Seeing Mumbai through Different Eyes

Nidhi Shah is a second year student in the Lauder Hindi Program. A scholarship to support entrepreneurs at Lauder provided her the opportunity to spend her summer working on her start-up RevoLOOtion. To learn more about Nidhi’s start-up, listen to this entrepreneurship podcast here.

Nidhi travels to a marketplace to purchase toilets for her start-up.
Nidhi travels to a marketplace to purchase parts for her toilet.

I was in Mumbai working on my startup for two and a half months this summer. Despite having grown up there for 11 years, I had never seen it from the eyes of someone who just completed a year in Lauder Hindi track. My understanding of India and its peoples transformed drastically in one year; thus Mumbai unveiled sides of herself she had previously kept hidden.

The plan for the summer was to follow Steve Blank’s customer discovery process for my composting toilets startup, revoLOOtion. In doing so, I spoke with construction companies, taxi drivers, and people living in high density blocks requiring the use of communal toilet facilities. It was during my chats with taxi drivers – whether of the black-and-yellow variety or the hail-by-app kind – that I discovered the beauty of my Lauder education and the power of a human connection.

Nidhi purchases the first few parts of the toilet.

Where previously I had learned to wear out my rides in silence, a year of training to take language risks inspired a chatty side in me. While there was undoubtedly the occasional driver who basically said, “can we just be silent?”, there was also another who said, “you
know in my years of driving, not once has someone asked me how I was doing or inquired about my life.”

And in opening up the dialogue between driver and passenger, an opportunity to share a human moment was born. An opportunity to learn about my driver’s sanitation grievances, needs, and desires was born. While the notion of chatting with your cabbie might seem a notion too simple and mundane to the American, it is so rarely done in Mumbai. A city of slums and skyscrapers occupying the same crowded footprint, Mumbai is home to residents entirely uninterested in getting to know their neighbors.

Though the summer’s goal had been to learn about sanitation and how to run a successful business in a challenging space, I took away far more learnings about how to be a human. I learned to ask taxi drivers of their farms and what kinds of produce they grew. I learned to gently inquire about their daughters and secretly breathe a sigh of relief knowing they were being sent to the same quality schools as the sons. I learned not to judge when one person told me about how he had been married since age 11.

Nidhi walks through a slum to research for her start-up.
Nidhi walks through a slum to research for her start-up.

The summer seems very far away now that the grind of Wharton is in full swing. But I hope that these lessons stay with me as I continue to build a company that will launch in Mumbai. I’m thankful to my Hindi class for showing me how to connect to someone who grew up speaking a different language than me.

By: Nidhi Shah, WG’17, Hindi program

The post Seeing Mumbai through Different Eyes appeared first on The Lauder Blog.