2:00 AM late night, as I cruise through the deserted roads of Hyderabad in my i10 …The radio blares Aaa Reddd FFMMmm. The VJ tries hard to entertain his audience of owl time, in an accented Telugu, promising us that he will make it a night to remember with songs of old times. To be fair to his promise, he plays some really good classics that take me down the memory lane, as I drive home after 17 hours at work. Time goes by like a minute in my world, spending time guiding engineering team building products one moment and guiding operations teams to exceed our customer expectations 24X7X365 the other moment…never a dull day or night…
As Dominic Toretto from Fast and Furious says.. To clear your head, get on a clear road and just drive. I am a big fan of that character and never miss a chance to, so I chose to drive home from work that night. A clear road in Hyderabad, India, you ask ? Indeed! The best times to drive on Hyderabad roads are 2:00 AM to 6:00 AM. Other than a stray dog tired ambling around and a guy snoozing in the gas station waiting for some late night owl customer to wake him up from his slumber, roads are calm and crystal clear with all but the voice of a late night DJ on radio for company….
As I am getting close to home, I see a hand that raises a thumb up to ask for hitching a ride. 2:42 AM, dead in the night, driving all by self, a stranger asking for a ride – all signs of a risk, but when have I followed convention for safety… I make a split second decision to screech my i10 to a halt, having already passed the hitch hiker. He runs and gets into my car. “Thank you, Uncle!” he says, as he gets in. A young lad of barely 21, he has the looks of a young engineer coming from a late night party. I push the accelerator and ask him, where to, as I speed away. My home is less than 2 kilometers. “Left in 2 kilomoteres would work, Uncle”, he says. “It will save me that walk. Buses at this time are rare”. My mind wanders around the times in 90s when I used to just skip the bus and love the walk. This generation isn’t all geared for either the adventure or the effort…but that isn’t fair when it is well past 2:30 AM.
“Late project at school?!”, I ask, trying to make a conversation.
“No uncle, I am coming from our college farewell party”.
“Ah, farewell party, I had one a very long time.”
“Where do you work, Uncle?”
“I run a small education and tech start up at Hyderabad, kiddo”
In case you were wondering, nor was I selling him nor trying to make an impression, I was trying to get him initiate some interesting questions next.
“What is your product. What markets do you serve? Education and technology, must be quite interesting. How is it different than just a job ? Is it hard and fun work trying to create product companies in India? 8 out of product companies don’t make it more than 2 years, how long have you been around?”
No – none of these questions were asked.
“Sir (not uncle anymore), what is the package at your company ?”
“Package?! No we are not in shipping business. We are in EdTech start up business”
“I know, I know, Sir. I was asking what will be salary for freshers and those with experience? Will there be perks? These days, lot of my friends were talking about it at campus.”
“Is that the discussion these days amongst those coming out of campuses – packages and perks ?! Why don’t you guys discuss about the solutions you can build for local and global markets and create something of value for society? “
“Oh I know and heard that start ups as well, Sir. But I want play it safe at this age”.
“Safe at this age?! Son, you are just north of 20’s. I have just hit north of my 40’s. Age isn’t the criteria to determine your appetite for risk. The greatest risk you will ever take is to chase safety.”
He started to appear a bit bored with the sermon. I paused the conversation and said “I turn left here, where do you need to go?”
“Less than a few homes from here”
“No worries, it is on my way” I lied, so I can find an excuse and drive with him and leave a little more last min attempt at counsel.
“I will advise you still to think about your skills, your interests, the market needs, and plan something interesting. You have done 4 years of engineering. I am sure something came out of it. What you choose obviously doesn’t matter if it be a start up or a small job in a big company – but have some good goals and do some good planning – ok, son ? Never settle for something easy and simple. You have a great journey ahead of you. Make it count. You represent young India. Give us the hope we look for, from your generation.”
“Sir, can you give me your email, I will send you my bio data. A safe job is best for me.”
“Sure, but think about what I told you tonight”.
“What is your name?”
“My name is Bharath, Sir. Goodnight and thank you very much for the lift.”
“Happy to give a lift to Bharath. Good night!”
I do not know if Bharath represents this generation or not, but the conversation with 1 kid on a late night for 10 minutes, is not the basis for me to make this assessment. It is based on 70+ interviews our HR had at my little start up just today, to select the chosen 8 to fit in. Most of the candidates were looking for packages before passion, perks before skills and learning, safety before self assessment. Some shone bright as stars and well qualified for the task, which we gladly took in, and hoping to shape our company of 180 and the next India out of these talents. Here, we have no shortage of talent. We have shortage of risk takers, shortage of leaders.
YOUNG BHARATH, please wake up and shape India, shape the world. This is your time. Time you lifted our spirits! Jai Hind!!