An ode to my one true love

As a woman in the automotive industry I’m often greeted with surprise and sometimes scepticism. Why cars? I’m asked. Why is a difficult question to answer. It’s like asking someone why they like their favourite colour. There’s just no answer to the question why. The heart wants what it wants. How did I come to realise I love cars, however, is an excellent question.

We never had a car at home while I was growing up. We didn’t get one until I was studying engineering. My only access to cars were three different instances over the year. My aunt visited us from the USA once every year and without fail we would go to pick her up and drop her back to the airport. Now as I said, we didn’t have a car, so it was always a taxi, in fact, it was always an ambassador. It was big, heavy and loud. But what a car! They just don’t make them like that anymore!! (pun intended)

Summer vacations spent at another aunt’s place meant one hour drives to pick up my aunt from her bank. This car was another Indian classic. A white ’95 Maruti 800. This was also to be the car I was to learn to drive in, clean, face a breakdown and come to love as dearly as my friends.

My uncle took us out to dinner at least once when he was in Bangalore. More often than not, we were picked up for these dinners. Now, these cars were no Ambassadors or Maruti 800s. They were Lancers, Cielos and sometimes even a Mercedes. For someone who had only been in Ambassadors and Marutis, I was endlessly fascinated by the powered windows, soft seats and air conditioning.

I lived through most of these experiences passively. Although I enjoyed the car rides, I never understood why I so looked forward to them. Until, I had an epiphany. On rainy evening in Bangalore, I was getting to dance class from school by auto (rickshaw) when the 2 minute ride was halted by a blocked road thanks to a fallen tree. And as the auto driver tried to manoeuvre the auto out of the cacophony of vehicles, there it was, a vision in metallic blue, as if the heavens themselves had opened up just to remind us of its majesty. That’s the day I discovered just how beautiful cars are. Beautiful, mobile pieces of art.

Few people appreciate the detail, furore and care that goes into making a car. The challenges they face and how they emerge victorious. To give us something new yet familiar, dynamic yet comfortable, all metal and technology and yet so gorgeous. And I don’t mean just the Ferraris, Lamborghinis or Maseratis. I mean all cars (except maybe the Zen Estilo. I don’t know what they were thinking!! ).

maruti-zen-estilo
Seriously?!

I learnt to drive in a ’95 Maruti 800 in 2007. It’s as simple as they come. 3 cylinder carburettor engine, no power steering, powered windows, brake booster or AC. The car broke down on me a couple of times but even in such situations it was considerate enough to break down in front of a garage or in a parking lot. I learnt to drive it, clean it and slowly but surely came to love it. I have many fond memories in this car. The first time I took it out into the city, I had my very first accident. I was terrified and upset but drove back because my mum was with me and she didn’t know how to drive then :D. I ferried my classmates to college in my final year, drove all the way to Bommasandra from Malleshwaram during my final semester, hit 100 km/h on the outer ring road, ….. And when I moved to Germany to pursue my Masters, it moved on too, to make memories with someone new. Shiro Chan he was called. He was no Ferrari or BMW and yet he would win hands down when it came to claiming that little place in my heart. I’m sure I’ll own and drive a lot of cars in my life but Shiro Chan shall remain my first love.

Suzuki_Maruti_800

The thing you need to understand about cars is that they too have a personality. Each and every one of them are unique. Even when they are the same model from the same year, they will be and feel different. You have to connect with them. Sometimes it’s instantaneous and at others it’s cultivated over time. The important thing is to respect them. They don’t just get you where you need to be but they do it safely. Like any person or relationship in your life, cars need to be maintained. I don’t mean the routine checks at the service stations. I mean filling them with a good quality fuel, making sure the air pressure in all your tyres are right, checking if the engine oil level is right, if you have enough coolant. It’s not hard, it takes maybe about 5 minutes to do everything I said and yet most people don’t take out that time to do it and complain about how their car is behaving. Treat your car well, and by this I don’t mean don’t push it, by all means see what your car can do. But remember to toe the line and not cross it.

So this Valentine’s day, take the time to get to know your car. Give it a good scrub, a little bit of pampering, take it out for a drive, just the two of you and try giving a listen to what it’s saying and I’m sure you’ll find yourself falling in love too.

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Dear Prospective Employer,

As I go through the process of looking for and applying to jobs, I feel the need to compose this letter to you. I’m writing to you because I don’t think two pdf documents and all my grade cards and certificates are enough reasons to consider me for a position let alone know me. I’m also writing to you because I want you to know how much effort goes into an application and how hard it is for all of us. Finding a job is hard in itself. Add to that the fact that you have to apply in a foreign language, know exactly what you want to do but can’t find an opening in it and you have a recipe for frustration.

