Month: June 2016

This 43 year old man, preparing for his HSC will tell you why it’s never too late to start

Month of June. 9AM, the time when sun isn’t killing it. That’s time I was scheduled to meet, for what was supposedly the next amazing story. I travelled to a locality called the Hollywood Basti. A little redundant but happy statement – Hollywood Basti is where we got our first Chaaipani story.

But anyway, Hollywood is a slum in Ahmedabad, well-known for Ganesha and Durga sculpture artists.

Kids are running on the roads, carefree, autowaalas discussing who betrayed whom and I am trying my best to make it on time.

“He leaves for work sharp at 11 am. So you better be there on time”, Kinjal (Founder of Shwas) had told me while giving the lead.

Sharp at 9 am, I meet him. Dhirubhai Solanki.

Some people need to be motivated, some need an inspiration, others need an example and then there is Dhirubhai Solanki. The man who found all he needed, in his own kin.

Born in 1978, Dhirubhai has three sisters.

“Education was and still is an insignificant term for people, where I live”

St. Xavier’s started a social service society around 1980s by Father Francis Braganza. Laxmiji, Dhirubhai’s mother, went to enrol him where this newly formed society was helping kids with difficult financial situation and background, pursue education. Looking at Laxmiji, other women joined in one after the other to enrol their kids as well. Father Braganza guided young students to take up sports along with their studies. Dhirubhai, curious as he was, studied with much gusto.

“We were asked to study in English, as then father realized how important it will be after we grow up”

Sadly, nearing his 6th grade, his father passed away. At this point, the situation of the family was weak and other kids attending school weren’t interested in pursuing education. Father Braganza advised Laxmiji, to send Dhirubhai to a boarding school from his reference in Dhandhuka district. The life of the rustic, uncouth and frisky child who used to roam around the city with his friends till 2 AM in the morning, took a turn as he entered this christian school. Getting up at 5 in the morning, breakfast by 6, studying till 7, morning prayers and then a good 3 KM walk from the hostel to his school is how he began his day. Every child studying there was asked to choose a sport (this is the part he was most excited about). This was their daily routine.

“Amne kheto ma lai jata kaam karava, ane mai to kyare khetar joyo e noto (They used to take us to work on farm, and before then I had never even seen a farm),” he tells me as he recalls memories of his time at school 

Near the completion of his 10th grade, when he came back home during his breaks, he went out on one of his strolls with his friends, without informing his mother. He served as waiter and came back home late after midnight. Laxmiji worried, reprimanded him and he ran away from the house only to return to his school with little time left for exam. As if this wasn’t enough, he fell ill of typhoid fever, which pretty much made sure that he had next to no time to prepare for his board exams.

“Everyone made fun of me, teasing me, by saying that I wouldn’t be able to pass that year.”

But he had taken it upon himself to work hard. With the help of the father and his dedication to complete 10th grade he passed with 60%. Father of the school felicitated him in front of the school as he had achieved a feat which most believed impossible.

I asked him as to why he didn’t pursue studies any further to which he replies with,

“I had gotten engaged even before I came home after 10th.”

Dhirubhai had seen Phuliben at a marriage and decided that he would only marry her. Laxmiji had already decided for him to get married to someone while he was at school. To respect the wishes of the family, he decided to meet the girl.

“I was gobsmacked when I saw the girl, she was the same girl I wished to marry, standing right in front of me.”

As he got engaged, he forgot that he had to collect his 10th grade results. His mind fell out of studies and three years later he got married to Phuliben.

Within two days he got a job at a real estate firm as a Patawala(Peon). Curious as he was, he saw Madhubhai (stenographer) working on his computer everyday. Madhubhai gave him small tasks at first, to switch on the computer before he(Madhubhai) came and shut it down after he left. Yes, for us, it sounds like a pretty basic task but for the guy who has never seen computers it’s very intriguing. He had taken up typing as one of his subjects in school and seeing that the keyboard of a computer has a same make, he started practicing again. Eventually with the help of Madhubhai, he learned how to use word, excel and basic tools.

“When Madhubhai secured a job in Dubai the owners at the firm thought they could hire me in the vacated place. But I was a little reluctant about it since my command on English wasn’t good. I told this to the owners.”

Solution was simple, they got him enrolled in an English reading-writing class course; he was quick to catch on. When tally was introduced in 2003 in his office, he used to sit with his accountant to learn how to use the tool.

“I am very grateful of the opportunities I have received”

Dhirubhai has three kids, Yogesh, has just passed 12th grade, who wants to become a Police officer, Gaurav, who has cleared 10th grade, and Asha who is in 2nd grade.

Gaurav, was weak in studies. Dhirubhai says he didn’t believe that Gaurav would be able to pass 10th grade. With help and inspiration of Kinjal Shah, Founder of Shwas, Gaurav scored a 46% percentile. This woke something up inside Dhirubhai.

“If Gaurav, who had a lesser interest in studies can pass, why can’t I?” Dhirubhai has decided to make an attempt to clear 12th grade with his son. He excitedly tells me how he has challenged his son that he would study with him and would try to get better grades than him.

“I am competing against my son. I believe this has motivated us both to do better.”

In this real life ‘Nil Batte Sannata’ example, Dhirubhai sets example not only for his children, but everyone who thinks they’ve missed out on time.

“Life cannot go on making sculptures, that is a seasonal service, I realised that. I had to earn for 12 months in a year to sustain, and to secure a job, education is very important, no matter what age you are”

I asked him if he has a specific interest in what he wants to do after he clears 12th grade. He, very jovially replies,

“I just want to clear 12th first, I will decide what I want to do later on, I might learn accounting to grow further at my place of work.”

Dhirubhai also loves getting tattoos, he has quite a few of them on his arms. Each of them is a testimony to his loved ones.

12 months ago No Comments Views

Valerian Santos – A father who fought for 5 years to get justice for his son & his friend who died trying to save their friend’s dignity

On the night of October 2011, Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez, gave away their lives protecting their female friends. On May 5th, 2016, five years later, the court declared their verdict finding the accused guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

This story is about Valerian Santos, Keenan’s father. A man who lived following his passion, who does what he firmly believes in, who is courageous enough not to shy away from the wrong. The zeal to stand for the right thing and love for his sons gave him the perennial strength to fight for what is right.

We are all different – the way we think, the way we perceive situations. And that’s not because of our birth, but because of the way we are brought up. We grow up in a particular environment, with different set of friends and kin, because our decisions are different at crossroads of life and because of the people we meet who influence and inspire us.

Born in Amboli, Andheri West, Mr Santos, 57, is an Electrical Engineer by profession. He has been brought up in a family of 4 brothers and a sister (eldest in the family). He lost his father at a very young age of 6 years.

He tells me how his sister supported them after his father passed away.

