On his first ‘on-site’ project
It was a project for Patni Computer Services, the company that I joined straight after graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai.
Nandan Nilekani (Rob Elliott / AFP)
In the middle of 1979, I left for Cambridge, Massachusetts, to work on a project for Patni. The project was for Data General, Patni’s principal (or the company it worked through. In those days, most Indian software firms worked through principals). I spent almost eight months at Boston, discovered Filene’s Basement (the iconic bargains shop that used to be a must-stop for everyone who visited Boston)—my first purchase was a pair of jeans—and spent much of my free time at Harvard Square because it was nice and also because I didn’t have too much money in those days.
I shared a flat with another person (Nilekani says he is still in touch with this flatmate, who now does his own thing in Pune), and although I did catch movies and the occasional play, my one regret is that I never caught a concert.
I also learnt to cook—again, there wasn’t enough money to eat out all the time. Keema was one of the things I cooked a lot. I got around by bus and train.
Apart from working, I also made friends in the US, met people, and generally had a good time. I had given my GMAT (the entrance test for students who wish to enrol in business school in the US) but I was clear I didn’t want to migrate to the US or study further. I learnt a lot about the US, its culture, the way people live.
(Though Nilekani made another trip to the US for Patni, he had left the company by the early 1980s, co-founded Infosys, and up until 1988-89, spent more time in the US than in India.) My first trip to the US for Infosys was in 1982 (Data Basix Corp was the company’s principal), soon after the company was founded. That was in Tampa, Florida, and I spent almost a year there. By then I was married and Rohini (Nilekani’s wife) joined me after a few months.
(Nandan Nilekani is co-chairman, Infosys Technologies)
Sunil Bharti Mittal
On his first mobile phone call
The first time I made a call on a mobile phone was in Mauritius in January 1992, three years before cellular services started in India. In Mauritius, I used one of the early Motorola “brick” phones (the DynaTAC 8000x portable cellular phone) to make the call. I knew there could be a market in India, but not in the way it has exploded today. All of us in the industry knew about mobile phones ever since Rajiv Gandhi visited Sweden (in 1988) and made a call from a mobile phone to India. There were some car phones in New Delhi then but we were far, far away from cellular services as we know them today.
Sunil Bharti Mittal. (Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint)
(That first call was a turning point in Mittal’s career in more ways than one: After that first call, Mittal created a joint venture—Bharti Cellular Ltd—backed by Mauritian operator Emtel Ltd and France’s Vivendi SA, that was awarded a mobile phone service licence in New Delhi in 1994. Today, the Mittal-chaired Bharti Airtel Ltd is the biggest mobile phone services firm in India.)
(Sunil Bharti Mittal is chairman and managing director, Bharti Enterprises)
On her first day in front of a film camera
My first shoot was for Kantilal Rathod’s Parinay (1972). I graduated from the Film and Television Institute in Pune on 30 April 1972 and the very next day, I was at the shoot, in a small house in the Mumbai suburb Khar. It was such an easy and comfortable shoot that the magnitude of what was happening didn’t strike me. I remember that I looked hideous. I had atrocious make-up which made my eyes look small and my teeth look big. In the first shot that I gave, I had to make tea for Asha Sachdev, who played my mother. I signed this film when I was yet to graduate and got a signing amount of Rs1,500. My brother Baba and I jumped around in delight when I got the cheque. I also bought myself a sari.
(Shabana Azmi is a well-known actor and activist)
On the first deal he made
It was a deal that made a big difference. In 1979, our company had revenues of Rs3 crore and we were hoping to achieve 100% growth in an uncharted technology. Modern computing began with Personal Computers, whose shipments came from Apple and HCL in early 1978. These were with Operating Systems more sophisticated than PC DOS of 1980 or with architecture close to the IBM PC of 1980. It was still an issue of technical and financial credibility and to buy from a barsati start-up was a clear risk.
Shiv Nadar. ( Sumeet Inder Singh / India Today)
At that time, Modipon, a part of Modi Group, was a very successful company and K.K. Modi was taking the decision. He called me for discussions at his residence. Since the technical decision was in our favour, he asked one direct simple question: “We are buying four computers for Rs20 lakh. Your paid-up equity is the same. What do we do if you sink?” No one had been so blatant before. My answer was: “Look at my eyes. You must be very good at reading people to get to where you have and do what you do. If you see great determination and optimism, buy ours. Does it look like we will go down? If you think so, then buy from anyone else. When that goes wrong, call me. We will still be there.” Modipon decided in our favour. This was the first multiple computer deal we made.
