This is the personal account of Gaurav Jhunjhunwala, one of Network Capital’s first 100 members. He has beautifully captured lessons learned from his career. His work has been instrumental in S Chand’s heavily oversubscribed IPO.
My name is Gaurav Jhunjhnuwala, and this is my story:
I was born in Hong Kong and led a happy childhood. I grew up in a household with a lot of family and there was a sense of togetherness and community not often found in families these days.
Despite wearing eyeglasses with really thick lenses, I looked, felt and acted just the same as any other child in their adolescent years would.
I still remember the day when my life started to change. I was in 6th grade and our class had gone for a short camping trip to an island just off the coast of Hong Kong. On the last night of the camp, the teachers and support staff organizing the trip were handing out prizes for a unique contribution or skill each student possessed. When my name was called I bounded up to the makeshift stage eagerly waiting to hear what was special about me for which I was being recognized. The words printed on my award said ‘For Gaurav – for having the thickest glasses we have ever seen!’
Over the following months I completed my primary education and moved to a new campus to attend my secondary and higher education.
While I had always had difficulty with my vision, it was never really a problem in the small classrooms in primary school. As I started secondary school I found that I was having increasing difficulty reading the words my instructors scrawled on the blackboards.
Although I didn’t have perfect vision I was able to enjoy playing soccer with my friends during our long lunch breaks. In the back of my mind I was clinging onto the false hope fed to my by my optometrist that once I reached the age of 18, my eyes would have developed enough to the point where it would be clinically safe for me to undergo lasic eye surgery which would surely give me near perfect vision.
The following summer my family and I accompanied my grandfather to visit the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, USA. My grandfather was having some heart related problems and the family had decided that the US would be the best place to have this investigated properly. While at the Mayo Clinic my father felt it would be good for me to have a consultation with their ophthalmology department.
Many harrowing eye tests and retinal photographs later, the ophthalmologist sat us down and informed us that my condition was not one that could be corrected by any surgery. In fact my condition had an obscure name that I could barely pronounce, but the bottomline was that my vision would continue to deteriorate over time and would in most cases result in permanent blindness.
Walking back to the hotel from the opathlmologist’s office, still bleary eyed from the eyedrops, all I could remember feeling was hollow. The mental benchmark I had set for myself that my life would once again start to be normal upon undergoing surgery had been stolen from me and I didn’t feel like ithe past few hours were real. I just wanted to Wake up from this experience as if it were all a bad dream.
Returning back to school after the summer I tried to erase the thought of my disease from my mind. We had always been told to try harder when things get difficult, so I tried to apply the same approach to my vision problem. I tried staring more intently at my textbooks and at the blackboard, but my vision didn’t seem to co-operate.
Eventually I wasn’t able to read anything written on the blackboards at all and would just listen to all the information my teachers were saying. I was too scared to say or do anything because even if I sat in the first row, I was still unable to read the board properly. As anyone who has been through the confusing and awkward experience of being a teenager knows, at that time in your life all you want to do is fit in, something that was becoming increasingly more and more difficult for me.
After struggling through high school I was intent on attending college in the US just like all my classmates. I didn’t want to be that kid who was different or wasn’t able to leave the safety net of home.
I attended college at Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana. My vision continued to deteriorate through these years to the point where it was becoming dangerous for me to be unassisted. Yet a mix of denial, shame and fear clouded my better judgement and propelled me through many difficult college experiences.
One cold winter evening after finishing a math class (I failed calculus twice before and this was the third time I was taking it), trudging out of the lecture hall I noticed that it had been snowing quite heavily. Walking back to my apartment located a few blocks away from the college campus, I almost slipped and barely missed hitting the back of my head on the icy pavement.
I have heard that will power is like a muscle and that if you push it too much, it can get worn out completely. My will power to manage my disability in an independent manner wore out by the end of my Junior year in college.
I told all my friends that I was taking some time off and would come back to complete my degree after a year, but deep down inside I knew and I suspect so did everyone else, that this was never going to happen.
With my head hung low I returned home, less disappointed about not having completed my college education, and more fearful of what I would say to friends and relatives who would ask me why I’m back in Hong Kong without having graduated.
Since my vision was deteriorating every single day, my operating mantra became that ‘everyday is the worst day of my life because each new day is worse than the day before.’
Through a chance conversation with someone my parents found out that there was a hospital somewhere in the Indian state of Kerala where a family of doctors used natural remedies to treat patients with the very same disease with which I was afflicted.
Three months and a few short plane rides later we found ourselves in a remote jungle in Kerala at Sreedhareeyam eye hospital. Not knowing what to expect and not wanting to get my hopes up I underwent the rigorous regiment prescribed by the doctors of consuming various herbs and administering a number of excruciatingly painful eye drops made of plant extracts.
While the treatment did not seem to help y condition physically, mentally my life started looking upwards. I met many people who are now close friends, afflicted with the same disease as me and with similar stories and experiences like mine. All these years I felt so lonely and isolated that I didn’t know a single person who could possibly know or understand what I was going through because the chances of having this condition were said to be one in a million.
The painful eyedrops and bitter medicine became a breeze to handle and at many times was even enjoyable because we were a group of hundreds of individuals having these experiences together. Not only did we feel like we fit in, but we even started to feel like we had our own subculture, sharing jokes that only people who have walked straight into a door or been hit in the face by a football or have spoken to a tree because they thought it was a person would understand.
Although my experience in Kerala didn’t help my condition externally, I felt the blindness lifting from my attitude and outlook towards my life. I removed the negative programming that my life was getting worse each day and felt empowered to face the world anew.
With the help of technology and the gift of text to speech software, I am rediscovering the joy of learning which had earlier faded away along with my vision. I have become an avid book reader listening to audiobooks and 2x the regular spped, or listening to e-text at a rate of close to 500 words a minute and an uncanny ability to retain most of the information I hear. I would typically go through forty to fifty books in a year. While this may sound like a superpower to some, it is quite normal in the visually impaired community.
Presently I am living in new Delhi with my wonderful wife and amazing parents who are collectively the biggest sources of joy in my life along with my love for learning. I am extremely passionate about edtech and making the world a more accessible and inclusive place for everyone.
My experience in Kerala was nothing short of lifechanging. The jury is still out on whether it was divine intervention or sheer dumb luck, but we now have the ability to create such experiences for more and more people.
This group is a medium to help people find meaning, purpose and self worth for themselves through shared connections, stories and experiences.