Aspiring Indians: Where they are now
A mid-year status report of six individuals across India whose lives Mint tracked for a year as they try to realize their dreams
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New Delhi: Cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai are where dreams are made—and unmade. It’s where dreams suddenly seem accessible. It’s where ordinary Indians can fulfil their aspirations.
The hundreds of thousands who move to these cities come with extraordinary stories, leaving behind (or carrying) the baggage of the past, dreaming of a bright future and determined to work hard towards it. Their expectations are sometimes unrealistic, constructed by anticipatory dreams or what American anthropologist John L. Caughey calls “an imaginary social world”. So, it is obvious that not all dreams come true. Some are dashed, some fulfilled and others just get modified with time.
From December 2015 to December 2016, Mint in a year-long series Aspiring India, tracked the lives of six individuals across India trying to realize their dreams. This is a mid-year status report of where they are now.
1. Siddhant Kumar
In Delhi, 33-year-old Siddhant Kumar, the aspiring Dalit entrepreneur is now a full-fledged one. He has a proper office—he used to work out of his home previously—a workshop near Peera Garhi industrial area, and two outlets of his latest venture, Denim Decor, a range of home decor and utility items made using denim, in DLF Saket Mall and Pacific Mall, Subhash Nagar.
But it hasn’t been easy. Kumar, who changed his surname from Paswan to avoid being discriminated against for being a Dalit, is the founder of FunRally Games, a start-up that designs and produces table-top games. In 2014-15, his company did business worth Rs1 crore, but in 2016 it ran into the kind of financial trouble small firms sometimes do. Despite that, late last year, Kumar decided to pursue yet another new idea—and Denim Decor was born.
But he needed money. And so, with a folder that housed his business plan, a few documents and the original Mint article on his journey, he started making rounds of banks, seeking credit. Nothing seemed to be working. Then, one day, he landed up at a branch of Vijaya Bank in east Delhi, managed to meet the manager and learnt about the government’s Stand-Up India scheme for entrepreneurs, especially from the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes. He received a loan of Rs50 lakh; half for capital expenses (such as the sewing machines he needed) and the other half for working capital. He hasn’t looked back since.
“We are constantly learning, changing the way we make our products and trying to improve. These are risks I have to take,” says Kumar.
2. Amol Parashar
In March, 32-year-old Amol Parashar walked through a crowd of students in National Institute of Technology Jamshedpur, like the Bollywood superstar he has always aspired to be. People were cheering for him, some were trying to shake hands, others were pushing themselves closer to just touch him or get a glimpse of him. As he got onto the stage, entry music blared and the ubiquitous phones were out.
It was surreal and as close as it could get to becoming a star. A few months after Mint profiled him, Parashar appeared in a TVF (The Viral Factory) Web series Tripling. “Since it was a Web series, it was very popular among youth. People starting recognizing me after that,” he says. A film, Traffic, that he had shot in 2013 was released in 2016. It didn’t do well at the box office but Parashar says the movie got him some attention. He was also part of the controversial short film Mama’s Boys, a Web series titled Bisht, Please!, and will soon be seen in a forthcoming movie Aapkey Kamrey Mein Koi Rehta Hai co-starring Swara Bhaskar and Sumeet Vyas. For Parashar, there is still a long way to go but as he says, he likes the place he is in right now because “as long as you keep moving, you know you are going somewhere”.
3. Mansi and Khushi Ahlawat
Not much has changed in the lives of the Ahlawat sisters, but they never expected it to change so soon either. The two wrestlers are prepared for many more years of struggle. In Haryana’s Rohtak district, the two are still biking from their home every single day at 4.45am to Sir Chotu Ram Stadium, practising daily, and still harbouring their shared dream.
On 10 May, Mansi and Khushi Ahlawat accompanied wrestlers Ritu Malik, Deepak Rana and others to Delhi, for the Asian Wrestling Championships, 2017. This was the first time they saw a live match. Cheering all the way through, Khushi and Mansi made note of the techniques the players were using. Khushi says her body was involuntarily moving with each move one of the wrestlers made. There were times when she wanted to just jump in, she adds. After returning home, both sisters went back to their coach Mandeep Singh and asked him to teach them everything they had seen. It was an experience that reinforced their dream. “There is no going back. Now we will stop only when we win the Olympics,” says Mansi.
4. Anju Das
For someone with access to even a little bit of money and support, Anju Das’s dream may seem small and easily realizable. But in Kaali Basti in west Delhi, the 16-year-old is still convincing her family to let her study. They want her to get married . Das is surer than ever that she won’t give in. “I am not even going to consider it. Not till I have done my college education. How will I teach if I am not educated?” she says. On 1 May, Das, with the help of NGO Protsahan, acted in a play on child marriage staged at the Sri Ram Centre of Arts, Delhi. She says she received a standing ovation for her role.
A year after Mint first profiled her, Anju is older, smarter and more measured in her responses. She likes English and says, “you can be educated, but if you don’t know English, you are good-for- nothing.”
The first in her family to read, Das, who lives in an urban slum, has far too many battles to fight, although all she talks about is helping others like her.
5. Shamshad Alam
In his small rented room in Jamia Nagar, Shamshad Alam, 26, continues to dream big, but this time his dream isn’t about becoming a civil servant. Alam cleared the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) main exam twice, the last in 2016, but he couldn’t clear the interview stage.
Until 2008, he had only received religious education in a madrasa, and couldn’t even read the English alphabet, let alone speak in the language. “It is hard to chase something so unpredictable,” says Alam, but he hasn’t completely given up on becoming a civil servant.
Meanwhile, because money is a consideration (a big one, for someone from a poor family), Alam has started teaching in civil services preparatory academies around India, some in Itanagar, others in Delhi, and earns more than what a civil servant would earn, he says ruefully. Money wasn’t the reason why he wanted to be a civil servant.
In a Mint piece in December 2015, he said, “...in a country like India, IAS (the Indian Administrative Service) is the exam that proves your worth. It is the mother of all the examinations. The society’s perception of you changes immediately after you qualify the test.”
Today, he says: “Dreams change with time. Civil service is a dream so many Indians dream—for themselves, for their families, for money and to serve people. But so many of my friends who are now civil servants tell me how this (IAS) is like a mirage. They think they are stuck... May be this is just a phase. Perhaps I will go back to this dream. I don’t know.”
Right now, Alam has decided to take a two-year break to launch an education start-up. It’s still just an idea, but he knows he wants to do something about the frustration among young people because there are not enough jobs around.
He will be launching a website soon with audio podcasts, videos and pieces that will help youth in different parts of the country know of the opportunities available. He says even though cities are flooded with different kinds of coaching centres, places in the North-East and even tribal belts of Jharkhand, are still way behind.
“There is so much frustration, so much disillusionment. The youth in far-flung areas see development and hope in some cities, and want to be a part of this change, but there are no resources or opportunities available to them. I want to help fill this gap,” says Alam.