What gets us inspired to turn our passions into life pursuits? At Meraki, we tried to find out

With a small audience and six speakers getting together in Chennai, the conversations ranged from stories of inspiration to lessons from life.
What gets us inspired to turn our passions into life pursuits? At Meraki, we tried to find out
What gets us inspired to turn our passions into life pursuits? At Meraki, we tried to find out
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For some of them, their passion was directed not in their careers, but what they do beyond it, and for a few others, it was their passion which turned into their careers. There were stories of success and failure, ups and downs – but the message came through clearly at the Audi Showroom on Mount Road in Chennai on the evening of September 23 – if you don’t follow your passion, you would have never lived enough.

The panelists of Meraki, a speaker series kicked-off by The News Minute and The Glassbox, were from different backgrounds, but each of them had a story to tell.

Sujith Kumar, the Founder & Managing Trustee of Maatram Foundation which provides free higher education to meritorious students from the economically weaker sections of society, came across emotionally powerful as he narrated the story of a visually-challenged woman in Chennai – a double graduate in Tamil literature - who was selling candy on the streets. In just a year, thanks to her hard work and passion – and just a little bit of help from people like Sujith and his Facebook network, she was able to find a job at an international school and apply for PhD. 

For Sujith, it’s his public service which makes him passionate. “I think it’s those two minutes which we can spend for somebody, that matters. Even if I can’t help that person, then someone else I know could,” he said.

You would know Chinmayi Sripada as a singer, a show-host and a valiant and outspoken Twitter-user. “But singing did not pay my bills till 2010,” she points out. So how did she survive then? She didn’t sit around waiting for the barriers of Tamil film industry to break. While she sang and performed her way up, she opened a language translation service.

“I grew up learning a lot of languages,” she said, and she used her talents to start Blue Elephant, which now provides services in 150 languages across the globe. “Once you learn several languages, you realise that it breaks down barriers that we create,” she said.

The two moderators at the event, Dhanya Rajendran and Sanjay Rao Chaganti, themselves made impassioned journeys. Sanjay left his high-paying, globetrotting job to become a ‘Happiness Catalyst’. Dhanya Rajendran, born and brought up in Palakkad, who started off as a young reporter just a decade ago, raced through the years to head one of the most influential digital platforms in the country. At the event however, they spoke of their own experiences and encouraged others to speak.  

Everyone in Chennai knows Sathyam Cinemas, but not many know that an important reason it became an experience that all of us love was because of the passion of Kiran Reddy, the CEO of SPI Cinemas. Kiran talked about how his passion for the business – owned by his family – did not come naturally. 

“I did not choose the business,” he points out, but when he took to it, he became passionate about it. “I love creating things, I love building things. When we did something new, people responded and they loved it, to the extent that right now the brand is not owned by us but the people of Chennai,” he said.

Kiran also runs a startup incubator, and says that his creativity has taken new turns with the project. “I think creativity can manifest in different ways, I tend to see the connections between very diverse fields. Which is the reason why in the incubator that I run, I am able to take inspiration from a variety of different ideas,” he said.

But even when you chase your passion, you have to be relentless about it – and that’s what Jayendra Panchapakesan’s life teaches us. A chemistry student who took up a job in advertising to pursue his passion as a creative writer, he set up JS films with PC Sreeram to bring mainstream ad film making to south India when most national clients and some international clients turned to Chennai for the first time to make films for their brands.

“I switched 14 jobs in my first 8 years in Mumbai in the ad industry,” he said, inviting gasps from the audience. He then quit his job and came back to Chennai to start on his own – first an ad film company and then a film tech company. “We are here because of the passion for what the user experience is,” he said.

However, passion is not always a straight road, as Sharmila Kumbhat, Director for Market Development of K-Lite Industries, points out. She works for her father now in a field unrelated to her real passion – design. But in spite of it, she has stuck to it. “Each one of us has a passion that we might want to follow. It might not manifest itself in the first attempt that you take,” she said. “Design is still something which I do, I aspire to do, and it is one subject which you can never stop learning. There is always something new and beautiful about it,” she said, pointing out that to follow your passion, it need not be your career.

Shrikar Madiraju, the ‘denim man’, narrated the fascinating story of has churned a thriving consultancy business out of his passion for denim and also inspired his wife to start their own brand of denim called ‘Shrik Jeans’. He talked about his experience in taking something as routine as a pair of denims from his life to making it a life pursuit.

The event was sponsored by Audi Chennai, Reflection Chennai, Page3Salon, Citibank and VEEN Waters. 

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