Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kissing The World

Entrepreneur and best-selling author Subroto Bagchi talks about what ails the country and the qualities required for success in life

By Shevlin Sebastian

One morning, on his way to work, in Bangalore, entrepreneur and best-selling author Subroto Bagchi had stopped at a red traffic light. Suddenly, he noticed that a cart had overturned and the tomatoes were strewn all across the road. Soon, the light turned green. Before the agonised eyes of the vendor, the tomatoes were squashed.

“Within seconds, his day's work was gone,” says Bagchi. “I immediately realised that he was a micro-credit guy. He had taken a micro loan, bought the tomatoes and after selling the produce, he would repay the loan, and make a tiny profit. Now, his inventory was gone. He cannot repay his principal amount. So what was his next step?”

Bagchi felt that the man would have to take a loan again and be back the next day on the streets. “Meanwhile, here were hundreds of people in their cars, who are worrying about their jobs, promotions, increments, about being laid off, the need to have one more car or house,” he says. “We are so anxious about our future, but here was a guy whose future is now.”

This incident, published in a column, in a leading newspaper, became his most-read article. And it is these pithy observations that have made him a best-selling author. Bagchi's most well-known book is 'Go Kiss The World – Life Lessons for the Young Professional', an autobiographical book about growing up in small towns in Orissa.

Asked to explain its success, he says, “The book resonated a lot with small-town people. India remains a small-town country. It is the story of an ordinary person who came from nowhere and made a mark.” Interestingly, the title of the book is the last sentence his blind mother spoke to Bagchi before she passed away.

Bagchi has written other best-selling books like, 'The High-Performance Entrepreneur' and 'The Professional'. And he is Vice-Chairman, and Gardener of the highly regarded MindTree, an IT company that he founded. “As Gardener I am personally responsible for the Top 100 people in the company, in terms of expanding their individual leadership abilities, apart from other responsibilities,” he says.

Bagchi had come to give a reading at the new Penguin Book store in Kochi. Eventually, it was his daughter, Niti, a Latin scholar at Columbia University, who did the reading. But Bagchi impressed with his lucid thoughts and his speaking skills.

“I felt very welcome,” he said, as he analysed the Kochi audience the next morning, while enjoying an early breakfast in the garden of the Vivanta By Taj. “But I also felt that there was an undercurrent of two generations. The older people were worried about what would happen to their children. There were questions like, 'Do you think that the value system would be intact? Do you think that our and the children's future is safe?' On the other hand, the youth were asking questions about integrity and the potential of business.”

Bagchi himself is worried about the state of the country. “We are a nation in decline,” he says. “When you look at what goes on in Parliament, you realise it is a huge lost opportunity. Because this life will go away. In another ten years, the people who are shouting and screaming, getting in and out of jail, they will all be dead or dying. Then they might ask, 'What did I do with my life?' It is the job of a generation to create a legacy. Instead, they are leaving behind greed, and a self-obsessed idea of power.”

Unlike the politicians, Bagchi has always embodied integrity and leadership qualities. Asked about the qualities needed for success, he says, “You require a vision which is larger than your own self-interests. I once asked the Dalai Lama about his idea of power, and he said, 'Your purpose determines your power.' When you have a great purpose, it will start pulling you and the power will come from the universe.”

Bagchi recalled the incident when Gandhi was thrown off the train on June 7, 1893 in in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, because he refused to move to the third class coach, since he had a first class ticket. “Now, at that moment, the purpose of Gandhi could be to sue the railway official who threw him out, since he was a lawyer,” says Bagchi. “Or he could have returned to India. But in that moment, his purpose was to fight apartheid, which was a grand vision on his part.”

But Bagchi says that the moment you have established a vision, there is a lot of hard work and commitment that is needed. “Many people are afraid of success,” he says. “It is about responsibility. It is about sustainability. When you are up there, in the spotlight, there is no crawling back to your mother's womb. You have to face the heat. The biggest challenge is to live up to your own expectations.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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