The trip that changed my life

The trip that changed my life

During my stint with IBM in 2012, I got an opportunity to visit Lima for a business meeting with Peru’s leading Bank. It was so ironical that I started my journey on my birthday and ended when my birthday was still on, despite a long 30 hours journey changing 2 flights with 2 stopovers covering about 12,000 miles.  This trip was destined to change my life from the time I boarded a cab from my home to the Bengaluru Airport.

While conversing with the cabbie, I was surprised to learn, that he joined an airport taxi company after he struggled to make a mark in his chosen profession. Shastri was a Hindu Priest offering ritual services but could not earn enough money to feed his extended family thanks to declining patronage and his inability to gain a strong foothold in a profession that is already controlled by few senior Priests. Being a junior in the fold, he had to depend on his seniors to earn his income and perform odd jobs to keep his home fires burning. This led him to become a taxi driver, to earn an extra income to feed his family.  Only if he had a platform to offer ritual services to his clientele, he would have just focused on being a Priest, a profession that is at a risk of extinction for the next generation of Hindus.

The Bangalore to Dubai leg of my journey was nothing much to write about since the destination was covered in barely 3.5 hours and I slept most of the time. However the real challenge was the Dubai – Sao Paulo leg consuming close to 15 hours, which still remains my longest nonstop flight ever undertaken. During this journey I was seated next to 2 young Asian looking guys, one of whom was meditating most of the time while the other was watching only American channels on his personal TV screen.  The moment I saw the “meditating” guy come back to the real world, I struck up a conversation with him. Ali seemed to be a follower of Sri Sri Ravishankar and showed lot of interest in the ancient culture and temples of India. He slowly brought out a talisman kept close to his heart and showed it to me with great devotion. Since outbound flights from Dubai normally carry passengers from various South Asian countries with majority being from Indian cities, I asked him which place he belonged to. I was shocked as well as surprised when he told me that he belonged to Lahore in Pakistan. I was stunned for a minute before I could continue any further conversation with him.  It was sad to hear from him, that due to visa issues he could never attend the Art of Living courses normally held at Bengaluru or the temples he wished to visit in India. I wished then, that he had access to a digital platform to offer Puja at a Temple in India, from anywhere in the world.

Slowly I turned my attention to the “Americanised” young fellow seated next to the aisle but it was difficult to grab his attention since he was glued to the TV screen most of the time. Somehow I managed to catch his attention when he returned to his seat from the toilet. I introduced myself as the guy from Bengaluru IT world and was not surprised when he introduced himself as an IT professional based out of my city but working for a competitor IT company. He was more interested in talking about American soaps, movies and their way of life and sounded more American than an American. I quickly remembered a young European guy, whom I had bumped into, at the Dubai airport terminal a couple of hours ago, clad in just a dhoti and kurta with a vermillion tilak on his forehead. He was travelling to Delhi to attend an ISKCON festival and was proud to showcase his look and attire to the world.  I was left wondering after this episode…where is our Indian younger generation heading. They are slowly drifting away from our rich culture and trying to ape the western world while people from western world are showing tremendous amount of interest in the Hindu culture and tradition. There are perhaps more younger people eager to learn Sanskrit and Vedism in Germany than in India. The Japanese have a culture and tradition of worshipping Hindu Gods, most of whom have been forgotten in India. If our younger generation is not made aware of our culture, tradition and importance of rituals then a day will come when there will not be any Priest at all. Most of the rituals will have to be conducted using DIY kits or through artificial means like running pre recorded videos of ritual services. No wonder Shastri de-risked himself by turning into a cab driver, realizing he has no future with our younger generation.

During my stay at Lima, I planned a trip to Machu Pichhu, which was on my bucket list of places to visit during my lifetime. Machu Pichhu was named one of the 7 new modern wonders of the world. No doubt I was left intrigued by this heritage site, which was very well managed by the Peruvian government. It was indeed treated like a proper UNESCO heritage site with barely any encroachment or eateries within a radius of 5 miles; restricted entry with a cap on number of people who could visit the site in a day etc. There were lots of tourists from all over the world enjoying themselves and having a great time, with absolutely no touts bothering them. Even the guides had to be pre booked at the entrance, who could speak almost all major international languages. I suddenly went back 8 years ago (circa 2004) to another UNESCO world heritage site called “Hampi”, located about 200 miles from Bengaluru. If someone was made to visit both these heritage sites, assuming similar infrastructure, I bet Hampi would win hands down as the most enthralling among the two. Unfortunately the infrastructure has let Hampi down very badly starting from bad approach roads to encroachments all over the place with touts, guides bothering you at every step. There is absolute chaos the way this site has been managed and you would want to quickly visit the place and just run away from there. Hampi, a wonderful heritage and cultural landmark, is sadly not marketed well especially in the world tourism circuit. Though there are few foreigners who have made Hampi their home, yet how many people outside India or even within India are aware of this historic site. The same is true for the famous Ellora and Ajanta caves. The Kailasa temple at Ellora was built out of one single rock from top to bottom. This is one of the biggest wonders of the world. But where is it languishing currently, in the honor list ? Are people even within India aware of this marvelous site, leave alone the foreigners? What if awareness was created about wonders like Hampi or Ellora, firstly among Indians themselves and then to the outside world? What if these places were marketed efficiently to the foreign tourists? Though we cannot change the infrastructure overnight, which is controlled by the Government, but what if the tourists were given the real taste of Indian cultural heritage sites by providing the best of facilities, that is well within private control? These were the thoughts running in my mind as I was returning back from Machu Pichhu to Cusco in a glass topped train offering me great view of the Andes mountain range and the heritage site we left far behind.

The long journey back to India from Peru was undertaken via a different route this time … Lima – New York – Dubai – Bengaluru.  This leg offered me enough time to think and come up with a solution to the problem statements.  The seeds of entrepreneurship were sown during this trip and I decided at that moment, that if I became an entrepreneur I should be focusing on creating a solution to the above stated problems and challenges leveraging on technology as an enabler.

Machu Pichhu
Students learning Sanskrit in Germany


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