Off the corporate ladder

What do a photographer, a musician, a politician and a quiz master have in common? The fact that they are from prestigious IIMs and IITs and yet gave up promising corporate careers to chase their dreams.

Published: 14th December 2014 09:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th December 2014 09:56 AM   |  A+A-

P Venkata Rajesh, Photographer

Reactions were not unusual when this now full-time photographer told his folks that he was giving up on his well-paying software job and do something that was close to his heart. “There was the emotional drama you know right from ‘You are going to struggle for money to ‘Nobody in their right mind will give their daughter’s hand in marriage to you”. A BTech Computer Science graduate from NIT-Allahabad (2007), Venkata’s next academic stop was IIM-Kozhikode (2011). “Even while I was in college, I was writing poetry and volunteered with the theatre group Evam. In a way, I sort of knew that I was going to wave goodbye to the corporate field, sooner or later,” the 29-year-old says.

He also recollects a suicide of a teammate that pushed him to pursue his dream before it was too late. “He was a buddy from IIM-Kozhikode. His suicide really rattled me. I learnt to look at life differently. Someday, it is not going to be about how much you made or where you worked. It will all boil down to ‘Did you do what you love?’”

In 2013, Venkata pooled in a personal savings of `2 lakh to buy high-end cameras and started out as a wedding photographer. “It was mostly trial and error. In time, the portraits came out better and clients were happy,” he says. His friends double up as his assistants. Venkata also briefly interned with documentary photographer Sephi Bergerson as part of brushing-up his skills. “I wanted to capture the candid emotions of people and of course, a part of me also wanted to make money,” he candidly admits. Except for some minor colour correction, Venkata “technically” doesn’t tamper with the pictures.

The secret to perfect photographs is communication and making people comfortable, believes Venkata. “I always ask them their story; how they met, what they feel about the other and such.” Next on agenda for the self-made photographer is destination weddings. Having shot all kinds of weddings — North Indian, Telugu, Kannidiga — Venkata is at equal ease shooting both modern and rituals-based weddings.

Saying that a good photographer has to be self-sustained, Venkata makes about `40,000 per album. In future, Venkata wants to assist photographers to turn entrepreneurs.

Arnav Sinha, quizmaster

Since childhood Arnav Sinha was interested in quizzing but somehow IIT-Delhi happened. The 33-year-old graduated in Chemical Engineering (BTech+MTech dual degree) in 2006. The same year, he joined IIM-Calcutta for a Postgraduate Diploma in Management and graduated in 2008. For about three years, he worked in investment banking. An avid quizzer at school and college, Arnav has conducted several quizzes too. “My quiz teammate at IIM, Vijay Anand Menon and I conducted some quizzes in other colleges in Kolkata too, and our quizzes were appreciated. We enjoyed it a lot. So, we decided to start an informal company, after graduating to continue conducting quizzes,” he says.

MnA, the quizzing company, stands for Menon and Arnav. “From 2008 till early 2012, MnA existed largely as a part-time hobby, which we would try to do on weekends. Gradually, it became difficult managing our hectic investment banking responsibilities and doing the research, travel, etc, required for quizzing. Even though my job was fairly interesting, I decided to give a proper shot at quizzing full time,” says Arnav.

At some level, Arnav’s heart had always been in quizzing and he’s happy that he discovered his calling. “Travelling to various locations, interacting with school and college students, or even corporate participants, apart from the research part itself, is a lot of fun. And satisfying, which banking wasn't,” he says.

Arnav has so far done about 60 quizzing events across a range of schools, colleges and corporate companies. He also recalls a particularly interesting assignment. “We did a film quiz for the IIT Alumni Association in Singapore last year. It was great to see the inter-IIT rivalry in alumni who would have graduated two-three decades ago.”

Apart from conducting live quizzes, MnA does content creation, where colleges or firms require their questions in large numbers for their internal events or to be put up on their websites. On his preparation as a quizzer, he offers, “I read a lot not just related to quizzing, but in general and often note down any interesting fact I come across. For general subjects like entertainment, sci-tech and literature, the research involved is not very extensive, and we use sites like Wikipedia to get ideas for questions. But, if the topic is something like pharma or automotive, then it requires a fair bit of research. Attending quizzes also gives you ideas. We don't repeat questions by other quizmasters, but sometimes their quizzes get you to read more on the subject and lead to other interesting facts that could be turned into questions.”