“We have been brought up by the blessings of our sister, who worked very hard and whatever we are today, we owe it to her. She used to work a little extra for our birthdays and festivals to provide for us”

He was and still is, very close to his father. But the love amongst siblings was such that his eldest brother and sister brought them up as their own children. His mother taught all of them to be honest and fight against injustice. A trait that he cherished in his father and as we know today, has proudly been passed on to his sons.

Mr Santos describes his memories as a child, after his father passed away,

“The church and graveyard where my father rested, was very near to my place. I used to visit him at night and sleep on his grave”

I haven’t actually pursued a career in engineering even though I have graduated as an engineer, but I know when I see a passionate engineer, and there is no denying that Mr. Santos is one. He describes a near-death incident that made him decide that his passion lay in studying and exploring the world of electricity.

“When I was about 7 years old, I was fiddling with a table fan. My mother was sleeping, when I got stuck to the lines as I had pulled out all the wires. I was gasping when my mother came and pulled the plug. When the doctor arrived, I was unconscious and my pulse had fallen. For two months I had to go around with plastic bags on my hands for burns.”

From this point on even though most people said, he wouldn’t touch electricity for the rest of his life, he did just that. He made it his life’s mission to study and learn about electricity. At the age of 10 with his brother’s permission, Mr Santos did the wiring for his entire bungalow. Such was his passion.

Mr Santos’ mother has been very open about the life choices that her children took. He tells me that all his brothers have had love marriages and his mother has been supportive of each of them. So I ask him to recount the tale as to how he came to meet Mrs. Santos.

“I used to be very active in attending and volunteering in Sunday Mass at the church. That is where I met Mrs. Santos. It’s a fortunate coincidence, my name is Valerian and her name is Valerie,” he says with a short chuckle.

That is where they met and fell in love. She was in 8th grade and I had passed schooling. You see, Mrs Santos is 4 years younger. Her brother was in Mr Santos’ class and asked him (Mr Santos) not to talk to her until she matriculates.

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“Her brother wasn’t against me. In fact, he thought I was a gentleman. He just wanted her to concentrate on studies and asked me to wait until then. So I held up my promise and reassured Valerie to wait for me. The day she got her results, she called me, I went straight to their house and proposed to the family.” He believes there is a right way to go about things, that one should wait, keep their word and respect everyone’s wishes.

Even when he got married, he was very firm on his principles and didn’t accept anything from his in-laws. He passed the same to his sons Keenan, Shane and Sheldon. The way Keenan and Reuben and his friends stood up on the night of October 2011, made Mr Santos proud.

“God has blessed me. All my sons have grown up how I wanted them to be and more. Just like my brother is like a father to me, Keenan was to Shane and Sheldon.”

Mr. Santos has made his parents proud and it didn’t stop there, his sons have been no less. The same principles by which he grew up have been adopted by his sons, and that’s saying something.

He never stopped any of his sons from choosing their profession or their partners and gave them necessary space and privacy. The only thing he asked in return was that they respected everyone and did things the right way.

Mr Santos describes how he set examples for them along the way. We have read about Keenan’s bravery, but here is where he found the courage. Mr. Santos told me about one such instance where he helped save a girl.

“I was called by one of my friends for a drink, I asked Keenan to come along as I didn’t want to drive even if I had a single peg. While we waited near my friend’s place, a girl accompanied by her grandfather was attacked on by three men who were trying to rip her naked. I handed my phone to Keenan asked him call the police and jumped into the fray. I pushed the girl into the house and took on the three men, as the police arrived on the scene and arrested us all. I asked the police to knock on the door of the house to ask if the old man, that I was actually trying to save the girl. I was released when the old man and the girl arrived at the police station to give their statements.”

Mr Santos says that he found the courage to fight throughout the case because his son didn’t run away that night, even though many believe he should have.

“Neither I nor Keenan would have been able to sleep if he ran that night.”

Even during the last five years he has had people telling him stories about Keenan helping people which he wasn’t even aware of.

He tells me the story of a girl and her husband who came up to him on the street when he was getting his bike repaired, informing him that Keenan had helped her from an assault in an alleyway and dropped her off safely at her place without even asking her name. There are countless other stories where Keenan had helped or counseled women who have been through similar situations.

When the conversation moved to the court proceeding he tells me the troubles he has faced from the supporters of the accused, the threats and the way there were so many people in the court in support of the accused but very few or sometimes none for Keenan and Reuben. One of the reasons court proceedings got delayed were due to the fact that the accused never turned up for the hearing most of the time, either because there was no one present to accompany the accused to the court or they were assigned to a duty elsewhere. It used to waste the time of senior police officials and judge.

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I could feel the anguish in his voice, towards the injustice. He thanked his current place of employment, India Finance and Construction Pvt. Ltd., where he is the Chief Engineer, for their constant support, which helped him stand up and attend the court proceedings.

“What about so many other cases that haven’t even been started? I want to make my life’s mission to see that fast-track courts own up to their name.”

Mr Santos, says he talks and spends time with his workers to get to know their problems and help them.

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

Right after the court gave its verdict, Mr. Santos couldn’t help but break down. He shared with ToI,

“I had suppressed my tears. I had promised myself not to cry till justice is served. The day court gave the verdict, I was very relieved. I could bring out all that I had bottled up within me for all these years. You know I’m a Catholic so I couldn’t bring myself to wish them death but I’m happy that they’ve been served the maximum punishment in jail. Four termites of society are less on the roads now. Let them appeal if they want to but one thing is sure, I will be there standing for justice,”

On Father’s day, I feel proud to have had a conversation who’s not just been a proud and amazing father, but a passionate caring son, who passed on the legacy of his principles and ideals not just to his sons, but from then, on to me as well.

1 year ago No Comments Views

An average Indori boy with no job to becoming India’s beloved comedian, here’s a story that brewed in the making of Zakir Khan

ज़किर की कहानी हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहां क्लिक करें|

Stand-up comedy is one of those things that I’ve always loved, maybe ever since I was born but never realised I did until it was presented to me in that form. You know what I am talking about. There are always things in life that you love consuming, doing, or just observing, and then one fine day someone walks up to you and says, “Hey! That’s called graphic design” or “Hey! That’s called a user interface” or “hey! That’s stand-up comedy.” I have had such a revelation to all the three examples I quoted. Which meant that my happiness knew no bounds when I realised Zakir Khan had agreed to an interview with Chaaipani.

For a country where, at a point in time, the likes of Russel Peters, and George Carlin formed one end of the comedy spectrum, and Raju Srivastava and Sunil Pal, the other, indigenous, relevant and edgy comedy came at a cost. The cost of living in cities like Delhi and Mumbai where the live comedy scene was well set.

For people like me, dwelling from tier two cities, the YouTube boom of Indian stand-up comedians meant we finally got the content that we had no idea existed. And one of the pioneers of this content creation wave was Zakir Khan. Popular by his recent video of AIB Diwas and the phrase, “sakht launda pighal gaya”.

