Why Chutzpah?

No, I am not trying to throw a Sashi Tharoor at you. This blog is not about teaching readers one complicated new word after another each day. This blog is a space to express my thoughts about the world. If they matter, if they help someone, GREAT! If they don’t- well I won’t plead for you to adopt them.

So why call my blog “Chutzpah”? Cambridge Dictionary defines the word as: “unusual and shocking behaviour, involving taking risks but not feeling guilty.” This is precisely the point of this blog. I have lived all my life being unconventional. Going against the flow. Taking immense amount of risks. Some of them paid off while many, inevitably, failed. If you had taken a risk, went against the flow, and succeeded, it teaches you a lot. If you have failed, it teaches you a lot more. It makes you stronger. It makes you introspect and find out what went wrong, then stand up and have one more crack at it, with your new learnings to back you up. For me, everything I do, every decision I make, and have made, was all about the journey, and the things you learn along the way. If you learn enough, if you are strong enough to fall a thousand times and yet enrich yourself and pick yourself up and have a go at it again, then the journey itself is worth it.

Let me end this with an example. When I was 12, I watched a documentary on the Discovery Channel on “The Lost Tomb of Imhotep”. It was about the illusive tomb of a dynamic 2600 BCE minister of Pharaoh Djoser of Ancient Egypt’s 3rd Dynasty. He was a brilliant engineer, credited to have designed the Step Pyramid, the first in the world, and also to have been the source of the Edwin Smith Papyrus, a medical papyrus with complex surgical procedures. He was deified after his death and worshipped deep into the Greco-Roman period as a patron deity of the healers. This fascinated me. I really wanted to help Egyptologists to find Imhotep’s tomb. The 12-year-old me wanted to be an Egyptologist. I started raiding the library of my boarding school, to pore over Encylopedia Britannica and Encyclopedia Americana to learn everything I could related to ancient Egypt. It was quite a scene. A tiny 12-year-old trying to carry hefty Britannica and Americana volumes across the library. But I loved every moment of it. And then, against the better judgement of my dad and my teachers, I wrote up a small 12 page thesis on where Imhotep’s tomb could be. I wanted to email it to as many Egyptologists as possible, so that I can be “of help” for their research.

My dad was skeptical and worried about my “madness”. My teachers thought the same and said I should not be wasting the times of these busy people all across the world. They also tried to talk me out of my “madness” of becoming an archaeologist, or an Egyptologist when I grew up. It was fine to watch Indiana Jones or The Mummy in cinema, but it was quite another thing to become one, because there really was no money in it, as I was told. But I did not give up, of course. I was so engrossed in this, because I genuinely believed (in a juvenile way) that I could help, and that I can make an impact. I kept nagging my parents and teachers to help me send this through. I acquired an envelope, some stamps, somehow managed to find the postal address of the Egyptian Embassy in Delhi, and sent it off there. Of course I didn’t know how Embassies worked, and that this might have ended up in some trash can somewhere, unopened. Through my stubbornness, and a little crying, I finally convinced my dad that it was better to email this thing that I wrote to some Egyptologists. He finally did. And Voila! A very kind gentleman named Prof. Juan José Castillos from the Uruguayan Institute of Egyptology responded. He offered to be a mentor, and took my rather childish thesis seriously, and saw potential in me to do something impactful someday, in archaeology, if not in Egyptology. He has remained an encouragement, a constant voice in the back of my head, in whatever I do.

If I hadn’t taken this rather brash risk and been stubborn, I would not have gotten this response. So take some risks. If you truly believe in something, then take the first step even if it might look scary. It WILL look scary. But take the step, and find out if your idea really works. If it does, AWESOME! If it doesn’t, you know why it doesn’t, and with that knowledge you can come back to the drawing board. This is Chutzpah.

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Tathagata Neogi

Dr Tathagata Neogi is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Leader of Immersive Trails, a purpose-driven company based out of Kolkata, India that converts ethical, in-depth research into immersive experiences. Tathagata is a vocal advocate of empathic, ethical, community focused business practices.

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