Derek Sivers

50 conversations in Bangalore and Chennai


February 13 through 21, 2023, I went to Chennai and Bengaluru, India. My sole purpose was to meet new friends. I’m an “Overseas Citizen of India” and my son is half-Indian (Tamil). I will always have ties to India. I wanted to deepen those ties and make new connections.

So I scheduled fifty one-hour conversations with fifty interesting people over seven days. Back-to-back meetings from 9am to 10pm every day. It was one of the most intense and fascinating (and heart-warming and educational) things I’ve ever done in my life. I recorded almost every conversation into a little voice recorder, then had it transcribed. When I got home to New Zealand I spent 30 hours reading through the transcriptions to help me remember what we talked about, then made a tiny summary, below.

My conversations there were some of the best I’ve ever had, immediately open-hearted, honest, and intellectual. I also hosted two parties but owe an apology to my guests, because I thought I could have quality conversations in that environment but I just couldn’t. I’m really a one-to-one conversationalist.

Maybe-embarrassing thing I’ll admit: Before my arrival, I hired a man in Chennai to make an audio recording of him slowly and clearly reading the names of the fifty people I was to meet with. Then I put those recordings into Anki flash cards, with the written name on the front, and the audio recording on back, so I could practice pronouncing everyone’s name correctly when we met. Names like Arunsathyaseelan Palanichami and Thiyagarajan Maruthavanan became little melodies that stuck in my head.

India has changed so much in the last 10 years since my last visit.

Bangalore in particular has become a wonderful creative hub. It feels like the new San Francisco, with creative ambitious people moving there from all over India. A super-casual California-style culture, free from the formality and materialism of Delhi and Mumbai.

Bangalore is such a great place to live - (good weather, culture, people) - that the money made in Bangalore is staying in Bangalore instead of fleeing overseas like it used to, so this feeds the local arts and culture scene, making it an even better place to live. I loved it so much that I wanted to cancel my return flight and just live there now. Instead, it’s now my second home, in my heart, and I’ll be returning often.

I agree with Shruti that everyone should pay more attention to India.



photo of Kiruba Shankar

Kiruba Shankar

We met 12 years ago at INK. He founded the Professional Speakers Association of India focuses on the business side of public speaking, whereas Toastmasters focuses on the craft of speech. Speakers and rappers who can dissect what they’re doing as they’re doing it. When doing a paid talk, (versus a free talk), the speaker has to do their homework, know the audience and their objective, write the script, and practice hard. He has taught digital marketing for 21 years, and runs a marketing company called Breathe Digital. Everyone who takes his course must have their own website by the time the course finishes. Many students have been accepted to colleges and jobs because having their own website set them apart. Instead of waiting to be invited to a super-achievers event, just create and organize a super-achievers event. Better to be the host than a guest. His meet-up is called Cerebrate. Instead of hiring strangers through a help-wanted ad, speak/write/teach in public, then hire the people that approach you afterwards. Natural filter. You don’t try to attract people. These people are already attracted. His first speaking gig was to a girl’s college. His boss was supposed to speak but couldn’t make it, so sent Kiruba instead. His 90-year-old grandmother runs a farm stay, and could use a database for their guests, to know them better. 13 acres of organic farm. So many people come stay collectively, bonding, isolated away from distractions, so they really interact with each other, staying in one building. All booked word-of-mouth. No AirBNB or other portals. The 3rd-most-popular bucket list wish is to own a farm. People long for the rural life.

photo of Dr. Mani Sivasubramanian

Dr. Mani Sivasubramanian

He and I have been emailing regularly for 13 years! His daughter finished medical school and she’s going to become a Rhodes Scholar this year - doing her PhD at Oxford. Dr. Mani is his identity as a writer online. Dr. Subramanian is his identity as a heart surgeon. He specialized in pediatric cancer because it was challenging and nobody else was doing it. The biggest problem in India isn’t the facilities or patient load, but that 99% of the patients can’t afford the cost of treatment. So even though he’s a surgeon, he found the best solution is to support Devi Shetty in Bangalore, who is doing the most affordable treatments because he’s taken a radical new approach, lowering costs by 80%. Trains women to do the mechanical steps needed instead of only hiring nurses with ten years’ training. Patients who can afford full price go into the corporate suite and he uses those profits to subsidize the patients who can’t afford it. Keeps the profit margin at 5% instead of maximum. When Dr. Mani said that his ebooks are sold to fund operations, response rate sales went from 2% to 18%. People aren’t reading the book as much as supporting the cause. He spent so much time with his daughter that she said when she grows up she wants to be a pediatric heart surgeon since they clearly have so much free time. That’s his biggest compliment in life.

