What is the opposite of safe?” a smiling Richa Goel asks her class of 26 students at a Mankhurd school.
“Unsafe,” they answer in chorus.
A few seconds later, Naziya, who, like most of her classmates, lives in a nearby chawl, interrupts Goel just as she is about to acknowledge the collective response. “Teacher, wait. It’s ‘dangerous’,” she says.
Goel’s smile broadens. “Absolutely right. Well done. Now, which clap would you like?”
“The bee clap,” says the 10-year-old, grinning. Goel and the class break into a ‘zzzz’ sound and move their palms upward in a zigzag motion, concluding with one loud clap.
Goel wasn’t always this creative, engaging teacher. Until three months ago, she was a senior human resource analyst at audit and consultancy firm Deloitte India, using clipped tones to conduct performance management workshops for new employees.
“After two years and one promotion, monotony sunk in. I felt no sense of purpose,” says Goel, 25, who has a Masters in human resource management from the London School of Economics. “I kept thinking, ‘What next?’ ‘How am I contributing to the world?’ I didn’t see how succeeding in a job and getting promotions was contributing to a better society.”
After much deliberation, she quit and applied for a fellowship at Teach For India, a non-profit organisation that hires professionals and graduates to teach in schools in slums and low-income communities.
She has swapped an annual salary of Rs 14 lakh for a monthly stipend of Rs 14,000, but she says it’s better than “waking up at 50 with regrets”.
“I’m young and single. This is my time to follow a passion. And I have always wanted to work with children,” she says. “Today, I start each day with such a sense of possibility. Being able to see my students learn, debate and question inspires me. I can always return to my career, but this is my calling.”
Across urban India, young corporate professionals are doing what Goel has done, quitting well-paid jobs with lavish perks to explore more meaningful careers or find jobs in fields that they feel passionately about, such as music, writing, photography and the fine arts.
“Over the past five years, the economy, though slow, has still paved the way for multiple professions and niche services to thrive,” says economist Ajit Ranade. “Plus, there is a confidence among people that they can always return to their jobs, so why not try something more meaningful?”