Zakir is to comedy what a cup of tea is to me. I wouldn’t die without one, I don’t have to like it every time I have it, but I still look forward to it every time it is presented to me. I never say no to a cup of tea, and more so to a Zakir Khan video.

So I took a deeper dive into his life to understand where the comic inspiration came from. Zakir was born and brought up in Indore, a city in Madhya Pradesh where his grandfather moved to from Rajasthan. Belonging to a family of musicians, his upbringing made sure his taste in music was not only good but serious. Ye music log mazeh ke liye bhi sunte hai kya?” (people listen to music for fun too?) was his usual reaction when he saw people enjoying music without knowing what went into making it.

“Music has always been my fallback in times when I had no other way to make money. My dad always told me ye to garebi ke laddu hai (the ability to play music is a poor man’s dessert), in the sense that when nothing would work their way, music would sure be a way to sustain themselves, and that too, pretty easily”

Our conversation makes way into his school days where he tells me that scoring was never really a problem, but he kept changing schools. From a boys school to a co-ed and to the next thereon.

“I was bullied as a child, owing to my complexion and the way I looked. I was a regular subject to verbal jibes and being made fun of quite randomly”

This is when we start talking of a phenomenon called L’esprit de l’Escalier or stairway wit. And I know that term because I have experienced it myself, a lot of times. I am sure you have as well. L’esprit de l’Escalier is the thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late for one. The phrase is used to describe a riposte to an insult, or any witty, clever remark that comes to your mind too late to be useful—when you’re on the “staircase” leaving the scene.

Zakir Khan, All India Bakchod, Stand-up Comedy

Zakir had so many of these that he eventually developed a wit of his own. A point, I feel was the inception of his creative and comic genius.

“These incidents taught me how to walk out of a situation without disavowing your obvious shortcomings, and how to wear your individuality as a badge and not as a baggage”,  he adds to the narrative.

Zakir has a diploma in Sitar and is a college dropout. The answer I get when I ask him what he did academically.

Yaar college mein rehne ka koi matlab nai tha. Classes hum attend karte nahi the, aur degree ze zyaada apni khwahisho se pyaar tha”

(There was no point of staying in college. I rarely attended classes, and wasn’t really in the zone of wanting to grab a degree. I had other plans for myself and I wanted them to triumph over other things)

Zakir wanted to become a radio producer, a dream that made him move to Delhi to an institute where he learnt the tools of his trade. This is when he recalls the feeling of alienation for the first time in life.

“There is nothing worse than feeling you don’t belong in a place”, he tells me as we talk about what Delhi was like.

Zakir did a radio programming course at ARSL for a year and then moved out in Feb 2009. Having survived Delhi for a year, he moved on to Jaipur for an internship. Ditching college, getting into radio and moving out of his comfort zone wasn’t something his family thought was best for him. Resistance was inevitable, but Zakir loved passion and his family far too much to create any conflict there.

“I stopped taking money from home after I got done in Jaipur. I didn’t have a job, but lied at home that I did.”

He kept doing odd jobs here and there, somehow managing a square meal a day. When he left Jaipur, he didn’t money to pay his landlord but to his astonishing surprise, the landlord just wrote it off, generously asking him if he needed money to travel back.

“I have always had the pleasure of meeting and being close to some of the most amazing people in life. The ones that taught me how add life in my years. The first was my dad and then a long string of amazing human beings followed and I couldn’t be thankful enough”

If you look at Zakir closely, you’d not find the move back to Delhi and the bankrupt determination as a surprise. He always believed in moving on. In the idea of never settling down to one big thing. The tickling idea of “what’s next” ha kept him afoot all his life.

“What’s next after Indore? What’s next after Delhi? What’s next after jaipur? What’s next after this?”

It was always about the next milestone in life, no matter how big the previous one was.

Zakir Khan, Stand-up Comedy, Zakir Khan standup, AIB Diwas

Zakir’s gareebi ke laddu, his Sitar playing skills kept helping him get enough money to get through the month while he lived with his roommate Vishwas in Delhi. It was pretty much like a family, whatever they collectively made, was spent in helping each other survive. This is when he tells me, “is gaadi ko chalate rakhne mein bohot logo ka haath hai” (a lot of people have contributed towards helping me keep going)

“So when people ask me how I am so down to Earth, I usually say bhai option kya hai mere paas?” (Do I even have an option?)

He adds as we talk about how he made it through his initial days. But hard work pays off. Soon he picked up a lot of different fields and started trying his hands at them.

From theatre to radio, to working at AIR, Zakir did everything he possibly could, became everything he could turn into.

“Friends from back home often asked me if I had visited the red fort, or Jantar Mantar or Qutub Minar, but I was never interested in those places. I was more into what the city truly was like. How do the trains work? What do people most look forward to. What do Aunties from Lajpat Nagar talk like? I wasn’t there to explore the city, I was there to exploit it”

This is when the story takes an upturn. In the one year that he did do everything he could, Zakir created so much value that now every company that denied him a job because he was a college dropout came to hire him. The tables had turned. The ball was in his court now.

“I scored an offer letter from every place that had rejected me. I was never going to work there, this was just for the sake of letting them know the cost of undermining talent. I eventually took up a job at HT Radio, a place I had never applied to before”

Vishwas, the Krishna to our Parth, suggested him to try for an open mic in Delhi.

“It was a small event in a cosy cafe in Delhi”

Which is when I asked him, “what was your first original joke?”

He giggles and replies,

“I have been writing jokes ever since I was a kid. Jokes in essence of course. I begin life in a boys school so I a near unlimited stock of tales that could make people roll on the floor, it was only a matter of bringing them out in the right way”

Later, was called to Mumbai as a writer for On Air with AIB, a news comedy show that attempted at giving India’s it’s own Last Week Tonight. Writing for a TV show was rewarding in all ways that one can think of but most importantly, it set the benchmark for the next big thing in his life.

Zakir moved out of Delhi at a time when the comedy scene there was at its optimum. Every show he did would end up in a standing ovation. The fright he had before getting on stage was same in the 100th show as it was in the first. And that served as a catalyst for performing well.

The anatomy of a joke is funny in itself because once the punch is out it no longer holds value. Which is why comedians have few repeating audiences if their jokes are the same, which was quite the opposite in Zakir’s case.

People kept coming no matter how many times I said the same jokes. I could see that the laughter in their eyes was not only because of the joke but also because of who was saying it. They weren’t just the fan of a comedian, what touched them was the honesty, the rustic and grounded feel, the innocence of someone who has completely accepted his individuality and state of things.

But the road to a series of standing ovations was not that simple. There sure were some downs. Quite a few in fact. But there was always this one thing that kept him going. The idea that it’s darkest before the dawn.

“You always look forward to good things happening when nothing is going right and then you take these examples of all the good times, and keep them with you for a time when you’d need them the most. I did just that”

His optimism is infectious if you talk for too long. It was almost 40 minutes into the conversation when this happened and this is when he opens the golden pot to success. Despite being one of the most loved comedians of India, Zakir believes it has nothing to do with talent.

