Out of the BOX
They have dared to
dream, and grasp their dreams. They have let go the security of familiar
and comfortable jobs to answer their calling. Smriti
Kak Ramachandran meets the go-getters, who have set out on a
an eponymous fairy tale, Rumpeltstiltskin offered to spin gold from
straw in return for first valuables and later the first born. That was
then. The similarity between the present and the past is the ability to
spin gold. And it ends there. Rumpelstiltskin today is more like a Robin
Hood who wants to give something back to society.
An unusual tale this.
Of those who toil hard, romance risk and put at stake what have you. A
small, but significant number, who care to follow their convictions, not
the beaten path. All for the sake of a dream, a conviction.
To the deterrents and
sceptics, the bulwark was an overpowering determination. A management
expert quitting his hard-earned position, an engineer giving it up for
the arclights, a landlordís son opting to teach in the slums and the
list goes on.
When Arvind Kejriwal
decided to take a sabbatical to plunge headlong into what he felt
strongly about, his parents were sceptical. A Joint Commissioner in the
Department of Income Tax wanting to take a break to pursue the cause of
the common man was not their idea of prudence.
Almost around the same
time, Vimlendu Jhaís parents had similar concerns. Why should their
son want to leave a "plush job with a fat salary" for a cause
that affects everyone, yet belongs to no one, they wondered.
"Everyone wants a
Bhagat Singh in society, yet no one wants their son to be that Bhagat
Singh," says Jha, speaking as if on cue for the others.
Kanishka Sharma, Photo by Rakesh Sahai
Management to martial
Kanishka Sharma set up
the first Shaolin Temple in Delhi.
It is not everyday that
a gold medallist management student from Holland gives it all up to
settle for a pay packet that has at least two zeros less than what he
earlier took home. But Kanishka Sharma did that and more. He not only
took a U-turn in his career to do what he aspired to do but is also
continuously striving to dispel myths about what he loves best: marital
"Martial arts is
not about kicks and punches nor is it what it has been reduced to,
sports and games. Martial arts is a discipline... a way of life and this
is what I am trying hard to explain to people," he says.
The 27-year-old is the
first and only Indian to train at the world-famous Shaolin Temple in
China. Having secured MBA from Holland, he gave up a well paying job
with Reliance in 2001 to pursue martial arts full time, a decision most
would agree is unconventional.
"I received a lot
of support from my mother and my father always said do what you are
happy doing but people were sceptical also. I also knew that in trying
to swim against the current, I might fail and then people would say we
told you so."
Kaniskha today boasts
of several TV shows, a teaching academy and is working towards
"building a replica of the Shaolin Temple Secular Discipline in the
city, which should be ready in six months."
The thought of giving
it all up for martial arts was a long thought over idea, he claims.
"After my father passed away I resolved to learn in China. My
mother stood by me and so did Anil Ambani, whom I approached for
Today the tough
training sessions have paid off and Kanishka helps people beat stress.
"I impart training in schools and corporates. I tell them how
martial arts can help them become better at what they are doing. It is a
discipline that increases efficiency and lowers stress and anger. It
helps you become more productive and responsible."
Claiming to be a living
example of success attained through this discipline, Kanishka, who has
also taught film star Akshay Kumar Shaolin Kung Fu and Nuay Thai, is
determined to give martial arts the respect it deserves as he gets
together his "army of spiritual warriors".
For an alternative
Arvind Kejriwal, a
civil servant, runs Parivaratan.
"I would love to
give it all up, if only someone were to assure me of a means of living
because Parivartan is not a source for making money. I have to think of
something before I bow out of service but I know for sure that I cannot
juggle like this forever," says Kejriwal, who has been on
extraordinary leave from service to help people find an alternative to
Kejriwal, who started
Parivartan in January 2000, says, "I firmly believe that there is a
way out without having to bribe." Parivartan began with volunteers
and today is a movement. "I refuse to turn it into an NGO because
I want to be accountable to the people, not to the donors," says
Kejriwal, who instead of fighting on behalf of people has begun helping
them fight for themselves.
"We changed the
modus operandi because we began to see ourselves as touts who do not
charge. Now we help people do the paperwork and seek their rights,"
he says, recalling their first victory. "We helped Ashok Gupta get
a new electricity connection that was refused to him for the last three
years because he refused to pay a bribe of Rs 5000. Armed with the Right
to Information Act, we got the connection in 10 days."
"We are living in
a society of extortionists where the common man is not allowed to live
honestly," he points out, citing the reason for his venture.
Engineered to act
Sachin Gupta gave up
software engineering to pursue theatre.
While his batchmates
negotiated for higher salaries, Sachin Gupta told his employers that he
would leave office at six each evening. "It was like a
precondition, I have to rehearse and therefore I had be out of the
office at sharp six," he recalls.
Bitten by the acting
bug, Sachin, a software engineer, refused to give up his passion even
when Uncle Sam came calling. "My job in the US was finalised but I
knew I could not juggle theatre with work in the US, so I stayed
behind," he says.
