Today, India steps out of its comfort zone
Dec 31 2013 , New Delhi
As individual beliefs and ideologies assert themselves, aspiration often finds itself treading a road less taken
But what’s definitely new is that the aspirations of Indians have taken on bolder hues and refuse to be bound by tradition. Easy money, which would satisfy materialistic aspirations, are increasingly been given a skip over individual beliefs and ideologies that often require treading the road less taken. And this growing band of believers is prepared to rough it.
Case in point is Ritika Singh, who moved cities — from Kolkata to Delhi — chasing her dreams. Singh, whose voice is not something that one could fit in the conventional mould, aspired to be a singer. Had she been born in the times when aspirations stood at the wings, waiting for perfection, gazing longingly at the star on stage, she would still be in Kolkata. As things went, Singh stood in the good company of dream shapers. She found fellow band-mates who thrilled in her freak-folkish voice. Thus was born Space, a three-act band that — much like the aspirations today — sets its own rules. But still, being a singer was until quite recently a part time occupation for Singh, something she indulged in during the weekends, while doing nine-to-fiver to pay her rent.
“To say it’s a struggle to make ends meet now is actually an understatement. But I thought if I don’t do it now, I’d never get around to doing this. If things don’t pan out, I could always say I tried,” says Singh.
That she gave up her regular income says a lot about the turn of tide when it comes to aspirations these days. “But it’s a niche, we are talking about,” says Pankaj Mullick, who also gave up his job in a reputed media house in last March after almost two decades to start Art Collide, a platform to share, discuss, incubate and create collaborations involving multiple disciplines of art.
Society at large is still insisting that its sons and daughters travel the time-tested route – that of an engineer or a doctor. The moment Ashish Yadav, who hails from a non-descript village in the hinterlands of Haryana, Narnaul, was recognised as a prodigy of sorts, his society and family zeroed in on a doctor or an engineer for him.
But when it came to dreaming, even sky was not the limit for this 19-year-old: he wanted to become an astronaut. Only, Narnaul, not used to the likes of Yadav, laughed. So he went through the rigmarole. He appeared for pre-medical examination last year and was ranked 37th in India. To be sure, he had also appeared for IIT entrance exam and got an all-India rank of 112. But he also did not lose sight of his dream.
When the family’s demands of him were satisfied, he went after his dream and sat for the Indian Institute of Space Aeronautics and Technology competition organised by the Indian Space Research Organisation. When he cleared it, his confidence grew and he applied for Nasa’s astronaut programme and became one among the three students selected from India for a three-year fully-funded programme in America.
Hard work, Yadav ticks off — rightly so — made this possible. “But I must also say I found that the more people criticised me or mocked me, the more determined I became to achieve my goal. You see, I believed in what Abdul Kalam said, ‘Dreams are not which you see while sleeping, but those which don’t let you sleep until and unless you achieve them’.”
Hrishikesh Pawar’s moment of decision extraordinaire came when he tucked his hotel management degree deep into his pocket and pursued dancing professionally. Having trained in kathak since he was nine years old, he knew instinctively that only in dance he would find soul-enriching career. But, although his family gave him enough freedom, it also insisted that he should have something to fall back on, in case his dreams come crashing. Thus he spent three years doing hotel management.
“I was a lost soul, but always found meaning in music and dance,” recalls Pawar. With that conviction, he took off to Germany to study contemporary dance at Palucca Schule Hochschule fuer Tanz in Dresden.
Mullick identifies the changing dynamics of the Indian family as one of the biggest reasons why more and more people are stepping away from the expected. “I, for one, have no family to support. This helps in a big way if you are thinking of indulging in something that is purely motivated by passion. Of course, we all want to live comfortably; one cannot escape from material aspirations. But at the end of the day, I want to be doing something that sustains my soul as well. That requires stepping out of the comfort zone. That requires trusting your gut feel,” says Mullick.
Soul fulfilling is something that Pawar throws at you as well when he talks about working with Parkinson’s disease patients or with street children. To him projects like these are a natural progression of his ideology. “I came back, set up Centre of Contemporary Dance, Kala Chhaya, in Pune, took up whatever came my way and was staging commercial dance shows. I could have been content with that, but I was not. I want to take dance to the real world.”
While passion is almost always the trigger that pushes these out-of-the-box aspirations forward, it also becomes clear that these dream shapers are not banking on it alone to succeed in their chosen fields.
When Dhritabrata Bhattacharjya Tato left his comfort zone — a job as deputy at French Embassy — to pursue his dreams, he agrees that it was his passion for books that guided him. But according to him, Daastaan, the indie-publishing house that he started with a group of friends, is a calculated risk as well. Having worked in the field long enough, Tato says they knew that they had a winner at hand if played right.
“Of course, we could never be as successful as a commercial publishing house. But the reason why we started Daastaan is because there is a market for our kind of books. And we do other things as well to keep us above the water —we consult, for instance, on conducting book festivals. What we strive to do is grow organically. Personally, it gives me great satisfaction because I have always been moved by words and I am with like-minded people who do not just want to make money. We support a lot of projects that aim at promoting reading.”
Pushing boundaries of dreams so that it could lead to an alternate way of living is also an addiction that the practioners hope will afflict more people and thus create an environment conducive to better life. Ayush Chauhan, an IIM and IIT graduate, gave up his job with ICICI Bank to start design studios, Quicksand and Codesign, along with a bunch of like-minded people. He says greater innovation is only possible with collaborations that look beyond the obvious. Brainstorming over what could be done led to UnBox festival.
As festivals go, UnBox is extraordinary. It puts together creative minds with the unfailing belief that its resonance will be felt in the society. The participants undertake projects from different fields: for instance, one such project tackled ways to present the research outcomes of PRS Legislative Research, which provides independent research support to members of Parliament and members of Legislative Assemblies in a way that is more accessible to the public.
“We weren’t aiming at a grandstand spectacle. It is our genuine desire to see people from various backgrounds work on something that can help a community, and turnaround an idea into a powerful concept. It is something that education should have tackled, but unfortunately it doesn’t. UnBox is the outcome of our efforts,” says Chauhan.
The festival that began in 2011 has grown “steadily” over the years — in 2011, the festival saw 200 participants and 2,000 visitors. In 2013, it saw close to 300 participants and 5,000 visitors.
According to Chauhan, right now, India is both difficult and exciting. Sure, more believers would have made it an easier journey. But the fact that one is forced to take blind turns, leaving breadcrumbs in the wake for others to follow, keeps these trendsetters on their toes. That this might not translate immediately into a rich lifestyle that conventional aspirations are made of hardly seems to matter.
“It is not true if I say I — or my firms — do not gain. The more we interact the more we take our vision forward. Life would definitely be a lot deeper and intense. What can be more rewarding than that?”