A Day at Morpheus

I have blogged about the crazy day in Chandigarh but what made that trip worthwhile was the time I got to spend at the Morpheus HQ with Sameer and Nandini. They need no introduction to the world of Indian startups but my admiration for them comes from their different values and way of working than typical VCs and mentors.

After being in touch with Sameer for over a year, he had invited me to be a part of the Morpheus Gang. At this point, I didn’t have a growing startup or anything but somewhere the values matched I guess. What sold me was their focus on entrepreneur’s happiness and not commercial success. In today’s world when the expectations to succeed are pushing great founders to the edge (so many suicide stories come to mind), Morpheus chooses to let them enjoy what they are doing. I knew I wanted to meet them in person at some point but didn’t expect to get the opportunity so soon.

During my 2-3 days stay at their home/office, I got to participate in their startup meetup, meet the core team in the accelerator and spend a lot of time with Sameer, Nandini and their lovely family (super awesome parents and a creative daughter). In this short time, I got to experience their startup philosophy, spiritual bent of mind which expands from their daughter’s progressive school to every aspect of their lifestyle and a peek into what drives them. Right from the success of their original startup to now helping a portfolio of exciting startups, they are doing what they love. In an age where VCs have become a gambling agent, it is refreshing to see their decision to move to a non-financial engagement where startups can gain from their experience without entangling in a financial give and take.

We start as takers – taking from our parents, teachers etc – then become traders – trading work for money and thats where most people stop. But we wanted to evolve to being a giver and thats what our new model focuses on,” Sameer said over a cup of Amla tea. Everything in their home gels with their nonmaterialistic approach to life. He told me how he is researching on unlocking ‘intuition’ in our minds. The conversation went from how he had found some resonance in Sri Aurobindo’s work to how he found that spirituality has lately given him more answers than science. I chit chatted about some crazy parts of my book as well and can’t wait to send him a copy when it prints. He gave me ‘The Life Divine – Sri Aurobindo‘ to read.

morpheus

Next day, he took me to the alternative education school Coveda where his daughter is studying. It is a small school that promotes learning by curiosity and practice as opposed to structured rote learning. It currently has 30 students under various age groups. There are no standards or curriculum. It is run by passionate people (most of who are parents of the kids who study here) who wanted to give their kids a chance to learn in most natural way possible. The philosophy is to help a child become what comes most naturally to her. If this wasn’t an education revolution, then I don’t know what is. To hell with all the political bullshit around ‘free education’ or ‘lets teach India’ blah blah, I wish we could embrace such methodology and be open about it. Sameer rightly pointed that such structures are most likely to flourish only in small numbers, if there would be too many students, the learning and focus on each child would diminish.

No, its not a franchise because thats again not the purpose of this school. It is being run by and for the people who truly care about their children’s learning. Whether it will ever become mainstream is perhaps not the question, but I genuinely hope that we see more of these in all cities soon. Perhaps the next education upheaval in India should not be about a product but changing the perception about education itself. It is hard to describe the ambience or feel of this quaint 5 room school, so I thought I’ll capture it in the lens.

covedapremise covedastudents covedatree covedalibrary

I think I was destined to meet them and it was a new chapter in my journey of self-exploration. I always used to wonder that ‘abhi to kuch achieve kiya hi nahi hai life me‘ but after meeting them I realized that ‘the achievement would be to not feel the need of achieving anymore’. He said that magic happens when your work aligns with your true self. I agree.

  

Tretar 15, a Journey on Rails

[This post is the fifteenth in an ongoing series for Project Tretar. You can read previous posts here]

Happy Independence Day!

Trains are interesting to me and I have used them twice in the book for different purposes. First is the reference to Indian Railways (which always fascinate me by the stories they have to tell) and the other is slightly out of this world. I’ll leave the second one for the book, but here are few lines from the first reference and a snapshot from Chandigarh railway station.

Tretar16 - Railways

What can one say about railway stations? And that too the Indian ones? These harbors of persistent and constant commuting are a true reflection of any country’s populace and so it shouldn’t be surprising to find chaos, crowd, poverty and resilience well and truly alive in here. The bickering and haggling between coolies and travelers might make a first world citizen stare in shock but when such a service is available in abundant supply, who will pay two hundred bucks to carry 5-6 suitcases across three platforms? For fifty rupees or so, one can find many willing porters putting unspeakable weights of luggage on their head and lanky shoulders and run up and down the stairs. If one were to give Olympic medals based on weight-one-can-carry to body-mass ratio, these coolies could probably beat professional weight lifting athletes. When a hungry stomach growls, a body develops the stamina without gym and protein shakes. When one is eating only one meal a day, it’s not a matter of shame to sleep on the station floor with no chaadar. When one is barely making ends meet, hygiene or its lack of thereby becomes a non-issue.