I’m going through this process as a fresher while simultaneously working on my master thesis. This is how it is for most of us. We are more than aware of how important both our thesis and job applications are, but most of us can’t afford the luxury of applying once we are done with our studies. We have to because we can’t continue to rely on our families for financial assistance, because for a few of us we are the ones who support our families, because we have a huge loan in the bank whose interest is just waiting to drown us. For most of us it is at least one of these reasons and for some of us it’s all these reasons. Now while these are pressing reasons, we also can’t wait. We can’t wait to start working. We’re excited to see what we have to offer, we’re a little naive that way. And to be honest, you are better off hiring us at this time, bursting with enthusiasm and excited about our careers rather than when we have waited and faced rejection and are applying to anything and everything because we’re so desperately in need of a job.

Source: http://playgrounddad.nextimpulsemedia.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/76806713.jpg

I am sure I will be one of the hundreds or thousands of resumes stacked on your desk. On some days I may be the best of the lot, and the worst on some, but for the most part I will figure somewhere in the middle. I know this because most of us have the same grades, have done the same number of internships/student jobs and won the same number of awards. Competition, today, has grown so much that it’s hard to find people who have a below average grade or who have absolutely no practical experience. So I can only imagine how hard that makes it for you. At first glance we all seem the same to you and yet, we’re not.

Our grades, internships, awards, they don’t define us. These are things meant for us to do. What matters is the effort we put into our grades, the factors that led us to decide on an internship. It’s these behind the scenes decisions and work that define us as professionals and as individuals. Yet, these are inappropriate in a résumé and the space in the cover/motivation letter just isn’t enough to do justice to it all. We could try, but we’re not great writers. I guess that’s why we chose engineering as a profession.

For me, a glance at my grade card wouldn’t necessarily tell you what I like or find interesting, and while I would love to say I cherry picked my student jobs, projects and internships, you know I would be lying through my teeth. Some of them happened out of circumstance and some out of luck. That’s not to say that there was no effort though. They took a lot of effort and I’m really happy I did them because I learnt so much. I’m not saying it because it’s expected of me but because I really did. I tried to make the most of every situation. I dabbled in many things and while you would dismiss me calling me fickle, I would like to clarify that I was curious. After all, I was only a bachelor or master student still finding my footing. To say the least, I was curious. I was looking for that elusive love for work. What I’ve seen in my mother when she talks about her job even though she’s been doing that for 30 odd years. Thanks to all my fickleness, I have finally found it.

I’ve always liked cars and I thought knowing what I liked was enough. Apparently not. Why, I was asked. Frankly, I still don’t have an answer. I’ve loved cars for years just like I love chocolate. I’d like to see you try to tell me why you like your favourite colour or your favourite shirt. Sometimes there is no answer. I could bore you with conventional lies like I used to open up radios and toasters to see how they worked, so I knew I’d be an engineer but I didn’t, I would have gotten a nice spanking if I had tried. The best I can offer is that it was love at first sight. I know it may seem a frivolous reason to choose a profession, but what is the ‘correct’ reason?

I come from a country where education, especially higher education, is a luxury few can afford. Even in the case of those who can afford, only a few professions are considered lucrative and hence feasible to study. Throughout my academic career, I’ve met more people who were, disinterested at best and hated at worst, what they were studying. Is the fact that the profession earns you money the correct reason to choose it? It is a reason none the less. Most résumé on that list are there because of the above reason. Me, I’m not immune to it either but I’m in it because I love it. Passion and curiosity are my reason and that, I believe is my selling point.

Being a girl in the mechanical field can be hard. Not from the technical point of view. Thermodynamics and heat and mass transfer will seem like a cake walk compared to the bigotry you face in this field. It’s a male dominated world and they don’t like trespassers. Most people, even outside India, eye you with suspicion and distaste when you say you are studying mechanical engineering. I’ve had people in very high positions ask me ‘By choice or by chance’. It’s something my male counterparts have rarely faced. It’s very insulting. My gender is not my limitation. I’m here, always, by choice. It’s my passion that keeps me ticking.

