It was just another usual day at home, and my mum was on the phone, engaged in casual conversation with a friend of hers.
Aunty: Oh she is a marketing manager with Goldman Sachs Purnima. They just promoted her, you know. She is thinking of going for an MBA also. To America. Oh, I can’t wait to start looking for her!
Mom: He makes some films and music videos and he is selling T-shirts.
Aunty (shocked): What are you saying Purnima! Selling T-shirts?
Mom (depressed): Yes.
Aunty: Is Varun a salesman, Purnima?
Mom (almost going to cry): Something like that.
Aunty: Haw. Should I speak to Varun?
Mom: Will you? Oh, I’m so worried all the time. He doesn’t listen to me ya.
Aunty: Arre, I can’t believe this. I must ask Aparna to meet him sometime also.
Mom: Thank you ya, I don’t know what to do. Who will marry him now?
Conversations like these aren’t new to me. When I was in the 12th standard, I decided I would study filmmaking. I applied to a bunch of film schools, but forgot that it wasn’t so easy to do what you like in this country. My parents were quick to trash all my plans, and I was forced to study four torturous long years of engineering. I didn’t give up and started my first venture — a film production company called Last Minute Films — while still in college.
After graduation, I started my second venture Alma Mater. My mum didn’t know about my little company until about three months into running it. When she did find out, she freaked. My dad’s perception of me as a t-shirt salesman changed only when we were profiled in a leading business daily. The company is now India’s largest firm for School and College merchandise and worth 2 million dollars.
I eventually wrote a book about my experiences called “How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-Founded a Million Dollar Company”. Thankfully the book did well and became a National Bestseller. But more importantly it helped people like me to go out there and live their dreams.
Be it filmmaking or starting my own company, I have gone through a lot, which only makes me wonder at how difficult it is to pursue your own dreams in this country. To me, India at 64 is a country which is still very insecure. Success here is defined by a plush job with a multinational, or if you have aced your CET. Right from school, we’ve always been taught to follow the system, and to be very afraid of going against it.
With the advent of the Internet, it’s become easier than ever, to do exactly what you want. But our upbringing has instilled in us such a strong sense of fear that few of us dare to venture out on our own. Most entrepreneurs here are seasoned professionals, having worked for a good 4-5 years for someone else. There are no college dropouts like Zuckerberg or Gates, and you’re treated like an outcast if you even dream of doing so. Our generation talks like the American, acts like him, but when it comes down to actually doing what they want, most turn into pussies. We can’t boast of 18-year-old inventors, or 24-year-old billionaires. In fact, even now when my partner and I go to meet potential investors, the first question we are asked is, “How old are you?” In spite of the fact that there is a 25-year-old guy who started Facebook when he was 18, and is now worth 10 billion dollars.
Things are changing no doubt, but in remote pockets. What needs to be changed is the way we are brought up. I believe that this country will grow up the day our kids are taught not to be scared.
The day the students of this country are encouraged to learn, and not ‘mug’. The day we are taught to lead, and not follow. The day we are taught to think, and not just write exams. I wait to see that day, because when that happens, India won’t be entering retirement age, but will actually be born again.
We will be waiting for you, India.