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This is my first interview and it’s my pleasure to introduce you all to a dear friend, Jagmohan Bhanver, who I have known for a couple of decades since we were together in business school. Of all the people I have studied with, he has surprised me the most with the gamut of skills and competencies he has developed and exhibited so successfully. His career is a glorious example to all who are just starting theirs that absolutely everything is possible if you set your mind to it.
Jagmohan recently released the first instalment of his Krishna Trilogy – The Curse of Brahma, and from what I know of him, he is well on his way to stardom just like his predecessor – Amish Tripathi of the Shiva Trilogy fame. I feel privileged that my fledgling blog has the opportunity to feature his first interview.
Note: For those who aren’t aware, Lord Krishna is one of the most popular gods in Hinduism. He is known for his pivotal role in the victory of Pandavas in the great war of Mahabharat and in the process bestowing his greatest gift to the world – The Bhagavad Gita – eternal wisdom that enlightens us to the true purpose and goals of human existence.
Before starting the interview he asked me for any specific instructions to tackle the questions and I said – “just be yourself”. I am so glad with my sage advice because I get to present him exactly as I have known him – honest and humorous being the two keywords.
PJN: Jags (what I call him), let me start with what intrigues me the most, a question uppermost in my mind – how and why did you think of writing a Krishna Trilogy?
JB: I spent most of my life in Uttar Pradesh (a state in India) and it’s rather difficult to stay there and not have heard of Krishna at a very early age. Moreover, my name being Jag-Mohan (one of the 108 names of Krishna), it was natural for everyone during childhood to jestingly comment that I was behaving like Krishna. So, I just happened to get very close to the subject of Krishna from a very early age. As I grew older and read more about Krishna, I realized there was far more to him than we made it out to be. I resolved to research this.
Therefore when I took a sabbatical from my banking career in 2004, I started reading whatever material I could find on Krishna, including Vedic texts that date back thousands of years. And I realized that the story of Krishna as we know it could well be a myth…that the actual story might in fact have been so terrifying that history was compelled to hide the truth. After all, when we are talking of time dating back thousands of years, who can be certain where fact ends, and fiction begins.
I had a two-fold objective in writing the Krishna trilogy. One, to tell my version of the truth! And second, to narrate it in a way that can appeal to the young of our country. A lot of us have lost interest in our culture because the way our old stories are narrated has not changed over time. Our children are happy reading about Greek mythology and Roman characters because those stories are written and narrated in a contemporary manner. All books in the Krishna trilogy have been written in a manner that it excites our readers and encourages them to take pride in our culture. Also, earlier it was the natural responsibility of grandparents to imbue the young with a sense of their culture. With families getting increasingly fragmented, tales told to children earlier by older members now require another medium to do so. The change in family structures has compelled writers like me to re-tell our ancient stories, blending research with imagination.
PJN: How is your book different from other books on Krishna already written?
JB: While a lot has been said and written about Krishna, the fact is that almost every book ends up telling us the same routine story of Krishna as we know it from childhood. I didn’t want to repeat the same story. Every book in the market shows Krishna either as a childhood prankster or later on as the friend of the Pandavas. The fact is that those are relatively insignificant aspects of Krishna’s life.
The Krishna trilogy (starting with The Curse of Brahma) provides an entirely different rationale for Krishna’s birth on earth. Moreover, it also includes that part of his life (from the age of fifteen till the time he makes his entry during the Mahabharata) that no one has written or spoken about till date. And perhaps most interestingly, the trilogy shows Krishna as a mortal who earned the right to be called a God rather than someone who was born divine. Also, every character in the book – irrespective of how much has been written about them earlier – has been characterized differently, and been provided shades of grey. This not only makes them more credulous but in my humble opinion lends each character a different persona that defines them. Reading the trilogy therefore, will be like experiencing Krishna in an entirely new light.
PJN: Now let’s talk a bit about your eclectic career. I have always known you to be a banker, is that how your career started?
JB: Actually not. I started my career with the Thapar group; those were the days when large industrial houses would get into any business they got a license for. Thanks to that syndrome, I found myself marketing exotic stuff like gherkins and spirulina in my first job. In the early 90’s it was a dream job – I had an AC cabin, a computer and an assistant right after my MBA. The only thing I knew how to use was the AC. The computer and the assistant were left to fend for themselves.
