- Sauvik Biswas - https://sauvikbiswas.com -

Twenty Twenty-One

It feels strange to write a retrospective of the year that was after one-and-a-half months of 2022. It has been a significant year in my life. There were three things that marked important changes in my life.

Living with my mom after two decades

I had left my parents’ house in 2002 to pursue my undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at IIT Kharagpur. That was right after my senior secondary school, and right after I had stepped into adulthood. One thing led to another and I ended up completing my Ph.D. in the same department after nine years. I would come home once every semester, spend a week and get back to my hostel room in the campus.

In 2011, I relocated to Bangalore and joined Airbus. Alongside my usual day job, I was also playing in my band and cycling around outskirts of Bangalore and some parts of South India. I even managed to take a month off every year—usually in December—and visit interesting places; often on a shoestring budget. After these trips, I usually got the last week of December and the first week of January to spend some time with my mother and sister.

Every year, my mother and sister would come to Bangalore and stay with me for a month or so. We would often plan a trip to some place in the southern part of India. Unrestricted movement meant that we all had this notion in the back of our minds that we could visit each other any time we wanted.

No one had anticipated that such a notion would become impossible overnight. In March 2020, the entire world, including India, and my locality, went into a lock-down. I spent the next eight months stuck in an apartment, alone. The evening video calls with my mom and sister kept me sane. It was so excruciating that when December came and the restrictions had eased out to some extent, I decided to head towards North-East India [1].

When the second wave hit India the next year, things were even worse. In the last two weeks of April and first two weeks of May, there wasn’t a day when I didn’t receive the news of demise of someone that I knew. So in late May, I packed my work laptop and headed home—back to Kolkata.

In the last year, I have spent over six months in Kolkata. It has helped me connect with not only my mom and sister, but also my uncle, aunt and my cousin who stay very near to our house. It has also helped me restore my sanity by easing off my anxiety.

Changing job and switching industry after 10 years

After completing my formal education, I moved to Bangalore. I joined my first job two months later at Airbus. Airbus Engineering Centre India at that time was only four years old. It was (and probably is) a great place to work and grow. During my ten-year stint I took up different jobs and roles in the Airframe department. However, as time progressed, I saw a critical problem.

The Aircraft design industry in India is far from developing a product—and I am not even talking about a competitive one to boot. The design sector works like centers of competence. However, since the business model of a cost-centre is that of a shared asset, the cost factor kicks in. To remain cost-competitive, a number of low-volume, high-complexity jobs cannot be taken up. These kind of jobs have low visibility horizon and for a product company, it makes less sense to have them anywhere but near the heart of the product.

As a result, the kind of work that is executed in India is mostly around support (including R&D), operations, and maintenance. The best place to grow in such organizations is to move closer to where the product is manufactured. Unfortunately, I did not want to move out of India. There were verticals where I could have grown but the scarcity of opportunities (in case you didn’t know, commercial large jet airliners operate as a duopoly) meant that the growth—in terms of position, responsibility, and compensation—would be very slow.

The pandemic had hit the aircraft industry really hard. Airbus laid off 17,000 people globally. A small percentage of employees in India were also impacted. A number of experts and executives who had spent a lifetime were also impacted. That’s when it hit me that company loyalty was a myth—even when the company that prided itself in sharing these stories of generations working together. It’s understandable. There’s no employment if there is no business.

During my North-East trip, I started to introspect what I was good at, what I would enjoy doing, and what has a good growth opportunity in India. It’s like that Ikigai venn diagram; just a bit more pragmatic.

In May 2021, once I was in Kolkata, I put myself to a long and arduous study and preparation schedule. Two of my juniors and ex-colleagues—Alok Raj and Shivani Sahu—became my guides. They had executed successful switches into two different domains. I had zeroed in on Software Development and had shared my CV with whomever I could find. In the end, it was my old friend and bandmate Sudipto who convinced my current hiring manager to give my candidature a chance. Coming from a different industry, that good word from him and push helped me land the interview rounds. After that it was a matter of preparation and execution in the interviews themselves.

Staying with my mom and sister really helped me with the preparation. Not only was I free from the worry of day-to-day chores but also I did not have to deal with the anxiety that the proverbial prison-cell in Bangalore had brought me.

I was open to any sub-domain but I am happy that I am in Networking. It gives me ample opportunity to learn. Now I have an auxiliary goal, too. To become as knowledgeable in computer science as a graduate in the next two years.

Getting married and ending the solo stint of my life

My decision to get married came after I had settled some open points in my life that I had written about in a 2019 post [2]. Sometime in mid 2018, I started dating with the prospect of finding the right person. I had dated one girl in 2018, three girls in 2019, and two in 2020. (The dates I had arranged for in 2020 were virtual owing to the pandemic.)

I am happy that I had gone through that phase. It gave a lot of clarity on what I wanted. I do not have strong preferences or opinions about most things in this world (but have very strong opinions for a couple of things). I learned that the equation in each relationship is different. There are very few things one can carry over into the next relationship.

I learned that holding a mundane conversation and just enjoying each others company is far more important than trying to find commonalities in upbringing or sharing hobbies. It was because of the pandemic that I was able to meet my fiancé. The pandemic also gave us ample time to spend with each other. This courtship period is the gift of the circumstances and I am thankful for it. I realised that things will change. My life’s day-to-day schedules and long-term priorities will change. There would be shared activities that we’ll enjoy; there will be ones that we’ll loath; and then there would be ones that one of us will enjoy while the other loathes. All these would be part of the learning and adjusting process.

If I look back, the 33-year-old me would have had a hard time adjusting to a married life. People who are and have been close to me have even said how rigid I was in my views. They have commented that they didn’t think that I would ever get married. Time, travel, some good books, 3-year-old stint at a people-facing job, and nine months of extreme isolation has transformed me.

In the end, all aspects of living is a gamble, including finding a life partner. I am happy with my choice. I am sure that my wife is happy with me, too. If I may re-iterate what my elders and my married friends have told me—it’s a lot of work. I am happy that I had a couple of years to reflect and prepare myself for it.

Day 16: Back to Guwahati [3]