Friday, May 12, 2006

Losing My Religion

[ This post is about I not taking up a software job and joining
PlanetRead. Read on for details!]

It was ironical (the best of the times?!). It was funny (worst of the times?!). Ironical because it was the last engineering exam of my life and the mail confirming that I was getting aboard PlanetRead effectively meant that I wouldn’t be getting into software. Ironical, more so because the last exam was Software Engineering.Funny was how I motivated myself to ‘study’ for that exam, which was only of academic interest, pun very much intended. I’ll leave aside the funny story for a while. Time for some serious discussion now.

Yes, I’m not taking up the software job I got through campus placements but joining PlanetRead instead. Why? Who? Where? When? How? What? Here are the answers!


- What is PlanetRead?

Well, PlanetRead is an organization setup by Dr. Brij Kothari, a Reuters scholar and an Ashoka fellow. Closer home, he teaches at his alma-mater IIM-A. Dr. Kothari is credited with conceptualizing, researching and nationalizing SLS in India. More on Dr. Kothari and PlanetRead hereand here respectively. Looking forward to meeting him! PlanetRead is funded by, the philanthropic arm of Google among a host of other organizations. Here’s how PlanetRead had its origins. In Dr. Kothari’s own words-
“So I used to watch a lot of Spanish films with English subtitles. One day, suddenly I thought: Why not Spanish films with Spanish subtitles? It'd be a better way of learning the language. Adding text to the audio, you could actually follow what the native speaker says. Then I exclaimed, 'Why not add subtitles to the popular film song programs in India? This way those who had rudimentary knowledge of the alphabets could learn to read! “

Dr. Kothari is also the CEO of Bookbox. Bookbox, again based on SLS is a web based jukebox of multimedia stories for children, and for those young at heart. Try the free preview. Almost everyone, whom I showed this to, was left agape. Chances are that you’ll be one of them to. Simple and so very elegant. Yet, equally powerful and effective.

- What will I be doing in PlanetRead and Bookbox?

I’m joining the PlanetRead team as Media and Publicity trainee. My work would involve lots of traveling, interacting with people, and the media. Publicity, brand building, mass media are the words. Hope you get the idea! Initially, I’d be traveling with Scott, an American film-maker. In the process, I’d be learning how to handle the camera, edit videos and make documentaries and short films. Glad, this’ll help me make better videos than the stupid hostel videos I had done and better documentaries than ‘de Young Basanti’. Over a period of time, I’m expected to perform varied roles relating to the publicity and the brand image of SLS and PlanetRead. Suffices to say that the profile is definitely exciting and interesting, and more importantly gives me lots of scope for me to learn and pick up new things.


This perhaps is the question on everyone’s mind. Not that I hate software or despise it. It’d be too frivolous on my part to ridicule it without actually being a part of it. I easily worked my way out though four years of engineering. And I could have done the same thing in software. Somehow, the working my way out business doesn’t quite appeal to me anymore. And PlanetRead gives me a chance to work to my skills, my strengths and more importantly my interests. Some more answers to why.

1. The whole concept of technology being used to make a difference to people’s lives appeals to me the most. I was ridiculed when I chose ‘IT in rural development’ as my final year seminar topic. I can probably identify more with that farmer in Haryana whose life has been transformed by e-choupal, than this classmate who just blabbers on some hi-funda tech term while others royally doze off. Ask me, someone who first touched a computer in Std IX and actually worked on it in Std XII about the joy of being ‘empowered by technology’. Do not know what corner of my heart that joy emerges from, when I see kids in my neighbourhood smile and thank me when I let them play games on my computer or when our Kaamwaali Bai’s daughter types her name on the computer!

2. I get a chance to leverage on my skills, my talent and my interests to make a real difference to the organization and the society at large. Yes, I did say the same thing (with a sly smile ;) ) in the campus interview though. But could I really have? I guess not, at least not when I’m crazy about quizzing, Web 2.0, making videos, writing, photography, traveling, movies, current affairs et al. I might not get to pursue all of these with the same vigour, but at least my work would have lots of scope for pursuing some of these. In software? I’m afraid not!

3. The team I’ll be joining. I haven’t met them as of now and will probably have met some of them in a few days’ time. A click on the Team link on will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

4. Finally, as silly as it may seem, I get to work in casuals. I remember asking Rohit Shankar (college senior from IIM-A, who's started his woen venture) as to why did he opt out of placements and venture out on his own. His straight-forward and terse reply was-“ Abey, tie-wie pehen ke kaun kaam karega? Main toh apne company mein chaddi pehen ke kaam kar sakta hoon!” . A tie or a chaddi isn’t all that important to me. But yes, I thrive and relish in an informal atmosphere.

