Three Highfliers & a President

The curious case of an inspiring trio…

He appeared quite short for someone with a larger-than-life personality. And that look was no perception. He was standing next to my wife, matching shoulder to shoulder. But then, wasn’t Napolean also a man of a short stature? Except, of course, Napolean had the personality of a powerful emperor. The one on the podium neither looked nor orated like a statesman. An old man with drooping shoulders and a confusing hairstyle, speaking in a heavy South Indian accent while frequently referring to his notes—the sight doesn’t exactly make for a stately visual. But then again, this event was not meant to be a visual treat, only a warming soup for the soul. And if someone was to ask me to pen down the top-10 enchanting “60 minutes” of my life, this session will figure in the list. For that momentous afternoon of Feb 14, 2013, the man on the center-stage “ignited” my mind to sort out a riddle that I was struggling to decipher over the preceding two weeks. No wonder, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is undisputedly cherished as the greatest President in the history of India.

Young Indians (YI) is an energetic national association that nurtures an ambitious India at 75 charter. The vision is to galvanize the Indian youth to play an influencing role in transforming our country’s political and social fabric by 2022, the year India would clock 75 post-freedom years. My wife, Ritu, was the president of Pune Chapter of YI for the recent 2012-13 term. Before the expiry of her term, she organized two closing events in the early part of 2013. The first one was a conclave—Nurturing the Positive Powers of India—attended by eminent speakers who participated in stimulating panel discussions of national interest. The second one was a single-man thunder—a speech by APJ Abdul Kalam for YI members and the youth of Pune at Indira Institute of Management .

The Trilogy…

While I attended the entire proceedings of the national conclave, what caught my fancy was a gripping panel discussion involving three inspiring achievers. For it was listening to their trio stories is where the journey of my quandary began. As I excitedly sat in the audience absorbing their fascinating tales, little did I know that it will take no less than our country’s ex-president, to dispel the confusing thoughts that these simple moving stories will lead to…

Mr. Rags-to-riches Sarathbabu:

My four siblings and I were brought up in a Chennai slum. My mother was an Aanganwadi worker who took multiple jobs to raise and educate us. I was determined to make sure that her hard work did not go in vain. I sold Idlis on my way to school, while topping my class every single year. When I got admission in the prestigious BITS, Pilani , one of my sisters mortgaged her jewelry. I had to do odd jobs to support my education, until partial help arrived in the form of a financial scholarship. After graduating, I took up a job at Polaris to pay off my loan. Then I went back to do MBA at our country’s top management institute IIM, Ahmedabad . While at IIM, I became the hostel mess secretary. I turned down a lucrative campus offer because I wanted to be an entrepreneur who could create many jobs like Mukesh Ambani , while offering affordable food options to the Indian masses. So I started my own catering business – Foodking, that Narayan Murthy himself came to inaugurate. Today, I employ 200 people across 6 cities, but my ambition is to employ 15000 more within five years across all major cities of India.

Mrs. Darkness-to-light Revathi Roy:

Unlike other entrepreneurs, I started off in the darkest hour of my life, the passing away of my husband after a long illness. I had three children when life took this uncertain turn. With no money in hand and children growing up, there were very few options open for me. Finally, I decided to do something in a field that interested me the most—driving. I had been an avid rally driver for the past three decades. I realized that there was a need for a niche service in the transport sector, a safe and reliable service for women commuters in Indian metropolis. My husband’s parents were very supportive, as were many of my friends who helped me with the initial capital. I started For-She , and later Viira in Mumbai—cab services with women drivers for ladies and old people. I drove the cab myself for the first ten months until I could raise the capital to expand. Today, I have 65 cabs plying across Mumbai and Delhi. My target is to create employment for thousands of needy housewives and single women by running cab services and training academies across 40 major cities in India.

