Pursuit of Happiness

Strumming joy

The MD of PayPal India calls it ‘self actualisation’ — getting back to his childhood passion for music

It’s not often that people talk about being in the ‘self-actualisation’ stage of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or having a blissful existence (Read: not cribbing about how hectic or unsatisfying their jobs are). But here is the MD of PayPal India, who radiates happiness every time anyone mentions music. He has the best of both worlds.

“It’s in a way self actualisation and also sharpening my business acumen,” Anupam Pahuja says about getting back to creating music — which happened around five years back, after a long break, post graduation. “After a certain age, people become more rigid in their behaviour and stop evolving. But, for a business in which you need to take decisions dealing with ambiguous data and new technology such as AI, I think you need to exercise your right brain too, which controls your artistic pursuits,” he adds.

Flying back and forth between his office in Singapore and India, Pahuja keeps a guitar handy in the Singapore office and strums the instrument every time he gets a break. In India, he practises at home on his Takamine semi-electric guitar.

He started learning to play the guitar in class VIII, from the Delhi School of Music. While he jokes about pursuing the interest only to become popular among classmates and particularly the girls, the real reason for him choosing the instrument was a chance encounter with a band of kids from the northeast. “I was inspired by how they came together and collaboratively created such good music. Also, in the early 1980s, western music was still catching on and then Walkmans came into the market, which prompted people to consume music at a personal level.”

His new-found passion soon led to the founding of his band, oddly named Crisis, at the Modern School in Delhi. But as the name stands, it did get its biggest break in the time of a major crisis — the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. “Yamuna Velodrome had just opened up and the performance was to raise funds in the wake of Union Carbide tragedy,” he recalls.

Soon he left to pursue his studies in the US and music took a backseat. Coming from a regular non-musical family, career, domestic responsibilities and stability became his priorities. But today he is back with his pick and, over a span of just five years, has a list of songs, created all by himself.

Although, he doesn’t want to commercialise it anytime, he says, “It just feels nice to think that I have done this too. You need to remember ‘all work no play makes Jack a dull boy’.”

As a child he was highly inspired by Eric Clapton and the 60s rock band, The Beatles. His current favourite is Ed Sheeran. "About three weeks back I attended one of his concerts in Singapore. It fascinates me, how he being a one-man band, enthralls a crowd as big as 35,000, without any high-budget arrangements or dance troops in the background. It's just great music," he says.

These days one can find Pahuja playing for his friends and family. He recently played at a friend’s 50th birthday party. His favourite band is the one he has formed with his sons.