5. The bestestest thing, I might get to write PlanetRead and Bookbox’s blog!!I definitely hope I will, once I reach Pondicherry!

- How did all this happen?

This again a story in itself. We had a four hour lab every Friday afternoon. During one such lab hour (of the four hours?!),my craze about Web 2.0 again took me on a tangential. I came across this piece on Dr. Larry Brilliant taking over as the CEO of There I stumbled upon PlanetRead and the fact that it is one of the only four organistions in the whole world being funded by Google. Silly as it may seem, it was a Blink! moment for me. I immediately mailed Dr. Kothari and he forwarded my mail to the COO and a few days later, I was in for a very pleasant surprise. I happened to speak to the COO in Sanskrit in our very first conversation. Those of you who still follow this beautiful language would understand my joy at such an event. Then a few more phone calls and mails followed, and here I am, writing a post on why I’m not taking up a software job and joining my multilingual boss. Funnily enough, most of the mail correspondence happened during the lab hours. I perhaps made the best use of the a.c comfort and four hours of hi-speed internet. What’s funnier?! The subject was aptly named ‘Internet Technology and Applications’! Our teachers couldn’t have been more philosophical, could they?!

- How did my parents react?

An important question again. Their initial skepticism was not totally unfounded. This was indeed something new. And when their excited son calls them close to midnight, telling them that he has plans of dropping out of a software job and instead joining an organization working for promoting literacy, would definitely have any parent thinking a thousand times about it. I’m indeed very lucky such wonderful and supportive parents who’ve let me pursue what’s close to my heart. I know it definitely wasn’t easy for them. That makes the load on my shoulders all the more heavy, with that added responsibility. Feel a little sorry for my mother though. She cannot possibly say-‘”Mera beta laakhon mein ek hai”. How could she?! I wouldn’t be one of the many lakhs of software engineers Kidding. She’s a very proud mother and I’m an equally obedient son ;) And thank you Sir, for talking to my parents .That helped so much

How was others’ reaction?

To be very frank, not too many people are really bothered. Even the ones you’d generally expect to be interested in something new and exciting aren’t all that keen. It’s fine. Most quizzers, movie freaks, music maniacs, literary bugs would understand what it is like. I being no different have been through this many times. Perfectly fine by me!


Initially I’ll be traveling, mostly in South India. Might just be at a tea- stall near you! PlanetRead has offices in Pondicherry, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. But it’ll be mostly Pondicherry I guess. Keep visiting this blog to know of my where-abouts and my travel blog about my experiences and my photoblog for the photos!


This is going to be fun. Soon after my college, I join PlanetRead on the 16th at Bombay as soon as I leave from Surat! Such a rush, definitely. But then again, that’s where I thrive. Something like, I did really well during this rush earlier. One mad rush that was!

I move to Pondicherry on the 23rd after a quick stop-over at home. Then embark on the travel with Scott. So much looking forward to it.

Anymore questions?! By the time this blog sees a new post, I’ll already be on PlanetRead’s team. More inside dope then! Till then, nothing more could convey my feelings better than the Red’s lines from The Shawshank Redemption-

“ ……… I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I imagine it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey, whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border… I hope to see my friend and shake his hand… I hope the pacific is a blue as it has been in my dreams… I hope ”

Related/ Unrelated Babble:

