Meet Kailash Mehra, Siddharth Hande, Sayeed Saleem and V.R. Aparajitha. What ties these four youngsters together is that all of them love their jobs. If you love what you do, you are sure to excel at it. So, though none of them is in a conventionally successful profession, all of them make a reasonable amount of money. You too can be as happy if you are smart enough to take the path less trodden.
activity officer, Latitude 30 degrees North, Aqua Terra adventure company, Rishikesh
Back to nature
Many years ago, on a school trek to Rishikesh, Kailash Mehra promised the adventure camp organisers that he would be back. He kept his word. The 24-year-old has been working with the adventure tourism company in Rishikesh for the past one year.
Taking tourists trekking, camping and on cycling tours in the mountains, attempting obstacle courses and river rafting on the Ganges.
The grandson of a well known cricketer, the late Kripal Singh, Mehra was naturally drawn to sports. With no aptitude for academics, he opted for a BSc in physical education from Madras Christian College.
During this time, he signed up for a 14-day course in kayaking at the state-run Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS) at Pongdam in Himachal Pradesh in 2010.
“I guess this is when I knew what I wanted to do,” admits Mehra softly. Some men from the Indian Army were also taking the course and, seeing Mehra’s enthusiasm, they suggested he register for mountaineering courses at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in Darjeeling. On his next summer break, Mehra joined the basic course at HMI, which involved learning rockwall climbing, walking through glaciers, mapreading, skiing and rescue courses. “It was fantastic,” exclaims Mehra, who went back to HMI to complete his intermediary and advanced courses.
He graduated and joined Aqua Terra as an intern at its tented camp office on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh last October. Shortly after, he moved to its new resort Latitude 30 North — situated 30km from Rishikesh — as an activity officer. His daily schedule involves a 14km mountain cycling tour at 6.30am, a river rafting session from 9.30am to 1.30pm, wall climbing in the evenings and socialising with guests at dinner.
He earns Rs 14,000 but lodging and food are free. “Life moves to a different beat here. You live by the seasons. Mother Nature is like a living presence; it is as if she has put a spell on us.”
Mehra plans to take more advanced courses to become a group leader and dreams of accompanying National Geographic photography teams as a technical hand.
A visit to the conservation lab at the Madras Museum in Chennai triggered V.R. Aparajitha’s interest in the restoration of old artworks. This was the Government College of Arts and Crafts student’s first exposure to the ‘intriguing process to salvage old artefacts’. “I was fascinated and made up my mind to specialise in this area,” she says.
She brings back damaged works of art to a pristine condition. It is interesting work but needs lots of patience. The work is also laborious and can go on for months. “I had to work on a 8 by 10 inches miniature painting. It was severely damaged, the edges were lost, it was fungus infected…it was crumbling. I worked on it for three months and I felt good when I saw the result,” she says.
The conservation lab staff recommended a masters course in conservation and museology from the National Museum Institute in New Delhi. “It gave us an understanding of different materials and their chemistry,” she recounts.
After a six-month internship at the India National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) conservation centre in 2004, Aparajitha bagged an assignment with an NGO called Namgyal Institute for Research on Ladakh Art & Culture (NIRLAC) to help restore wall murals at monasteries in Ladakh.
“We went to Ladakh for three consecutive summers. The gold they use in the murals was beautiful and the mineral-based colours were still startingly vivid,” she recounts. They had to clean soot deposits, work on pigment detachments from the wall and huge cracks caused by earthquakes.
Aparajitha then worked on multiple projects —on Ravi Varma paintings in state museums, a photographic collection in the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, and at Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad. “You learn to work with a team, understand the philosophy and vision of the artist,” she says. In 2007, Aparajitha set up a conservation studio in Chennai. Business was slow to begin with but now she gets regular work.
She started her career on Rs 15,000 (with food and lodging) for a project but today she earns in six figures.
