Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Hi All! It's been LOONNNGG since I wrote anything blog-worthy here, but a recent conversation with an acquaintance on FB, and an open-ended question, seems to have made me spit some things out. That too this isn't about some issue that I'm just observing (as most posts are), but something VERY personal : the events that led me to quit the corporate world and make social work my life!

The question was phrased excellently : I'm hiding the name of the person for now and will reveal it when he gives permission. My answer was a direct thoughts-to-text conversion so it may be a little crazy and I don't really want to "copy-edit" it right now.

Hi Nikhil!

Upon going through some of your recent updates on Fb, an intriguing question popped up in my mind. (It may sound a bit personal, so please feel free to respond as you wish.)

The question simply is: why?

I admire your altruism especially seeing as how it is so rare today. But what makes you tick? Why do you do the volunteering or the social work that you do?

What is it exactly that goes through your mind when you make decisions that we have to face everyday? For instance, the choice of whether to start working, after a (post)graduation with an NGO or an MNC -- the obvious factor being the money involved. Even if, let's say, one can get well paid even in NGOs today, why prefer the trouble of social work and social change rather than sit at home and have some fun? Even at a rather micro level, why help anyone at all except when helping them is going to increase your own chances of success?

Let me tell you why I'm asking this question. This is a question that bothers me daily. For some reason it turns out that compared to helping others and being all enthusiastic about social amelioration, focussing on one's own issues and solving them as fast as possible is so much more enjoyable, easy and comfortable. In you I already see the social activist, all focussed on positive social impact -- not just the wishy-washy campaign sort of thing but genuine change that is based on ideas that are intellectually and morally very very satisfying.

I would really love to know these answers from you.

Thank you for your time.

Answer: (or a confusing excuse for one!)

Hi !
Thanks a lot for your compliments; I don't know if I deserve them because currently as far as TFI is concerned there are others doing a much better job of it than I am.

Your question forced me to really think about this.. I haven't completely found out the answer to your question yet, but in reflecting over it during our intensive training program with TFI, I had found a few things here and there that may add up to an explanation.

Beginning with : I've always been better at helping other ppl than at helping myself. At a personal level I'm extremely disorganized and always in a mess. Somehow my greatest successes have come when I was doing something not for myself. In the process I did gain a lot so it was always a win-win. But I've never had the kind of ambitions or even interests that I see in guys around me. During by 10th-11th-12th grade years, my Mom was fighting a battle with cancer and the whole family was caring for her. She passed away when I was in 12th. I remember being completely tuned out of all the things my peers were crazy about - cars, bikes, games, clothes, etc. Materialism just didn't make any sense at the time and the MS-in-US bandwagon stopped being attractive.

I didn't become any activist type just then. But I took out a great deal of time to read news and articles and think about things. Was always very connected with anything related to environment and technology and human rights - but only as an observer. It was after college and over a year after joining my company and working in Gurgaon, that I was very depressed over a heart-break, felt like my world had ended and had resigned myself to accepting that I would never have a normal family life and there I found that the only thing that gave me relief from my depression was helping others. (No, I had read way too much scientific stuff in my teenage years and never bought into the drinking/smoking game, plus I hate being one of the crowd) I signed up to join a team of volunteers from my company that was taking part in a Yamuna cleanup drive. I stayed at the camp overnight, shared the tent with some youngsters whom you will find in the most posh mall of Delhi - but on the other side of the counter, as the staff. From conversations with them I found that they all were actually smarter and more deserving of good opportunities than I was. The question of why they didn't get better opportunities - only because of lack of money - haunted me. Even when riddled with so many issues, these youngsters were out here giving their time for a noble cause when all their wealthier counterparts - the facebook generation we're part of - who COULD help easily - weren't around.

That kick-started my volunteering spree that went on for 2 years and I put 50% of my work time in that (and still did enough good quality work to get a big cash award and appreciation from client!). During the time my thirst for knowledge made me watch several documentaries and read new ideas from all around the world and I'd gotten very sensitized to several issues. In 2010, something tragic happened to the person I was closest to in Gurgaon and who had become my sister over the years - she lost her father in a terrible incident and her family was put through severe emotional trauma. I watched as just within a week after the funeral she was back for work - being at a level equal to me (we were recruited and trained in our company together), she was now the sole earning member of her family and supporting a mother and two smaller siblings. This made me question my own situation : no dependencies, no big aspirations, I spend over half my time in doing volunteering or organizing things other than work, was very comfortable financially because of zero excess expenditure lifestyle. The girl who was like my sister was also so invested in doing social work (she'd celebrate her birthday at a home for spastic children) but she did not have any luxury, she had to care for her family. Just like that there may be someone else who needs my job, my seat for real reasons. I remembered something I'd read as a kid somewhere about how in a society it's the "dharma" of those who are well off to help those who are struggling. I got this overpowering feeling that I was occupying someone else's seat - that my role in life is not this and that if I can afford to then I should do something else worthwhile and make the best use of my skills for the common good. I didn't have any other plans but I resigned from my company in June 2010. (without consulting with anybody! it was a personal decision!)

It was a crazy decision of course, but I had made a deal with myself that I'm not going to do anything that isn't approved by the conscience. I swore to give myself max 1 year before worrying about money again. Had enough saved up to sustain myself for 2. I then went even more all-out on the net and read any and every news, opinion article, downloaded and watched nearly every documentary and ted video in existence (related to present-day global issues ie - i hate the dramatized history channel crap, they waste your time and replace the real experts with paid actors). Came across TFI, liked it, volunteered at a school, and then joined TFI. Now I'm sorely missing the freewheeling days! In the long term I want to work in renewable energy and sustainable living, AND technological advancement.

But I hate the monetary paradigm, am convinced it's all a huge ponzi scheme, have seen all the global collapse-related predictions come true (we should all really watch these documentaries that are never screened on TV) and believe the world is in for a major change, and am hopeful it'll be a nice one. So I don't want to be in any rat-race anymore and am still hoping I can shift my lifestyle to a self-sustained moneyless one and protect my family before the shit hits the fan, plus do something to help stave off the disasters of global warming. Meanwhile I'd love to just help as many ppl as possible - it's very important to do positive things around us and so the fellowship. After all, just in case the world really ends in 2012, might as well live doing something good right now!

PS: Why the choice of image?? No reason except it may look good on Facebook! And, just to make you ask, "Why?" ;)

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