1. Getting swamped by four kid cousins as soon as you step into home, can relieve you of all the fatigue and pain of a continuous 20-hr train journey in a general compartment.
2. Re-discovered the joy of getting really involved in something and working for it. This time around, it happens to be my final year project. The last two days I’ve been totally immersed in Spam. Good mails by the way are called Ham. But bit Ham and Spam are safely edible items.
3. It is a little irritating though when you have Him-ass Reshammiya ‘poke his nose’ when you’ve to really concentrate. It is very irritating when he runs 24*7 not only in the mess, but also in autos, restaurants, tea-stalls. What is absolutely irritating is when he enters your project lab and half the junta absolutely ‘suroor’ him. So much for an unshaven face and a Fevicol glued cap. Will Somebody tell me what Suroor means?!
4. Might just get to meet the likes of Kiran Karnik, Narayan Murthy, Azim Premji at the IT investors’ meet in Hubli. The event manager has agreed to us(I and Bharath) being there to ‘interact with and learn from the dignitaries and the entrepreneurs present there’. Looking forward to that as well.
5. It’s a pain in the backside roaming through this huge campus to collect some 16 signatures for the No Dues Certificate. Can’t there be a centralized system to check the dues. Would rather stay back than get everything burnt in this shot sun. But what to do?! Professional hazards, you see.
6. I don’t have any time for all ‘one last time’ things . The one last trip to Shanivari, the one last trip to Chowk for chicken and Mava jalebi, one last trip to Varachchha: ;), one last visit to each of the rooms I stayed in previously, one last visit to Mansi and Sweety’s place, one last visit to GanGhor. The won’t be any end to these last lists! But yes, nothing lasts forever! Not even the last one?!
7. Last, but not the least least, least is next. This might be the last night-out of my engineering life. It’s 5:19 now and our submission starts from 10:00. How pleasant, my back hasn’t touched the ground since morning!
8. Last but not the least, another list! Of things I’ll miss
1. No miss to miss. So that’s a miss from the list of things I’ll
2. Garba: Vibrant Gujarat isn’t just a punchline. Come here
during Navaratri and you’ll know what it means. Haven’t
missed a single garba till now!
3. LAN and Internet in my room: Less said the better. I’ll start crying otherwise.
4. My room: esp. the graffiti and the huge rubbish board. It’s worth some $32445435 of information. Quizzers’ delight.
5. The HUGE campus. Walking in the campus gave some sense of pleasure.
6. Lots of people. They have all chosen to remain anonymous. But you know who you are [Joey ishtyle!]
7. [ To be filled later. When I find out what I’m missing]
8. [ To be filled later. When I find out what I’m missing]
9. [ To be filled later. When I find out what I’m missing]


Trinity Teal™ said...

me 1st!
Hey Nikhil, I am glad u got a job outside the s/w line [coz i recall u commentin sometime bak in my blog that u had utter distaste 4 engg n stuff]. Very brave of u to set foot on a different path. All the best for ur career! Hope I land up with an equally interestin job soon too. :-D

Ellie said...

To say that you have gone ahead and set an example would be an understatement...a truly admirable effort to find your own calling..

Wishing you the very best of everything...:)

Anonymous said...

Yet Another Anonymous Well Wisher, Nikhil .... in short... YAAWWN


Jayanth Madhav Barki said...

About planet rea and your job I"ve already conveyed my delight and best wishs for you. Will be hoping to do something this radical two years from now. Better do well Nikhil, you don't want me to get scared do you ;)

Mallesh said...

Wish you the very best Nikhil.

ABC said...

way to go.. i think i should follow suit

Trinity Teal™ said...

U have been tagged !!! c.i.o at my blog!

Nirav Shah said...

Hi Nikhil,

Good entry and you have an honest interesting style of writing. I just might give you the task of writing both our PlanetRead and BookBox blogs :)

Looking forward to meeting you here in Pondicherry. I will brief you for a short period then fly to Mumbai... got to put some things in motion there we are increasing from 6 programs to 10 programs !

Sunayana said...

All the best for the future...its great to see someone who is brave enough to do something different...a real inspiration!

sandeep said...

hey man , this is really great!! the thing you doin is kinda really unconventional.i mean you are literaaly 'going places'.
hope to hear more from you buddy.

Nikhil said...

You got it all wrong. I didnot have utter distaste for engineering. Maybe i wasn't able to appreciate the way it was being taught to us, to put it euphimistically!


Hoping to hear something similar from you soon!

Keep the wishes coming.

Let's see where you land up two years from now!
Work your already heavy backside off now!




Will do. But let me settle down at some place!

I'll be more than glad!

Thanks:). How's your cryptography coming along?!Wanted to come for lessons before my Internet Security exam!
All the best to you as well!

Will definitely hear.
Keep visiting this blog!

kunaal said...

i cant say best o fluck and all thtat. u have too much of it already......jus wanna say " watch ur ass out there in the reeal world" or is it too filmi???
i dunno. i guess i dont have advicxe for u sorr.y

Anonymous said...

Truly inspiring, Nikhil,
wish you all the best


Mythreyee said...

dat is so wonderful, nikhil! me prouda u 4 gettin outta da damned s/w field n breakin free of da routine... im sure ul hav loadsa fun, wud luv yer job n also b of sum service 2 ppl who matter.. abs awesome.. :) rock on, dude!

n btw, im still stuck in da rut. joinin CTS on da same 16th dat u r beginnin ur amazin journey.. sigh.. letz c how i can handle da monotonous crap.

Anonymous said...

hats off to u sir.. very few people in this world have the courage to do things they r passionate about. and even fewer realize when opportunities knock at their doors.. wishing you all the best..