(Shiv Nadar is founder, HCL, and chairman and chief strategy officer, HCL Technologies)
On being the first woman officer in the Indian Police Service
Frankly, if I had not been selected, I would have been shocked. My whole life, my upbringing, was a preparation for this job. I was a sports girl, played an active part in the National Cadet Corps and I had only one goal—to do something that would make a difference to my country. I never believed in gender boxing or being treated differently because I was a girl.
Kiran Bedi. (Kamal Singh / PTI)
As part of the IPS force and as the first woman to be so, a fact that I was not really aware of till I joined, I was determined that no allowances should be made for me. When I joined, there were no special rules for women officers; it was a totally male-oriented service but I had decided that I do not want to be treated differently from the boys. I attended the same training sessions, wore the same uniform, and I think that’s what set the precedent.
(Kiran Bedi is former director general, Bureau of Police Research and Development)
On her first experience of Vipassana meditation
In November 1997, just after the death of my husband Rohinton, I had my first experience of Vipassana meditation in a workshop at Igatpuri. I went with a lot of apprehension as to whether I would last the 10 days, with its strict rules of no talking, meditation practice all day long and being by myself. At the same time, I went with the dogged determination that I would not give up, come what may. There was also great hope that I would find something meaningful, after all the difficulties. And that certainly came true. I found an inner peace, and by going deep within myself, I got to learn the art of coming to terms with the outside world.
Anu Aga. (Ashesh Shah / Mint)
(Anu Aga is director of Thermax India)
On his first plane ride
I still remember my first flight, in 1967. That was when I was 18 years old and working for a travel company for Rs300 a month. As I could not afford air travel, my company arranged a ticket to travel Delhi-Mumbai. If I am not wrong, it was an IAC4 Indian Airlines flight. That 89-seater Caravelle aircraft had only one class configuration. Those days there were only two flights a day. I struggled to get a seat on that night flight. A few years later, I floated a firm selling air tickets in the name of Jet Air. I remember many people asked me about using the word “jet” instead of “travel”. I told them: “What if I start an airline on my own in the future?”
Naresh Goyal. (PTI)
(Naresh Goyal is founder chairman of Jet Airways (India) Ltd)
On his first time as director on the sets of ‘Taare Zameen Par’
I was not meant to direct Taare Zameen Par, so when I took over as director I had no time for preparation. So I decided not to shoot for the first two days but spend that time with key crew and assistants breaking down shots for the 10-12 scenes we were to shoot on that location. I got accustomed to the feel of looking through the camera, blocking scenes, placing assistants where I wanted the actors to be. I remember thinking this is a big responsibility, it’s sudden and a moment of crisis for the film, but I didn’t feel nervous. I knew I had to get out there and do the job. I wanted to see the scenes like they were playing in my head, to see if what I was imagining made sense.
Aamir Khan. (Manoj Patil / Hindustan Times)
The first day of shooting with the actors was completely pre-planned, so I could concentrate on getting the actors’ performances right. Ishaan’s house was our first location. It was a two-bedroom flat and we were shooting with Ishaan (Darsheel Safary), his parents and brother. I was clear, and knew exactly what I wanted from them. Though it was Darsheel’s first film, he is very talented and grasped what I wanted very quickly. I was only nervous about some of the longer, more verbose scenes, or the art mela scene where 2,000 children had to sit and paint. A retake of that scene would have meant clearing all 2,000 out of the amphitheatre and starting again, which could have taken up to two hours. I really enjoyed directing and would like to direct again, when the right project comes along.
(Aamir Khan is an actor, producer and director)
On her first marriage proposal
The first marriage proposal I ever got was during an IMG concert at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. I was 18 or 19, and I could feel a pair of eyes watching me. Every time I turned to look, I saw the same guy staring at me. During the interval, he asked me if I was going to get coffee. I replied that I was, and he asked, “Could I join you? I just want to get to know you better.” I said that I didn’t want to get to know him. He followed me anyway and insisted on reciting four lines of Urdu poetry to me, and then he said, “You’re just the kind of woman I want to marry.” I was shocked and scared. I’ve never met him since that day, but he did call me after that meeting. He turned out to be the son of a film-maker.