Zakir Khan, Zakir Khan Stand-up, Zakir khan quotes

I continue getting a life lesson in humility, hard work, and consistency.

Zakir Khan, Zakir Khan Stand-up, Zakir khan quotes

But a story on Zakir would be incomplete if it’s not a story about Zakir and his father. A constant source of inspiration, Zakir’s father is someone he mentioned so many times in our conversation that I felt I should rather dedicate a separate section to him. And since you’re probably reading this on Father’s day, it’ll go with the flow.

I kept telling Zakir that his comedy was more about his honesty than about his jokes. That his jokes were not the center of his genius but his candid moments were. And his father has been more than a mere instructor in making this happen. All through the days when he grew up, his father made him realise that his self-esteem mattered just as much as that of people everyone idolised as gods. That his ability to do what he wanted to do was only limited by the extent of his imagination and that he was a fighter, the kind that never loses.

This father’s day, make sure you remember those sacrifices, those times when they worked a little extra, a little harder, came back to you a little later just so that they could see you a little happier. Not a lot. Just a little. Little enough for you, far more for them, knowing that they put a smile on your face, for one more day today.

Here’s wishing you all a happy father’s day and a short poetry by Zakir, to keep your on your feet, to keep working hard.

Zakir Khan, Zakir Khan Stand-up, Zakir khan quotes

1 year ago No Comments Views

Story of this Polio survivor about finding love will make you smile!

This story is a part of Inclov's "I Am CapAble" series. 
Inclov strives to provide equal and inclusive opportunity to everyone looking for love. 

Usha, a polio survivor is married to Rahul since six years. This is nothing less than a fairy tale story for anyone who reads it. I asked Usha to start her story from the very beginning.

Usha smiles as she shares,

“I met Rahul two years ago at my office in Hyderabad. He seemed rude to me at first, because even though we met in the lunchroom everyday, we never spoke to one another. We worked in different departments and hardly got a chance to meet. Later, when my department shifted to another office, we started interacting.”

And then began regular Skype chats post office and the times when he would drop her home, Usha felt that a romance was building. Something new and fresh had entered in their life, even though they did not have a name for it just yet.

However, the path was not all smooth for them. While they were becoming closer each day, a crude twist lay in their path. Come 8th February 2009, Rahul was asked to leave to Kenya for work.

Usha broke down completely, because she had pinned her hopes on what was the best thing that had ever happening to her. She was scared because she had heard enough stories about how distance separates people.

Even though he reassured her that they would remain in touch, she prepared herself mentally that they would fall apart. .

“He contacted me after 3 long days when he reached Kenya. It was the first time that we did not speak for such a long time. When we spoke after 3 days, there was something different between us, it felt good. Different good. He told me how much he missed me and I felt a tingling sensation.”

Until then, she did not dare to call what they had anything except friendship. But the magic was truly happening now. She could not believe what was happening with her.

“It took me some time to fully believe that it was really happening to me. It was too good to be true.”

She continues,

“I made some excuses in my mind. I thought to myself, “Maybe he is lonely, or maybe he is simply saying this, This does not mean that he likes me!.” These were the times, when I had to convince myself that I could be loved too. (tweet link)

Like every normal person, love was something Usha’s heart sought, for many years. The closest she had come to such an experience was in college, when she had fallen in love with her best friend. But he did not reciprocate to her, which left her heart-broken. After that experience, she had almost given up that she would ever find love in her life.

It was very difficult for Usha to overcome her fears and give love another chance.

Soon after, Rahul asked her parents for her hand in marriage. Usha reminded him of her disability and asked him if he was sure that he wanted to marry her!

“He simply shrugged and said, “I love everything about you, the way you take care of me, the way you talk to me and the way you love me, and that is why I want to marry you. That’s when I knew, this was happening, it was really happening.”

Rahul and Usha have been married for more than six years now. They also have a son!

Everyday, I hear stories of spouses who part ways some years into marriage when things get tough, or either of the partner receives a set back. Rahul and Usha’s story comes like spring after winter. It reassures me that there enough love out there for us irrespective of who we are, how we are.

“What do you think is the best part about your relationship?

“The best part about our relationship is that he gives me the freedom to be myself. He has never asked me to do something that I would be uncomfortable in doing. And isn’t that how love is supposed to be?”

Like they say, [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=”http://wp.me/p7eOCO-OW”]you come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly. [/inlinetweet]

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You too can find love here - unafraid, undaunted.
1 year ago No Comments Views

How this Artivist is striving to bring a positive impact for children through theatre in education

I am ready to invest and contribute my life resources to make this dream a reality and I will wholeheartedly embrace anyone who wishes to contribute for Theatre in Education.”

As I made my way back to the city, I could hear the siren of a train piercing the steadfast tranquillity of the sun-kissed afternoon and penetrating the siesta of the citizens who had finally gone to rest. Maybe it was the siren of hope. The siren of change. The siren of Theatre in Education.

1 year ago No Comments Views

Meet this Bihar boy who left his high-paying job and is now setting up first science lab for tribal children in Mohuda, Odisha

Meet Satwik – An alumnus of the Entrepreneurship Development Institute, Mechanical Engineering graduate from VIT and an entrepreneur, Satwik dons many hats.

What makes his profile remarkable is his passion and passion to teach and to transform the destiny of children in the remote village of Mohuda in Ganjam district of Odisha.

I’ve known Satwik for last one year. Facebook friends. This was when Chaaipani has just started, Satwik had written to us about his venture Mechjunction. He was also working in a well-known IT company then. Since a few months back, I noticed pictures of Satwik working in villages with kids, which made me a little inquisitive and a little hopeful about his work that was making some little faces smile.

“When I resigned from a lucrative job to join SBI YFI Fellowship, the sole motive was to get the meaning to my life. The job undoubtedly was providing me sufficient money but yet not the satisfaction I was looking for. That’s when I applied for the SBI YFI Fellowship 2016, something that demanded me to work on things I was passionate about”

As requested in his application, Satwik was given a chance to work with Gram Vikas, an NGO working proactively towards rural development, with its headquarters based in Mohuda, a small village in Odisha.

“During our orientation, we were made to visit over 50 villages where Gram Vikas was working. It was amazing to see sustainability of development in and around. Every house had water supply, buildings were disaster resistant, there were primary schools, livelihood opportunities, 100% sanitation facility and villagers used alternate source of energy”

Out of 4 schools operated by Gram Vikas, Satwik found his mini calling in one at Kankia village in Ganjam district of Odisha.

“This school has a strength of 500+ students coming from 200+ tribal villages of Odisha. Having its location in the remote part, 13 km away from the nearest town, this school was not less than a surprise for us. It had weightlifting center, solar energy supply, solar water filter facility, steam cooking installations, vermi-compost units, a radical library, computer lab and creativity centre.”