Ms. Ground-to-sky Krishna Patil:

Every year since childhood, I had been going to Himalayas with my parents for vacations. When I was 15, I enrolled at NIM for basic and advanced training in mountaineering. At age 18, I became the youngest Indian to scale Mt Satopanth . The next in line was every adventurer’s ultimate dream: Mt Everest . Not many people would know, but an expedition to Everest is a very expensive proposition. The attempts of my parents to secure a sponsorship for me were in vain, so they took a bank loan to support my climb. Up, pushing myself on the mountains, I knew I had to succeed… for I kept thinking of the loans that my father had taken to get me on “top of the world”! Today, I am credited for being the youngest Indian to climb Mt Everest at the time (the record was subsequently broken by Arjun Vajpai ). Now with sponsorships snowballing, I am on a mission to conquer many heights— starting with my quest to become the first woman to scale the Seven Summits , the highest peaks of seven continents…all in one year!

(L-R): Krishna Patil, Ritu Nathani, Sarathbabu and Revathi Roy at the CII-India@75-Yi Conclave “Nuturing the Positive Powers of India”

Three lives, three inspirations! Each one an incredible achiever in his/her own way. So what was common between them? For starters, they all had high intellect—I noticed that in the panel discussion. But was there anything unique that was binding them together? Yes. In fact, three unique characteristics…

One, they all were inherently passionate about the line of work they chose from an early age—Krishna enjoyed climbing mountains as long as she could remember, Revathi was driving rally-cars for three decades, and Sarathbabu dabbled from being an Idliwala to a mess secretary from his school to college days.

Two, while none of them came from a financially privileged setting, all of them were surrounded by an emotive ecosystem. Krishna had her immensely supportive parents (later on, sponsors), Revathi had her in-laws and friends (afterwards, banks), Sarathbabu had his mother and sisters (and eventually, Narayan Murthy ).

Three, in the defining moments, their backs were against the wall. And what do we do when we can’t go backward? Go forward! Krishna visualized her father-in-debt’s face as she struggled with her penultimate summit steps, Revathi had her kiddo’s faces flashing in the taxi’s rear view mirror, Sarathbabu just could never forget the sight of his aanganwadi mother-in-slum.

Passion, Support, Cornered. Three primary particles of dust clouds in which Stars are born! A simple, intuitive management lesson indeed, I came back from the session pleased with the takeaway. Yet later that night as I was replaying the day’s proceedings in my mind, something felt terribly amiss….

I suspect there must be other intelligent, focused Everest ex-climbers, perhaps in their thirties now and members of the ‘unfairer’ sex, how come I have never heard their names? I am sure that country-over, there must be thousands of bright, hard-working taxi drivers who would have attempted starting their own mini taxi companies, but today might be buried under such depths of debt, that you and I can’t even see them! And the dreams of rising-from-slums Sarathbabu are shared and acted upon by millions of India’s talented middle-class youth, but how many Narayan Murthys are there to jump-start their dreams?

So many questions, one simple answer. None of these other aspirants got the advantage of media frenzy that the three “underdog” heroes of our story had. And that frenzy got this trio the brand. The brand in turn helped them garner further support, momentum and fuel astonishing opportunities.

As my mind played havoc, the rebellion heart still rooted for their glory and snubbed such spoil-sport analytics. But I learned a long time back that “matters of the heart” is not a rational way to gauge humans. I needed to apply my brains for the answer to the question: Did this trio truly deserve the heights of its success? I struggled, but my mind refused to be enlightened. Fortunately, the help was only two weeks away, for destiny had taken the effort to arrange none other than the people’s president of India to come and ignite my mind.

While we await our beloved President’s magical session, here is a coffee-break question—amongst the three professionals, whose achievement you will rate the highest: a) Sarathbabu; b) Revathi Roy; c) Krishna Patil?

Original, Skills, Traits, Style


  1. Arun the desire fueled by passion, brings success in most cases, the quantum varies, & the medias positive support for spreading motivational stories, did help them & Goodness & Destines to achieves success, awaiting APJ conclusion

  2. My pick is Mrs.Revathi Roy. Truly, a journey from “Darkness-to-light”. She possess a very unique passion for rally driving. By deciding to take her passion to the next level, she is living her dream, serving a great social cause and also making money (ticking all the right boxes).

    “Passion, Support, Cornered. Three primary particles of dust clouds in which Stars are born!” – made my day.

    Awaiting APJ !

