How and where does one find peace and quiet in a program designed to put one through an endless grind of case discussions, lectures, speaker events and committee meetings? Where is the scope for me-time when you’ve willingly paid a good fortune to sign-up for non-stop interactions in class rooms, syndicate rooms and seminar rooms for months on end?
Yoga and meditation at 4am?
Curling up inside a blanket at 10pm?
Deep breathing, anytime, anywhere?
Maybe. Or perhaps, if the city you are in is Ahmedabad, and the institute you’re from is IIMA, then you might consider creating an hour-and-a-half window after lunch on a Sunday before Ramzan, to make a quick spur-of-the-moment pilgrimage to Sidi Saiyyed Mosque in the Lal Darwaza area of the old walled city of Ahmedabad.
And of course, there is the minor incentive of going to the fountainhead of the famous Tree of Life, an intricate marble and stone lattice-work carving that adorns the mosque.
Friends have other plans, but an executive decision is made, and soon the auto arrives in a busy market square as the driver points to the famous landmark before turning a corner to drop you off in front of the mosque. As you enter the compound, there is an area to leave one’s footwear and a small water tank to its left where the people arriving to pray gently wash their feet before going in. You wonder if you should do the same. As you scan the beige stone building in front of you, it is the quotidian simplicity that strikes you at first glance.
It has been an hour since the mass mid-day prayer ended but there still are a few people inside, praying, reflecting, reclining and sleeping. As one enters the building, a board hung nearby informs visitors that Sidi Saiyyed mosque was constructed by the namesake, an Abyssinian general in 1572. So, people have only been coming here for about the last 440 years!
Walking around gingerly and mindfully, one looks at the 30-foot high domes, set in a 3×3 grid underpinned by large columns, still in very good shape, considering their multi-centennial vintage. The modest stone structure has endured wear and tear but has aged quite gracefully, and the Archaeological Survey of India deserves some credit for the same. The IIMA campus itself goes back over 50 years, with its famed traditional red brick-based, geometry-inspired construction old enough now to be called the Heritage campus, in contrast to the adjacent, modular, concrete-built New campus that I currently call home, which was constructed in the past two decades.
Plonking oneself down into a corner, I take in the sights: a small curved recess in the center of the wall in the direction of Mecca, various religious signage, palm motifs and engravings, anachronistic fans and fluorescent lamps hanging from the ceiling, pigeons fluttering to the roof and back, even as men of all ages pray and rest. Many silent and contemplative minutes pass amid the intermittent noise of honking cars and a weekend market bustle on the road behind.
Suddenly a squirrel wanders up next to me: do you belong here, it seems to wink at me?
I think to myself: well, I’m just here to find a few minutes of spiritual beauty, faith and love as a respite from weeks on end of studying organizational power, profit and strategy.
Taking a break from corporate life, I’m one of over hundred ambitious and experienced professionals who’ve invested one year of our lives in an intensive, high-contact, full-time MBA program to supercharge our careers. And sometimes it’s hard to think that every now and then, what you need most is a short break from this break!
In a world that’s seeing ever-increasing technological transformation and disruption, a new flavor of the day everyday, with rapidly-shrinking attention spans barely sufficient to even obsessively check the next WhatsApp message, tweet or Instagram update, it’s not just quaint, but rare to find such an accessible and amazing place – which has been witness to so much over four hundred years – that epitomizes longevity and sustainability.
A veritable oasis for thirsty souls like me.
And after those precious moments of reflection and quiet inspiration in an ancient mosque, it’s time to head back to a temple of modern management.
And so, my journey continues, but as I do, I can’t help but wonder about a study in contrasts: three edifices built in three centuries using three materials. Each has inspired thousands, and shall inspire many more to come.
This has been written by Srihari Sumaithangi, a participant in PGPX Co 2018.