PASSION: You can devolope a passion for a subject or a job only if you are deeply interested. Knowledge cannot be forced on you with a ruler or a stick.
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
You don’t need fancy degrees from fancy colleges to get to the top. All you need is passion and the ability to work very hard. The chairman of Tata Sons, N. Chandrasekaran, did his primary education in a Tamil medium school in a small village. Both VM Salgaocar and Pascoal Menezes, two of Goa’s biggest industrialists, were school dropouts. The inventor of the new Apple phone which now dominates the world, Steve Jobs, was a college dropout. If you don’t like studies, you don’t have to be a ticket collector in the Railways. You can become an MS Dhoni, two times World Cup cricket champion. Even marriage need not come in your way. Mary Kom became the world champion in boxing for the 6th time after having twins….
With Christmas around the corner it is the right time to tell you a Christmas story. A story which not only teaches you the virtue of forgiveness but also why children like one language and hate another. The story called the “Bishop’s Candlesticks” talks of a small church in France. The church is not very rich. The building is not very grand. The Bishop himself believes in humility. He wears simple clothes. He does not believe in crowns and flashy vestments. The church had only one very prized possession. It had a pair of golden candle sticks. To the despair of the good Bishop, a thief stole the candlesticks. The thief was caught in the small village in which the church was located. When the police brought the thief to the Bishop he told them to let him go. May be the Lord (God) believes that he needs the candlesticks more than the church or I do.
The moral of the story is Christian charity and forgiveness. That those who have a lot a money should be willing to share their riches. But for me, who not only read the story but enacted it, there was another lesson. In the play that was put up by the 4th standard students I played the role of the Bishop. It thought me forgiveness and charity. It also inculcated in me a love for the English language. A passion for English which later made me choose journalism as a career. Conversely I developed a hatred for Maths because we had a very strict teacher. A teacher who did not believe in sparing the rod. A teacher who thought that children would learn only if you beat them on the knuckles with the ruler. Our choices of what subjects we like and equally importantly dislike depends on how it is taught and who teaches it. If I had a good maths teacher perhaps the course of my life would have been different.
Thanks to the Bishop’s candlesticks I developed a passion for writing. A passion for writing which made me chose a career in journalism. I did not wait till I had finished my degree to start my career in Journalism. The Bangalore University where I was studying brought out an official magazine which only praised the vice chancellor and the teachers. The lack of facilities like comfortable desks and good lighting and clean toilets were never referred to in the official magazine.
Right from the time I entered college or rather the present HSSC stage I was a rebel. I got together with some friends and we started a rival tabloid which looked a little like Goan Observer which highlighted the short-comings. We called the magazine Retort which means defiance. But because we were young students and a little frightened we drew a chemistry retort on the cover.
The origin of my Stray Thoughts column in the Herald and now the Goan Observer goes back to my 12th standard where I used to highlight the big and small shortcomings in the university. I used to go to the printing press and check the copy. I use to put the printed copies on the stand of my cycle and distribute them all over Bangalore. It became very popular with the students though understandably the authorities did not like it. I am mentioning this because you can achieve anything you want if you have the passion and you are willing to work not hard but very very hard. Those who believe in 10:00 am to 5:00 pm government jobs will remain clerks all their lives.
You can as the popular Hindi film featuring Amir Khan shows, bring the stars to the ground — Taare Zameen Par. You can now literally travel to the moon and may be in your children’s lifetime if not your lifetime or live on the mars, you do not have to have a degree from the most expensive or the most prestigious college to reach the top. You don’t have to get into the Indian Institute of Technology to reinvent Apple. Steve Jobs who reinvented the Apple phone was a college drop out.
The present Chairman of the Tata Group, Chandrasekaran, studied in Tamil in a small village at the primary level and went to a local college in nearby city. The great Philanthropist, Sudha Murthy, was the first woman engineer from a rural college called B.V.B. College of Engineering & Technology. Fortunately for her both father who was a doctor and the college principal were liberal enough to admit her to the college purely on merit. Despite her problems being the only girl in an all boys college, she managed to make friends. But the fact that she had a passion for engineering and got the highest marks each time converted the boys to look at her as a bright student and not just a girl. Indeed she won the Gold Medal for standing first in her final year in the engineering course.
Subsequently, she did her post-graduation in the Indian Institute of Science. It was her savings which provided the capital for starting INFOSYS. So if you have the passion and are willing to work hard you don’t need to be a TATA or a BIRLA who inherited wealth and not worked for it. The father of the area director of the Taj Group of Companies in Goa was a musician in the Indian Army. He did not have any patrons but came up the hard way.
You first have to find out what you want to do. Do you want to sell bhelpuri on the beach or become a top executive in a company? Or do you want to start you own company? Goa is an interesting example of several self-made entrepreneurs. Industrialists who started from scratch. The late VM Salgaocar had a small grocery shop almost a gaddo in Ribandar where he used to sell vegetables. He then started dealing in wholesale trade in vegetables. He would go in the train to Belgavi every morning. He had made friends with the engine drivers so that he could carry large quantities of vegetables from the wholesale market and supply them to the retail market.
The next step was to supply the requirements to various ships that came to Vasco -da-Gama harbor. When the Portuguese announced that they were distributing mining concessions he applied and was lucky to get one. To locate the areas where there was ore he had to travel by bullock cart.