photo of Ramkumar Venkataraman

Ramkumar Venkataraman

While being paid to do a simpler tech job (CSS) he studied the deeper tech of fraud prevention at that same company. He and his wife moved back to India from Singapore for better health care for their babies. A minute after he and his wife walked from living room to kitchen, the living room ceiling completely collapsed. It would have killed them. This inspired him to quit his job and do something he’s proud of. Got into smart contracts and following supply chain of coffee beans in Indonesia. Making sure funds are safe. Risk management. Incorporated in Delaware & funded by Y Combinator. Silicon Valley Bank. India banks require round tripping.

photo of Soundarya Balasubramani

Soundarya Balasubramani

Her brother called her Pooja as a girl, and it stuck, so everyone calls her Pooja. Emailed 2500 immigrants to say she’s writing a book on immigration, so what are your top three questions? Open rate was 80% and she got hundreds of responses in the first two days. People are frustrated with the system. Book is called Unshackled. Brad Feld at Techstars suggested she do a crowdfunding campaign. She raised $50K. Emergent Ventures granted another $50K. Got her masters at Columbia in NYC. Living in California but came back to Chennai to finish the book. Not sure where she’ll live next. People don’t realize how much discrimination a place has until they leave it and discover new freedoms. Even little things like wearing a dress. Examples of men being sexist, some deeply seated mindsets, not realizing they’re being insensitive. To truly help someone, you need to be invested. It takes a lot of time. Can’t happen in a rushed manner.

photo of Senthil Kumar Muthamizhan

Senthil Kumar Muthamizhan

Meeting people is richness, real rich - not just money in the bank. Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu is a significant auspicious place. In India, kids are gods. This box of cookies might have great meaning to someone who has eaten from that shop with their family for the last 25 years, but means nothing to someone else. London’s WC1 means a lot to you, but nothing to someone else. Kural - Tirukkuṟaḷ - திருக்குறள் - very important book - wise through means - it’s how to live North Indian culture slowly gets diluted, while South Indian culture resisted influence. As a South Indian, Delhi is a nightmare, because of the food and the whole thing. Lived in Netherlands and Manchester and Singapore. Europeans were annoying for wanting to be on time. Creativity is not on time. Coding is creativity. He uses Ruby and Rails. His company CultureMonkey delivers bad news to companies to let them know when their internal culture is bad. The human body is a shirt the soul is wearing. It drops every time you die and are born again. Every soul goes through four phases: pleasure, engagement, meaning, serving god.

photo of Sainath Rajagopal

Sainath Rajagopal

Sainath taught me how to eat the thali. He did “Entrepreneur First” in Singapore - 100 people from around the world put together in a place to start companies. When he pitched his education finance idea in Singapore, he got a meeting with the Minister of Education immediately. The accessibility in a small country is surprising coming from India. Bangalore - vs Chennai - is more experimental, trying silly things. Bangalore has a migrant population. People move there for the startups, and that has a rolling effect on the culture of the place. He’ll stay in Chennai to help be a good influence for his younger brother. His fiancée will work for the Indian Foreign Service. Whether to have kids, and if that makes a more or less fulfilling life.

photo of Shaizil Sheriff

Shaizil Sheriff

Grew up in Kerala, and only after leaving realized how great it is. Lives in NC, USA now. North Kerala people go to Gulf countries. South Kerala people go to US, US, Canada. Kerala’s high literacy rate is because it was the first elected communist government, and they promoted a lot of social welfare, building schools, paying teachers. With communism, the achievers can’t climb as high, but the people at the bottom are protected. The religious texts don’t know the smallest things like atoms, or the biggest things like the earth is round, but they claim they know everything. He’s atheist, from a Muslim family, and married a Hindu woman. Hasn’t brought her home to Kerala because of the current political tensions. Being Indian is secondary to being Malayali, Tamil, Kanada or a Telugu, because those roots run deep.

photo of Martin Jeffery

Martin Jeffery

He grew up in Madurai. Lost his dad at age 12. Dad’s family blamed his mother. Probably moving to Victoria, Australia, soon. Tamil Nadu was ruled by three kings. That’s why when the British came, they were able to divide and conquer. There was no unity. Most people in India don’t choose their careers. Careers are decided by the parents at age 15-16. Uses Selenium for app testing. Into dancing and choreography.


photo of Srikumar K. S.

Srikumar K. S.