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This school particularly interested Satwik and he started visiting the place frequently. Of what looked like the perfect school, Satwik began noticing the holes that were yet to be fixed.

“Gradually, I began noticing many flaws in how the school was being run. I had a million complaints, however I realised that I was selected to be here, to not crib but fix things with sustainable solutions”

At one particular day, Manoj, a student came to Satwik asking him about his graduation stream. After knowing that Satwik graduated in Engineering, the kid was all the more fascinated.

“He was excited and suddenly upset. He told me ‘mujhe bhi engineer banna tha, but sab nahi ban sakte na’. This incident made me ponder over the what exactly was killing these dreams. The world definitely needs great engineers and losing the passionate ones is the worst that could be”

Satwik began studying the curriculum and performance of students. Soon, he figured that Maths and Science were the most dreaded subjects by the students and despite extra efforts, the kids weren’t doing well in the subjects.

“The teacher would teach the kids about Science with all the available resources, however, there were no Science labs at all where students could understand the beauty of science on their own through experimentation”

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Sensing the obvious, Satwik has began working on the Science Lab. The lab manual is made, he has started taking workshops and the authorities are already working on setting up the infrastructure.

“The excitement on students face every-time I tell them about some software or a scientific phenomena is priceless. It fuels me to do more and keep going”

Has there been a life-lesson his term has taught? He shares,

“After having it all, I’ve realized that satisfaction doesn’t come through getting everything we want from the world but from giving back to it, irrespective of the quantum of it”

1 year ago No Comments Views

Meet this Delhi girl, who is one of the most sought after Hindi tutors for expats and authors!

As I start writing this story, picking up the proverbial pen, I realize how comfortable it is for me to talk to the people around me because we share a common dialect. Talking to Pallavi Singh, I wondered just how helpful it is to be able to speak in a particular language especially when you’re not a resident of that particular country.

As Nelson Mandela put it,

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

I begin by asking her to tell something about herself and she replies with, “I am a misfit, but a misfit who works.”

Pallavi Singh is from Delhi. She graduated in engineering and moved on to pursue psychology in Mumbai. She also has a diploma in French. She comes from a conservative family background where she didn’t have a whole lot of choices as to what she could pursue as a career. Doctor and Engineer, these were according to her parents, surest ways of ensuring safe and continuous income for the foreseeable future.

When Pallavi was 19 she wanted to earn her own pocket money. And there was no provision for a student to earn along with his/her education. Yes, there are internships but they don’t pay as much. She was studying French when she was in the second year of her engineering in Delhi. That is when the thought struck her.

“While studying french, the only time I really used it was in those 2 hours during my class. I felt I would be so much better at it if there was someone who could sit with me and talk to me in french.”

At that point, she realized, what if there were others who felt the same way about Hindi. Pallavi, who had never taught before, at this point, started teaching Hindi in a more comfortable and customized setting. One of her first students was a guy from Africa and his girlfriend. From there on, she never looked back.

Pallavi went on to pursue her masters in psychology from Sophia college in Mumbai. Her parents weren’t happy about her decision to pursue psychology, more so after she had a degree in engineering. She was inclined to study but she didn’t want to leave her engineering midway.  She continued teaching even while she was Mumbai. That was her means of living and helped her cover the expenses.

Mumbaikar, this caught my interest.

“Which one do you think is better?”, I asked her before I could move on with the conversation.

“I, of course, enjoyed Mumbai. But it’s not home. It’s never going to be home. It’s such a chaotic place, it shouldn’t function but somehow it does.”

In the course of her journey, Pallavi has taught William Dalrymple(Historian). She contacted him on Facebook to wish him on his birthday, “Hey! Happy Birthday, I would like to have a piece of your cake while teaching you Hindi.”

She tells me that William Dalrymple has been in India since the late 80’s and he already had all the knowledge bank in place. She describes one of her experiences with him.

“Every time he used to visit a restaurant he used to see sabz-bahar and sabz hara bhara on the menu, which made him think sabz meant green.” She used to help him synchronize his ideas with the real world and help him put things into structures.

Pallavi doesn’t follow a flow of conventional coursebooks that are available ironically, a lot of these books are written by foreigners. These books translate a lot of words that aren’t used in informal Hindi usually like Mom and Dad translated to माता पिता. The eliminates these inconsistencies and provides her students with a more ready-to-use Hindi lesson.

She has had the good fortune to interact with a lot of people from various nationalities. She shared stories about a couple of her students.

One of her students from Seattle is here with her fiance and she doesn’t have many instances where she can use Hindi. So she regularly talks to her driver in Hindi about trivia, just as Pallavi wanted during her french diploma.

“One of my students was traveling by auto. Two passerbys stopped to ask for an address and the driver tilted his head and said he didn’t know. So she(my student) explains them the address in Hindi. The look of surprise on her face, she says, was truly rewarding”

Future with Hindilessons?

Pallavi, who has taught over 500 students now, is already working with American, Spanish, Belgian and Australian consulates. She wants to expand her reach to more consulates and private clients. I presumed since there are so many tourists and foreigners in India, there must be many who help these consulates. But Pallavi clarifies that there are people who teach Hindi not because they want to but because they need to.

“It’s surprising and sometimes depressing but there are very few people who teach Hindi from the perspective of improving communication and not just teaching someone a new set of words and a protocol to use them.”

As I mentioned above, since there are foreigners working in India since ages, it is a little hard to digest that there is no one who has taken this up and taught them in an interesting way. Pallavi tells me that there are academic institutions who teach Hindi, but since people are working, they want it customized to their timings and needs, as opposed to studying the subject in a more conventional manner.

She doesn’t wish to expand and bring aboard other people for now. It’s such a personal skill and involves a lot of interaction, making your students feel comfortable, etc. So it very difficult for her to trust someone else with such a task who wouldn’t hurt the credibility of the work she does, which is why she would love to take it ahead personally as long as she can.

As someone once said, “We are the drivers of our own destinies, or in this case, driving instructors to help others drive so that they can reach theirs.”

Edited by Ayush Agarwal.

1 year ago No Comments Views

On World Environment Day, here is a story of an organisation that is doing its bit to ensure OUR water is conserved!

This post is a part of Neer, a collaborative project by DCB Bank and Chaaipani to bring out stories of individuals and initiatives that are working hard and smart to save water. 

90 lakh farmers have been hit with drought in Maharashtra this year. Over 14,000 villages have been declared drought hit and the toll of suicides keeps rising. Water scarcity isn’t news for Maharashtra anymore; not for people living outside Maharashtra either and there is little reason why I would indulge you in reading a bunch of numbers that go on to say how sorry a state some people are in.

But that’s not what we are talking about today. That’s something we never talk about, but in the race for grabbing eyeballs, we should also not forget to talk about that which is positive. So here is a small story about how one man can also make a big difference.

This year’s drought, as you know, has hit Maharashtra hard. Nasik, though drought prone, has seen such severe drought conditions that people have no water for daily use.