I realized the job was the kind of paradise I could lose myself into, unless I quickly moved out into something more challenging. That got me to try my luck in the banking sector. I was promptly counselled by senior bankers that in the two years I had spent at my former job, I had become unemployable. I was told if I was serious about joining a Bank, I should get some hard core on-the-ground experience. I decoded it as a subtle suggestion that I should carry my burgeoning backside to a hard core sales industry and get some real experience.
I knew there was a chance that I might change my mind. After all, who in their right mind would leave a cushy air-conditioned cabin with support staff to get into a sales role? So before I could talk myself out of it, I quickly took up a job with Canon who had recently entered the Indian market.
PJN: That must have been really tough… did you regret your decision?
JB: It just reminded me every day for the next one year that I was a highly insane person. On a serious note though, it was a great experience. Once I got over my inherent fear of doing cold calls, and was able to put my ego aside (that little voice that said why I was selling door to door when I could have been leading a cushy office life) things really started to happen. I won most of the sales contests, got an out of turn promotion in less than six months, and at the end of my one year stint at Canon, I think it would be safe to say that the company had taught me most of what there was to be learnt in sales and channel management. After a year at Canon, I got two bank offers. I chose to join Standard Chartered Bank.
PJN: Do you remember anything interesting during your banking stint.
JB: Apart from Stanchart I have also worked at HDFC & HSBC and a lot of interesting things come to mind, but one thing comes back to haunt me even today. It was at Standard Chartered. I was responsible for the Liabilities and Professional credit business. Demat had just come to India and no one was really selling it yet in a big way. My team took the challenge of turning that around. In three months, the lads had sold more than most of the other regions combined. I thought that was interesting for a team to achieve when it wasn’t even one of our focus areas. The beauty was that some of the things the team implemented almost fifteen years back (events at residential societies etc.) and which were unheard of in those days, is now a common practise across all industries. Now every time we have people from banks and telecom companies for their weekend events in our society, my wife says, “Look what you did 15 years back, it’s still bothering us today!
PJN: From banking to training / coaching and now authoring, how did such major transitions come about?
JB: I really liked the Banking stint in my career. To a certain extent, I am who I am because of that. However, I realized that there is a difference between liking something and passionately being in love with it. Once I figured I didn’t feel that way about the job I was doing, it became important to find out what would generate that level of passion within me. It was serendipitous that my first book got published at that time in 2004. It was called ‘Get Happy Now’ and I was fortunate that one of the biggest publishers in India picked it up. The book became an instant best seller and I was compelled to travel and do road shows all over the country. The book made a lot of people happy and changed several people’s lives, when they were at their most challenging time. And it hit me then! I was truly alive when I was interacting with people and making a difference to their lives in my own little way. I resigned from my banking job and set up PeopleFirst (India), an executive coaching and people development firm.
Writing has been in my genes, I think. My father was an Army General, yet there was a poetic side to him that his family and friends were fortunate enough to see. My mother was an artist and I think some of my parent’s creativity rubbed off on me. I started writing and having my work published when I was twelve years old. After ‘Get Happy Now’ my second book, ‘Think your way to millions’ was released in 2006. After that, for a period of seven years I was engaged in growing PeopleFirst (India) and in establishing my other Education ventures.
PJN: You have also written the first ever book on Satya Nadella, the current Microsoft CEO, how did that happen?
JB: Hachette India approached me and asked me if I would be interested to write a book on Nadella. This was the time when Nadella had begun to make waves globally with his ‘Mobile first, Cloud first’ slogan and the battle for the CEO of Microsoft was in full form. I was initially a little hesitant as at that time I was trying to give the finishing touches to The Curse of Brahma.
However, I had always been fascinated by the story of Nadella as a person and Microsoft as a legendary organization. I figured this book could possibly be an inspiration for thousands of Indians, in India and abroad. So I decided to go ahead and signed the contract with Hachette and started the arduous process of giving shape to a book dedicated to a global business icon of Indian origin.
PJN: How do you juggle so many activities and initiatives?
JB: You can juggle a lot more than you believe is possible if you follow some simple time management principles. I remember when I was working in the Bank, I thought I would never again have such a packed schedule ever in my life. I used to start the day at 7am and return by 11pm. And then when I started PeopleFirst (India), I was myself initially trained on several behavioural interventions; the most interesting being Time management! Getting interested in the subject, I researched it threadbare and understood that most of us (including me at that time) spend at least 75% of our time on low importance – low urgency items. Majority of the remaining time we are focused on what is called the fire fighting quadrant (high importance – high urgency). The former activities take up most of our time and yield very little value. The latter items are important but because we have allowed them to get into the fire fighting quadrant, they stress the hell out of us and our performance on these critical issues is less than desirable.
