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It was just another usual day at home, and my mum was on the phone, engaged in casual conversation with a friend of hers. (In India, these phone conversations between aunties tend to move in the direction of the accomplishments of their children, whether they are in school, college, working, or even married).
Returning to the latest phone conversation, which went something like this:
Aunty: So Purnima, what are your children upto?
Mom: Ah, nothing much Anu, the elder one is doing an MBA, and the younger one is studying at Christ.
Aunty: OMG, I still remember them as little kids Poo! But what about Varun?
Mom: He is doing some work ya. What’s Aparna doing?
Aunty: Oh she is a marketing manager with Goldman Sachs Purnima. They just promoted her, you know. She is thinking of going for an MBA also. To America. Oh, I can’t wait to start looking for her!
Mom: Arre wah. I’m so proud of Aparna. (She isn’t really). Why don’t you get her home sometime?
Aunty: I will, I will. But what is our Varun upto?
(This is the moment most women wait for all their lives. The comeback. This is what my mom wanted to say: “Oh, your daughter is working for Goldman Sachs ? My son’s working for Microsoft in USA. Haha. Beat that.”)
This is what she actually said.
Mom: He makes some films and music videos And he is selling T-shirts.
Aunty (shocked): What are you saying Purnima! Selling T-shirts?
Mom (depressed): Yes.
Aunty: Is Varun a salesman, Purnima?
Mom (almost going to cry): Something like that.
Aunty: Haw. Should I speak to Varun?
Mom: Will you? Oh I’m so worried all the time. He doesn’t listen to me ya.
Aunty: Arre, I can’t believe this. I must ask Aparna to meet him sometime also.
Mom: Thank you ya I don’t know what to do. Who will marry him now??
Conversations like these aren’t new to me. When I was in the 12th standard, I decided I would study filmmaking. I applied to a bunch of colleges, but forgot that it wasn’t so easy to do what you like in this country. My parents were quick to trash all my plans, and I was forced to study four torturous long years of engineering.
I naturally didn’t want to give up on my passion, so I started making films whenever I got the time during engineering – which seemed to be filled with never-ending tests. There were times I got so depressed I was on the verge of breaking into some tragic Bollywood song. Using the best “filmy” emo dialogue I could muster, I got my mum to buy me a camera. After I got the camera, I taught myself to write, shoot and edit film.
In 2007, I made a music video for one of India’s top rock bands, Pentagram. The video got noticed, and was played on VH1 like 51 times a day. (Actually 51 times a day!). A production company in Bombay saw the video, and flew me down to offer me a full time job to direct. Not to be some assistant or intern, but to actually start directing. I was 20 years old then. My mum still wasn’t convinced, and asked me to come back to finish my engineering.
In 2008 barely a few months out of college I was directing videos for Phat Phish Productions in Bombay. Within a few days of joining I found myself in Chennai at the studios of AR Rahman directing him in a video. A few weeks later I was directing Priety Zinta in music video for a song by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. In spite of this my parents were very skeptical.
In 2009 I decided to start a company with one of my friends. Yet again, I faced a lot of opposition from both family and friends. It was an E-commerce company, and no one around me got it. The idea was born over a drunken night at one of Bangalore’s famous pubs ‘Noon Wines’. We actually wrote down the entire business plan on a piece of tissue. Ideas like these are born every time young, enthusiastic entrepreneurial minds meet up over drinks. But in the light of day, everything fizzles out.
Thankfully for us, it didn’t.
My mum didn’t know about my little company until about 3 months into running it. When she did find out, she freaked. My dad thought I was a t-shirt salesman only until recently, when we were profiled in the Economic Times.
Be it filmmaking or starting my own company, I have gone through a lot, which only makes me wonder at how difficult it is to pursue your own dreams in this country. To me, India at 64 is a country which is still very insecure. Success here is defined by a plush job with a multinational, or if you have aced your CET. Right from school, we’ve always been taught to follow the system, and to be very afraid of going against it.
With the advent of the internet it’s become easier than ever to do exactly what you want. But our upbringing has instilled in us such a strong sense of fear that few of us dare to venture out on our own. Most entrepreneurs here are seasoned professionals, having worked for a good 4-5 years for someone else. There are no college dropouts like Zuckerberg or Gates, and you’re treated like an outcast if you even dream of doing so. Our generation talks like the American, acts like him, but when it comes down to actually doing what they want, most turn into pussies. We can’t boast of 18-year-old inventors, or 24-year-old billionaires. In fact, even now when my partner and I go to meet potential investors, the first question we are asked is, “How old are you?” In spite of the fact that there is a 25-year-old guy who started Facebook when he was 18, and is now worth 10 billion dollars.
Things are changing no doubt, but in remote pockets. What needs to be changed is the way we are brought up. I believe that this country will grow up the day our kids are taught not to be scared. The day the students of this country are encouraged to learn, and not ‘mug’. The day we are taught to lead, and not follow. The day we are taught to think, and not just write exams. I wait to see that day, because when that happens, India won’t be entering retirement age, but will actually be born again.
We will be waiting for you, India.
Varun Agarwal, (www.facebook.com/varun.agarwal1)
P.S : But what are you waiting for?? Its time to “start-up”.
(This is a guest article I wrote for Yahoo India! Thank you Anisha.)
