When I was asked to escort Poonam Bir Kasturi from the Mangalore airport down to Manipal for the National Conference on Youth in Social Change, I agreed, albeit without much enthusiasm. None of us know everything we ought to, and I did not know this entrepreneur as well as I now know I should have. In the end, it turned out to be an experience that I would cherish and remember for a long time with the joy that comes from good conversations with great people.
It’s not every day that you work through the night preparing for who you ought to be the next day. I listed out appropriate questions to ask, anticipating the possible answers I could be met with. The travel-time was spent composing myself, making sure my hair looked fine. I found myself Googling all the possible goof-ups while receiving guests, feeling the need to make the first impression a good one, conscious of the fact that I would be representing my University when I met her.
“That’s a pretty nice bag, it’s biodegradable,” was her reaction on receiving the refreshment kit with the University logo embossed on it. The friendly remark helped me loosen up and get out of the “formal” zone. Poonam Bir Kasturi gazed out at the lush green vegetation flashing past as intently as some of us scroll through our Facebook feeds, occasionally pointing out certain trees as I did my best to appreciate and reply to her remarks best as I could with my limited horticultural knowledge.
“I never got the purpose of my schooling and spent my entire academic life questioning things,” she said when I asked her about her education, and how it helped her get to where she was. “We only pretend to know things, but the reality is we don’t know what matters, we’re too busy fighting with ourselves”.
Children, it is said, are like wet cement in how impressionable they are. Adults, on the other hand, are considerably difficult to change or bring around to your point of view, no matter how true your cause. I learnt that Poonam Bir Kasturi had acknowledged this truth in trying to encourage people to go for decentralized waste management. “We have shifted our work to something more far-reaching. We hold sessions with young children, encouraging them to develop the proper curiosity, and to know what and why they are doing something”.
The last I met her was when I went to give her the Wifi password, which she declined, saying “In this beautiful city with monsoon clouds kissing Western Ghats, I want a day without internet”. Poonam Bir Kasturi’s initiative, Daily Dump, is said to be in the business of changing minds. Having got so much to think about even in the short span that I spent in her company, I left with the feeling that with her at the company’s helm, achieving their goal would not be that impossible a mission.
I clutched her parting gift as I left: Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. “The ultimate eye-opening journey through time and space, revealing the world in a way most of us have never seen it before” the back cover read. It could not have been any more apt!
Poonam Bir Kasturi is a Bangalore-based entrepreneur and the founder of Daily Dump, a pioneer in designing and building products and services for decentralized waste management. For a complete sketch, click here. For a review of her session at the National Conference on Youth in Social Change, click here.