|From 1999 to 2012… A stretch of imagination
“So tonite I’m gonna party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine” remember that song by Prince? When I graduated with an MBA in 1993, nineteen ninety-nine seemed many decades away, and yet here we are in at the next milestone year of twenty-twelve, the end of the Mayan calendar, perhaps the end of the world some say. Where did the years go, and would I do anything differently if I had a chance? I am not sure if I would, because after-all your experiences make you what you are, and yet when I flashback to nineteen ninety-three, I realise all the warning signs were there, though it took me a while to understand what they meant. So here is my story.
I was one of the Chosen Ones—that’s pretty much how it felt—for summer training with Unilever (HLL as it was still called those days.) Off I went, secure in the knowledge that my future had been ‘made’ and left there realising that an FMCG company is far from where I wanted to be. My first and last impressions of my stint at Levers’ was of overweight executives pushing forty, who smoked too much, and worked way too hard selling washing powder over the counter—literally—setting themselves up for an aneurism and early death it seemed. Not really where I saw myself. What a conundrum. HLL was the height of summer placements, and here was I, hating every minute of it. My summer project also brought me a Strategist of the Year award with A&M much to my bemusement. Hmm! So perhaps I should give this a second shot? Final placements saw me opting for Titan Industries and being pitched straight to the heart of Saurashtra selling watches. No! no! not quite what I had in mind though I admit that riding through the Runn of Kutch at dawn, in a ramschackle mini-van, with Gujarati film music blaring through the tinny loud-speakers spoke to the wanderlust side of me. Yet delightful as that was, it was obviously not enough to make me stay, and I was back in Bombay in four months having bid a hasty good–bye to my surprised boss who couldn’t really understand why I was throwing away a promising career, for what? Actually I didn’t know either I confess. The only absolute truth I had then, was that I loved to write. That was all I was sure of. But whoever had heard of a career as a writer? And, could one make money doing something like that? I joined the Independent in a brand marketing/ journalist role, which seemed to suit me okay. Being able to write and express myself gave me the freedom of thought that I absolutely craved. The cherry on top was being able to meet quirky people who seemed closer to my own prototype. Yet, I couldn’t quite shake that entire government-run-organisation feeling that came from being surrounded my decades of history and systems and a certain way of doing things which I could just not change, right? And as a self–respecting MBA, still fresh out of B-school I confess I didn’t quite fit my own image of a hot-shot-power-hungry executive on the way to the top. Blame the media for propagating stereotypes, but it was an uncomfortable feeling not being able to fit.
Fortunately satellite TV had launched in India just then and I joined MTV. Being part of a team which tried to marry the epitome of western pop-culture with Indian sensibilities was a revelation. It is a theme which marked a turning point in my life and a hallmark of my my writing today. In television I seemed to find a happy marriage of creativity and commercialism, dynamism and structure, expression and rationalisation. It also gave me the platform to travel and work in different countries. From Bombay to Singapore then Hong Kong—a dystopian city of today which gave me the kernel of fantastical ideas set in the far future that I borrow from to this day—finally depositing me in that cradle of the civilised world, the literal centre of the universe, London, which is where I am based today.
Somewhere along the way I discovered the real me. With a little maturity and distance came a sixth sense or perhaps the ability to see things clearly, to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the media clutter from what was really important to me—which was to be able to speak my voice, to express myself freely. That’s why I write for it’s the only time I am myself, unencumbered by rules, unfettered by systems, processes and all those buzzwords we are so fond of, but which are such a misnomer. One is born free so why can’t one earn a livelihood thinking freely? It’s a difficult question to answer and I confess, I still haven’t found the courage to live by this rule a hundred percent. But what I have realised is that if you truly follow your heart, you live a really fulfilled 360 degree life (can’t get away from the management jargon!) And you know what? The money & the glory will come—though by then you realise that all that is secondary anyway, for the raison d’etre is that you are fortunate enough to be living life as it was meant to be, in a very natural, original space.
What about you? What are your experiences in trying to be yourself and also have a career at the same time? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
About Laxmi Hariharan: While born in India, Laxmi Hariharan has lived in Singapore and Hong Kong and is now based in London. She has written for various publications including The Times of India, The Independent, Inside Singapore, Inside Hong Kong and Asian Age. Indian mythology inspires her work. Her debut novel The Destiny of Shaitan is a kindle bestseller and recently won The Summer 2012 Readers’ Pick Awards. It is available here http://tiny.cc/szqsew. Reach Laxmi at