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Nothing Customary About It

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As clichés go, this would have been the biggest surprise: a Tamil Brahmin family letting their son miss his Class 12 Board exams. But Ranganathan and Saroja, a middle class couple settled in Jamshedpur did, and their son Madhavan was on a plane to Canada as part of a Rotary exchange programme while his classmates wrote the ‘most important exam in their lives’. Madhavan, much before he became known as the heartthrob of Tamil (and Hindi) cinema goers, found the conventional wisdom on 'hard work' ('this is the most crucial year of your life. Study now and you can enjoy later' - haven't we all heard this?) absurd. it absurd that he had to wait till the future to enjoy, provided he worked hard now. If he had followed this piece of wisdom, he would have never been able to do what he liked, Madhavan tells author Sonia Golani.

Madhavan missed his place in an engineering college by a whisker, but he became a sought after coach for students knocking on IIT’s doors. From there a few photos left at the offices of Zee (he didn’t know that Zee had nothing to do with aspiring models) led him to a role in one of their TV serials. It was still longer before he was working with Mani Ratnam in the tamil film ‘Alaiypayuthe’, and still longer before he would become a household name in Bollywood.

Rajeev Samant, the lesser known founder of India’s first biggest vinery Sula Vineyards took an even unconventional path. Irked by the fact that his job at Oracle gave him just a couple of weeks as holidays annually, he returned to India to cultivate the entrepreneur in him. But agriculture, by all accounts, was not a fertile ground for a young foreign educated entrepreneur like him. But he has lived to tell the tale, creating one of the most sought after hang out outside the cities for the city’s young.

Nikhil Chinappa was one of those kids who always managed to top his class, and was also a member of the ‘library squad’ in his college. But music called him, and soon he found himself running music stalls at carnivals. From there to setting up the Sunburn festival, to bring international music to India was a long way, but it was one step leading to another. By contrast, Harsha Bhogle, always had cricket at the back of his mind. When he was as young as four or five years old, his mother tells him, he used to pretend to be Budhhi Kunderan or some other cricket player.

Golani, a management consultant, has written ‘Corporate Divas’ in 2011. In this book she picks up, as her subjects, people with impeccable educational and professional qualifications, but who were willing to take a huge leap in the dark (all of them, the first in their families to venture out in their chosen paths) to challenge the idea of choosing a conventional career. Written in the most simple prose, and consisting almost entirely of single interviews with the subjects where they narrate their life story, the book is nevertheless a beautiful read of stories that made up some of the most fascinating careers that beat a path of their own.

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