It was just another usual day at home, and my mum was on the phone, engaged in casual conversation with Anu Aunty. (In India, these phone conversations between aunties tend to move in the direction of the accomplishments of their children, whether they are in school, college, working, or even married).
I remember when I was in the 6th standard, my mom was telling me about Anu Aunty beaming over her son Arjun, who stood 2nd in class, and had the teachers raving over him at the Parent-Teacher Meet. Unfortunately I never beat Arjun, and couldnít give my mum the chance for a comeback.
Returning to the latest phone conversation, which went something like this:
Anu Aunty: So Purnima, what are your children upto?
Mom: Ah, nothing much Anu, the elder one is doing an MBA, and the younger one is studying at Christ.
Anu Aunty: OMG, I still remember them as little kids Poo! But what about Varun?
Mom: He is doing some work Anu. Whatís Arjun doing?
Anu Aunty: Oh he is a marketing manager with Info*** Purnima. They just promoted him, you know. He is thinking of going for an MBA also. To America. Oh, I canít wait to start looking for him! (The guyís only 24, and sheís thinking of marriage).
Mom: Arre wah. Iím so proud of Arjun. (She isnít really). Why donít you get him home sometime?
Anu Aunty: I will, I will. But what is our Varun upto?
(This is the moment most women wait for all their lives. The comeback. This is what my mom wanted to say: "Oh, your son is in Info***? My sonís working for Microsoft in USA. Haha. Beat that.")
This is what she actually said.
Mom: He makes some films and music videos, Anu. And he is selling T-shirts.
Anu Aunty (shocked): What are you saying Purnima! Selling T-shirts?
Mom (depressed): Yes, Anu.
Anu Aunty: Is Varun a salesman, Purnima?
Mom (almost going to cry): Something like that, Anu.
Anu Aunty: Haw. Should I ask Biju (her husband) to speak to Varun?
Mom: Will he, Anu? Oh Iím so worried all the time. He doesn't listen to me, Anu.
Anu Aunty: Arre, I canít believe this. I must ask Arjun to meet him sometime also.
Mom: Thank you, Anu. I donít know what to do. Who will marry him now??
Conversations like these arenít new to me. When I was in the 12th standard, I decided I would study filmmaking. I applied to a bunch of colleges, but forgot that it wasnít 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 naturally didnít want to give up on my passion, so I started making films whenever I got the time during engineering - which seemed to be filled with never-ending tests. There were times I got so depressed I was on the verge of breaking into some tragic Bollywood song. Using the best ďfilmyĒ emo dialogue I could muster, I got my mum to buy me a camera. After I got the camera, I taught myself to write, shoot and edit film.
In 2007, I made a music video for one of Indiaís top rock bands, Pentagram. The video got noticed, and was played on VH1 like 51 times a day. (Actually 51 times a day!). A production company in Bombay saw the video, and flew me down to offer me a full time job to direct. Not to be some assistant or intern, but to actually start directing. I was 20 years old then. My mum still wasnít convinced, and asked me to come back to finish my engineering.
In 2009 I decided to start a company with one of my friends. Yet again, I faced a lot of opposition from both family and friends. It was an E-commerce company, and no one around me got it. The idea was born over a drunken night at one of Bangaloreís famous pubs ĎNoon Winesí. We actually wrote down the entire business plan on a piece of tissue. Ideas like these are born every time young, enthusiastic entrepreneurial minds meet up over drinks. But in the light of day, everything fizzles out.
Thankfully for us, it didnít.
My mum didnít know about my little company until about 3 months into running it. When she did find out, she freaked. My dad thought I was a t-shirt salesman only until recently, when we were profiled in the Economic Times.
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, weíve always been taught to follow the system, and to be very afraid of going against it.
With the advent of the internet itís 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 youíre 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 canít 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, ďHow old are you?Ē 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 Ďmugí. 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 wonít be entering retirement age, but will actually be born again.
We will be waiting for you, India.