‘Go, kiss the world’ were Subroto Bagchi’s blind mother’s last words to him. These words became the guiding principle of his life.
Subroto Bagchi grew up amidst what he cell the ‘material simplicity’ of rural and small- town Orissa, imbibing from his family a sense of contentment, constant wonder, connectedness to a larger whole and learning from unusual sources. From humble beginnings, he went on to achieve extraordinary professional success, eventually co-founding MindTree, one of India’s most admired software service companies.
Through personal anecdotes and simple words of wisdom, Subroto Bagchi brings to the young professional lessons in working and living, energizing ordinary lives. Go Kiss the World will be an inspiration to ‘young India’, and to those who come from small- town India, urging them to recognize and develop their inner strengths, thereby helping them realize their own, unique potential.
Subroto Bagchi is best known for co-founding MindTree and as its Chief Operating Officer for the first eight years of the company. In 2008, Subroto stepped out of this role to become its Gardener. His work involves tending the top 100 MindTree Minds and serving the organization's thirty communities of practice. His first book, The High-Performance Entrepreneur (Penguin Portfolio, 2006), received critical acclaim and broke new ground in management literature in India.
Subroto is married to writer Susmita Bagchi and they have two daughters, Neha and Niti.
I was leaving for the United States, where I worked, after a two-week vigil by my mother's bedside in a hospital in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. She had suffered a near-fatal stroke. She was neither getting better, nor moving on. My wait was not helping. So I, her last born, thought it was time to get back to work.
On my way to the airport, I decided to stop by at the hospital one last time. An eerie midday quiet hung around the government hospital. Walking past listless cows and a couple of resident stray dogs in the compound, I entered her room. She lay on the bed, just like the night before, quiet and unmoving. I held her hand in my palms. After a few minutes, as I bent to kiss her forehead, wrinkled with age but still beautiful, she asked me in a garbled voice, 'Chumu kyano khaccho?' Why are you kissing me?
'Khabona kyano?' Why not? I asked. She replied, simply, 'Jao, jagat ta ke chumu khao.' Go, kiss the world.
These were my blind mother's last words to me and they became the guiding principle of my life.
The night-long vigil of the lone kerosene lantern in the room had blackened the top of its glass with soot Around its flicker, Makhan Gopal Bagchi and his four sons-the eldest fourteen, followed by a thirteen-, twelve- and three-year-old-sat huddled under the tiled roof ( the small government quarter they lived in. From the adjoining room came the sounds of groaning. Labonya Prova Bagchi had cooked, cleaned and kept house for her husband and four sons till this day, when she had gone into labour. Outside the house, beyond the community well that served the needs of the few families in adjoining government quarters and the under trials of the nearby police lock-up, it was still dark. Patnagarh, a small sub-divisional town of five thousand people, seasonally cut off from the world by a river without an all-weather bridge, did not have a hospital. For the non-gazetted tehsildar, who was now expecting his fifth child, anxiety was mounting. While it was commonplace for childbirth at home in places like Patnagarh, he was not sure his wife would make it through this one without medical help. The family's only hope in case of an emergency was Dr S.K. Mitra and his wife, Manorama, an erstwhile lady health visitor. The couple lived half a kilometre away. He was not sure whether to send one of his sons to wake them up. He should wait some more, he thought, before disturbing the doctor. But with the groans becoming unbearable, he finally made up his mind.
'Go, call Mittir meshomoshaye,' he told the eldest boy.
After the Second World War, certain categories of medical professionals had been retrained so that they could become practising doctors. Armed with a medical licence, Captain S.K. Mitra had come all the way from the war to settle in Patnagarh, then under the rule of the king of Bolangir. Here he had met Manorama, a Christian lady from Maharashtra, who had come there to work as the only lady health visitor. The two had fallen in love, married and settled down to serve the small community. She was the only woman who could speak English; it had earned her the name 'memsaheb mashima' among the four boys. The Mitras weren't just doctors, they were like family. In the small town that was Patnagarh, everyone was kin to everyone else. The Mitras made little money, would charge nothing for emergencies like these and were always at hand.
The boy ran through the darkness. Mittir meshomoshaye's house seemed really far. Finally, he reached and after a breathless conversation, the doctor accompanied the young boy. The doctor's arrival meant some relief. While all one could do was wait, there was now hope that it would all end well. But even as Dr Mitra tended to Labonya, the moaning did not decrease. After some time, Dr Mitra opened the door and asked that his wife be called; it wasn't possible for him to handle the situation by himself.
