Showing posts with label Conversations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conversations. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Woolah Conversations in OLA :)

Mr Manu Raj

We had decided to spend our summer holidays this year in Jammu and Leh-Ladakh. And, being a pet lover comes with an additional set of responsibilities that must be taken care of before you can step out of the door and lock it for weeks. My aquarium was all set to be self-sustained for a fortnight with adequate food provisions. And, by the end of the previous night, the tank, the water filter and air pump were all cleaned up. 

We had scheduled an Ola cab to pick us up from home at 7 am to reach the Bengaluru Kempegowda Airport. However, in the morning, I found to my dismay that the air pump was not working :( I have big fishes in my aquarium and they won't survive without the air pump functioning properly. So, once again I had to take the pump out, clean it and reset it before we could start from home, with peace in mind. 

It was obvious that all this would eventually delay our departure, and we had no choice but to keep the Ola cab driver waiting. In the meantime, I did speak to him, apologizing for the delay on my part.

By restoring the air pump back to normalcy, we finally dealt with this ordeal and embarked on our way to the airport. *phew!*

Sitting next to the driver, like I always do, I started my conversation with Mr. Manu Raj (the Ola cab driver assigned to us). I told him why we got late. And, quite surprisingly, the aquarium turned out to be a topic of common interest between us. He too has an aquarium at home. We spoke about the fishes we have, about the plants in the aquarium, the difficulty of maintaining a salt-water aquarium....and the passionate discussion went on :) 

Like all conversations, between two pet lovers, ours also jumped from one pet to another. Manu Sir [I referred to him as Sir, respecting his seniority (age) during my conversation. However in the Blog I was instructed by him, to refer him just by his name and not as Sir :). So going forward, I will be referring him with his first name - Manu]. A native of Kerala (hailing from Kollam), Manu's youth was spent in caring for the dogs, cats and birds that lived in his farm. As he moved to Bangalore and started living in an apartment with restricted space, he had to settled with only fishes (aquarium) to accompany him as his pet(s). Even I went ahead and shared with him stories of my pets from childhood to my present day. 

I got so invested in this enriching free-flowing conversation with Manu, that I was curious to know more about him. When did he come to Bangalore? What did he do before becoming an Ola driver? And, what about his family?

Turns out, there was a lot to learn from his life. After completing his Bachelor's in Commerce during the mid '80s, Manu started and ran multiple business ventures in Kerala; ranging from real estate, restaurants and bakeries (from baking to selling). Like in any business, there are ups and downs. There came a downturn in his businesses at one point in his career. He converted this challenge into an opportunity by coming down to Bangalore in the early 2000s and restarted this life all over again. He tried out multiple ventures, including running a paying guests' (PG) facility. With several years of work experience and know-how of the restaurant (food) business, he started a Kerala food restaurant in Tippasandra area and ran it for over two decades, till the COVID-19 pandemic hit us. He expanded his business by getting into catering services. He built B2B clients, organizing luncheons and dinner parties for various companies in IT parks. At his peak, he was supplying 1,200 meals per day to IT companies.

Manu said, and I quote, "My wife Renu was my backbone, my pillar of support throughout this journey." 

While Manu sir's professional life was in upswing, lots were happening in his personal front too. He and his wife Renu raised three children. When conversations pertaining to his children came up, there was a visibly doting, proud father talking about his children. His eldest son is the Cabin Crew Manager at an international airline, living in the Middle East. His son had done a Bachelor degree in Hotel Management and worked for a few years in the hotel industry, before taking up his job in the airline sector. He is married and his wife is a professional in Dental Sciences, and is pursuing further studies and working there. 

Mr. Manu also mentioned that he and his wife visited their elder son's family two-three times a year in the Middle East, and he makes use of the privilege of paying 10% of the ticket price, they are entitled to as parents. 

His second son is a BBM (Bachelor of Business Management) graduate and has worked for several years in the Netherlands. Recently, he quit the job to pursue farming, his actual calling. He has recently started farming in Devanahalli, situated in the outskirts of Bangalore. He too is married and his wife is an engineer, working at a multinational firm. She often shuttles between India and Europe for her work.  

His youngest son completed his Engineering degree recently. He is not too keen to pursue his career in this field and has found his calling in Editing and Copywriting instead. In fact, he is currently working in a firm that is involved in writing services.

Being a father myself now to a high schooler, I was very impressed by the way Manu had brought up his children. All of them are doing so well in their own lives, in their own unique ways. 