Vidya Balan. (Manpreet Romana / AFP)
(Vidya Balan is an actor)
On the first advertisement he created
The first advertisement I ever created was for Modi truck tyres in 1992-1993. I was a junior copywriter at the time with Ogilvy and Mather, New Delhi, working under the late legendary creative director Suresh Mullick. The campaign was in film and print. The tag line was: “Tyre mard to kaisa dard.”
Prasoon Joshi. (Madhu Kapparath / Mint)
We were positioning it as a tyre that was “man enough”—a masculine tyre. Just as a man doesn’t get hurt, this tyre would not get hurt on the road, even riding over bumps, undulations, et cetera. In true Bollywood style, we projected the tyre as a hero, larger than life, and with muscles. The ad film showed a trucker driving on a highway, and when he passes by a car that’s broken down, he helps out. Similarly, he (in effect, the Modi tyres) plays saviour to several distressed vehicles along the way.
I became Suresh Mullick’s blue-eyed boy after this ad, and I learnt a lot working with him. We both enjoyed Indian and Western classical music. He taught me how to sip and taste wine. He and Neil French (another legendary creative director) taught me a lot about the sense of craft, especially writing.
(Prasoon Joshi is regional creative director (South and South-East Asia), McCann Erickson (India) Pvt. Ltd )
Jeev Milkha Singh
On the first time he knew he had lived up to the legacy of his name
When I won the Volvo Masters Championship in Valderrama, San Roque, Spain in October 2006, I knew I had lived up to my name and my legacy. That’s when I knew I could do serious damage in golf. I realized that I could play with the best in the world and win. The moment I knew the game was mine came when I played the second last shot. I remember thinking when the ball soared about 12ft that I had a damn good chance of winning. There were thousands of people watching the tournament. It took me about 3 minutes to walk back to the greens and all I could hear was people clapping. That feeling was just amazing. I don’t think I can really explain what was going on in my mind.
Jeev Milkha Singh (Paul Ellis / AFP)
(Jeev Milkha Singh is the only Indian golfer who will tee off at this year’s Augusta Masters)
On the first time he realized he was getting addicted to Mumbai
When I used to visit Mumbai—before I moved here from Hyderabad—it was almost impossible to get me to travel across the city but now, even if I’m stuck in a horrific traffic jam, I don’t react. Being stuck on the roads for an hour and a half bothers me, but I use the time to have meetings, make calls and do interviews. Before I had a car and driver, I took the train a few times. The local trains are not for the weak-hearted. Books should be written about them and on how so many people can be compressed into such a small space and yet go about it like business as usual. My tryst with trains ended the day I took a local from Churchgate to Bandra at rush hour. I didn’t realize it was a Virar fast—people on those trains just don’t let you off. It took begging and some tears from one of my colleagues to get us off. Now, when I go to Hyderabad or back to Atlanta, US, I’m shocked at the lack of pace and how much time is spent in not doing anything. Though I’m not a party animal, I have become accustomed to doing things continuously throughout the day now. Mumbai has a state of heightened energy, and that’s the real addiction.
(Nagesh Kukunoor is a film director)
On his first quiz show
It is funny, but the first quiz was the one I conducted on national television. That was in 1985, when DD (Doordarshan) was the only show in town, and a single half-hour slot had opened up every day for independently produced, sponsored programmes. For one whole year, 9pm every Sunday night became Quiz Time, the first national intercollegiate quiz. There were to be two more seasons of the show, in 1986 and 1988, for shorter runs, but more sophisticated and as successful. I came to it not as a quizzer but via theatre and some casual emceeing I used to do. Whatever I picked up on the craft was from what I had gleaned from shows I saw on cable TV at the hotel where I briefly worked as a sort of events manager. Some former film-maker colleagues were making a pilot for a game show called Safecracker, and with 10 minutes notice, just asked me to pop by and introduce the show and a venerable quizmaster. So I winged it, and left. A month down the line, that morphed into Quiz Time, and they asked if I would host it. I did, and it has been pretty much question marks ever since. The show had a modicum of production values which were a novelty at the time, we had bright collegians from all over the country competing, and I guess I made a sort of youthful, fast-talking quizmaster, with the charming Kavita Agarwal by my side, keeping scores. It all seemed to click. In the first year, I functioned only as a host. The next, I took charge of content and production, and finally I took on the programme as an independent production. I looked at the show as total communication, requiring content-rich entertainment, presenting quiz as drama. I also knew that a host could only be as good and as big as the show, and without a sound format, thorough back-end and dynamic teamwork, what went up front would be flimsy. With great partners and colleagues, that’s how Synergy came to be, and the foundations of a certain approach to TV production, which tries to combine intelligence with aesthetics and aspires to excellence in entertainment, were laid.