Kumar and I met 12 years ago in Singapore through our dear friend Pete Kellock. The new translation of the Kural: translating poetry is hard. Kumar created a popular system of Carnatic music notation. He explained the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music. His PhD was a study in human musicology. Neither of us can let music be in the background. It’s almost a crime to not be vocal about politics these days. South India resisted colonization. A date is not actually a time but a place, since dates are what we call our position in orbit around the sun. But Earth never comes back to the same spot, so it’s not exact. He explained quantum computing - something he’s working with now. Scheme/Lisp, Functional programming, Quantum mechanics: these things change the way you think forever. Look into Julia because of multiple dispatch. Julia’s libraries work together amazingly well.

photo of Chandhana Sathish Kumar

Chandhana Sathish Kumar

Chandhana is one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met. Age 17 now. She was in a program called The Knowledge Society, exposed to gene editing, nanotechnology, quantum computing, then got into neuroscience, fetal brain research, memory development research. Now into bioplastics - biodegradable plastic - edible plastic made from seaweed for less than a dollar - working on this at home for the past week, just by reading papers and experimenting. Emergent Venture winner. Born in America. She switches between an Indian accent and American accent, depending on who she’s talking with. Family speaks Telugu, so she had to learn Hindi and Tamil on her own. Learned at a Montessori school and always followed whatever seems fun. Parents never forced learning. But also encouraged her to not quit. She did stand-up comedy and won a competition. I have the opposite of imposter syndrome: I think it’s cooler to be resourceful and uncredentialed. She does everything in her head working solo, so she can work 8x faster than a team would, since they have to communicate and document everything.

photo of Santhosh Sundararaman

Santhosh Sundararaman

Moved to the US in 2004: Kansas then California. Moved to Pune India in 2017. Pune has good monsoons: less waterlogging. Difficult moving back because everything had changed, so they didn’t know how to do anything like set up utilities. Spending time out from career being a full-time dad to toddler and baby. Reading Sapiens changed his mind about religion. Maharashtra have strong pride in their culture: statues of Shivaji like a demigod. Tamil Nadu in the 90s: signs were in Tamil, Hindi, English. People were blacking-out the Hindi, protesting Hindi in Tamil Nadu. He told me about the Vande Bharat Express train from Chennai to Bangalore, then booked it for me. It was great.

photo of Mayur Vamanan

Mayur Vamanan

Didn’t take golf scholarship to U Michigan, and always wonders about that path not taken. Moved back to India for his kids to grow up around their grandparents. His grandfather set up Brindavan Schools around Tamil Nadu, now Mayur as returned to run them. Polytechnic schools help kids get practical skills - working right away. Grandfather and dad used to do road shows to find new students, now it’s all on social media. Challenge is to make it a top-notch school for parents who care about more than test scores. Schools should teach consideration for others and the environment.

photo of Akash Chinnaiah

Akash Chinnaiah

Full-time professional writer for magazines, and memoir books. Moving to Goa. We talked a lot about writing.

photo of Manivannan Sadasivam

Manivannan Sadasivam

Tea leaves grow in chilly places: that’s why they’re on hill stations here. He grew up on a hill station because his dad ran the tea factory after Sri Lanka. He is his brother’s keeper. Brother is a film maker who wrote a poetic book. Mani is a copy writer.

photo of Saravanan Sampath Kumar

Brothers Sridhar Raj and Saravanan Sampath Kumar

Really cool hearing their stories of growing up and how they influenced each other, and getting into tech. They taught me about Hindu mythology. Unfortunately I met them at the end of my second night when I was really jet-lagged, so I don’t remember most of our conversation. I wish I had a recording of it.


photo of Prahalad Rajkumar

Prahalad Rajkumar

Bridge (the card game) expert. Loves the problem solving, the beautiful positions, unspeakable joy. Told me about Om Swami, millionaire turned monk, he’s been following since 2014. Arranged marriages work because even if it’s the devil, it’s your devil. He taught me so many examples and perspectives of making any marriage work. Sending kids to “The School” - surrounded by nature - started by J. Krishnamurti. He and his dad run the back-office for a doctor in Florida.

photo of Mukesh Amaran

Mukesh Amaran

Mukesh created a musicians’ collective in Chennai, to help promote Tamil music. Mumbai’s Bollywood exports India culture worldwide, but doesn’t promote the local Maharashtra culture. Whereas Kollywood - the local Tamil film industry - promotes Tamil culture. His model is to get musicians together to collaborate on a project, then he owns the rights to that project only, to recoop costs, helping to raise the profile of all musicians involved.

photo of Lakshmi Pratury

Lakshmi Pratury

Rode together on the 6-10am train from Chennai to Bangalore. She taught me about parenting, bringing your child around to meetings, differences between San Francisco and Bangalore, fundraising. Effective altruism is fine but other charities also need people who can realize their benefits, like music education for example. She lives in Whitefield, and we passed her home on the train from Chennai.


photo of Ricky Kej

Ricky Kej

QR-code-only menu: asked waiter to scan and show him the menu. Amazing memory: able to list out all of his upcoming projects and details off the top of his head. Went to a Christian/Protestant school and said he recommends it since the Christians perfected education. Atheism is tabboo in America, but common in India. Likes “Hindu Atheist” because it reveres all life equally vs Old Testament style “dominion of man” over all living things. We bonded over a love of Peter Gabriel’s music, especially Passion soundtrack. Negotiating for the UN. Kiribati. Greta Thunberg hasn’t seen India. No major riots in Gujarat since the 2002 riots. What to do with all the gifts, especially portraits. Amazing story of Kalyan Akkipeddi and his Proto Village where cows eat millet, chickens eat the cow poop, chickens poop into a pond feeding the fish, and people eat the fish. Chanakya University is aiming to be world-class best.


