Almost a month and a half it has been and I apologize to have kept all of you waiting. Most part of the time for me was spent in shuttling between Bhubaneswar and Bengaluru. MindTree’s newest facility, MindTree Kalinga, will be kicked off on the Republic Day and the preparations have been hectic, getting the necessary government clearances, the physical land readied – it is a 20-acre land – putting together the event and everything else that go with it.
Whenever we start a new project anywhere, we have the One Earth ceremony, to signal commencement. It starts with consecrating handful of earth brought in from wherever MindTree Minds have gone, to the land where we are to build. So, we have earth from the 17-mile-drive, from Gandhi’s first settlement in South Africa, the Berlin Wall, Mother Teresa’s home in Cochin and from many other places in distant countries. In Bhubaneswar, students of local professional institutions will pour the earth in the presence of the Chief Minister Mr Naveen Patnaik at the base of a rather unusual tree whose botanical name is Ficus krisnae.
Some of you may know, Ficus (Bata/Bara) is a family that has many variants. Among them, the rather rare, Ficus krisnae is native to India. It is unique because of the shape of the leaf that curls up at the base in the shape of a cup; a scooping device if you will. Story has it that Lord Krishna used to dip this leaf into the pots of butter to scoop it out. Hence, the name, Ficus krisnae. It is our tribute to the land of Jagannath, who is a form of Krishna in the ancient land of Kalinga.
MindTree Kalinga is being designed by Prem Chandavarkar. Prem and I go back a long time. He is one of the finest human beings and a scholar before he is an architect. Working with him on this project is a boyishly handsome architect named Vikram. When we set out to conceptualise MindTree Kalinga, we asked Vikram to go study temple design of Odisha that is home to the Jagannath Temple in Puri, the Sun temple in Konark and the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar. There are of course hundreds others that are sometimes a thousand years old! We found a fascinating commonality in temple design among them all.
As you visit a temple, you do not get to meet the reigning deity straightaway. You go through a set of realms. First is the place for food and offerings for God. This is called the Bhoga Mandap. Then comes the arena where performances are staged for God; this is the Natya Mandira. When you cross that space, you get into the place of congregation (In every religion, the seeking is at once solitary and congregational); it is called the Jagamohana. When you have mingled with fellow-pilgrims, you finally arrive at the GarvaGruha or the Sanctum Sanctorum.
In the temple at Puri, beyond all this, to the right, is the Baikuntha Dwara, the gateway to heaven. This has a garden space where mortal remains of Lord Jagannath are buried as he sheds outer body made of wood, once in every twelve years. This idea of Bhoga Mantap, Natya Mandir,Jagamohana ,GarvaGruha and Baikuntha (space for renewal) has inspired the campus design even as its external façade will be very contemporary.
Amidst all the preparations for MindTree Kalinga, I completed the manuscript for MBA at 16 and now it is in the code-freeze stage with Penguin. From this point, there is no going back. As I look back at the process of writing it, I feel it has been my most loved book so far. I was swept with a sense of affection for the subject, the characters, for the narrative and finally for all the 31 students of the National Public School, right through the creative process. The book is debuting this April. We shot a picture with all the students last weekend. A few of them were not at hand but most of them made it.
It was a great reunion for me; the last I had seen them was a year ago. They all looked a little more grown up but the same infectious enthusiasm, of youth and brightness of minds swept me all over. Friend Mallik Katakol shot a few pictures and here is one for you. Sneak Peek. If you are wondering what the handsome canine is doing out there, you will have to wait until the book arrives!
Last week, I was in Cochin at the invitation of the Kerala Management Association (KMA). I love Cochin. Even as I avoid most public events – they really take away a lot of time – I could not say no to the KMA folks because they have been persisting for a long time. The event was extremely well managed. Along with me for the inaugural evening were PeopleTree Director Martin Sutherland and Chairperson of Thermax, Meher Pudumjee. The three of us spoke on the idea of innovation. Both Martin and Meher were great speakers.
Though I have visited the city a few times before, I never had the chance to see the famous synagogue in the Jew town. It is a great tourist attraction because it is the oldest synagogue in India. But then there are two other attractions around it: the absolutely beautiful shops selling Kerala antiques and handicrafts. You could buy an urli here for Rs 18 lakhs weighing 1800 kilos or a real Kerala regatta boat as large as an aircraft. You could settle for small brass and wooden knick knacks priced as low as Rs 300 apiece. No one hustles you, breathes down your neck or makes it otherwise unpleasant. The place is very clean unlike most tourist spots in the country. The other attraction is a large expanse of water and there are nice, quiet eating places for you to take a break and enjoy the quiet on the other side of the shops surrounding the synagogue.
When my car dropped me at this lovely place, I walked in to a small handicraft store where a friendly young man showed me his ware. I was looking for trinkets and he must have realized quickly enough that I wasn’t going to be a big buyer. But he patiently showed me around, explained the details behind every little artefact that I was curious about. He was very well informed about the background of every temple bell, the different purposes of the various temple lamps. He explained to me the mythological background of many items of worship. I was very impressed and asked him his name.
“Akbar Sir, my name is Akbar”, he replied.
After paying Akbar all of probably a thousand rupees for my purchase, I bade him goodbye. He came up to the door to see me off. I asked him how long he has been doing this. “Six years Sir; before that my father used to manage the business”. We shook hands and I looked up at the small signboard of the store. Akbar Stores.
For where on earth do you get a Muslim selling Hindu temple artefact outside a synagogue in the Jewish quarters! Except of course, in God’s own country!