I grew up in what we call a joint family, in Mumbai, India. There were ten of us sharing the house: my parents, brother, grandparents, my uncle and his family. That connectedness is what I missed most when I moved to the West at age 18 to attend Yale University. When I moved back to India with my fiancé five months ago, I valued and embraced the family culture more than I ever had before. Many of my family members have been to the West for education, yet we are all back now and love to live together in such a close-knit extended family. We get along incredibly well; as a matter of fact, I think my fiancé, Jharna, gets along even better with my family than I do! She and I have been together for the past ten years starting out as high school sweethearts in Mumbai, then living on different coasts in the U.S. for most of the past few years. We plan to marry next year and will continue to live with my family. This is traditionally how families were organized in India but these days it’s extremely rare to see this type of living situation in the major cities, it’s not always easy to get along.
I left India to study at Yale and although I was a bit lonely, I was incredibly excited by the hundreds of course choices. I explored everything I could from: economics to psychology, religious studies, architecture, anthropology, philosophy, etc. It was the philosophy courses that intrigued me the most. My best friend, Alex and I would stay awake late at night discussing philosophical ideas and came across David Pearce, a British philosopher, who argues that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering. He wrote the Hedonistic Imperative, which is a vision for the future of humanity, where he prophesizes that genetic engineering will enable us to create a paradise on earth - where there is no suffering and everyone is orders of magnitude happier than today. To me, these ideas have provided so much purpose – they chart a glorious destiny for mankind, which is something I would love to dedicate my life toward. But unfortunately the ideas have also seemed too futuristic to be pursued right away. I hope I can embark on something related to this in the decades to come.
My philosophical explorations have made me whole heartedly adopted utilitarianism as my moral philosophy – happiness and the abolition of suffering is all that has mattered to me ever since. I came across Peter Singer who makes this powerful argument that since all lives are of equal value, spending on oneself beyond the basic necessities is futile as those resources could mean so much more to those who are impoverished and struggling to survive. The utilitarian ideal thus requires immense selflessness and sacrifice. I doubt I will come close to fulfilling this ideal, but to me it is the only thing worth striving for.
This led me to Giving What We Can, a community of people who’ve pledged to give at least 10% of their income to help eliminate poverty in the developing world. From them I learned about the possible impact I could have by becoming a businessman and donating a lot to charity, which did a lot to reassure me in my choice of joining my family’s company.
My family owns Marathon Group, a large real estate development business in India, which was started by my grandfather over 45 years ago. From a very young age I was groomed to be a businessman and take over the family business. But at times I struggle with that choice given how much my perspective has changed over the years. Adding to the wealth of my family is of no interest to me, so I try to see this as an opportunity to gather resources that I could ultimately donate.
I’m currently working on a long-term plan to assemble a world-class design team at Marathon. To create a work environment that provides purpose to the team has been always ben important to me – rather than focus on profits and money, our aim is to create amazing products and get people really excited about them. Another thing I’m particularly excited about at Marathon is the development of a school. I received a tremendous education from some of the finest institutions in the world, but I have always been frustrated as a student. There are many problems with the education of today. It has very little to do with the way knowledge and skills are used in the real world. Also, it’s really boring – children are less happy in school than in any other setting. It doesn’t have to be this way – learning could and should be really rewarding and fun! I am working to bring home some revolutionary educational paradigms that have been implemented in the U.S. (like Big Picture Learning, EdVisions) and create a school where the students have a lot of freedom and autonomy. Working at a business may be a great way to amass resources to give away, but I’ve been so very fortunate to be able to work on things that truly matter to me, which makes the journey as fulfilling as the destination.
How I should direct my life in a way to create the maximum impact on the utilitarian scale is a question I will always mull over. In the long term, I’d like to directly create impact by starting my own charity to fight depression, an issue near to my heart after my best friend from college, Alex, took his life after a long battle with depression. I’m not sure I am ready for such an endeavor right now. Until I figure out my strategy on that front, I will be working at Marathon, creating new education programs, spending time with my family and soon to be wife, and donating 50% of my income to charity. The thought that I’m literally saving lives by donating money is too powerful and an absolute imperative.