photo of Sindhu Shivaprasad

Sindhu Shivaprasad

Raised in Abuja Nigeria and loved it. People express themselves loudly, free, spontaneous. Teachers there cared for her well-being outside of school. Returning to India was culture shock. Needing permission to go to and return from the restroom in school. This self-consciousness made her retreat into her mind, still to this day. Lived in Dubai for 5 years. Family loved being away from relatives in India, beyond judgement and involvement. Lived in Sheffield, relished her independence. Talked about norms: Nigeria norms, Dubai norms, England norms, India norms. Third culture kid. She taught me how to put sugar in my tea. Bought her own home now since this will always be home base. Go to Himalayas to write a book? Or make her new home have the same placebo triggers to be a place of creative writing? She’s Kannadiga - a Kannada speaker - rare in central Bangalore now. Taxi drivers speak in Hindi to her and are thrilled when she replies in Kannada. Tamils protect their culture stronger than Kannada/Karnatakans have. We’re more accepting of others’ culture than others are of ours. To our detriment. Karnataka has great prolific writers and artists, but the culture is not as strong since we haven’t protected it as fiercely as the Tamils. South Bangalore is more conservative, people who are from here. Loves the balance of tradition and modernity in Japan. To be an outsider in a culture is the best because you can reap its benefits, but not be bound by its restrictions.

photo of Ayush Jain

Ayush Jain

Grew up in a small town in Rajasthan where students come from all over to prepare for exams, super-high-pressure, but his parents never pushed that, and he got way into basketball! Parents encouraged him to leave India to get more experience. Spent a year in Singapore, year in Dubai, and two years in Sydney. Did Techstars. Family has cloud kitchen business in Bangalore making Rajasthan cuisine, though Covid paused that for two years. Brings down staff and houses them. Weather in Bangalore is so much better. Now doing learning design, finding subject matter experts, creating courses on various subjects. Nigeria is their biggest market. Just spent 4 months in Nairobi and loves it, wonderful, everyone so talkative. Some daytime petty crime. Flying India to Nairobi is cheaper than Nairobi to Rwanda just 40 minutes away.

photo of Ranjana TN

Ranjana TN

Ranjana is one of the most open people I’ve ever met, telling me very personal matters within minutes of meeting. Very broad-minded Hindu Brahmin family opted out of the surname signifier. Studied dance. MBA in Chennai. We talked about polyamorous relationships and our past relationships. Left the startup she co-founded when she disagreed with its direction. Published an ebook on PCOS. Spent months in Peru, US, Canada, where she has family. Steve Pavlina mentioned me in his group. I loved his book. She didn’t.

photo of Pavitra Gurumurthi

Pavitra Gurumurthi

She lived in Wellington for 11 years, so we bonded on that. Returned to India last year after 20 years of being away. She has a deep connection to the ocean, love and fear combined, but can’t swim yet.


photo of Udhay Shankar N

Udhay Shankar N

Been in the tech startup scene since 1992, before they were called startups. 3D graphics cards in 1993, brought back from Singapore in luggage. Got a modem & didn’t know what to do with it. Early internet, easy to make friends with people like John Perry Barlow. You could email anyone. Early mailing list called Silk, and unconference in Goa. Certain parts of Bangalore, things move faster than Silicon Valley. He advises startups to help point out where they might fail, having been there himself. Just does it for the intellectual interest.

photo of Shreyas Prakash

Shreyas Prakash

The language of Kerala is Malayalam. Similar to Tamil. Kannada is quite different. Working with Noora Health helping them scale the program across Indonesia and Bangladesh. Doing voice prompts to help bridge digital divide: usable on feature phones. IVR = Interactive Voice Response. Before this he helped set up maker spaces in rural areas in Maharashtra and Auroville. Castes have community halls, so they use those. Tools for wood and metal, and a computer. But without upkeep they get repurposed. Worked with UV sterilization inside hospitals, at IIT Madras. Moved to Bangalore a year and a half ago. Making a community of builders. Side projects. $100 startups. Online & worldwide. Mumbai has the big business, but Bangalore if for startups, the Silicon Valley of India. All startup conversations happen at Third Wave coffee chain in Bangalore.

photo of Trisha Reddy

Trisha Reddy

Got an iPad and started drawing during lockdown, now writing on Substack thanks to Write of Passage. Taking a 6 month break now before starting her MBA in Chicago in August. Someone told her she’ll always be a second-class citizen in America. I suggested that’s an advantage not disadvantage, to be an outsider. She said, “It’s all Plato’s cave.” Doing yoga teacher training just to improve her yoga, not to actually teach it. Bangalore is more into fitness and way more active than other Indian cities. Did a swimathon then a relay swim from Bandra Worli Sea Link to Gateway of India. Reading Existential Kink, book about dissolving existing beliefs, making subconscious conscious. Stories turn off our defenses.