After a slew of jobs
with various media houses, Sachin finally followed his inner calling and
today at 27, he runs his own troupe and a magazine dedicated to the
my group, was born in March 2003. Inspired by a true story I debuted
with the play Celebration of Life. I began as a one man team and
within days of auditioning was ready with the play," says Sachin,
who has also received an award for the play.
Sachin, who has done it
all from voiceovers to travel shows, from scripting to production claims
nothing makes him happier than Theatre Pasta, his magazine, which
has just been launched and the thrill of taking his works to different
"I am trying to
take the play to Canada and am also looking forward to a theatre
festival in July," he says, adding that "it is all about
following your dreams and being the best thereafter."
Call for change
Vimlendu Jha, a
Sanskrit scholar, runs an NGO.
Born in Bihar, he came
to Delhi to study. His parents wanted him to become an engineer while he
opted to study Sanskrit at St Stephenís. "I knew I did not want
to be an engineer but did not know what else to do. I had never heard of
social work or NGOs,"confesses Jha.
His journey began when
he was paid money to go to Himachal Pradesh for a month by an NGO.
"It was a paid holiday but I returned wiser. I reflected on life
and saw what I never wanted to see."
Back in Delhi, Jha got
involved in the Naramada Bachao Aandolan and anti-nukes protests.
"There was the Chamoli quake and the Kargil war. We began
collecting funds and managed to raise Rs 15 lakh for the victims of the
quake," he recalls.
Balancing studies and
his calling, Jha walked a tight rope. "My parents were not happy.
The press clippings that I religiously sent home failed to impress them
and they perhaps began to think that I lacked the calibre to crack the
civil service examination and all this activism was an eyewash."
Jha, who founded We for
Yamuna in August 2000, began with one person and today has a
full-fledged NGO. "We registered it as Swechha Ė We for Change
Foundation. We run courses for schools, earn money in elite schools and
spend it in MCD schools, take children for yatras and with the help of
an interactive curriculum teach them the relationship between man and
nature," he says.
And the course of his
journey was not a bed of roses. "I quit my job in December 2003...
for three years I spent from own pocket and even made paper bags to
generate money," he recalls.
Passionate about the
environment and the Yamuna, Jha spent many nights sleeping at the New
Delhi railway station because it was too late to return home.
Abdul Mabood quit
teaching for counselling.
something about me that makes people confide in me. I donít know what,
perhaps it is the reassurance that I will never reveal their secret to
anyone," says Abdul Mabood, director of Snehi, an organisation for
psycho-social support and mental health care.
For someone who
wrestled mathematical formulae and theorems, grappling with stress and
emotional ammunition was not on agenda till a friend lost her battle to
stress and bid farewell to life.
"I was wrecked...
while returning home from her funeral I resolved that I have to do
something about stress and the lack of social support in society. People
find themselves alone with no one to talk to and so I returned to Delhi
with an aim to help," says Mabood.
Money was short but the
will to succeed and the support he received from his parents made up for
it. "My friends thought I had lost my mind. How could anyone quit
their job to counsel people, they failed to understand."
perseverance his middle name and continued his tryst. "My
grandfather gave up zamindari to join Gandhiji in the Freedom Movement,
this was the least I could do," says Mabood, who came to Delhi from
Champaran in Bihar.
"Honey Oberoi from
the Delhi Universityís psychology department helped me, she put me
through Professor Pal, who trained us for a month and helped us lay the
foundation of Snehi in 1994. And we have not looked back since," he
Snehi, which has done
pioneering work in the field of telecounselling, will soon begin
training programmes for counselling. "There is an acute dearth of
trained professionals in this field, we are aiming at filling that
gap," he says.
"mental illness will acquire epidemic proportions in the
country," he says, "we want both the government and the
individuals to take mental health more seriously. We need counsellors
who can work where psychiatrists cannot."
Mabood is concerned
that people have failed to recognise that mental illness is not just a
health issue but a social problem. "Stress has too many causes but
the remedy lies in reaching out."
Zamindari to slum care
Suraj Yadav, a rich
landlordís son, teaches in the slums.
When Suraj Yadav took
his friends home (Khagaria in Bihar) for a holiday, they were greeted
not by garlands and placards but by "more than a 100 people on
His awestruck friends
found the welcome befitting royalty but for the village it was the norm,
the way to welcome the "zamindarís son". Suraj, who is
reluctant to talk about his patrimony, has concerns that include
"health and education for the slum dwellers." Suraj runs 20
centres under his NGO called Ank, which educates children of
slum-dwellers in Delhiís southern parts under the Sarva Shiksha
"We never managed
to persuade him to join us for a movie but he has managed to rope in all
of us to teach his children," says Kuntal Krishna, spokesperson of
the National Studentís Union of India (NSUI) and an active AIDS
awareness campaigner. Kuntalís own story bears a similarity to Surajís.
"My parents wanted me to become a doctor or an IAS officer but I
chose politics and social awareness." From counselling drug addicts
to raising funds for the victims of calamities, from organising AIDS
awareness campaigns to motivating the youth for effective participation,
Kuntal sees himself as a harbinger of "change."
"The youth has to
come forward, whether it is for politics or poverty alleviation. One
person motivating the other is all we want. Society has plenty of
doctors and engineers...we need crusaders."