rank list for good measure.
Dad came to the station to see her off. It would be nice to be away from home thought Wafers. Despite the enormous freedom that her parents gave her, there was nothing like being alone, she reasoned. She boarded the train and soon decided to hit the sack. The persistent lullaby of the train in motion and the cool cucumbers around her eyes meant that Wafers crashed out fast only to be awakened by a dreadful nightmare.
She was in the midst of her Cost Accounting exam and was getting stuck with problem after problems. To her the one on standard costing looked like French. This was notwithstanding the fact that she had mastered the format which her professor had so assiduously taught. And then there was a great bit of quantitative techniques for which Wafers had not prepared sufficiently. Beads of sweat hurried down her face, her hands were trembling; her eyes were quivering – (thud)…. a hard bang on her head of the upper berth (thanks to her terrified leap) … and Wafers was brought back to earth. “Thank God- that was not real” thought Wafers. She remembered her seniors explaining the post CA final nightmares. This was the same.
The following morning she found herself at the Institute’s premises in Bangalore. After completing the formal form filling she entered the program hall. There were scores of stern faces. No smiles. No self introductions. Wafers felt as if she had stumbled into an army camp. Everyone was as cold as ice. “Members and Members to be” announced a smiling gentleman. “Welcome aboard GMCS, ICAI’s innovative finishing school program …… (Blah) (Blah)… You are going to have fun in the next 15 days here with us”.
“Fun” said a voice from the back row; “This is rigorous imprisonment; worse than our classes”. Not even half an hour had passed, and the candidates, Wafers included, were eager to find a way out through the nearest exit. Their ideas were foiled when the announcement came on the public address system, “This course is a prerequisite for membership enrolment of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India under regulation 51A/72A”. Oh God, this meant that attendance was compulsory. Hell.
The first session was of ice breakers. The group was made to yell, to mew and to bray. Wafers wasn’t amused. Is this what chartered accountants do, she wondered. It took some time for the firm faces to crack a bit. Wafers managed to make friends with Debbie, Rohit and a few others. By the end of the first day, the entire group was tired. “Given a choice I would not turn up for the rest of the course” whispered Debbie in Wafers’s ear. It was always a problem for the faculty to handle de-energized CA students.
The next two weeks however, spelt a completely different story for the candidates. The schedule was packed with presentations from leading corporate trainers and public speakers. There was in the schedule topics such as general management, office etiquette, organizing and managing a CA’s office, management of meetings, effective communication and the art of negotiation. The sessions were interactive and participative with a lot of management games thrown in between. Wafers loved it. “This GMCS offers more than what I had bargained for”. Debbie shook her head up and down in total agreement.
The aura at the venue had changed dramatically. There were more smiling faces, more friends, more laughter and greater fun. Rohit was shocked to learn about how much soft skills one needed to acquire in the corporate world. There were the 7 habits of highly effective people, the 48 laws of power, the 7 spiritual laws of success, the 8th habit, and 101 things to do before you died. The rules, the laws, the habits, the attitudes –- all spelt out loud and clear for them. Rohit thought “Oh there are rules and laws even outside Income-tax and corporate law”. The participants were all ears when teams from the Big 4 explained to them the nitty-gritty of the personal interview, the career choices they could make for themselves and the writing of a winning CV. He was fascinated by what the mock personal interview did to him. He realized many things about himself earlier not known to him. The most embarrassing moment for him was gently tucking his shirt in his trousers when the faculty on Dressing and Personal grooming deliberated on the intricacies of corporate dressing.
The excitement knew no bounds when the tables were turned and the participants were asked to take up centre stage. There were individual speeches to deliver, business lectures to be given and group presentations to be made. Wafers sheepishly took stage for her first presentation. The corrections made by the faculty did her a world of good. By the second and third presentation she looked almost like a pro. And so did the rest of the crowd at the GMCS.
By the end of two weeks there was total synergy in the group. Acquaintances turned into friendships, hand shakes turned into warm hugs, business card exchanges turned into quick dials on cell phones. Almost everyone dreaded the valedictory function, for that meant they had to part. And when doomsday arrived there were tearful farewells to the group where they all learnt, lived, loved and which left for them a legacy. Said Debbie, again to Wafers, “Besides my high school and graduation class, it is this group which I shall cherish the most”. Wafers was thankful too. Her eyes had lightened, her mind brightened. “Given a chance I don’t mind attending the GMCS again” said Rohit to Wafers. Thinking of the course which she was forced by statute to attend; Wafers replied with a twinkle in her eye “I too don’t mind doing it all over again.”
And as time would tell, it was at the same GMCS that Debbie met her future husband.