photo of Pradarshan


Backpacked around India for a year and a half, and has written 300-500 pages about it, but never published. Helps startups with growth and marketing, getting developers. Everyone wants to come to Bangalore. The quality, the freedom to build, the quality of the conversation, is different than anywhere else. Favorite book is Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Duran.

photo of Kaushal Shah

Kaushal Shah

Ahmedabad has worse weather than Bangalore but better infrastructure: more reliable electricity, drainage, wiring. People from Gujarat are known for their entrepreneurial business spirit. One reason Bangalore became the startup city is that Gujarat is a dry state. He splits his time between New York, Ahmedabad, and Bangalore. People don’t say anything political even in private encrypted WhatsApp chats. Meditation and comedians made him question his religious upbringing. Bill Burr’s great bit laughing at Scientology but is it really more ridiculous than what we’re taught growing up? We just don’t laugh at the things taught to us as kids. In India we substitute academic excellence for character. He was a great student, so his teacher treated him like he could do no wrong. One day during cricket he hit another kid and didn’t get in trouble. Years later in vipassana meditation this all came back to haunt him. We agree about Yuval Noah Harari, meditation credibility, and his three books. Out of 500 non-fiction books he’s probably finished 3 of them. He gets the gist and moves to the next.

photo of Kartik Isvarmurti

Kartik Isvarmurti

Kartik was the first person I ever met in India, back in 2008. We are the same age. Agriculture background. Started a magazine about ag business and distributed it in fancy hotels in Bangalore. Built a website for it in 1998. Saw the book World is Flat and jumped right into the VA/BPO business that week. Created a profile on Elance and got immediate clients. Lots of live chat monitoring. Now 300 people part-time. He splits his time between Coimbatore and Bangalore, but officially lives and votes in Coimbatore. Says if I want to live in Bangalore, I should live in Mysore instead. Better quality of life, and close enough. He builds relationships on LinkedIn, even if they’re not hiring now. Modern companies are avoiding customer service by just doing instant refunds if you declare there’s any problem at all.

photo of Nikhil Jois

Nikhil Jois

A just-in-time book is a book you get for an immediate need, like how to sell, or Deep Work to focus. A just-in-case book is wisdom. Some get books to display as a status symbol. The book itself is a reminder of the message. You can train GPT/LLModels on just one book or selection of text, including the Gita. Tried to get schools to buy his product, but decisions were made too slowly and conservatively. So he went there and started teaching in colleges: how to have a clean resume, how to do interviews, how to do group discussions. That worked. In his family, Chandigarh & Hyderabad, if you’re 22 and haven’t migrated to the U.S., you’re a failure. But he stayed and when friends and relatives came back to India to get married, they would call on him to help make things happen. Then he learned to automate those things. Then created a company around it, and tried to partner with a matrimony site, assuming they know when people get married, but they don’t. Got into IoT for oil rigs - to determine when an oil rig’s parts might break down so that they can do maintenance in time. Funded by Techstars, who moved them to Texas, but it was too early for that market. Went to California, met 143 people in 45 days. Mentor madness. Always did his homework before meeting with each person, to know as much as he could about them. That alone set him apart. Worked to prevent fraud in Indian market, like SIM card bonuses. He got 6 months free Uber rides by gaming the system, then preventing others from doing it. India affords me lifestyle upgrades like a chauffeur-driven car for under $600/month, and a cleaner and a cook who come every day. Friend lived in a hotel in Bangalore for under $2000/month, including food and everything. Long sweet conversation about how he met his wife, and how they made a framework for conflict resolution, both little and big things. The importance of being coachable. Avoid relationships between a reacher and a settler.

photo of Arunsathyaseelan Palanichami

Arunsathyaseelan Palanichami

His passport just says “P” not Palanichami, but foreign visa people kept challenging it, so put in his father’s full name. His parents named him Arun so he’d be called first in class, alphabetically. His daughter’s name is Haiku. He and his wife have been through a lot, he gave her a lot of trauma, she was so patient with him, and he’s so thankful. My son is Gen Alpha. Gave me some wonderful books about Tamil culture. Went to a school for military training, but didn’t go into the military. Smith School of Business in Kingston Ontario Canada. Worked for ITC for 2 years in supply chain department. Current company is software that compiles info. He’s bridge between India product team and US sales. He loves Bangalore, opportunities, going to shows, Museum of Art and Photography, meeting international people. People in South India are a bit more humble. People in the North are very aggressive. Even just in the middle of the corporate ladder they would drive a Benz because for them the show is more important. Whereas here the CEO will drive a Honda. In Tamil Nadu the arts have played a significant role all along. Musicians play a huge role in dealing with sadness, grief, happiness, marriages, festivals, everywhere. Music is a part of our life. And similarly, cinema is a huge part of life.

