The present economic slowdown, in tandem with job crisis, has fired concepts like side hustle and gig economy with a feisty enthusiasm, receiving overwhelming recognition and acceptance all over the world. Closer home, Indians are chasing portfolio careers like never before under pressing circumstances like student debt, stagnant income, lack of job stability and rising needs and aspirations. Besides, today’s generation is more inclined to give in to the philosophy of pursuing passion, with you live only once (YOLO) being its driving force. Also, AI no longer resides on the fringes of society — far from it, it is about to turn mainstream. Diversification of skills across industries is the need of the hour.
We talk to some such people who are pursuing more than one profession, sometimes out of passion, sometimes from need and sometimes just to test themselves.
Twenty-five-year-old Vansh Luthra, currently based in Prague, is a unique example of a portfolio career holder. Luthra did his under-graduation in media studies from Pune and came to Delhi to work as a public relations professional handling clients like Xiaomi, Netflix and Airbnb, which were start-ups then. Working for a year in the capital, Luthra took admission in Prague Film School to pursue an acting course for two years — something he always wanted to do.
“In my second year in Prague, my father asked me to look for a job in Europe. I got an internship at Delotitte, Prague, for a year,” Luthra says. His work and dedication were appreciated, and his boss Senta Cermkova offered him a job in their innovations and start-up segment. Luthra now works on innovation in central Europe and formulates strategies for kids’ holistic education. He also teaches presentation skills in Deloitte.
But Luthra never got carried away with working in one of the Big Four accounting firms in the world. He takes his acting very seriously and recently acted, produced and edited a short film titled Crab Apple (a satirical comedy about international relations), which was presented at the 50th International Film Festival of India, Goa, and Lonavala International Film Festival, India. He has been acting for the past three years in commercials in Slovakia, has auditioned in 40 short films here and also for Bollywood films in London. He has also acted in student productions and produced student films. “I gave my heart and soul into student production. These guys lack money, so I decided to chip in and take over the production.”
But one can’t help but wonder how he manages time for auditions with a full-time job. Besides, there is production work. “I try to go for auditions during lunch breaks. Shootings have mostly happened on public holidays because there are no huge crowds around,” he says. “ At Deloitte, I work from 9 am to 5 pm. After work, I pursue my hobbies till 9 pm.” Interestingly, Luthra has, for now, chosen to stay in Prague instead of trying his luck in Mumbai, because he finds “the lifestyle here beautiful”. “I do want to come back to India. But, I want to spend some more time here because Prague is growing in terms of opportunitites — thanks to it for being the place where Spiderman, James Bond and certain episodes of Game of Thrones have been shot.”
He says there is a chance he might study psychology later because he finds body languages fascinating. At present, he is writing a script for a short film, shooting for which will start in March.
In India, taking up music as a career option is still not that popular a practice — uncertainty over means of subsistence often dissuades many from pursuing the passion for music.
Clearly, this was not the case with Anupam Sengupta. In the late 70s, Anupam used to listen to his mother’s collections of Elvis Presley and other country music on vinyl. In 1980, a classmate, who played the guitar, shared his elder brother’s collections of The Doors, Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, etc. The sound of freestyle Blues rock and long solos touched him somewhere deep inside. “I, too, wanted to play like them as the sound gave me a sense of freedom. Besides, what hit me beyond that was the power of words, the lyrics. From Bob Dylan to Jim Morrison to Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) to Pink Floyd, all had something to say,” he says.
Sengupta played the guitar at events and small concerts in Kolkata and, by the early 90s, he realised that music has no language, but lyrics surely do. “And all that I was playing were songs in English — a language that is a part of my social system but not mine.” So, he formed a Bangla rock band called Mahakaal but before they could take off, he had to shift to Delhi as a result of a series of family upheavals in August 1997.
Since 1986, he has been into a parallel career in maritime management. In his last job in shipping, he was head of marketing and sales. By 1997, he had quit his 11-year fairly decent career in shipping, come to Delhi and decided to “pursue all things bottled up and undone as his career”. In 2002, he got a band together, The Karmic Circle, and they were included in the top 12 in India at the prestigious Levi’s Great India Rock by the Rock Street Journal. Accolades are important, but one has to earn to pay bills. Soon, he started teaching music in various schools as a part-time music facilitator. “I also opened a school that exclusively imparts lessons in guitar.”
