I realize that all my posts thus far have been about things like the spirituality of crickets and roadkill. Although my writing may not indicate it, I have been working very hard here in Bangalore. I was in an auto accident the other night, and I am just itching to write about it. However, here I am three months into the fellowship and I haven’t used this space to say a thing about my work’s late nights, early mornings, and weekend assignments. All shenanigans aside, I am here to work and have done mostly that, so without further ado, here are some glimpses into my job here at Ashoka. (If that sounds painstakingly boring, go ahead and skip to the auto accident at the end)
Mumbai: The Genesis of My Project
The rain beat down on the bamboo roof of the Prithvi Theater Cafe, one of Mumbai’s hip thespian hang-outs. The place was airy, dimly lit, yet comfortable. I was talking to a group of college students about their social ventures and trying to find the root of why they were the kind of people who have gone against the status quo and have dedicated their time to changing the World. The idea was to find this X factor that makes them changemakers and then build a program that replicates that factor across the country. The atmosphere was rich and so was the conversation. Then I had one of those moments where one sees himself objectively, as if from outside one’s own self. And I realized, this is my job. I am in India, in a cafe, having the kind of conversation that I would enjoy under any circumstance, and it is my job. If this is what is meant by working late into the night, I am completely open to it. It is rare in life to find congruency in what I want my life to be and what it actually is. Lately, I find myself having plenty of those moments.
Bangalore: The Genesis of a Revolution
I’ve been trapped in a room with four other people for months. We are putting the finishing touches on a new model that will launch a nation-wide movement of youth and children empowerment. Looking back, I swear that somewhere along the line we started re-writing the dictionary. We’ve had day-long debate over the difference of invoke and provoke, only to be followed by a debate of wether we are “…engaging in society to make change…” or “…engaging to make social change.” One might figure that such thoroughness is necessary when building something from scratch, then again, making enchiladas doesn’t require a complete reinvention of the oven. Nonetheless, words are important, so at this pace we continued in a room with closed doors and windows. Once the dictionary had been reborn, stamped, and sent off to Professor Webster, we discussed the the aspirations of the organization and what we want to see from our new model. We are trying to create a World where Everyone is a Changemaker®. The word everyone is meant to be taken literally, all 6 point something-billion of us. It’s taken me months to get a grasp of what changemaker means.
I remember someone once made a reference comparing our aspirations with the industrial revolution. Was I really sitting in a closed room with 4 people talking about starting something as powerful as the industrial revolution? Was I partaking in a pinnacle point in history, like when the founding fathers drafted the constitution? My God! I can’t believe I am wearing tennis shoes and a dress-shirt. Such a moment in history requires a black suite. Or are we are completely out of our minds? To what extent must one’s delusions of grandeur reach when you start comparing yourself to the industrial revolution? We’re not history-makers, we’re mad, hence the tennis shoes and dress-shirt. It all makes sense. History isn’t made in tennis shoes unless you are Roger Federer.
All sarcasm aside, we really are working on something that feels powerful. I am actually in dress shoes, with soles that have worn straight through, leaving my socks touching the ground. I wore my best today because we had an important call with Ashoka founder Bill Drayton this morning. It was our opportunity to share with him the work we have done, and I think he understands us, and I hope we understand him. If this is the case, we can start start finding money for the revolution.
And now for the auto accident……
How I Set the Record For Cheapest Auto Ride to Martahalli
From Brigade Road to Marathalli after 11PM for 170 rupees has to be some sort of record. In the day, the meter will come to at least that. Granted, I nearly lost my life to set that record.
The bar at the Maya Hotel served beer at your table in spigotted cylinders that looked like rocket ships. Heart break and copious amounts of previously consumed booze poured from something that appeals to one’s child-instincts to play with toys could explain why my friend fell straight off his seat at Ruby Tuesday’s while screaming profanities at the patrons. If I had known that the restaurant had some sappy value regarding his “ex,” I would have taken him to McDonald’s.
The same friend, minutes later was negotiating with autos for our ride home. Several sober drivers had offered us great deals. I couldn’t believe it when my friend turned down 200 from a sober-looking senior citizen, and then agreed to 50 in addition to the meter from a drunk man. “You drunk fool! The meter plus 50 will be way more than 200!” I pleaded with him. He must have had some sort of sloshed camaraderie with the driver since he got him to change the deal to 200.
Drunk passengers coupled with drunk drivers are a bad combination. As we spun around turns at full speed, my friend cheered for the heroics of the driver. Makes sense that the guy setting the mood for the masala-flick chase scene was dropped off without a scratch. The cheerleader was gone, but the heroic driving continued on my way to Marthalli. Going full speed over speed bumps can make the three wheels of an auto completely air-born, resulting in a loud whine coming from the engine as you soar through the air. I was sure to sit in the middle of the back seat, so as not to throw off the delicate balance of a three-wheeled vehicle driven by Evil Kenevil. Balance, however, has nothing to do with hitting a speed bump at warp 10 and smashing into a car in mid air. It seemed like slow motion as the auto bounced onto two wheels and stayed there long enough for me to high-side the back seat, plopping the third wheel back to the ground. The driver, being the hero that he was, wouldn’t have his momentum thwarted by a collision. He turned sharply, and was surely trying to make a run for it. Just what I needed was to be in a real-life high-speed chase with a driver who was hammered. Lucky for me, somebody’s aunty in her sari, on her scooter, was blocking the get-away. She created just enough time for the driver of the car to get out and stop the auto-driver from taking off.
The only thing more smashed than the driver was the back of the car he ran into. Somehow the auto seemed unscathed. I didn’t notice at the time, but my neck and spine were jerked around a bit. I couldn’t understand the words of the conversation taking place between the two drivers, but I got the gist of it. The auto driver was blaming it on the car driver, and the car driver was saying, “Are you out of your mind you crazy dunk!!!” The auto driver kept trying to leave and the car driver kept grabbing the handle bars and pushing the staggering auto driver off his seat. I found another auto willing to take me the rest of the way for 70 rupees. I gave the drunkard 100 and got the hell out of there.
So that’s how I set the record for cheapest night ride ever from Brigade Road to Martahalli.