It was at this point that Kunal, working for DCB Bank, thought of taking an initiative to solve this problem. He suggested utilising the Bank’s CSR funds to help nearby villages that face a severe drought problem

Getting approvals from senior management was not difficult, as the situation is extensively documented and highly publicized. However, the challenge was to find water where there was none and find a sustainable method to make it reach the people who needed it the most.

The team zeroed in on the village of Seola, located 16 kilometers away from Nasik city. This 2000 strong village had groundwater as its only source as their local wells had dried up. The government is in constant effort of completing a project that lays an extensive pipeline that can deliver water to all the villages, but it is only half done.

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Kunal contacted a nearby private water vendor who had his own logistics arrangements to deliver water. Local vendors normally charge anywhere between 750 to 1200 INR per tanker of water. This translates to enormous costs if incurred on a daily basis. But after some negotiation, cajoling and a mutual concern for those in need convinced the vendor, Mr. Ganpat Sahane to provide the tanker at just 450 INR.

This came as a huge relief. Coupled with the help of gram sevaks like Ravindra Nimba Jadhav and employees from the Bank like Sarang, Robin, Sailesh and, Rahul; the villagers of Seola have been getting 5000 litres of water every day that has helped them get through the summer. The tanker delivers water to a dry well every day that the people then come and use.

The honourable sarpanch of the village, Punjabai Bhoyir and the up-sarpanch, Kalpana Navle were also instrumental in making sure the water reached the people who needed it the most, first.

Though this is not a permanent solution as the CSR funds will get exhausted and the demand per person will go up; it is a small step towards helping the people of Seola. The story just goes to highlight that humanity is bigger than any problem we may face. The constant activity by the Bank in the region also inspired a lot of onlookers and well-to-do individuals to contribute towards the cause.

Several people came forward for the cause and the Gram Panchayat receievd ample help from several sources to solve their problem and can now consider helping nearby villages. The government also noticed the efforts and hard work of the peopleand has quickened its pace of work on the pipeline.

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The Bank will continue to provide water to the village for 3-4 days. The villagers have collectively managed to set up their own water supply from a private vendor for a short duration following which the pipeline should be ready. As I talked to Sachin from DCB Bank in Nasik, he told me about how a very simple initiative from one employee brought the whole branch, and later a whole village together, to work after a common cause. 

“We are really hoping that the rains will pour anytime in the next two or three days. The weather is changing and the difficulties are short-lived but we genuinely need to work on permanent solutions for these problems.” says Sachin as we talk about what’s next in line.

If you take a closer look at the numbers, 2000 people are surviving on 5000 liters of water every day. This includes cattle and livestock as well; pegging usage of water at 2.5 liters of water per person per day. We live in metros where doctors advise us to drink twice that amount in a day to keep our skin clear and we use close to three times that quantity while taking a hot water shower after a tiring day in our air conditioned offices.

The availability of water is a serious problem. Attempts like these are beautiful and noteworthy; however, they aren’t a permanent solution to the problem of water scarcity. These are the farmers who produce food-grains that we eat each day. Indigenous production of food saves cost versus importing it.

An environment friendly and agriculture oriented urban policy is the only way we have towards making in India empowered, again. So this world environment day, we request you to save a little more, think a little more and care a little more. We have only one planet, let’s preserve it.

Chaaipani, Chai Pani, Shruti Chaturvedi, Shruti Chaai Pani, Shruti Chai Pani, Shruti ChaiPani, Shruti Chai point, Parth Trivedi, Parth Chaaipani, Parth Chai Pani, Parth, Parth writer, Chayos, Chaai, Chai, Tea, Entrepreneurship, Ahmedabad, RJ in Ahmedabad, Anchor in Ahmedabad, Storytelling, Inspiration, Inspiring stories of real people, Positive stories, Positive India, Changing India, Water, Water Conservation, DCB Bank, DCB CSR, CSR Initiatives for Water, Water Campaigns, Campaigns, Save water, neer, neer by chaaipani, world environment day, environment, save earth

If you know of individuals or organisations who are doing their bit to make every drop matter, and who you think have a story that should be told to the world, do write to us on contact(at)chaaipani(dot)com

1 year ago 2 Comments Views

Meet this passionate skating champion from India who is getting the tricolor flying high

In a country with more than a billion people and more than a thousand sports, it is surprisingly delightful and uniquely common at the same time to find stories of distinctive sporting individuals who have extraordinary tales to share with the world. This is a story of passion and perseverance, a sine curve of failures and accomplishments, of falling down and getting up. This is the story of Anoli Shah, a champion who found her adrenaline as well as her Zen in the thrilling and adventurous world of roller skating.

Starting with a simple summer vacation batch and those beginners four wheel roller skates, her journey has now brought her at a level where she has had the honour of representing India at the International level. In a career spanning 11 years, she has been a consistent medal winner for the state of Gujarat since the year 2006 and has won many accolades both inside and outside the country.

“Bronze in 14th Asian Roller Sports Championship 2010, Asian Beach Games 2012, World Speed Skating Chamionship 2012, 15th Asian Roller Skating Championship, World Roller Speed Skating Championship 2013, Flanders Grand Prix Open World Championship”

She says, without a pause. Our team sitting on the table, looks at her starry eyed.

With a glitter in her eyes and a mental flashback, she describes the impact that roller skating has had in her life.    
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In a nation where the sporting imagination of its citizens has been so overwhelmingly cricket oriented, Anoli begs to differ and earnestly elucidates the different kind of races that are involved and also talks about what she thinks of the subtle disregard that people show for the sport and that characteristic feeling of being not understood which is so prominent among the people who choose passion over convention.   

“Long distance skating is my forte. So we have races like sprints, points to points, elimination, marathons and others. Now in points to points race, it’s a 10 km race which is roughly 50 laps and the skater who finishes first in a lap gets 2 points and the second one gets 1 point. So at the end of the 50 lap race, it is not about how you finish the race but it’s the number of points that you have gathered that wins you the race. So there is a lot of strategy and manipulation that goes into it and it’s not only about the sprint and the speed. “

“When I started skating, I started it for myself and not for anyone else. I have met enough people who have been flippant about the choice of my sport and even the whole sportsperson concept in general. But I know the number of hours that I have put in and the number of hard sacrifices that I have made. Just because that people don’t understand, you can’t carry that grudge inside you. They don’t know what it feels like to stand on the podium and watch your flag flying high.”

It is a known truth that there is a lot of hard work and training that goes in the backend that allows any athlete to bask in his moments of front-end adulation. Every scar tells a story and with a gritty smile, Anoli tells us about the struggles during her training and those scars that made her stronger in her journey of guts and glory.