The air was filled with the smell of rodents, tea, sweat, piss and shit. The upper classes grimaced and covered their noses, the common man walked off. Indian railways carry a record 25 million passengers every day. When a train stops at a platform, the class distinction in Indian society manifests itself in the descending and ascending lot of passengers. Couple of elites from first AC, a handful of middle classes from second and third AC coaches, a multitude of lower classes from sleeper and general coaches – the constitution displays the fragmented Indian society in its crude reality.

Nistha Tripathi, Seven Conversations

  

Stop chasing and panicking

Diary: 5 Aug, 2014

I have long lost the illusion that you control your life. Today was a great example of having that notion reinforced. When I had reached Chandigarh on 2nd, the plan was to see Kasauli on 5th. I was there with my camera and others were there, the car was there and the weather too. But plans don’t define what happens in real time. Suddenly, fever intervened and leave apart visiting Kasauli, I had to decide upon leaving back for home as soon as possible. I had no tickets but only a vague sense of desperation to reach home before things got worse.

After booking next day’s flight ticket from Delhi in a rush, I had decided to leave for Delhi with a friend by car on 5th morning. At 7am, the friend messaged that he is more feverish than me. Now, I am in Chandigarh with a flight ticket but have no way to reach Delhi first. Any travel by road takes at least 5-6 hours. Internet comes to the rescue – I got up and searched for trains. There popped up a Shatabdi at 12pm that would reach Delhi at 3:20pm. With a flight to catch at 6pm and simply no other option, this was the only way I could try. I had heard about the Delhi Metro running between the train station and airport and it was time to try it out. I took the medicines, called the cab and headed to Chandigarh station, bought a ticket for Shatabdi and sat down at the station.

But it was a different day as well (because yesterday and day before yesterday were different – more on that later). None of it made me panic. As the plans were falling apart in front of me, something in me was smiling because all this was only showing me what I already knew - you don’t control life, you can only try. And I was trying. If it worked out, good…if not, somehow I didn’t bother yet. In normal days, I would have sat there with nearly an hour and a half to go, fidgeting and grumbling but there I was, taking photographs. It wasn’t Kasauli but it was a place with its own story. I clicked many pictures and time flew by. Once on Shatabdi, I figured out next steps on how to take the Metro and then got lost into music and scenery outside the window. I still didn’t care what would happen if I miss the flight. I had no direct acquaintances in Delhi but I was still not going to think about it. I had lunch on the train (which was surprisingly good) and I had a peaceful time.

Rain at Chandigarh Startion

The guy next to me started chatting as we were about to reach Delhi and we talked about some stuff here and there. He was trying to get into Army and wondered why I had come back from US. Brief and interesting conversation. The train halted somewhere in the outer region and again, the clock was ticking by. It was getting close and although the thought of getting out and taking a cab to NDLS crossed my mind, I decided that action is not always the best course. We talked again some more. It was almost 3:40pm by the time train hit NDLS on platform 1. We got out together since he was going to take a Metro to Noida. We discovered that Metro station is all the way on the back and it meant crossing to platform number 16. There are no escalators in NDLS and we started walking again and fast. I was thankful for packing minimally as I always do. I could lift my luggage without needing anyone’s help. When we reached the Metro station, it was only 3:55pm. After parting our ways, I walked to the Airport Express line. By 4pm, I was down in the Metro station waiting for next Metro train. By 4:30pm, I was in the T3 terminal and by 4:55pm, I was outside the gate number 29B from where my flight was supposed to depart.

I sat down with a piping hot Americano at Delhi Streat (which sucked). I had made it on time against all odds or rather something had made it for me. Although I’m fairly strong and a risk taker, I used to panic enough and often in life. But it doesn’t make things better. Sometimes, it is just better to do your part and be happy with it. Kasauli didn’t happen because it is not yet time for me to see it. The railway stations and airport looked as charming to me today. Perhaps my fever had got into my head. Perhaps not.