Arnav is also thankful for the education he has had, which has helped him in a number of ways. “The amount of quizzing I did in college definitely helps in having a basic knowledge in a wide range of subjects. The IIT-IIM tag also helps in some cases. Then there are some clichéd aspects like ability to work with short deadlines, doing research on completely new topics and understanding the basics quickly and ability to interact with people of varying temperaments that I learned during my college and job period.”   

With respect to MnA, Arnav is planning a pan-India expansion. While his present role as a quizzer pales in comparison to his previous jobs, Arnav is a satisfied man and his advice for youngsters is to follow their dreams or to at least have an outlet to convert their dream into a hobby if full-time work is not possible.

RK Misra, politician and activist

There are no politicians who have changed into social activists to grab media attention,” declares RK Misra. Rajendra Kumar Misra is a politician with a difference. “Some of us take the legislative route to do what the Government fails to do,” he explains insisting that he is not into politics for the perks it comes with. The 49-year-old holds a BTech in Civil Engineering (1989) from IIT-Kanpur and did his Master’s from Tokyo University. He also did a short-term course from Harvard University, US.

Having spent the initial days of his professional career in Japan, Misra was simply wowed by their hard work and ethics, but their opinion of India pained him. “They (Japanese) were wary of doing business with India. This spurred me to return to India and in a span of 10 years, I established numerous businesses engaging with Japan and European businesses,” he says. A desire to engage in public policy and governance led him to establish SAHYOG in 2006. “All my ventures including SAHYOG deal with infrastructure for the urban and creating livelihood opportunities for the rural people,” he says. Primary achievements of SAHYOG include computer literacy and other training for unemployed rural population. Besides SAHYOG, Misra’s initiatives include Change India Initiative, which is into inducting youth, middle class and working professionals in public policy and electoral polity.

Previously associated with BJP for about five years, Misra contested the Lok Sabha elections this year through his Nav Bharat Democratic Party and predictably lost, courtesy the Modi wave, according to him. Ask him if he had still been with the BJP, would his luck have changed, he shoots back, “My ideologies didn’t find favour with the then BJP government. Even now, we are good. I am helping them with their Modern Cities project,” he says.

Ask him if “over-qualified” people like him find it tough in politics, he counters, “Despite good intentions and qualifications, people like me and (Arvind) Kejriwal are struggling. We are just trying to add value to governance; we are not here for money or power. Why do you think Modi’s cabinet ministers are elected and not otherwise? Simply because they can’t get through with the qualifications they hold. I guess it is okay as long as they can deliver.”

Success on the political front has no meaning anymore, confesses Misra. “As long as I get to be of some assistance to the Government, that is enough. Anyway, I have my social commitments. That said, I would only be happy to see more educated youth embracing politics and trying to change the fortunes of the country,” he signs off.

Shrinivas Joshi, musician

Not just others around, but Shrinivas himself wonders why he put himself through IIT-Delhi when he knew his heart was in music. “It was mostly due to parental pressure. Back then, clearing the Joint Entrance Examination was quite a rage,” says the musician. Shrinivas graduated in Textile Engineering from IIT-Delhi in 1991 and immediately plunged into learning music. Quite inevitable, considering his father is late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Most of Shrinivas learnings were through classes in Classical music and of course, accompanying his father on tours helped him a lot, he says.

But IIT-Delhi was not entirely a lost cause, asserts Shrinivas. “I got a chance to participate in all music-related events, which made my conviction even stronger. From Pune to a place like Delhi, culturally it was different for me. I cherish those moments. It was around this time that my IIT professor Kiran Seth founded the SPIC MACAY movement, which promoted Indian classical music, dance and other related cultural forms. I was fortunate to have worked with him on this. Not to forget that a place like IIT-Delhi also helps you to grow intellectually.”

Having performed in innumerable concerts, Shrinivas also has a couple of albums to his name — Aarambh released by Saregama and Dharohar by Times Music. “Unfortunately not much interest in shown in private albums these days,” laments the musician, who briefly also tried his hand at composing for films, albeit in vain.

On his father being his biggest influence, he says, “He is simply electrifying on stage. Most of us just perform, but dad had this charisma of presenting his compositions aligned to the taste of the audience. Watching him instills confidence in me and if I could someday be half as good as he is, that would be really something.”

While his future plans pretty much revolve around getting better at his craft, Shrinivas advocates the same to youth. “When we least expect it, life unfolds in ways we hadn’t planned. One should follow their instincts. I understand that youngsters today have a lot of issues like financial worries, parental pressure and such. As far as you can, chase you dreams and keep getting better at whatever you choose to do.”


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