Kumkum Arora: a ray of hope.
I have known Kumkum Arora for about 2 years now. She came to my place for the first time bringing along her friend Abhishek, who was my mother’s student in her college. Aged only about 20 at the time, they were full of undying spirit and energy. They came about asking for advice from my mother and talking with full gusto about their idea: ThinKink. Bored with my school work, I plonked on the sofa with my mother to see from which part of my house was such laughter erupting. When I talked to them both, I had no idea I would be so drawn to Kumkum. Little did I know I would be writing about this woman 2 years later.
Kumkum comes from Adarsh Nagar, a well known place in New Delhi. Born in a typical middle class family, she talks about her childhood days.
“I was not really an outwardly person. A typical anti-social being with an inability to put my opinion across, it was extremely daunting to be frank with people. The mere thought would scare me of the consequences. So I usually stayed quiet and kept to myself- whether it was my friends or parents. ”
“And did you ever grow out of that phase?” I asked cautiously.
“Because of my parents.”
They were not of the typical Indian variety that is so ubiquitous; they were outgoing and confident about their daughter.
“I still remember, whenever I went to an alien place, I was not spoon-fed or given a million instructions. Even though I was the first child, I have never ever been pampered. Slowly, that made me more confident about myself and made me grow mentally. It has contributed a lot to who I am now.”
Later on during her teenage years, she started going to various school competitions like debates and dramatics, exploring different places and meeting people with ideas. Kumkum may not have had many passions, but she was passionately curious. During her final years in school, she became very different than who she was before.
In 12th, she finally found a passion that helped her.
“I played handball at national level in class 12th. It was only when I started going to major competitions that my parents realized that I was serious and it was not just a hobby. In boards I scored around 90% and with those marks even three years back, it was hard to get into a good DU college. I got into Daulat Ram College, North Campus through a sports quota for Economics honors and for that my father used to go running everywhere with me for sports trials of all sorts during a killer July heat wave. He kept on saying that we had to try every college because you never know when it is your good day. I owe him for that.”
Kumkum describes college as being the ‘Revolutionary Phase’ of her life. She realized that college is not what everyone romanticizes about. It is not easy to get into them.
It is hard work.
It is an abyss ready to engulf you.
During college, some things dawned her. She realized that even when reaching the ages of 19-21, people do not know how to write basic emails and how to manage people at different levels. They are faced with problems and somehow cannot cope up with them. Why so?
” Because we are never given lessons on such things. On how to handle broken relationships, disagreements between parents, how to self-reflect. We feel that we have all the worldly knowledge we need, but in fact we are illiterate when it comes to knowledge of life.
And if people are taught about this early, they would not realize it when it is too late. “
She started talking to her friends in college about this. But who would listen to such, for lack of a better word, such ‘crap’? Here was a fresher trying to act all Buddha and teach them about life? ? Even when she talked to me, I felt she was patronizing me.
But there was one person who truly listened and that was Anchal, who later became Kumkum’s partner in her venture and a true friend she needed.
And here I introduce to you ThinKink.
Honestly, I was not even able to pronounce this name until she explained to me the brainstorming that went behind it.
” ‘Think‘ means to ponder upon and ‘Kink‘ is an edge. So it meant thinking in thousand different ways with an edge.”
These two, single handedly during their college time researched, networked and learnt about different educational systems for a period of 8-9 months, sacrificing their grades and studies. And after months of struggle, they were able to narrow it down to three major learnings they wanted to impart:
Entrepreneurial skills, Financial Literacy and Life Skills.
Why such long words? I wondered. People don’t even know the meaning, let alone asking them to instill them.
“Entrepreneurship, because people around us have amazing ideas that they want to share, but due to a mob mentality they join the crowd of followers. Schools never encourage taking such risks and experimenting with such ideas, so someone should.
Financial Literacy, because children who take up Commerce do not even know how to create their own bank accounts; everyone needs to learn this in today’s world.
And finally, life skills because who does not need them?”
At that time, I was convinced.
But against this backdrop, their grades in college suffered. The problem with passion is that it is so intense, so strong that everything around you blurs and all that is left is your one priority.
They did not realize this. Armed with their passion, they targeted children homes and went to two of them: Baal Sahyog and Salaam Baalak Trust- and there they faced another round of problems.
“Unlike schools, children’s homes do not have children of one age group. They have all of them: from 9-19 years. So it was intensely hard to appeal to them and make them listen to us. They were so rowdy. But then we realized that in those 4-5 sessions we conducted, we created an impact on at least one child; it was enough for us. Our goal was complete.”
And there efforts were noticed. So much so that they were invited by BITS Pillani Goa for a national level entrepreneurship summit. At first they were hesitant to go but finally decided that it would certainly be an experience and went for it.
” We were so bashed…we were sitting there with so many start-ups and people from other top-notch colleges. They had such amazing presentations and so many resources. We did not stand ANYWHERE. When we went to give our presentation, we did not even pitch for funding and simply explained what we did. But the thing was that after the seminar ended entrepreneurs came to us saying they were willing to help. So there was something appealing about us! I started networking with them post Goa and now their updates flood my news feed on Facebook. It is my daily motivation booster. “
Let me go back to that time when Abhishek and Kumkum were sitting there with me and my mother. When we said our goodbyes, I was happy to serve them Chaai and biscuits. There was such a fuzzy feeling inside me. I knew, I so knew that they were going to rock the entrepreneurship world. But boy was I wrong?
” We were told by everyone to put a stop to everything. This time, unlike my affair with handball, I could not show any results to my parents.”
Reality finally knocked on their door of passion.
” In our third year, job opportunities and placements were being offered and our exams were round the corner. Plus we realized that we needed a bigger team, more experience and most importantly TIME. And then there were millions of problems that happened on a personal front with Anchal. She was very bright but her grades started faltering.”
So did ThinKink die?
” Aree baba, certainly not. Now if I pick ThinKink up again I would make some changes to my approach. Sometimes I do feel stupid and naive about some things I did, but who does not? I am positive that 2 years, 5 years or 10 years down the line I will resume with this. Just because we have important responsibilities and dire priorities in life, does not mean we would stop doing what we love right? “
She is certainly standing by what she said to me. Although she in a 9-5 job, she is also freelancing in schools giving them ( yes, you are guessing it right) workshops on life skills. She has not let go of what she loves.
Kumkum’s Facebook info reads: I am a life coach. And she certainly is. Students and people come up to her with their problems and issues. I could see she has the ability to step into someone’s shoes. To be a problem solver, an agony aunt.
I did not want to ask this one question, but my inquisitiveness got the better of me.
“Are you a failed entrepreneur?”
“No.” she replies with certainty.”
Simply because ThinKink was not an up and coming start-up ,it was a beautiful idea which needed time and help. And a changed mindset of our society. And in some years, it shall definitely resurface again. I believe in that Kumkum who came to my house that day, beaming with pride.
Because Kumkum Arora’s story was not of a failed success, but a successful failure.