photo of Thiyagarajan Maruthavanan

Thiyagarajan Maruthavanan

Tamil, grew up in Delhi, school in Hyderabad, now living in Bangalore. Feels both North and South Indian. Delhi: “Do you know who my father is?!” (because of the politicians) Mumbai: “Do you know where I live?!” (because South Bombay is so rich) Bangalore: “Do you know a front-end developer?” Compared to Bangalore, Mumbai has more extremes of wealth and poverty next to each other. In Mumbai, everyone is always pressed for time. Bangalore is more laid-back. Bangalore is “live and let live” culture. Party people next to prayer people. Chennai meddles and judges. Bangalore is so humble, it’s sometimes overplayed. Who can be more humble. Good thing Bangalore has bad traffic otherwise everyone would move here. Koramangala (“mangla”) is where all the startups are. He lives south of Electronic City. We talked almost entirely about locations. Great stuff.


photo of Ayushi Mukhi

Ayushi Mukhi

From Delhi but moved around a lot, Kolkata, Bhopal. She was top of her class, #1 out of 60, so everyone was happy, dad treated her best. Both her names are given names, not family names. Rich people in Delhi have more cars than people in the house. Says she’s from NCR: National Capital Region, even though it’s got a bad reputation, because she aims to bust the stereotype. Moved to Bangalore last year. Bangalore is run by folks from Delhi and Mumbai. Service workers in Bangalore are so casual it’s almost rude. Not putting on manners. Went to one of the best colleges in the country, now feels she can be herself. Plans to get an MBA to run a business. Going to one of these colleges is solid proof that you went through so much and you came out alive. And you are definitely capable of handling the pressure that comes with handling a business. You are capable of making good decisions and you have the frameworks and the background knowledge of how a business operates, because that’s that’s what they taught for two years. So it’s just a very quick way of building credibility. She’s trying to balance writing with work. Just started Substack issue #0. We talked about the muse: pursuing or waiting. Her achiever friends, all around age 24, are generally not happy.

photo of Ritesh Nagpal

Ritesh Nagpal

Created a bedtime story book for kids. First the Hindi version then translated to English. Grew up in Kota, Rajasthan, 250km from Jaipur. Got his masters at Purdue, Indiana. Product manager at Amazon. Kids are now six and one. The six-year-old is suddenly organized, keeping a clean room, now that the one-year-old tries to get into his stuff. His mother died suddenly with him at home. Feels guilty for what he could have done, even though he knows it’s nothing. Told me the story of the Gita, the cousins fighting - 5 vs 100 - and one decides not to fight, so Vishnu tells him the contents of the Gita. Vision for a company is Useful Not True. Taught me about UPI - unified payment interface - how it works - and that everyone has it now - all in the last 5-6 years. PayTM Sound Box can tell vendors when someone has paid - speaks it in any language, how much was received. Bangalore has nothing outdoorsy to do. Hyderabad has many things to do. Joke about divorce: There was a city with no rain for many years. The priest said tomorrow we’ll pray for rain. When everybody gathered for the prayers, he said, first thing first, how many brought an umbrella?

photo of Siddharth V. Rao

Siddharth V. Rao

Parents instantly moved to Seychelles for a job, so he grew up there from 1986 to 1995. Shipped off at age 8 to Rishi Valley residential school in India, run by Krishnamurti Foundation, because of complications with his mom and younger brother. Went to law school in Hyderabad, as a tool to implement systemic change. Early 2000s, working hard as a lawyer, but this was before Blackberry, so you’d leave work at 6 and be done for the day. Started working with Sequoia Capital, eventually became the general counsel. Whiskey is the most popular drink in India.

photo of Anish Raju

Anish Raju

Parents from Kerala. Dad was in the army so they moved around a lot. Learned most Indian languages. Did an MBA in human resources. Became a certified fitness trainer. Coach. Nomad at heart but not in fact. Since his kids were little, he’s been telling them that at age 18 it’s time for them to go out into the world. They use the Montessori system.