“There is this condition of the legs which is called knocking knees in which the knees angle in and touch one another when the legs are straightened. So there is a large gap between your legs when you try to stand straight. Usually models have that and it’s actually helpful to them while ramp walking. But for me, it was a hindrance because while skating when you are on the turns, you need a position where your centre of gravity is perfect which means that your shoulder, your knee and your toe has to be in one line. When I used to train for that, my face literally got red, my eyes used to get teary and it was very difficult. My coach told me that you could quit if you wanted to but then remember how badly you want to win. It took me 8 long years to rectify this condition and today it is 85 percent gone. It was an achievement of another kind. “

Although primarily dispositioned towards roller skating, Anoli has never had any troubles with her grades and owing to such an inherent confidence, she decided that a mere Bachelor’s of Commerce was never going to be enough and hence she started preparing for CAT. Preparing for such a competitive national level examination simultaneously with an equally challenging sport was never going to be an easy job. Anoli talks about the rigorous schedule that she had to follow which would undoubtedly test her perseverance and resolve.

“My day usually started at 4 am and I had an early morning practice session. I used to have my breakfast in the car itself on the way to my CAT coaching centre. After that I had an innocent looking two hour lecture which would almost every time be stretched to a not so innocent 3.5 hrs. I then had my lunch there itself on the stairs which was followed by 2-3 hrs of intensive study mode. And then with a 10 minute snacks break at home, I rushed to my evening training session. By the time I came back to the house, it was almost 10 pm. Dinner was an incomprehensible blur and sleep was hurtfully sweet.”

“I was not a natural sports person. I had to get there. I worked hard and trained diligently to reach this position. Usually for any sport, if you take one and a half month break from the training, it usually takes around 8 months to cover up for that loss. I couldn’t afford that because it would probably take me even longer. So quitting training was out of the option.”

She scored 96 percentile in CAT with converts from premier B-schools of the country. With an exemplar “Like a Boss” moment to all those people who always advise about focusing only on one thing at a time, Anoli achieved her academic goal without sacrificing her passion.

With all the distractions that a teenage kid growing up in the 21st Century faces and not forgetting that perennial question of career choice that has always plagued the youth, it is remarkable to see someone with such a pure dedication and such a sincere form of passion for something and more importantly to maintain it with the same intensity over the span of a decade. With a pinch of fresh vigour in her voice, Anoli talks about the driving force in her life.    

“It was the thrill of the races. The competitions. The passion. That feeling of early morning where you put on your skates and it’s so chilly outside but you don’t care. You are on the highways and there is this never ending stretch of grey below you, the unblemished and invigorating green around you and the that clear unadulterated sapphire blue above you. It’s the most amazing feeling in the world.”

Anoli has participated in six international competitions in different countries such as China, Italy, Belgium and Taiwan. She describes her sporting experience in those countries and also points out the different areas where India as a country and Indians as citizens can improve and take some notes from their peers.

 “It is lovely, especially when you go to the big sporting countries like China. There is this mutual respect among the people that is so evident. During the race, the competitive feeling is palpable and it gets very intense but once the race is over, you see the same people all cheerful and friendly and the most important thing is that it comes very naturally to them. The people over there are so sweet and so ready to help you. There are little kids who are so impressed by you and they are running around clicking pictures and asking for autographs. The sporting culture there is phenomenal.”

“It’s difficult to find this kind of thing in India. I remember once we were training in Vishakhapatnam and there was this service road just beside the footpath where we had to skate. Now we had specifically requested the people to give us the space on the service road and walk on the footpath. But it was very disappointing to see the nonchalant indifference that we experienced from the people there. In this kind of things, surely we can learn a lot from the people of other countries.”      

We all have our support systems. People, in front of whom we can be ourselves, throw tantrums, shout out our frustrations, cry profusely and celebrate grandly. Anoli talks about two of the most important support systems of her life and describes her relation with them and the significant contribution that they have had in her life.

“My coach is like a second father and also a best friend. I can tell him anything and everything. It’s a funny relationship because we are in that comfort zone where at one point he can scold me unabashedly just like a parent would do and on the other hand I can be completely honest and share my doubts and strengths alike just like one would do with a best friend. Along with being one of the best skaters that India has ever produced, he is also one of the best human beings that I have met.”

“Apart from my coach, I have been very closely attached to my father. Right from the time I was a little girl, he has been there to support me, push me forward and to motivate me. He has been equally passionate about my sport, even today and that is something that I am very lucky to have because I can share and talk about the things that I am going through and he can genuinely understand me. Even when things are not working out, some sport politics is going on or any of the phases that I am experiencing, I know that he will be the one to give me the best advice.”

There is no better feeling in the world to see them happy and proud, the people who have devoted such a significant part of their life efforts to see you happy and successful.  Anoli shares one such incident which she always remembers before the start of any race and uses it for refuelling her motivation.  

“It was my first nationals race and I had won the gold medal. For a moment there, I actually didn’t realize what I had done. I was standing there outside the track and my dad was waiting expectantly for the results and I was just watching him. When the results were announced, I saw that transition of his expression from anxiety to pure euphoria, from a straight line to a curved one and then there were tears in his eyes and everybody started congratulating my dad and patting him on the back. I realized then that it was as much his moment as it was mine. I saw India’s flag flaring up and that moment, that memory keeps me going every single moment. It was such an electrifying feeling to see him proud of me. And somewhere, feeling that my country is proud of me too. “

Considering that Anoli’s story would never have been such an inspiring one if not for her father, I decided to meet the man himself. He was a bespectacled gentleman with a serene face and shades of grey in his hair and one instantly had the feeling that he knew exactly what he was saying. With a smile on his face reminiscent of the journey that he himself had been through with Anoli, he begins his story.

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“I always wanted my kids to be engaged in extra curricular and not only the studies.  So I initially put her in music. She made a deal with me that we will join together. I agreed and I continued for three years. She agreed and she continued for 15 days. After that, I asked her to pick out something herself and she selected skating and we have never looked back.”

“I remember a lot of defining moments of her career like her first national, her first gold medal, her first international and many others but the one that I would like to share was more of a defining moment for me. A lot of their training happens on the highways and even though there is a lot of precaution involved, as a father, you always try to be more careful and more attentive. So during one such training session, she was skating at the speed of about 45 Kmph on the highway and suddenly there was this car which roughly sped past her. She became a bit disoriented and ended up having three somersaults before she came to a stop. I had my heart in my mouth but fortunately she managed to escape without any serious injuries. There were a lot of times later also when she has come home with her knees and elbows and her face all scratched and bleeding.”

“These are the moments when you fear the safety of your children and there is this dilemma in your mind whether to let them continue with it or not. But I have always believed in the no pain no gain concept and it was then I made the tough decision of allowing her to pursue what she was so passionate about. You always wonder at that time that is it the right decision to make but it is in hindsight that you actually see the result of that decision and I am pretty happy with my decision today. If you give your children wings, it’s only fair that you allow them to fly too.”

It left with me with a very satisfied feeling that I could listen to such an inspiring anecdote about belief, passion and courage and just as I was standing at the door, ready to take my leave, he said something to me that would be enough to summarize this wonderful story.