Perhaps it is better to not try to control everything in life. Perhaps it is time to stop chasing and start catalyzing miracles. Yes, I think it was a good trip.

  

Tretar 14, Empathize

[This post is the fourteenth in an ongoing series for Project Tretar. You can read previous posts here]

tretar-empathy

In the times of most pain, I have looked around and taken strength from the people who know struggle and have embraced life on top of it. It is this empathy that makes you value life for what it is. Life is neither a fairyland nor a devil’s inferno – it is a journey touching upon both, swinging between the highs and lows; a journey whose reward is simply in living it without judging for good or bad.

One of my friends used to say that it is not the big setbacks or tragedies that break a man, it is the daily drudgery of life that weighs you down. It is this drudgery or our perception of it that needs to be changed. And your biggest contribution can be to reduce the burden of this drudgery on others. By understanding or caring for someone’s pain, you can make it lighter for both of you. When you have felt the pain yourself, you can identify it in the eyes of others.  You will come across the ones that will make you realize that yours wasn’t unprecedented. And that in your pain, you are united with million others, those who speak in silence.

And, I am not talking about someone suffering from a physical pain or malady, someone who has just hit a tragedy – no, I am talking about the everyday circumstances and life. Everyone is facing some pain point and is sad over something. Life is not easy for everyone but the struggles vary from manageable to more pressing. This sabziwalah in Chandni Chowk just worries about having enough to feed his family everyday.  There’s no need to be sympathetic towards another person but it takes a lot of understanding and sensitivity to  be compassionate. Perhaps this says it best-

We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they sufferDietrich Bonhoeffer

I believe that empathy is the core of being a human and that one cannot truly love unless he can understand the pain of another person.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

P.S. Life is short. Make it count.

  

Revisiting Special Home for Girls

After almost a year of my work with Uplift Humanity, I found myself once again at the local girls’ special home facility in Indore, this time to hand the scholarship money to Babita – last year’s winner. Last year, we had worked with 8 girls on soft skills and other social topics such as depression, confidence, self-defense etc. I had revisited the facility on my birthday in Feb to meet all the girls. Time flies by, I was excited to find out how everyone was doing; are they closer to their goals?

First part of today’s visit was pleasant. I saw the smiling faces of some of my old friends who were still there. The warden proudly asked Jassi and her sisters to show the dresses they have been designing lately. And I was floored! The kurtis were designed and stitched by the girls and looked professional. Jassi informed, with a smile, that she is trying to get into the fashion designing course at a local college. There was a shortage of funds to support her and with God’s grace, we had someone close at hand who agreed to be her donor.

photo 2 photo 1

I am very impressed with how Mrs Sapre (their warden) takes a personal interest in the progress of these girls. What is nice about this special home is that efforts are made to not only support these children but ensure they can be independent. I feel extremely glad that Jassi, like her sisters, would be able to pursue a career of her choice. One of her sisters might land an opportunity to visit Scotland this Sep and she is feeling anxious due to her weak English. I am hoping I will be able to coach her (or other) girls in improving their English. Similarly, efforts are underway to get girls into their choice of careers where they can sustain themselves. Babita is giving PAT, BPT, Vet exams etc and we wish that her scholarship would help her inch closer towards independence.

So far so good but then we received some heart-breaking news. One of the 8 girls we had coached last year was taken back home by her parents and she ended up committing suicide. I vividly remember her, she was the kho-kho star I had mentioned in my last blog post. I cannot believe such a talented and confident girl could take such a step unless something drastic had happened. But no one knows. She told no one why. I could not stop thinking how active and good she was.

This is not about her alone – this is, unfortunately, the story of our male centric society. Girls die everyday – some physically, some emotionally – they are not anyone’s priority. What kind of society are we? It is ironical – in today’s episode of Mahabharata, Draupadi was telling Duryodhana how Dusshashan’s execution was a proof that India will not tolerate disrespect of women. How times have changed – no one fights for women (leave apart their respect, not even their right to breathe peacefully) anymore. And yet, how little has it changed – this society has and will keep wronging Draupadi. What gives us right to deny another human being the desire to live? No coaching on depression or confidence can work if we continue to forgive such crimes. 

There are still more girls who need help to stand on their feet. And if you would like to contribute to this cause, please drop me a message and I will match you to one of the candidates who deserves to be helped.