The village I grew up in, Chennalode in Wayanad, was small but beautiful. It would plunge into darkness every evening, since we were not on the grid, and candles and kerosene lamps would flicker to life, like fireflies. We had just one primary school, and the secondary school was a three-kilometre walk and a village away. Roads were bad, so most kids would drop out after seventh standard.
My family wasn’t well off — Uppa worked in other people’s farms and earned a modest salary of Rs.600/month. It had to support seven people — father, mother, my three younger sisters, my father’s parents and me. Three meals a day was a distant dream and breakfast, a luxury we couldn’t afford.
Uppa would take additional jobs such as cleaning the farms, and sub-contract the work to me. I started working at the age of 10. I would help after school and on weekends, and he would pay me for it too! On the weekends and holidays, umma would take all four of us into the forest nearby, six to seven kilometre away, to collect firewood. She was admirably courageous and didn’t let even wild elephants get in our way. After a day’s gathering, we would carry the most we could, to sell in the village. Every penny counted.
I think I learnt the art of hustling and getting the job done, no matter what, from my parents. It’s probably in my genes. When I turned 10, I embarked on my first entrepreneurial venture.
During my summer holidays, I borrowed money from my uncle and walked 14 kilometres to the nearest town and brought back a lot of candy to set shop. I raised a rickety one with umma’s saree and uppa’s old bench, and ran the establishment for an entire summer to make Rs.300 over the two months. It was a zero-capex model. I only had to ensure my goods were safe from my sisters; and I was a brother good enough to give them one each every day.<