Life is not about working mindlessly. It is about enjoying what you do. And the only way you can do it and yet maximize your achievements is if you can prioritize things and manage your time more effectively. I have been fortunate that I have been able to use some principles to get there.
PJN: What drives you?
JB: The thing that excites me the most is an idea! It could be anything – an idea for a new product; or for a new business venture, or lately an idea for a new book! After that, it is working on that idea that really drives me and keeps my adrenaline pumping.
For instance, while writing a particularly creative scene, the feeling I get is quite akin to a climber who is trying to ascend a steep mountain without any holds. He tries to grip at anything his fingers or feet can hold on to. And he feels a rush of exhilaration as he bridges the gap between where he is and the pinnacle of the hill. And finally when he reaches the summit, he is completely exhausted. It is a great feeling… he sleeps soundly after several hours and days of climbing. That’s exactly how I feel when I am writing or building something – pure exhilaration during the process, and finally when it is done, a sense of achievement, and the desire to get into a long deep sleep to recharge for the next climb.
PJN: How would you describe yourself as a person and what are your hobbies, likes & dislikes etc.?
JB: I’m quite a simple person actually, even though my parents would possibly tell you I’m as complex as the Fibonacci equation. I love to spend my time with people I care about. That means my family, certainly. But it gives me great joy in interacting with just anyone. My daughter stares at me sometimes when we are traveling by cab because I pick up a conversation with the cabbie. And it’s wonderful because you find this otherwise grumpy stranger actually telling you things about himself and his life that he has perhaps never shared even with friends that he may meet every day.
I love writing of course, but I am equally passionate about reading. I normally read 3 – 4 books a week, though for the past few months, it’s been fewer than that. I love music of all kinds. Classical (symphonies as well as harmonies), old Hindi songs especially of Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and KL Saigal; Ghazals from Ghulam Ali, Jagjit Singh, Farisa Khanoum and several others.
Hiking and trekking are always a welcome activity. Most of all, I look forward to sitting in a cosy cottage with my family laughing at some joke while I sit with a laptop in front of me and a good fire going watching the snow drop down gently, as I start writing a new chapter in my book.
There are not too many things I dislike. However, what gets me is when people act petty with each other or when people get too judgmental.
PJN: Please share some success mantra with those who would like to emulate you.
JB: People should not be emulated; because people may change. Values do not change. Emulate the values and the behaviours that you admire in others. If you ask me personally, I admire and would like to emulate the empathetic attitude of Mother Teresa; or the never say die attitude of Yuvraj Singh; or the ability of Charlie Chaplin to hide his own tears while he made strangers laugh at his antics. Everyone is unique and should follow their own heart and chalk out their own path.
On the matter of success mantras, if I were to pick up the one thing that defines me, it is the attitude that makes me tell myself, “I will not give up till I am ready to give up.” I think this attitude has helped me tide over the greatest challenges in my life and emerge stronger every time. The other thing is self-belief – the intrinsic realization that I can do it if I set my mind to it and that there are very few things in life that are impossible – and then too they are so because we believe them to be so.
PJN: Finally I would like you to share some parting advice to young entrepreneurs, trainers & coaches, and of course authors.
JB: To would-be entrepreneurs, I would say one thing – get into it if you have deep love and passion for it; never for the money. If you are passionate, you will drive yourself to your limits. You will not give up when others around you are willing to throw in the towel and call it a day. You will excel.
Trainers & Consultants – the one thing that would possibly help your audience gain the most form your expertise is for you to avoid talking about your expertise. Remember if you give a man a fish today, you have fed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you have fed him for life! Trainers and consultants will be more effective if they listen more and facilitate people rather than telling them what to do.
Authors – write for yourself. Forget what the books on writing tell you. The best dancer dances for himself or herself. Likewise the best writers are those who write first for themselves. If you can write what touches your heart, in all probability it will touch the reader’s heart too. And there is nothing more powerful than a book that can touch someone’s life. Write on subjects that you believe in; not on what is selling in the market. And finally, the toughest thing is to start writing. Once you have done that, the rest of the things will take care of themselves.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not a promoted post and I have not received any consideration for featuring this interview. Interviews are my way of introducing you to people I know, who have a great story to tell, and can inspire many more to create their own stories.