Similarly, Pascoal Menezes, the founder of the CMM Group, dropped out when he was in the 5th standard. Like Vincent Ramos of Taj Group, Pascoal’s father was also a musician who worked for the Portuguese army in Angola. It was the gold coins which they were paid provided the finance for the pharmacy that Pascoal Menezes started.
In the Portuguese colonial period customs duties were very low. Luxury goods ranging from cosmetics to Mercedes car were freely available. In contrast, India was going through a socialistic phase and had banned the import of all luxury goods including Gillete blades and gramphone records.
Pascoal expanded and acquired the dealership for a large number of items. In a sense he had the biggest mall in Goa with customers like Rusi Mody, Managing Director of Tata Steel, who used to buy records and filmsstars who would come to Goa to buy cosmetics. These are only two examples of industrialists in Goa who had humble beginnings through hard work and built huge industrial empires. Among the lesser known industrialists who climbed up the stairs was Gajanan, the founder of the Real Group, whose first business venture was the Café Real.
But hard work alone is not enough. You have to take advantage of opportunities. A classic example is Salvodor Fernandes of Chorão Island. By coincidence his father was also a musician. Sallu as he was used to be called, passed his SSC after failing many times from Pune. He got a job in a company selling weighing machines. Sallu got an agency for selling weighing machines in Goa. He soon decided to go into manufacture and became the weighing machine king. The name Sallu now is identified with every kind of weighing machine from bathroom scales to weighing trucks carrying ore.
Sports has opened up many new opportunities for people from the most backward areas. The classic example are the wrestlers from Haryana. Originally the phelwan were all male. But soon the girls started matching the boys. The Phogat sisters became famous for winning Olympic medals. So from a poor rural family they became world famous. Similar, is the case of the boxer Mary Kom, who is now mother of twins, she rose from a poor Naga family to a six times world champion. M.S Dhoni who led India successfully to two World Cup Championships, started his life as ticket collector in the Railways. The tribals of Orissa are among the best archery champions. So much so, now, there is an alternative to studies. If you are not interested in studying you can choose the option of sports to earn your fortune.
Most important is an ability to understand and analyze what you are doing. Even if you have a passion you must understand the subject which you are interested in. There is no harm in making mistakes. Even big companies now realize that you learn only from mistakes. As long as you don’t make the same mistakes again. I recall that after spending almost a decade in the Indian Express I was offered a job in a magazine called Onlooker. My friend and I, who had offered me the job did not bother to study what made the magazine sell. Both of us were Marxists and thought that women should not be exploited. The feature in the magazine which was most popular was the nude of a girl which used to be carried even before Debonair.
In our lack of understanding and our desire to treat women honorably we dropped the nude. Immediately the circulation fell by 80% and the owner who was a coal mine baron from Kolkatta asked us to quit.
I had learned my lesson. When I got my next job as editor of a magazine called Mirror at the age of 27, I did not repeat my earlier mistake. Now there is a lot of talk of big data and data analysis. You don’t need to have a degree in computer sciences to analyze your job or even what you do in your life. Words like big data are big words for common sense. I realized in the Mirror that the former editor had come out with a very good formula. The magazine was aimed at young people in small towns who were interested in knowledge. They wanted to know how people became great.
They wanted to write themselves. I did not change the basic formula as I realized that the magazine was helping a lot of young people. It used to sell more than two lakh copies. It was courtesy Mirror that I stayed in the than best five-star hotel, the Oberoi in Kolkata for the first time in my life. I only made one addition. Those were the days when there was no e-mail or smart phones. So lonely people had no way of communicating with each other. I introduced a penpals column where young people used to send their addresses along with their hobbies and other interests. It became so popular that I used to receive more than 20,000 penpal coupons a months. The circulation went up by another two lakh.
And a last example from Goa of how a logical mind and detailed analysis is very important for success. In the 80s, Goa had only one English newspapers, namely The Navhind Times. This catered mainly to the Hindu community. The Catholics who then were 40% of the population did not have a newspaper to read. I studied the market and found that most Hindu families who bought a newspaper preferred to subscribe to a Marathi paper. So much so almost 80% of readers of English papers were Catholics. On this logic I decided to make or position Herald as the Catholic paper. All the Catholics including those who were reading the Navhind Times immediately switched to the Herald. The other advantage was that the Catholics liked to put ads of their dearly departed in the paper, along with photographs whenever there was a birth or an anniversary like Golden Jubilee. This was very helpful to a newpaper which had small resources as it provided a steady cash flow as all death ads were paid for in advance.
We have written about jobs because more and more young people and educated young people are not getting jobs. Nobody seems to want engineers, with lakhs of seats in the country remaining vacant. There may be millions of students with Art degrees but, there are no jobs for them. There have been reports of even PHDs applying for peon’s jobs in government organizations. In Goa, off course everyone waits for a government job and will not join a private company even if it offers a bright future. To get a job you do not have to have a first class degree from a top college. To get a job you do not need to be super intelligent.
JNU FEE HIKE
To get a job you do not have to get into IIT or BITs branch in Goa. You do not need a lot of money to join a private college as government colleges particularly in Goa are as good as private colleges. The best gift to those from poor families is the JNU, which not only has reservations for poor and backward families but even offers them scholarships and free hostel accommodation and food. But even with the best education you have to have a passion for a job and work very hard if you want to go to the moon or catch the stars.