“You always have that option of taking the easy route and making a convenient lifestyle for yourselves. Later in life, money won’t matter. It is the tough decisions that will matter. Follow your passion, do what you love and you will have no regrets in life. You will do great things one day.”

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1 year ago 2 Comments Views

Story of Ekta – Bubbly, Punjabi kid to one of the chirpiest Radio Jockeys of Gujarat

The Woman and her Curls

I get tapped on my shoulder from the back only to be greet by a magnificent woman and her curls. It was the waiting lounge of the Radio Mirchi studio. Now for those of you who’re not from Ahmedabad, I would want to tell you that radio in Ahmedabad is huge. Really huge. And radio mirchi was a pioneer in the space of modern entertainment-focused radio in the city. So much so that I remember back in 2004-05, among the vernacular crowd, Mirchi had become a synonym of radio. Folks would walk up to some and say, “mirchi chaalu karne” can you turn on mirchi? (as in the radio)

And that fascination caught me as well. In a society where newspapers and biased news channels were the only source of information that mattered to the whole country or to the world, radio brought in a city specific infotainment that, in a way, allowed people to not be so worried on running into a heartbreaking news.

The most popular show and also the most important one, is the breakfast show which, a lot of people start their day with, the second one is the evening show during peak traffic hours. However, there is one show that is probably far more difficult to produce because of it’s timing. And that is the 2pm-5pm show. And the woman who makes everyday’s 2-5 worth it is the one we are talking about today.

Ekta Sandhir, born and brought up in Ahmedabad with roots in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh is one girl you don’t want to miss meeting. The voice behind Meethi Mirchi since the last 4 years and a pillar for the radio station she works at, I got a chance to talk to her yesterday.

The Layers

This story also has layers. The life story of Ekta, and then then the story of Ekta herself. You’ll soon realise why these are important.

Her life began 26 years ago as someone who was so Punjabi at heart that there was an absolute absence of any affiliation towards the Gujarati culture.

The Story

“I was a no-gujju person all the way till I got into college. I was so desperate that I kept two non-gujjus as my best friends for 15 years”, is what she says when I ask her how she kept herself company.

Brought up on a healthy diet of love, values and good vibes, Ekta was the always-out-of-class and life-of-the-party kid while in school. College however brought a new use to this chirpy attitude. Organising events and extra curriculars took a center stage and with that came the opportunity to enter the business of voice overs.

“I reached the auditions, went yap yap yap and got selected!”, She bursts into giggles as she says this.

“Little did I know that it was just the first step towards a life changing journey”

Ekta is someone who has never lived a single planned moment in her entire life. Her radio shows are probably the most planned parts of her day which is good because it makes this interview way more interesting than it was already supposed to be.

The series of voice overs took her to the Radio Mirchi RJ hunt, a challenge she took up only with a preconceived notion of being so sure that she would be rejected. That acceptance of loss made sure she had nothing to lose.

“But Radio Mirchi had other plans for me” she says while moving on with the story.

I guess it was the state of having nothing to lose that actually made her win. The Ekta you’d listen to every afternoon isn’t an Ekta that comes on air with a baggage. She never sounds like someone who walks into the studio with a truck load of promises she has to keep. And that makes her fun to listen to.

Being trained by the best of the best in radio was a boon that came along with joining Radio Mirchi.

“I consider myself to be really lucky in that regard. I have always found myself surrounded by the most amazing people and I feel somewhere it’s the people around us that make us who we are and give us the space to explore our true worth”

Talking of people always brings us to family, sometimes in a good light, sometimes not, but always there. I ask her if no one in her family ever asked her to marry and she said,

“My dad once said, pehle jaguar, phir pyaar (first buy a jaguar, then fall in love)”  and parallely recalls her mother once telling her over an evening cup of tea, “shaadi jab karni hai, jisse karni” (marry whenever you want to marry, whoever you want to marry)

With such parents, what more could you ask for but a motivation to use the freedom right.

The Woman

It’s been four years in radio mirchi for her and the Ekta you see now is a very different person compared to the Ekta you would’ve met 4 years ago which is where her layers matter.

The bubbly woman, within her, packs an immense amount of substance and drive. The kind of motivation that brings you to wonder what you have been doing with your life for so long. She grew up with an avid collection of gazals, and Punjabi folk music. Moving houses meant shifting boxes and boxes of old cassettes and late night introspections were always accompanied by soft and scintillating music.

“Mitti se rishta na, bada haseen hai” (my bond with my homeland is amazing), she tells me as we talk more about what growing up was like for her.

“I was always drawn towards sufi and punjabi folk music and that has moulded me in more ways than one. Their love songs were like prayers and their prayers so soothing, you could possibly not find anything better to listen to at times when you’re down. Even today, I watch hours of Zee Zindagi, and listen to so many gazals because they bring me closer to where I feel my home is”

This conversation then takes us back in history. Ekta is almost on auto-pilot right now and I find it best to allow her to roam in those fields of prospective notalgia. Now I know prospective nostalgia is not really a phrase but I have this habit of making phrases up. So prospective nostalgia is the state of mind where you wish things were a certain way, very different from what they are right now, or what they have ever been, and then ponder upon it from a nostalgic perspective.

And her prospective nostalgia is beautiful, funny and, touching all at the same time.

“People go to Switzerland and Bali for honeymoons, I want to go to Pakistan”, is what she says after a good pause.

“That’s what I have told my mother, make sure you get me someone like that because I am going, come what may”

Why?” was my predictable question.

“Because that’s where my home is.”

She says without the knowledge of where her ancestors migrated from and yet with the candidness of someone who grew up in Lahore. There sure was a contemplation in her voice. A contemplation about what this world holds and yet a determination to find out, no matter what it might be and, an odd garnish of confidence, that it’s going to be the best thing ever.

“I don’t believe in borders. I never have. Especially the India-Pakistan border. Because I have had a really hard time figuring out how the Punjab in Pakistan is different from the Punjab in India, because to be honest, it isn’t.”

And I think this explains her longing for a place she could truly call home.

Five minutes more if you talk about roots, I will cry”,  is what she says when I keep pondering over the idea of pre-partition India and how things were different.

“People often find this silly but my map of India has always been different.”

The Outro

We slowly make our way back to music. And then back to present day and my conversations go on for a considerably long time about things that you otherwise might not find interesting. But there was one takeaway from Ekta’s story that I personally walked out with. Every minute that you spend interacting with your environment, the people, the things in it, they shape you, they make you and they transform you into another person every single day.

So be conscious of what you surround yourself with, keep your feet on the ground, your dreams in the sky, and your head level to what challenge you’re taking up next.

I hope this story made you feel a little more nostalgic, or a little happier than you already were. We hope to keep serving you such delicacies more frequently.

P.S. This article has two contributors, the first was Saloni Gandhi, who took the interview, and the second interview was taken by your truly. The content, conversations, and interpretations of the individual are a combined effort for both these better-than-thou personalities.

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