It must have been 1988. I was assembling my college applications that winter. One of the teachers in school whom I had requested a recommendation letter from sat with me in an empty classroom.
“What do you want to do?” Mrs. Bhattacharya asked, curious what my infinitely fertile brain was cooking. I had a reputation in school as a troublemaker. In a conservative all girls’ school in 1980s Calcutta, the notion of out-of-the-box thinking hadn’t caught on yet.
“I plan to study Computer Science, then run my own business,” I declared.
I could see that the answer didn’t please her. “What about your femininity? What about all your talents in dance, painting, writing?” she asked.
Cut to November 2014.
I am a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. I still dance. I still paint. I still write. In fact, last year, I wrote a book called Feminine Feminism. But I did not follow the path of pursuing painting, dance, writing, theater or any of the other art forms as a professional career.
I could have.
My road not taken.
The Arts, however, have remained one of the core aspects of my being. My soul is well when I engage with the Arts. However, I appreciate the fact that I do not have to market, sell, or monetize my artistic endeavors.
I grew up in a very old family. As a classic ‘joint-family’, some 20 of us lived in one house. We have a tradition of doing family plays. I took part in a few as a child, and then, in my twenties, I managed to participate in a couple more. More recently, I was able to play the lead in two more, including one earlier this year. Even though I live the very busy life of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, I have chosen to make time for these plays that are usually explorations of Bengali classics. Friends and family members take part in these, offering a uniquely creative framework for connecting with one another, while also producing a work of art together.
Needless to say, there is not an ounce of commercial motivation in these projects. Theater, worldwide, is a dying art form. Audiences today prefer film. We know that.
Bengali classics are not widely read anymore. Hence, even our choice of genre is eclectic, esoteric, and certainly not “popular.”
But because there is no commercial objective, we indulge ourselves the luxury of pursuing art forms that are of interest to us, without having to compromise our artistic vision.
From the age of 10, every Saturday morning, I used to go to the home of renowned Indian artist Ramananda Bandopadhyay and paint for three hours. This continued till I left for college. It was a seminal experience that shaped my worldview in simple but profound ways.
Today, I still paint. The act of painting is my meditation. It is an immensely effective mechanism for dealing with stress.
I have no commercial ambition vis-à-vis my painting. I paint primarily for myself. It is a choice that I find liberating. As a fundamentally ambitious person, just releasing myself from “ambition” in this aspect of my life has unlocked a quiet, sublime feeling of peace and joy.
I studied Kathak, a form of Indian classical dance, since I was four, until I left for college. In college, I used to perform regularly – about five performances a year. I also took Jazz and Modern dance classes. At MIT, I took up ballroom dancing, and eventually discovered the Argentine Tango. I pursued that as a passion, studied with many of the masters, went to Buenos Aires several times just to dance and study, and became very good at it.
I still dance. I love to dance. It’s a core aspect of my identity.
But I dance for myself, for the sheer pleasure of the act.
I made the choice very early in my life to be an entrepreneur. I love my life as an entrepreneur – all its stress, challenges, headaches, roller coaster rides notwithstanding.
I also made the choice not to pursue the Arts as a career. I have preserved them as an integral part of my persona. In fact, because I have the soul of an artist, I look at my work as an entrepreneur very much also as a work of art. I try to preserve my artistic integrity in my entrepreneurial pursuits as much as possible. One Million by One Million, my current venture, I hope, will be a masterpiece — a culmination of my life’s work.
Unbeknownst to the 16-year old who made certain choices, they were perfect choices.
For me, anyway!
Photos of the author by Dominique Trempont, a renowned high tech executive, and Ari Azhir, an accomplished BioTech entrepreneur, who are both also superb photographers and have kindred souls of artists.
Videos of the performances of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Shesher Kobita’ (April 1, 2012) and Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay’s ‘Debi Chaudhurani’ (April 4, 2014) as voice plays by the author’s family and friends at 34/1 Elgin Road, Calcutta where the author grew up.
Painting by the author.