Again the boy ran; this time dawn was breaking, the night sky softly illuminated. He had just passed his matriculation examination from the local Romai High : School, named after an erstwhile king of Bolangir, with a first class-he had become the second student to get a first class from the vernacular school. With school over, he was waiting to go to Ravenshaw College in faraway Cuttack in a few days' time. The journey to Cuttack would mean a forty-kilometre, three-hour bus ride that would take him to Sambalpur. Then, an overnight bus to the sleepy railhead of Meramandali awaited him. There, the Talcher Passenger came once a day to take people all the way to Cuttack. The entire journey would take him nearly twenty-four hours. But right now, memsaheb mashima's house seemed further than that. He ran as fast as he could, and after what seemed an eternity, was finally banging on her door.
Memsaheb mashima rushed, half-walking, half- running. Just as she stepped on to the veranda, the groaning abruptly stopped and the full-throated cries of a newborn burst through the house.
My mother always told me I was born just when the big red sun emerged in the east and burst forth into a new day. I love this sheer imagery every time the story of my birth crosses my mind.
My earliest memory of my childhood is when I was a three-year-old. From then, till today, I have watched myself grow up with the keenness of a photographer Life becomes fascinating if we observe it even as we are living it. As I trawl through the archives of my life, I find an interesting path emerging. It curves twice--once in the beginning of my twenties; the other when I enter my forties. As I look around and see the lives of countless young professionals-doctors, engineers, policemen, teachers-I find the same sharp curves, each life divided into three distinct phases.
In Part I of the book, you will live and, hopefully, love my early years. You will see how character and values get imprinted in a child's mind; how displacement creates self-confidence and what a magical difference mentoring can make at any stage of our lives; experience the joy that is childhood, a wonderful gift that need never be left behind. I treasure my childhood, for if I forget it, the child in me will die.
In Part II, you will explore the making of a young professional who, like everyone else, wanted to 'be someone'. It is a familiar phase with its many ups and downs during which we realize the dissonance between the romance of youth and the reality of the workplace, though with some perspective and a certain mindset they can be aligned. I started my working life as a clerk in a government office and finally ended up co-founding MindTree-India's first venture-funded IT services company to get publicly listed.
At the source of a river, we have no idea of the path it will take to reach its confluence. Yet, I meet countless young professionals anxious about packing the right job and the right company, over planning their careers. Their usual refrain is: How will this job help me in my career? But who on earth truly knows? In their anxiety to carve the perfect path, chanting 'What will I be, what will I be?,' they overlook the importance of the smallest of jobs and forget that in our early lives, the job in itself is immaterial. What is material is the work ethic we build. Your first, the second, and even perhaps the third job will not build or define your career; the respect, patience, affection and gratitude with which you treat them will In Part III, I take you on the journey of my forties, even as it continues to unfold, to show you how I fell and got up, and how I learnt from people who have been there before me. For a successful professional, the decade of the forties becomes a defining period. It is a time that can almost be compared to assault camp, where preparations are made before climbing the final peak. It is alluring, and ruthless in its ability to weed out most contenders while pushing up the chosen one. This seldom happens in slow motion. Before you realize -it, the outcome is staring you in the face. There is little one can do to rewind and reconsider choices, something life allows you when you are in your twenties. In this phase of life’s journey, unless one handles oneself with contemplation and care, the precipice and not the pinnacle becomes the destination. I have seen countless overachievers who come up to this point and then must leave the professional journey of their choice.
Before you read on, I have two more things to tell you. The nature of the narrative requires t.hat I constantly speak to you in the first person. Yet, my life has not been only about 'me, myself and 1'. Without people around me, without their affection and warmth, I would not last even for a day. So, while my narrative requires me to use a lot of the'!', you must discount its character, focussing instead on the journey and its lessons. Second, I have been candid and forthcoming about my life experiences- the only exception being my relationship with my wife Susmita. She grew up with me and has- been an abiding influence on my professional career. Seldom can one reach the top without enlisting the support of a loved one. I cannot imagine where I would be today if she hadn't been by my side since she was fifteen. Ever since, she has remained my Rock of Gibraltar. However, to honour her wishes, I have kept our personal relationship outside the purview of this book.
Your life is a beautiful gift, unique to yourself. There is no other person in this universe quite like you. Which is why my life story in itself is not important; the important thing is what you take away from it. Even as you find some of my lessons interesting or useful, what really matters is how they lead you to your own reflection and your own life lessons. Nothing works better than that. And more than just living your life, the capacity to behold it is even more beautiful.
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