photo of Nirant Kasliwal

Nirant Kasliwal

One of the most fascinating educational conversations I’ve ever had. I asked him why the south has such a different culture than the north and he said, “Actually I know the answer. I studied sociology of North and West India”, then told me all about it. His parents are from Rajasthan. He grew up in a coastal town called Sura, in Gujarat. Bangalore is the only city in India with any meaningful quantities of new money. North and West India has a lot of old money. So there’s a lot of emphasis on dressing. In Jaipur, the famous Golden Triangle, there’s a lot more emphasis on conspicuous display of wealth because most wealth is inherited and it feeds into everything. The opportunities you get to grow professionally and socially are dependent on that display of wealth. Wealth and status are very closely tied. On the other hand, in western India, where I grew up, the display, the clothing will still be very casual. So you could see somebody dressed in boxers, for instance, getting out of a Mercedes, and that guy would eat from a roadside place, because there the display of wealth is less tied to inherited wealth. It’s tied more to what you have accomplished. So it’s more about what you can do with that wealth. Sponsoring schools. North India signals strength and wealth - the ability to protect what you love - because until the 1950s India was always under attack from our neighbors. The threat was real. India didn’t have enough money to buy weapons or ammo so they’d send volunteers to collect jewelry and gold to buy ammo to defend our borders. People donated out of free will. Some degree of social pressure. People often start a school or they donate to a temple, depending on how religious they are and how much money they have, because it’s often cheaper to donate to a temple because legally speaking, schools in India cannot discriminate between students if they are run by a religious institution. So donating to a temple can make a school through the temple which can discriminatingly educate your children. Jainism’s main prayer starts with, “I bow down to those who have conquered all their senses”. We both noticed the similarity of the words “war ship” and “worship”. The hotel I chose (ITC Gardenia) is intimidating. India in terms of just cultural diversity is probably richer than Europe. Bangalore had a Ghazal night - my favorite form of music - inspired by Sufi - romantic poetry. Tabla, harmonium, now guitar since the 90s, and they have their own spin on it in Bangalore. Taking tradition forward, and keeping culture alive. A performance of Urdu poetry tonight in Bangalore. None of these existed 5-6 years ago. As money came into Bangalore, it stayed here, which was not the case through the 90s. So now it’s supported its own litrary arts culture scene. Urdu poetry gives you some other degree of flexibility. For instance, there’s a word called Ghulam, which has the same origin word as Ghazal. The first sound is very similar to honeysuckle. So in the same root, same Ghulam means slave. And there are very interesting use of this in poetry because most of very famous ghazal traditions, traditions came when India was slave country. So people would write entire poems on how they’re enslaved. And the entire poem would be of great joy that I’m taking joy in slavery. And then the last two lines of that same poem would indicate that actually, they’re enslaved to their lover. Sufism was Islam’s answer to changing our relationship with God or fear to something a God which is approachable, a God which you can listen to instead of being forced to listen to.

photo of Kartikeya Bhardwaj

Kartikeya Bhardwaj

Age 24. From north India - Shimla, Dehradun, Jaipur, and Hyderabad for college - but moved to Bangalore because he got into AI a couple years ago. Trained as mechanical engineer but hated it. Skipped exams. Father works for Indian Railways and fingerprint attendance systems were banned because of Covid touching shared surfaces. So Kartikeya came up with Raspberry Pi facial recognition thing, very simple, to replace it. Worked well for this and other offices, until someone found they could spoof it with a photo instead of live face. So he figured out an AI to tell the difference between a real face and photo face. So now he focuses on just that: anti-spoof technology that attendance software systems can use. Moved to Bangalore because not a lot of places that have this kind of culture & connectivity. Crazy stuff happens here. Folks here are at the cutting edge of everything, culturally, technologically, very liberal, very early adopters. He’s the first person to ever ask about the guitar chords at the start of my podcast and audiobook chapters. Uses FL Studio + Akai MPK Mini to make music, producing for a bunch of rappers in India. The hip-hop scene in Mumbai and Delhi is amazing and magical. Everyone wants to be the next Divine. He’s very connected with the music community here. He’s in three bubbles: tech, music, and filmmaking.

photo of Srikanthan Kumarasamy

Srikanthan Kumarasamy

He coaches people to help get past trauma and to their goals. Often people in companies hire him to help deal with inter-personal situations at work. Minimalist. No car. His son is now in the coaching business with him.

photo of Apoorve Singhal

Apoorve Singhal

Grew up in Rajasthan. College in Kolkata. Studied AI, self-driving cars, machine learning. Decided against master/PhD because he doesn’t like the incentive structure of research: to keep publishing papers. When Covid hit, booking appointments was nearly impossible as the time slots would be booked up within minutes of release, so he made an app that did it automatically and gave that app away for free. Just UPI donation QR code. Thousands using it per day. But then government called asking too many questions, so he shut it down. Last year made a free course to teach Python and spread the message among friends in tier-2/3 colleges. Free to test its effectiveness. Google Sheets back-end. Y Combinator met with them & suggested that this path won’t work. So instead of teaching Google Sheets, used GPT to turn plain-language requests into Google Sheets results. Business intelligence without all the menus and formulas. Now using GPT to give insights before needed. He makes a mental model of the authors he likes.


photo of Saurav Arya

Saurav Arya

Grew up in North India, then West Bengal Kharagpur to study engineering. Worked in Italy steel industry for three years when wine was cheaper than water. Read 4HWW there. 2012 lived every day like it was Sunday. Lived ten years that year. Travelled the world. Lamu Kenya is like time travel. Donkeys are main transportation. Rwanda doesn’t get the tourism it deserves. Lake Kivu bordering Congo is amazing. His dad is a retired professor of philosophy and often joined him on his travels. Runs an experiential place in Bangalore called Small World. Nagaland is like going to Papua New Guinea. He helps people transition from 9-5 to nomadic life.

