Bitter Pill

There are a lot of romantic stories about entrepreneurship which have sprung up over the last decade. Things have started working out for people. The success stories keep you pumped up in hope of that elusive finish line. Despite everything, most entrepreneurs believe, and very strongly, that eventually things will work out. What no one prepares you for is what will happen in the meantime.

Overall, I have been quite a lucky guy. Things have worked out most of the times despite me not having put any effort or mind to it whatsoever. But there have been times when I have been shown the mirror.

It is at moments like those that you rewind and rethink your entire life choices in a flash. You start questioning if what you are doing is actually worth it. You think about how much happiness you could have created if only you had chosen a different path.

Taxi fare

Bombay was always good to me. It took care of me and never let me get into the sort of suicidal mode that most programs on the rapid-pace-of-life keep talking about. It all changed that day.

My grand-dad was in Bombay for his throat cancer treatment. He was a shadow of of his usual slow but sure self. One fine evening, I boarded a black and yellow taxi from Bandra to head to Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital in Worli where he was being treated. The ride was pretty uneventful and as is almost routine, neither of us had change for the taxi fare.

I reacted the way most people react, headed off to the nearest paan shop to buy cigarettes. Two minutes later, my hand was outstretched with the exact amount I owed to the driver. He looked at the money, then looked at me and said,

Saab, aap itne bade cancer hospital mein aaye ho. Jaroor aapke ghar mein koi bimaar hoga. Ye sab kuch dekh kar bhi aap shayad cigarette pee sakte hain par main aise paise nahin le sakta. Bhagwan ke liye ye aadat chod dijiye.

And then he left. I was still standing by the side of that road watching the taxi disappear into the rising melee of Bombay rush hour.

Call of the mountains

I had joined Pragya with much anticipation. I was going back to the Himalayas! This was just perfect. Not to say that I wasn’t flattered with the fact that I was clearly the most qualified person in the entire place. There was much respect and enthusiasm about me and that helped my ego a bit (c’mon who wouldn’t love it). We made grand plans and I helped sort out all the problems we had been having in the field for years. All in all, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

Things began to turn when I went to Tawang. Far out in the east of the country, it is one of the most beautiful places I have been to. And one of the most difficult. I wasn’t there for the natural beauty. I was there to make changes, to implement the plans that I helped draw up with repeated assurances that these are easily achievable.

Two months went by and there wasn’t much to show except daily travels to deeper and deeper portions of the territory. There wasn’t much development I did. It was pathetic.

If I had to rate myself, I would have given myself a negative five for effort and negative hundred for results.

I was getting nowhere. So I did what I do best. Pick up a defensive position and align myself to something completely irrelevant to deflect focus.

I picked a bone with the management about convoluted goals and bad treatment of employees. I made myself the messiah of the team. Anything which allowed me to hold on to the exalted position I had created for myself. I hemmed and hawed till it reached a boiling point. Then, I left. And no matter how I looked at it the day after, it looked rather sucky. If there was one time I truly failed, it was that.

To be fair, I still think Pragya’s way of working is extremely crappy, out of touch with reality and focused on getting funding. The way they treat their people is worse. I am sure they think they have a good reason but I didn’t see any of that.

Milk for your kids

One balmy autumn evening in Delhi, I was sitting in the rather ramshackle offices of Development Alternatives, a leading non-profit doing some great work in central India. As I sat there waiting to meet one last gentleman before I would enter the world of dusty village roads, education for women and livelihoods for youth again, I did not have a shred of a doubt about this being the correct place for me. Then, he entered.

He wasn’t half interested in knowing my capabilities or where I have worked before. His only problem with me was I wouldn’t last. It was reason enough for me to feel outraged. I had slogged it out for 4 months in the field. How dare he question my commitment? Just when I was about to hit him with a brick, he asked me.

What will you do when you don’t have money to buy milk for your kid?

I blinked. Sure life is not going to be THAT tough, is it? As if sensing the question in my head, he said, this has already happened. To him. I did not know what to say. Truth is, this was all an extended holiday for me. I wasn’t thinking what good is going to come out of it. I just wanted to do it. To be fair, I am glad I did it. But that one moment shook something inside me.

I worked with them for close to a year. I came to know some of the people there rather closely. And I realized that the question he asked me arose more often than I wanted to believe. People still persevered and I loved that. I am not sure if I would have been able to.

Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

All the above stories came rushing back to me last week after a particularly scathing conversation with my mother. She is like most Indian mothers – straightforward, simple and paranoid. And deep inside she is of firm belief that my actions over the last year has basically led to immense grief to my brother.  Also, it is due to me that he is not getting married. And this is not meant in a funny, Bollywood cheesy movie way but in a strong, pointed, stinging way.

It was my misadventure that I wanted to get into travel. It was my initial pushing that my brother joined me into the fray. And it was entirely my stupidity that I did all this without thinking twice. I still do not know anything about the industry. My brother, having been in the travel sector as a mid-level operational person, does not have seeds of an entrepreneur. He was to be the operations person. The selling was for me. And I did not make anything of it.

So here we are today one year later. Broke, or thereabouts. New found realization that this whole shindig is going to take much longer than we thought. And that its high time he got married.

Penniless and blue is not the best state to get married in.

My mother showed me the mirror which I was trying to avoid. I am starting to think maybe this IS my doing. The part that sucks is I still don’t know what to do about it.

I hope the results are better this time.

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