Varun Agarwal is 25 years old, and has 3 companies to his credit: Alma Mater, a memorabilia company for schools and colleges in India; Reticular, a Social Media Marketing Agency that has worked with some of India’s top brands, and Last Minute Films, an independent production company founded in 2008. His first book “How I Brave Anu Aunty and Co-founded a Million Dollar Company” is out in stores.
Don’t be an entrepreneur just for the heck of it. There’s no point in getting into a business that everyone else is already doing. Like the the guy who wanted to get into the soft drink business but then he invented the straw.
Don’t just start a company. Start a whole new industry. Remember Post-Its.
Never give up. The guy who started Victora’s Secret sold his company and jumped off a bridge before it became Victoria’s secret.
Don’t be afraid. Ron Wayne was so afraid of starting a new company that he backed out of his partnership contract. He is now living on his pension. Oh I forgot to mention, the contract was for Apple Inc.
Good artists copy, great artist steal. The entire Macintosh idea was stolen from Xerox. and then Microsoft copied it from Apple.
Sell yourself shamelessly. Branson is probably more popular than his own company – Virgin.
Be creative . Very creative. There’s this guy who took a circle, put a price tag on it , patented it and made billions. It was called the hoolahoop.
Dont wait. Jobs, Zuckeberg, Gates we’re all billionaires before they were 25. You dont wanna wait to be 35, with a wife and 2 kids and then start a company.
Improvise and move along with the times. Nokia started as a rubber product company. Apple now makes phones. And Microsoft, err, they’ll probably be getting into home appliances soon.
Print your business card with a dummy company name and CEO written below. Distribute this among all your friends. After 6 months you better start your company or you’ll be the laughing stock of the entire town. Micheal Dell did this when he was 16. One of you reading this must be probably working for him.
Varun Agarwal, (www.facebook.com/varun.agarwal1)
P.S : I wish there would be a story about this guy who started his own company after reading this note. . That could be you.
Varun Agarwal is 25 years old, and has 3 companies to his credit: Alma Mater, a memorabilia company for schools and colleges in India; Reticular, a Social Media Marketing Agency that has worked with some of India’s top brands, and Last Minute Films, an independent production company founded in 2008. His first book “How I Brave Anu Aunty and Co-founded a Million Dollar Company” is out in stores.. You can join the page below.
1. Thou shall not start a company just because you read Steve Jobs’ biography.
2. Thou shall not start an event management company or a cafe and call yourself an entrepreneur.
3. Thou shall not start a company and put your picture on your website with CEO written below.
4. Thou shall not put “entrepreneur” as work info on your profile. Entrepreneur is not a profession.
5. Thou shall never dream of starting a company. Thou shall only act.
6. Thou shall never start a company to impress girls. Also thou shall never impress girls by telling them you’re an “entrepreneur”
7. Ok maybe the above point can be ignored.
8. Thou shall not constantly meet up with friends over drinks and say “dude lets start something of our own” and forget about it the next day.
9. Thou shall only thing big. Always.
10. Thou shall never posts notes like these .
Though they are a thing of the past now “Internet Browsing” centers were definitely a huge hit when we were in school. We once had to do a class project and so Sid, Gujju Boy, Rohit and I decided to do our “research” at the nearby “Internet Cafe”. Though it was totally unsaid we knew what lay ahead. We landed at the place with the owner already giving us dirty looks.
“What you waaant intranat faar” He questioned us like he was our dad or something.
“Sir class project sir” Gujju boy answered like an obedient boy.
“Be careful baays” He warned us like he had just given us the keys to the Pentagon.
We started with our research with Rohit taking the reigns. The four of us were huddled onto one computer thus preventing anyone to figure what we were doing. Rohit kept on researching when Sid finally broke his silence.
“Aye fucker, how long will you go on with this da”
“Bob, lets focus on our project” Rohit replied who was more likely to get a hard-on with his projects marks.
20 minutes went by when Rohit accidentally clicked on a wrong link. All of us rose from our slumber. Rohit’s hands started shivering.
“This is what I’m talking about bastards” Sid screamed.
By now it was too late. Sid had taken over the mouse and began to explore the site. What still surprises me was that Rohit and Gujju boy didn’t utter a word. Even though there two were hardcore nerds deep down inside they were hoping something like this happened.
And then in all this glory a naked lady started appearing at the speed of 5 kbs per second.
As all of us stared at the screen completely unaware of the world around us. Meanwhile I heard a bunch of giggly young girls enter the internet cafe. While we were still waiting for the entire image to load we heard a scream. All of us froze.
We turned around. It was Gujju Boy’s younger sister and her friends.
Now many of you must have been caught watching porn by your parents or uncles or aunts but getting caught by a 5th grade girl.
Before we could say anything the girls bolted from the scene as though they had witnessed a murder or something.
By now the owner became aware of what had happened. He rushed to our computer like he had busted some major terrorist attack. He closed down our screens and banned us from the cafe forever. But this was the least of our concern.
Gujju Boy was shattered. Gujju boy never spoke about the incident ever after that day. Maybe his sister never told his mom or maybe his mum never questioned him. Or maybe he got belted so bad he never spoke about it again. Ah, the good ol days of the Internet Cafe.