(Siddhartha Basu is co-founder, Synergy Adlabs Media Ltd)
Saif Ali Khan
On his first guitar performance
My very first guitar concert was at Winchester Public School in England, where I studied. I was 15, and we practised for months. There was a high level of enthusiasm then, but looking back it was pretty much rubbish. We played very basic rock—the Ramones, which is probably the easiest rock band to copy but it’s not particularly inventive. There were four of us in the band—two on the guitar, and one each on the keyboard and drums. The school encouraged music from the classical to the contemporary and there were about six-seven different bands. It was a boys school but yes, we did have girls from the schools around coming in for functions. But no, our band didn’t have any groupies. We weren’t good enough!
Saif Ali Khan. (Prodip Guha / Hindustan Times)
My first proper rock concert was two years ago in New Delhi when I jammed with Parikrama. I was shooting an advertisement for Seagram where I was supposed to strum the guitar, and I did and they said wow. This led to the concert with Parikrama. There were 6,000 people; it was an exhilarating experience to create music on stage with an interactive crowd.
(Saif Ali Khan is an actor)
On her first day in Rajya Sabha
My first day in Rajya Sabha, on 22 November 2006, was overwhelming and exciting. At 36, I was one of the youngest members out of nearly 250 elders; it felt like my first day in kindergarten—there were several aunts and uncles, except they were senior statesmen. And they were so welcoming, even mollycoddling me. I was the new kid on the block. In the very first week of the session, I asked my first question: “How do we standardize the quality of primary education across India?” I think that every day in Parliament is a “first”, as you are always learning something new.
Supriya Sule is member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)
On the first piece of architecture that inspired him
When I first started to build the Hiranandani Complex at Powai, I looked to my own city of Mumbai for inspiration. I looked at the structures so dear to every Mumbaikar—the Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Station), the University of Mumbai and the municipal corporation building. It struck me how their charm has endured over time, whereas buildings built a decade ago look dated. So we modelled our Powai township on this aesthetic, combining modern amenities with old-world elegance. To me, that’s the distinction between being just fashionable and having a sense of style—the former changes with the season and the latter is built to last.
(Niranjan Hiranandani is co-founder, Hiranandani Constructions, and a real estate developer)
On his first glass of wine
I had my first glass, or rather bottle, of wine when I was 15. About 10 of us, an all-boys gang from Cathedral (and John Connon) School, Mumbai, had gone to Goa to celebrate the end of our class X ICSE exams. All of us got together and bought a bottle of Goan port and got completely tanked up on Vinicola’s port wine No: 7 on Baga beach. It goes without saying that all of us had this massive hangover the next morning. Did we think of buying any other kind of alcohol? No! Five people could get drunk on a bottle of Vinicola for Rs16 at that time. It was completely worth it! But my first real experience with wine was at the age of 19. I was in Stanford, California, pursuing an undergraduate degree in engineering and economics. My girlfriend, Hilary, bought a $6 (about Rs240) bottle of Sutter Home White Zinfandel to celebrate my move into an off-campus apartment. She even bought two wine glasses for the occasion, as I didn’t own any at the time.
(Rajeev Samant is chief executive officer,Sula Vineyards)
On her first vintage car
My first vintage car was a beautiful 12-cylinder, silver 1937 Rolls Royce—Phantom-III. It was a gift from my paternal grandfather on my first birthday, making me the youngest Rolls Royce owner in the world. What I love about it is that this magnificent car was customized to suit the fancy of a young woman. The car has a vanity case—complete with mirror and powder case—built into the back seat. And the upholstery on the seats and door panels was completely hand-embroidered by my aunts. It also carries my own crest—sprays of flowers—as my grandfather thought it was not appropriate for a girl to use the family crest. The crest is embroidered in gold thread on the upholstery. And there was no confusion…even as a five-year-old, I knew the car was mine. By the time I was 11, I was busy driving my car and some others from my father’s collection around our private estate in Gujarat.
(Chamundeshwari Bhogilal is the daughter of Pranlal Bhogilal, who owns one of the largest private collections of vintage cars in the world)
(Udita Jhunjhunwala, Seema Chowdhry, Sangitaa Advani, Sonya Dutta Choudhury, Gouri Shah, P R Sanjai, Sukumar Ranganathan, Josey Puliyenthuruthel and Marion Arathoon contributed to this story.)