photo of Jesvin Mathew

Jesvin Mathew

Pentecostal family from Kerala but grew up in Bahrain from age 0-6, then boarding school alone in Kerala age 6-11, then back to Bahrain age 11-17. We talked the whole time about family stuff, parenting, honesty, emotions, and other personal things. Drummer Benny Greb opened his mind about drumming, and now he’s doing a series of 100 books about drummers.

photo of Moina Abdul

Moina Abdul

Great illustrator — “visualizer” — turning ideas into simple visual representations. I’m a fan of her work. From Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. Graduated in Chennai, did MBA in communication management in Pune. Dad got her my book and Austin Kleon. Got really into Bookstagram. Took Janis Ozolins’ course and thrived. She’s been collaborating a lot online, and doing international projects, but looking to get more involved in the Bangalore scene.

photo of Srijan Mahajan

Srijan Mahajan

Such a cool dude. We bonded on music and motorcycles. Doing Creative technologist. Talked Delhi, vitamins, Seth Godin, and more.

photo of Kaustubh Maske Patil

Kaustubh Maske Patil

Fellow programmer. We talked tech the whole time, and it was wonderful. He’s nudging me to try Haskell, teaching me about its combinators.

photo of Saurabh Mithal

Saurabh Mithal

Grew up in Delhi. Did “all the typical Indian stuff”: a degree in engineering, and an MBA. Then JP Morgan investment banking. Went to a forest in Madhya Pradesh to meditate 8 hours a day for three months. We talked a lot about meditation. He’s written a daily blog for 800+ days now. Worked with Seth Godin on Carbon Almanac, and really internalized all of Seth’s work. We talked about a lot of personal stuff, divorce, etc. And American lemonade stands.


photo of Alicia Souza

Alicia Souza

Famous illustrator, but keeps the focus on her work not her persona. She laughs easier than anyone I’ve ever met. She’s always smiling. She said it’s because she works alone so much that when she does emerge she has so much pent-up energy. Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, then Melbourne, then Bangalore in 2009. She didn’t know crime was real. She’s fascinated by how I manage all my emails. Her husband George Seemon is young but looks old with a long all-white beard, which works great for him as an architect. Family from Goa, so she wants to learn Portuguese. Embarrassed that she only knows English. Goa was the party place, cheap alcohol, but since Covid has become much more expensive. It’s European in how everything closes for a few hours in the afternoon. Had a fun conversation about religion, Catholic upbringing, Da Vinci Code, and why she baptized her son.

photo of Yogesh Nachnani

Yogesh Nachnani

I loved that he uses a Debian Linux laptop. Nerd bonding. He uses grep. Talked tech, and PostgreSQL functions. Told me WhatsApp has a back-end API. Worked at Flipkart, now at Google. We talked a lot about journaling. His GP is Ricky Kej’s dad. He’s thinking of buying some land past the BLR airport, but land is much cheaper in Andhra Pradesh. Taught me about the Aadhaar card. In India you can dictate your expenses. You can live dirt-cheap or expensive. Your choice. Whereas in San Francisco for example it’s forced upon you. Companies in India have economies of scale.

photo of Arif Vakil

Brothers Arif Vakil and Ali Vakil

They make the wonderful Sufi Comics. Grew up in Dubai, family from Gujarat so always Indian citizens. We talked about the amplifying effect of the internet, limiting our kids’ access to YouTube, and lots about parenting after age 11, manners, discipline, boundaries, Jordan Peterson, Neil Postman, being a monster versus a rabbit. The Quran says that in this book there are verses that are clear and decisive and there are verses that are allegorical.

photo of Ganesh K

Ganesh K

Ganesh is a “parallel entrepreneur” now after years of being serial. Venture builder platform. Taught me about the value of attention, body language, and eye contact. Taught me about community health care, agriculture, turmeric superfoods Taught me how the Aadhaar card saved banks from doing KYC so that’s why any Indian with the Aadhaar can open a bank account now, free, online. Aadhaar is like a digital locker so he doesn’t need to carry a wallet or driver’s license anymore. Taught me how UPI works, and just today Singapore announced they’re adopting India’s UPI. UPI has no fees, so people can pay each other even like 50¢ and it’s worth it. Every roadside vendor takes UPI. Six years ago, only 10% of Indians had a bank account, now it’s 80%.

photo of Jyothirmayee JT

Jyothirmayee JT

Jyothirmayee taught me about the cultural differences between the different parts in India. The bursting creativity of Bengal, aggression of Delhi, money-focus of Mumbai, casual Bangalore, independence of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The mindset of delegation. There was much more but unfortunately I had packed my bags for the airport, so I didn’t record the conversation.