HT Brunch Cover Story: To sir with love
Teachers’ Day Special: Five successful individuals pay tributes to mentors who guided them along the way
A fashionable formula for success
Rahul Mishra, Fashion designer and Sunil Sethi, Chairman of Fashion Design Council of India
Rahul Mishra, the first Indian designer to officially showcase a collection at the Paris Haute Couture Week, owes that opportunity to Sunil Sethi.
“Mr Sethi was very supportive of my work when we first met in 2009 and even invited Didier Grumbach, the then chairman of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, to watch my first showcase,” says 41-year-old Rahul.
But what the designer really appreciates about Sethi is the way he keeps Rahul’s feet firmly on the ground. “For instance, I’d once asked him to change my slot for the fashion week. He told me that I would not ask that of the federation in Paris, so why was I asking that of him? Despite his love for me, he has always taken the right decision for me. In that sense, he is like a strict guru.”
Sethi laughs. “I’m just his 2am friend, someone he can bounce ideas off. Fashion is a tough space to navigate. One must tread carefully and think clearly.”
Wisdom dakshina: “A true guru does not allow success to go to the disciple’s head,” says Rahul.
Out of comfort zone cooking
Chef Megha Kohli and Chef Sabyasachi Gorai aka Saby
“I always wanted to be a pastry chef. But Chef Saby told me, ‘I see a head chef in you.’ This was when most people assumed that female chefs couldn’t handle the hot kitchen,” recalls Megha, 31, an independent chef consultant and the former head chef of Lavaash by Saby.
But the prejudice she faced almost made her quit. “When I broke down one day, he told me I had to build a more assertive personality. But he also made it super clear to everyone that he had my back,” she says.
For Saby, 48, Megha’s most amazing quality is her ability to get out of her comfort zone. “When our head chef at Lavaash suddenly left, Megha was very young. But when I asked for her help, she immediately stepped up to the head chef position,” says Saby, the brain behind Olive.
While the two of them share a distinct guru-shishya relationship, a decade of working together has made them friends. “In fact, my staff at Lavaash called me and Chef ‘BFFS’!” says Megha.
Wisdom dakshina: When a senior has your back, your confidence has no limits. “It made me a much stronger chef, one no one can mess with,” says Megha.
Shooting for emotional balance
Suhanya Singh, Trap Shooter and Shagun Chowdhary, Olympic Trap Shooter
Neither Shagun nor Suhanya will ever forget a certain discussion that took place in 2019 during the selection trials for the world championship in Italy.
“Suhanya’s confidence was low, she was dejected and angry,” remembers 38-year-old Shagun, the first woman shooter to represent India at the Olympics (2012). “So, I asked, ‘Will this be your last competition?’ She replied, ‘No!’ Then I asked, ‘Will this be your worst competition?’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ So, I said, ‘You know how to shoot. You know you will face worse days. So, just build on your hard work and forget about the outcome.’ After that talk, she shot like a champ!”
Suhanya, now 17, had first met Shagun, four years ago. The two of them hit it off right away, Suhanya feeling like she had acquired an older sister and Shagun impressed by Suhanya’s hunger to learn.
Wisdom dakshina: “I have all sorts of adolescent issues. Didi teaches me to place my emotions in the right places,” says Suhanya.
A friendship, 22 years Apart!
Sangam Vankhade, Sculptor-artist and Dikshu C Kukreja, Architect
In 2016, the then 25-year-old Sangam saw some of Dikshu’s projects on social media and felt a certain connection to the architect’s work. So, he emailed Dikshu with images of some of his own works and links to his research project on Indian heritage.
Dikshu, 52, the managing principal of C P Kukreja Architects, had no idea who Sangam was, so he was startled by the email. But courteously, he went through the attachments and wrote back, advising Sangam to mix Indian and western heritage in his work. This led not only to a very natural guru-shishya relationship between the two, but also to Sangam winning the first prize at a 2017 competition in Italy.
“Sangam’s zeal to achieve something unique was inspiring,” says Dikshu. “Our relationship transformed into a mentee-mentor one very organically.”
The two of them spend hours discussing life, philosophy and everything. “Dikshu sir is always willing to discuss even my craziest ideas, which is very reassuring. “He motivates me to take my chances as a friend but as a father figure he keeps reminding me to focus on my goals,” says 30-year-old Sangam.
Wisdom dakshina: Even a chat with a helpful senior can make all the difference. “No academy can teach me what I learn from him and I’m so grateful,” says Sangam.
Sing a tune of love
Sonam Kalra, Singer-composer and late Aneeta Singh, Musician, author-poet
Many of us are what we are because of our parents. But for Sonam, 47, the creator of The Sufi Gospel Project and Partition: Stories of Separation, her mother was not only an adult who taught her about life, but her actual music guru.
“She worked tirelessly with me,” says Sonam. “Not only with my riyaaz sessions, but she played music for me every evening to expose me to everyone from Begum Akhtar to Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald to Kishore Kumar.”
When Sonam was sent to a guru who told her that her voice was too masculine for a female singer, she was shattered. “But my mother didn’t let negativity get to me just because I didn’t fit a mould,” says Sonam.
This does not mean that Sonam was pushed into music. In fact, when she found herself attracted to advertising, her parents did not argue. “When one day I told them I had quit, they joyfully said, ‘Finally!!’ and said they had been waiting for me to find my true calling,” she laughs.
Wisdom dakshina: “My mother showed me that I should never give up but find joy even in the struggle,” says Sonam.
From HT Brunch, September 5, 2021
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