I could tell you a lot about the subjects I’ve studied and the projects I’ve worked on but I’ll leave that to my résumé because I don’t think that is the reason you should recruit me. In my short experience I’ve realised that grades are just numbers and certificates are just pieces of paper that have no value once you step into the office. Whether at the top or bottom of the class, at work, we all start from zero. There have been days where I’ve not understood something, my grades didn’t help me then, my curiosity and stubbornness did. There have been days when my models or codes have not worked, my projects didn’t help me then, my perseverance and creativity did. On days that I didn’t get the results that I needed and my boss was not too pleased, my certificates didn’t come to my rescue, my fortitude did. I’ve worked with people from different countries and backgrounds, the seminars only gave me a background but my outgoing and social nature helped me get started.

I was not the smartest kid in my class and I may not be the best résumé on your desk but I hope you will give me a little more than the customary one or two minutes before tossing me away. I know this is asking a lot, but while to you it is just a résumé, to me, it’s a gateway to my future. My résumé can’t tell you that I’m sincere in my work, that I’m a loyal friend, that I’m stubborn (in a good way, I promise), I’m curious, friendly and punctual. It won’t tell you how I discovered my love for chassis and suspension or why I want to work in the research and development department. It won’t tell you how much I love cars and how I think they are pieces of art that most people can own unlike ‘actual art’ which only the rich can. It won’t tell you how much I respect and admire the amount of work that goes into making each and every one of them. It won’t tell you how I still squeal like an awed two-year old every time I see a car I love (I’ve been in Germany for 3 years now and I still can’t look the other way when I see a car I like). It can’t tell you that thanks to my curiosity I read about many different things and hence, make for pretty good lunch company. It can’t tell you that I believe excitement and passion are big motivators in a job, and that is why I am writing this to you. I want to be a part of the future of the auto industry and I can’t wait for the day I am. I hope you will be the one to give me my big break.

Yours sincerely,

Manasa Manjunath

The internship chronicles – Part 1 – The beginning

Of course this was coming! You didn’t want to believe it was or even think it but here you go! I reach a significant milestone in my life and I don’t blog about it? What did you think this blog was for? Some highly sophisticated view of the world? Come now, don’t kid yourself. It was always about me! My life, what I do, what I think, yada yada yada. Now that we’ve eased into the topic let’s get back to the point now, shall we?

As some of you may know, I recently started an internship. 7th January to be precise. So any automobiles being made from here on out, well, let’s just say watch out. You didn’t think I’d actually name the company here now did you? I like a little mystery about me. If I gave you all the details what if one of you lands up where I stay? Not that so many people actually read this blog or anything but you know, there are strange people on the internet. Anyway, back to the point. I started an internship and this signals the start of a new series (please don’t bring up an old one. I’m working on it. I swear! *cross my fingers* ). This of course does not mean I shall blog regularly. Come on people, I have A LIFE!! Didn’t I just say I have an internship?

Now that I’ve put that point in your face, let’s move on. This internship is really good opportunity for me. I’m getting to learn a lot of stuff, meet new people, learn about what they do and most importantly, it’s invalidating everything I thought about how life would be when I started work. I mean I was realistic about it, a little at least. But oh no! Life has to show me otherwise. What is it with life anyway? Sometimes I feel that the only job that life has is to prove you wrong. In every single way.

So yes! working in R&D doesn’t mean you churn out new ideas everyday. In fact it’s a lot about looking at old ideas and wondering why they didn’t work or how to make it work. Of course you have new ideas but they involve more work than the old ones and man! is it hard! It’s fun, I’ll admit, to think that all the work you are putting in will one day translate into this amazing work of art (yes I think of cars as art. I think it’s a piece of art that you can actually think of owning. And if you don’t, well why not?). It gives you a certain sense of pride and satisfaction knowing that you were responsible for something that beautiful.

Now while the internship is teaching me a lot of new things about the industry and my subject, it’s also changing the way I live my life. I really feel like I’m growing up. I wake up in the morning(actually morning! I’m up even before the sun! and this is being done voluntarily!!), reach work at a particular time, eat lunch on time, sit in one place for more than 10 mins, talk softly and the list is endless. Basically I’m doing everything(well, almost everything) my mum always wanted me to do. Just that I’m a couple of decades too late(yes yes, I’m hinting at how old I am). So Ma, if you’re reading this, I’ll get married too, just give it a couple of decades *wink*. (I am so going to get a lecture about this tomorrow!)

So for now, I think this is enough. For more details stay tuned to this site (don’t, you’re just giving yourself false hope and waste your time). I’m signing out now. Gotta hit the hay early because I have work tomorrow (that sounds SO weird).