Then the corporate workshop module happened after he took up Sonic Branding (an aspect of the PR/marketing world). Now, he either works directly or through various HR learning and development companies in India. The end users are usually blue-chip corporates. He also has his own company called SoundSense Experiences, where he has worked with corporates like Reliance Jewels, SAP India, and UnitedHealth Group. One of his initiatives, ‘Anthems for Teams’, helped him interact with new people in varied situations, besides “challenging me in my role as a speaker, facilitator, corporate trainer, where I’m able to leave back something tangible for the teams”. “It challenges my leadership ability to drive people towards a purpose, especially when one has to deal with heads of top-end global blue-chip companies,” he says.
Sengupta has authored a collection of short stories, The Colours of Sound, based on his real-life experiences, and is writing another expected to be published this year. He also wrote multiple screenplays and directed one of them for a film called Mirza’s Friend Ghalib that is available on Amazon Prime International now. His next film, Cottage by The Oak Tree, is in the pre-production stage.
Sangeeta Gupta, a 40-year-old environmental engineer based in Delhi NCR, belongs to a time when after school you are trained either to become a doctor or an engineer. “For me, engineering was an easy choice to make because cracking the entrance exam is all it takes, after which it becomes quite easy,” she says. However, environmental engineering was not her initial choice; she was allotted that branch of study due to her ranking. “While studying I got fascinated by its multidisciplinary approach.” Gupta, who did her post-graduation in environmental engineering from IIT Bombay, currently works with a team of engineers in JACOBS. She handles infrastructure projects in Maharashtra and offers consultancy to clients on waste effluent.
Gupta has a passion for origami. In this regard, she is influenced by her father, a creative person who excelled in papercraft, and made artefacts from postcards. Gupta’s father started by making replicas of things around him such as lizard, square box, table, chairs, tortoise, helicopter, etc. “I remember him making replicas of Bajaj Super scooter, a microscope with adjustable lenses, sewing machine in which the needle goes up and down, computer desktop with keyboard — all these from postcards. However, it was more of kirigami rather than origami as he used a lot of cutting and pasting,” she says.
Making a folding chair from a rectangular sheet of paper was the first origami model Gupta learned from her father. “It was amazing to build a table, a chair and sofa in four-five steps, folding papers in effortless artistry,” she says.
He taught the Gupta sisters paper ball (inflatable ball) from a square sheet. “It was fun to watch a 2D model converting into 3D by simple folding. There was another easy DIY (do it yourself) activity we learned from him — a paper dog made by three identical square sheets. I often tried this and felt proud, showing my paper-folding skills to my friends,” she says.
As time passed, origami took a backseat as Gupta was busy with school, college and her jobs. When she turned 25, the passion for origami and paper crafting rekindled. “I painted a wall-clock cardboard cover and decorated it with swirly roses made from recycled paper,” she recalls.
For the past two years she has been extremely active on Instagram, networking with origami professionals and posting her own work on the site. “The number of likes I received on Instagram only boosted my passion for origami,” she says, adding that she eventually moved from simpler to complex origami and decided to teach this art to neighbourhood kids, charging a small amount from them.
Gupta observes that charging for her workshops in the neighbourhood was justified because, “Parents send their children to these workshops and pay a certain amount. Had these been for free, people wouldn’t take my work seriously.” To increase visibility and to reach out to a wider audience, Gupta has also opened a YouTube channel.
Son of diplomat parents, 40-year-old Varoon P Anand runs three theatre groups, does voice-overs and teaches Spanish. Besides, he also pursues photography. Being a former journalist and financial analyst, he grew up conditioned to a nomadic existence. This allowed him to pick up five languages fluently. Today, he is the Spanish voice of PM Narendra Modi’s Mann ki baat. Thanks to his experience as a Spanish teacher, a VO artist and cultural facilitator, he translates and reads Modi’s words in Spanish for All India Radio.
