As I sit down to reflect on the 21 years that have passed by, I become more grateful for the opportunities that I got that led me from being a shy, diffident school kid to this much more confident, maverick version of myself. My childhood was about lots of classes- not only classes that I attended in school but more about after-school theatre classes, classical dance classes, art classes, Indian music classes. Thanks to my mum, very early in life I got a chance to practically master the virtue of multi-tasking and get exposed to so many different art forms that have all played a huge role in making me the person that I am today. I was able to secure a Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Indian Classical Music (Sangeet Visharad) while I was still in school.
I also pursued my interest in public speaking and creative writing by taking part in various debates, elocutions and representing my school at innumerable forums. All these experiences have allowed me to expand my skill set considerably and explore my interests in varied fields. Even while I was pursuing all these extra-curricular activities, I made it a point to maintain my academic records. I was honoured with various awards and medals for all round performance including the Principal’s Special Award in my final year.
All through my childhood, I accompanied my grandfather for routine visits to blind schools, orphanages and slums. Quite early in life, I developed a deep understanding of the inequities prevalent in our society and nurtured the values of empathy and generosity along the way. In Grade 10, I took up the task of teaching 7 underprivileged children in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh and was selected for an interaction with Mr. Tony Blair, to discuss his foundation’s malaria prevention initiatives in India.
It was then, when I was 16, that I decided to pursue Economics. As naive as it may sound now, it was my discomfort with the living conditions of a section of the society that made me choose the subject. Back then, I believed that Economics was my only tool to fight poverty in India, my chance to get into the system and draft policies to ensure betterment of living conditions of the thousands I saw on streets every single day. Ever since the day, I chose Economics as the subject of my undergraduate study, I set my eyes on studying it in St. Stephen’s College.
This institution had a mysterious air surrounding it- how it had produced some of the greatest Indian economists, artists, politicians, bureaucrats and academicians over the years. Every time I would pass through the building, I would imagine myself in there. The walls seemed too high, given the exceptional record of academic brilliance and extra-curricular activities that the college expected its students to showcase, but my parents made me believe that it was possible for me to get through them.
My journey to this prestigious college was, most importantly, a result of an unyielding desire to be a part of this institution in addition to my hard work that translated into good academic results. I chose St. Stephen’s over all other options I had including the much-coveted New York University.
St. Stephen’s turned out to be much more than what I had asked for. Someone has said- If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room. In my 3 years at St. Stephen’s College I was never in a room where I was the smartest. Almost everywhere I went, every club I joined, every class I chose, I always found people smarter than me and this has made all the difference. The people I met here were some of the brightest minds of the country- excelling in academics and extra-curricular alike. While I’ll admit to be intimidated by their sheer awesomeness initially, I learnt to absorb all the good qualities and skills eventually.
I remember how our professors made every effort to keep us grounded and not let the ‘Stephanian’ tag take the better of us. And so, all the state toppers, all the music and dance maestros, all the exceptional theatre artists and poets and all the nationally acclaimed sports people strived to prove themselves yet again in and outside the four walls of the college. The competition helped me push my boundaries and make the best out of all the opportunities that came forth.
It was during this time that I followed my heart and reinforced my passion for the social space. My biggest achievement in college has undoubtedly been the impact that I created with the social projects I undertook. One of my projects engaged differently abled individuals to manufacture shoes for children suffering from the congenital deformity Clubfoot. Moments when our beneficiaries shared their joy of sending their kids to school for the first time, having enough time to spend with their families and simply leading a life of dignity are the ones I’ll cherish forever. Having been inspired by my father’s entrepreneurial journey, I always had an entrepreneurial streak within me. It appropriately got unleashed at Stephen’s where I got exposed to case solving and also practically practiced it by leading the St. Stephen’s chapter of Enactus, an international social entrepreneurship organisation. Problem solving became a routine with Enactus and I started to enjoy every bit of it. It has given me a chance to work with various inspiring not-for-profits, social enterprises, government projects and corporates in the field of child health, clean water, organic farming and waste management.
I looked forward to the vacations where I gained meaningful experiences through my internships. I interned with Teach For India and got insights about the functioning of organisations in the education space. I was selected for Citibank’s Graduate Management Internship Programme and got exposed to the hard-core corporate sector. Economic research was another possible avenue of interest which I explored by doing a research internship at HUDCO. After all these varied experiences , I realised that both business and policy excited me and that something at the intersection of these two would be of specific interest to me.
The denouement of this journey of mine was an offer to join McKinsey& Company. I had always been in awe of the firm’s ability to serve the client like no one else in the industry did and everything its consultants stood for. Getting a chance to be a part of the league was a dream. I intend to further my interest in both policy and business with McKinsey.
I move forward to the next phase of my life with the following insights and lessons- One, that I have been extremely fearful of failure and a lot of what I have achieved in life is because of this constant fear of failing. Accepting this fact about myself has helped me a great deal in charting my course and achieving things I desired. Two, that success came when I least expected it to come and that there is something erratic about its nature. Hard work doesn’t always immediately translate into success. Three, that success was never only mine. There have been a lot of stakeholders, people who have not only facilitated my success but have also validated it. They are my supportive parents, encouraging teachers and invested mentors.
Working with Network Capital on NITI Aayog’s Atal Mission Innovation is my way of paying back what I owe to all of them. I have come to realise the importance of good mentors in one’s life only because I have been fortunate to get some myself. I believe the ‘Mentor India’ programme has the power to unleash the latent capabilities of thousands of children in this country by providing access to relevant guidance and support from people who have been at the receiving end of it themselves. It is nothing less than a privilege to play a small part in the process and assist in the execution of what can turn out to be the world’s largest school-based mentoring programme.