  3. Sarathbabu

  4. I think all three professional have achieved highest in their own right and given their circumstances.So I would opt for option d):- All of them 🙂

  5. The achievement’s of these three are really incredible and inspiring. But in case if I have to rate a number one out of these, then I will choose Mr. Sarathbabu, the reason, he started the battle of survival since the childhood, supporting his mother as well as continuing his education on his own, its really remarkable which reflect’s his never give up attitude and high motivation.

  6. I would go with Mrs. Revathi Roy. She is been an incredible example for promoting women empowerment and protection. She is contributing towards a great social cause by helping the house wives to make an identity and self-dependant. True to the word “Darkness-to-light”, she is a great exmaple .

  7. well… every body overcame there circumstances which were making them weak and turned out as survivors…At the end, they reinstated ‘never retreat never surrender’

  8. Sarathbabu – The flame to “make a difference” was kindled right from the nascent years of his life due to the adversities and atrocities that generally bog down a lot of people. The fact that he made right decisions and took the “less travelled road” (catering) without any support & mentoring apart from his sister’s jewelry motgage is what is commendable and makes him truly desrve what he has achieved.

  9. I would rate Revathi Roy as No.1, Sarathbabu as No.2 and Krishnapatil as No. 3. Revathi and Sarathbabu, followed their passion and at the same time fulfilled the dreams of many Indians by providing them jobs. However, Revathi being a single woman with 3 kids and dependent parents and that too in a field where men are dominant, really makes me feel proud to be a woman.Hats off to all!

  10. Each one of the professionals featuring in this story and every professional not featuring in it, but who has achieved / is working towards his/ her dream in India deserve to be rated highest. Theirs are the hands that are steadily building the nation in the process of building their own dreams, despite challenges, internal and external. All such professionals are led by Abraham Lincoln’s quote “Determine that things can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.”
    Looking forward to APJ’s thoughts..

  11. I would not want to rank one as highest.
    All three are admirable.
    When we rank someone as highest it implies that others are not as high “or lower than one”
    I would want to avoid ranking as much as possible 🙂
    Awaiting APJ’s response.

  12. All three are admirable. Rating any one of them would be an injustice to the other two. Just to answer your question I would name Sarath Babu, as he has fought against all odds and achieved success which is commendable. I had read about him way back in Young achievers of India – India Today Edition. I equally admire the achievements of Revathi Roy and Krishna Patil. 🙂
    Looking forward to APJ’s response…!!

  13. Simply, No Comparison!!!!
    Each one of them did what someone like me daily sit and just think about.
    Truely said, “In the defining moments, their backs were against the wall. And what do we do when we can’t go backward? Go forward! ”
    Very inspirational 🙂

  14. Success is success no matter in which field does it comes. All the three dreamt about their goal somewhere once in their life. They were passionate to achieve them and that brought them to taste that sweet success. However three P’s are always important to achieve anything-Passion,Perseverance and Patience and all the three knew the mantra very well.

  15. As I think, one will always work extremely hard to get a thing back which he has already used or value of which he realizes. Example I will work extremely hard to get my Philately collection back if I loose it. Many of the readers may not. Coz, I realize its value.
    Each of above stated personalities have done good work. However, one tasted a bit of her passion while mountaineering camps. And don’t take me wrong, other had been in certain way of living. She wanted to keep it going. She felt it slipping every moment and had to take an action. And she did more than what others would have done.
    However, I think, third was already born in slum. He was poor and was not losing anything. He could have chosen to be there and live like many. But, he took a decision to reach to place not seen before. He took a decision to change and that is amazing. And so when he did so, he defined his own goals and achieved them. This man can see dreams and make them true. A true Entrepreneur. And my winner !!!

  16. Being a woman it was tough to resist putting Revathi Roy at the 1st pedestal .No matter she definitely showed the courage to go along the less traversed path ,but it was her fate that compelled her to took actions that would help to ensure a better future for her children .On the other hand , Sarath Babu had a lucrative career which he could have continued to lead a prosperous life .But he surely had vision that went beyond individual aspirations and there are very few who would have taken his path when other options are available to them so easily .Hence my vote definitely goes to him.

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Three Highfliers & a President - Arun Nathani Blog