I asked him, why didn't he resume his restaurant business in the post-pandemic era?

To answer this question, Manu provided valuable insight regarding the intricacies of the restaurant and catering business. They used to start their day between 3 am to 4 am to ensure the food is delivered on time at their client offices. He said that the work at an industrial (cloud) kitchen is very much hands-on in nature, with high touch-points for ensuring hygiene, consistency, taste and safety standards. As a proprietor, he has to stay fully committed and engaged in the work. Now that he has advanced into the senior years in life and his children are all grown-up and self-sustained, he does not feel the need to immerse himself in a 24/7 work schedule once again. None of his sons were interested in taking over the restaurant business anyway; so, he decided to cut the losses during the pandemic and lockdown by shutting down his business and selling off his hard assets. 

Coming back to his current profession, the answer was equally an eye-opener. Choosing to drive an OLA was not Manu's compulsion, but a choice. He didn't want to sit at home, watching TV the whole day. So, he purchased a car, got a commercial license and registered himself with OLA. He controls his schedule and number of trips he wants to take. He usually takes up ride requests to the airport in the morning, and on the way back home, he takes a few trips dropping passengers to work etc. By noon, he logs out, comes back home for lunch and spends his time with wife, resting in the afternoon. In the evenings, he goes out again, taking a few passengers around the city, and returns home by 9pm to call it a day.

To Manu sir, he gains satisfaction from the fact that he is still working, that too on his own terms. He finds meeting different kinds of people (passengers) while driving OLA a learning experience: "I meet different kinds of people. There are passengers who don't talk at all, there are passengers like you who engage in a conversation, there are passengers who are polite, and there are those who are impolite. I learn from each one of them and this learning experience gives me motivation, rather than sitting the whole day idly at home, in front of a TV."

And, just like any other experience, our discussion came to an end as the cab came to a halt at the drop-off bay at the Bengaluru airport. We offloaded our luggage and carried on with our onward journey, not before we exchanged our numbers and I made a promise of staying connected with Manu. As I reflect upon this, I found an incredible amount of positivism and passion for learning, that I wanted to write about this incident and share it with many more. Here are my reflections:

  1. Dignity of labor: As Swami Vivekananda said, "Work is Worship", but to put this into practice is an enormous task. Mr. Manu, who owned and ran a restaurant business for over two decades, doesn't see himself as inferior just because of his profession as a cab driver. For him, work is work, and he derives meaning and purpose from all the different kinds of work he does. 

  1. Resilience, Adaptability and Perseverance: In today's VUCA world, these attributes have become common phrases in corporations - the world of white-collar jobs. There could be no better example than Mr. Manu, who has put these attributes into motion. When things didn't work well in Kerala, he shifted base to Bangalore and set up a successful business for two decades. With the pandemic hitting in 2020, he closed it to cut down his losses and moved on to become an Ola driver. Such real-life examples of resilience, being adaptable and persistence are immensely motivating stories full of positivity, isn't it?

  1. Break free from biases, judgment and assumptions: If I had not struck a conversation with him, I would have never known of the story of triumph of the human spirit, that too beneath the image of a cab driver. Isn't this a lesson for us, to break free from our biases, from making judgements and assumptions, by looking at a person's appearance and profession? The moment we engage with others at a human level, a whole new dimension opens up that is free from such labels and conditioning. 

  1. Transitions in life: Throughout our life-cycle we have to come across certain transitional phases to move successfully from one stage to another. However, truth be told, not all of us can make this transition. In fact, some of us get stuck, holding on to and not letting go of our past. I am sure, it must have been painful for him to wind up a two decade-old business during the pandemic and not resume it again. Mr. Manu's life story shows us, he had the wisdom to make the transition in his life, to let go of a venture that gave him ample financial and emotional stability and move on to something new, especially when things weren't working out.

  1. Finding meaning and purpose: With his three children doing well for themselves, Manu sir could have retired from his professional life. However, he took up an engagement in his pursuit to make his life more meaningful through his actions and experiences. In my mind, his story teaches us a valuable lesson - at the core of every fulfilling work resides our pursuit to find meaning and purpose in life.


The Assamese word Woolah means happiness. And, there are innumerable ways to spread happiness in every single moment of every single day. So, I hope I was able to share the happiness I derived from my conversation with you, my reader. I hope that you too find your Woolah conversations with someone as unique as Manu. And, if you have had such experiences in the past, do share it in the comment section. In today's world where negativity sells more than positivity, we should share such motivational stories that promise hope and happiness to all of us.