Anand is trained in applied economics from Florida State University. In 2002, he was the youngest-ever executive hired by Copa Airlines to be part of a three-member financial analysis team. Soon, Anand realised his true calling. “A year into the job, I realised I would never be truly happy doing this sort of work. It was not until 2006, however, when I had done some work behind the camera that I set foot on the stage at the Theatre Guild of Ancón in Panamá,” he says, adding, “The training I got there made me understand a few things: While theatre has just about all the requirements of a full-time job, its primary purpose is to serve the community.” The decision to pursue theatre was a difficult one. “From a very early age, I knew I would become a writer in future. Between 17 years and 24 years, I tried to abandon the idea. I did so with full consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I would have to settle down and write books.” Anand did have his fair share of challenges. “Like anyone else, I had uploaded my resume on a portal, but didn’t see any success. But, I decided to pursue it through all available avenues,” he says.
After eight months of struggle in Delhi, he realised that he would never enjoy being an artist if he was solely focused on it. “So, I decided to apply for a job and insisted that the company should respect my schedule. I should be relieved of my work commitments by 6 pm,” he says. For three years from 2011, Anand worked for India Today as a journalist. He also does research on mental health and incorporates his studies into theatre.
Forty-three-year-old Sanjukta Roy, originally from Kolkata, has been a textile designer for the past 19 years. She started her career as a fashion designer in 2001, and currently has a Facebook page called Sanjukta, where she showcases her quirky designs rendered on gamchas for men and women. She has worked with gamcha, lungi, khadi and natural dyes as well. Earlier, she met customers at her home, but soon realised that, “entertaining everyone at home was not always possible”. Her work has been showcased at several exhibitions in Japan, France and Taiwan. Back in India, she has sold her stuff online on jaipur.com.
On her page, you will find an album titled, “Why should women have all the fun?”. A click on it and you will find men wearing saris. Roy does not believe that clothes have a gender. Swiss designer Gerold Brenner has modelled for her in saris in the menswear section of her page, and she has also been featured in a few Dutch newspapers.
In case you think Roy lives a glamorous life, you are clearly mistaken. “A lot of young designers think they will get a fancy office where they will sit and draw all day. The reality is quite different,” she feels and adds, “When you want to run a small business and deal with a difficult textile like gamcha, you have to go to villages where they have never seen a woman like you. You travel in trains, sit on the top of buses, sometimes get mobbed as well. You are working from 10 am to 8 in the evening. You also need to clean your shop.”
Roy also teaches Aikido (a modern Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy and religious beliefs), and she has earned a black belt in France. “It’s true that I had to face subtle racism in Europe and sexism in India, where women are still considered physically weak,” she quips. Often, she hasn’t been taken seriously as an Aikido practitioner.
“I faced a tough time in Varanasi and Kolkata because people couldn’t accept a woman teaching Aikido. I struggled to understand how to change at least children’s mindset there,” she says.
Roy also recalls that her examiners in France were ignorant about India and seemed to wonder how a brown girl will practice Aikido. “I didn’t conform to the stereotype of an Indian woman embedded in their psyche, didn’t have long hair, was unmarried,” she says. “All these challenges made me more determined to hang on.”
Roy is currently teaching martial arts in Varanasi and Kolkata. She has always been a physically hyperactive person, and took up Aikido to tame her restlessness. A friend introduced her to Aikido, but initially she was hesitant to embrace it. Roy feels martial art is a way of life, and loves the fact that Aikido doesn’t believe in violence. Roy, who started her martial arts journey at Kolkata Judo Club, believes, “Aikido is a never-ending process and continuously evolving like music and dance.” She saves up for a trip to France every year just to keep in touch with Aikido practitioners because, according to her, “In India it’s just training with 10-15 people in one class, whereas there you have around 100 people.”
In future, she says she might delve into the field of linguistics because she can speak multiple languages. She has a good grasp of Japanese, her business has taken her to Japan several times. “Though Japan has its share of problems, I like the people there and feel I have a second family there,” she says. Besides, Roy also understands French and her “Italian Aikido teacher communicates with her in it”.