The opportunities in this field are very bright. Many individuals have large art collections and there is a huge demand for art restorers. You can also work at INTACH or the National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property in Lucknow.
diving instructor, Dive India, Andaman Islands
How did a BE in electronics and communication end up as a full-time diving instructor? “Purely by accident,” says 30-year-old Saleem. But his love affair with water started early. “We live very close to the beach in Kerala and I learnt to swim at an early age. I was always fascinated by the catch brought in by the local fishermen,” recalls Saleem.
It involves interactions with wildlife as well as people. He works rain or shine, Monday through Sunday, but only because he forgets to take a break. Saleem takes student divers through their basics in a pool or shallow water first, then into to deeper water, gradually making them independent enough to dive with a buddy anywhere in the world.
After graduating from PA College of Engineering in Mangalore in 2004, he worked for an information technology firm in Chennai for two and half years. On a holiday to the Andaman Islands, Saleem did an open water course (basic diving course) and got hooked. He resigned and joined DIVE India, a private diving and training centre in the Andamans in 2007.
“It’s a clean, healthy life and socialising with visitors keeps things interesting but it isn’t for folk who want a high paying job. If you like the outdoors and love being near water, it’s hard to find a better job,” says Saleem. Like all teaching jobs, this too requires massive doses of patience. Since the work is dictated by seasons, instructors sometimes rotate their places of work — that is, one season in India, and another in Thailand.
To become an instructor you need to do a week-long open water (OW) and advanced open water (AOW) course (total cost: Rs 30,000). In the first, you learn how to dive; the second helps you experience different aspects of diving, that is, photography, deep sea diving, night diving, exploring a wreck and so on. Then comes the rescue diver course that teaches you to deal with potential problems divers face as well as basic CPR and first aid (cost: Rs 19,000). The divemaster course is a professional level course involving a month-long internship, a theory portion as well as tests of stamina and fitness (Rs 40,000). To be eligible, you must have completed a minimum of 40 dives and you have to experience at least 60 dives to complete the course. Certified divemasters can guide certified divers around dive sites and assist instructors. The next course is the instructor development course that requires experience of 100 dives (about Rs 83,000).
Commercial diving (diving in higher risk conditions for ship maintenance, oil rig repairs and underwater welding) requires a different training. The training duration obviously is more intensive but successful placement is lucrative.
Saleem earns about Rs 20,000 a month but lodging and food is free. You can make more if you work in another country during the off-season here.
Activism and academics seems to go hand in hand for Siddharth Hande, 24. Even as he took a year off after school to play competitive tennis (as a national doubles champion, he represented India in the World Peace Games in South Korea) Hande got involved in conservation work in Chennai. This interaction with conservationists led to the formation of an active voluntary organisation called ‘Reclaim Our Beaches’, and influenced his choice of subject in college — he did a BSc in advanced zoology from Loyola College in Chennai.
“What we do is to create an understanding of physical space (land) through a map. Maps or other visual data like a tree chart are powerful instruments, which can provide you with hard core data about different areas in cities. Whoever owns the data becomes the master. He and his business partner have many projects lined up —they are working to visually deconstruct the Environmental Protection Act online for Bangalore-based NGO Dakshin, and are in the process of building two portals for the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Both the portals deal with “data visualisation” to streamline and assimilate copious data better — one will help NGOs working with sea turtle conservation and the other will help decipher the amphibian population in the Western Ghats.
After his BSc, Hande went on to do a masters in environment and sustainability from Monash University, Melbourne. Here his thesis advisor influenced him to the extent that he started to get interested in human geography and focused on the environment in the context of people. After his masters degree, he joined Transparent Chennai, an NGO project run by Institute of Financial Management and Research (IFMR), which creates maps and data of cities to understand civic issues better and use them to make the government accountable.
Having studied geographical information system, Siddharth worked here for more than a year. Though he was earning Rs 45,000 a month, Siddharth quit his job. Today, working as a consultant, he makes more but refuses to divulge the exact amount.
Starting salaries for geo-spatial advisors are about Rs 70,000 a month. The job opportunities in this field are multiplying, says Siddharth.
What makes Hande’s work different is that he tries hard to use his skills as a geographer to help in community development and urban planning.
“I enjoy and love my work and plan to do a Phd focusing on GIS in the future,” says Hande.