A Motivational Journey of IT Professional & Travel Photographer – Punkaj Gupta
Kindly share a few words about your journey?
I come from a family with a business background. After I finished my graduation in computers I was really not interested in my family business. I wanted to start something on my own and wanted to have a corporate kind of career. So I started a Microsoft training institute, it was one of the first of its kind back then. Initially, it was running well but later I made the mistake of not changing with the time. I didn’t have the growth mindset to adopt with the time so I closed it down after 5 years. I informed my parents who are wonderful people by the way about my new decision and they seemed to be very supportive. I asked them whether I could go to Bangalore and start a corporate career. They agreed and told me that I could come back when I get bored. It’s been 20 years with companies like America online, Bank of America and now with ANZ. I haven’t got bored yet and things are going well so far. Over time I developed an interest in different perspectives like photography, scuba diving, trekking, theatre and I am also a part of the running group. I have done a few things along with ANZ as well.
What do you considered to be your biggest personal and professional achievement?
It is very interesting because I actually won a Hot Chicken Wings contest in Charlotte, US. In the game, we were supposed to eat the maximum number of chicken wings in a minute. The chicken wings were supposed to be super hot; there were three different varieties of wings out of which one is normal, the other one is hot and the last one is extra hot. The extra hot version is something I was supposed to have, but for Indians that was considered to be sweet because we Indians eat spicy food. I won that contest; my photograph is still there on their wall of fame. It was a pretty cool experience.
One more achievement which I considered to be very sweet is that once when I went for an NGO conference a couple of years back, it was a two-day conference and we had people from all over India attending it. At the end of the conference a lady from some other city, who is about 70 years old has told me that ‘Pankaj if I had met you 45, 50 years back I would have fallen in love with you’. I thought that was a sweet comment for her to make.
I think apart from my work I have been able to make time to pursue my personal interests also. I did a solo photography exhibition in March 2019 at Honeycomb Art Gallery. I thank Noufel and the entire team for inviting me to conduct a solo exhibition for the first time in my life. From the photography perspective, I have won many awards. It includes awards from The Spider Black and White organization, which is a global award, and I am also a certified photographer by the Photographic Society of America for their Color and Travel photography. Apart from photography, I have done several half Marathons and I am training for the full marathons next year. I am part of a group called Runners High in Bangalore; we meet very often during the week and we train for running marathons. I also have an international certification for scuba diving called PADI certification. I have also done a basic theatre workshop with Organizational Theatre Ranji David in Bangalore. I have been part of a couple of stage shows with the same organization and I am really proud of that. I was invited by IIM in Ranchi to deliver a speech to their students I was never been able to do IIM and MBA myself. It was pretty cool that they thought I could give a motivational speech to the students. I also have few certifications like Six Sigma black belt certification. I have several procurements from Bank of America, COPC, etc. I currently manage a large global procurement organization. It is a great team and we have tie-up across multiple countries.
What is the turning point of your life? Tell me an incident where you were persistent in face of obstacles?
There are many turning points in my life but if I have to pick one then it would be when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis about five years back. MS is not a well-known condition basically it is an autoimmune disorder, which affects the central nervous system. There is a condition called demyelination where my own immune system attacks the nerve or the coverings of the nerve called myelin, thinking it is bad. That nerve gets exposed depending on which nerves get affected that part of the body gets affected. There has been no known reason for why this happens and no known cure for MS as well. I think research is still going on, every day and every month we hear about new research findings, let's see what happens in the future. It is obviously the biggest turning point of my life and I just want to prove to myself that I can do everything I always wanted to do. The most interesting part is all this happened after I was diagnosed with MS. So be it photography, training for a marathon, scuba diving, MENSA group, theatre, trekking whatever I have done from a personal perspective I have done pretty much after I was diagnosed with MS. It is something that I took it as a personal challenge where I wanted to just prove myself that I could still do all those things.
What are the advises you want to give MS diagnosed people to keep up their inner spirit?
I am not an expert to give advice but I will tell you what I try to follow, it is from a poker card game. It’s a game of skills not gambling; it’s proven in a court of law, believe me. Anyway so in poker you are dealt with two cards at the beginning, the strongest cards are supposed to be 2 aces and what I think is that life is not going to give you 2 aces every time. So I try to do the best with the cards that have been dealing with. It is not possible that all of us will get 2 aces because there are not so many aces in one pack. There is no question of self-pity, it is very negative and can get you down. Have a positive mindset always and don’t take yourself too seriously. Should always have everything is chalta hai kind of approach and realize that nothing is impossible. Whatever you put your mind to and if you work towards it nothing is impossible in spite of whatever your condition is. I have this theory where mind, body, and soul which are the three major components in one’s life. Whether you are sick or not all of us should do something, which exercises your mind, body, and soul on a regular basis, daily or weekly. I think nothing can go wrong and the world will be a lovely place.
How do you raise funding for MSSI group?
MSSI stands for Multiple Sclerosis Society of India, basically, a group of people diagnosed with MS. What we do exactly is that we help people with MS for their physiotherapy sessions, we have medical camps, which we arrange once a month where the doctors meet up with the patients and discuss any issues they have. We have doctors to give the actual medical prescription. We do everything to support and to lead a better life and a lot of money is required for that. So what we do is that we go around asking corporates to sponsor us and many corporates have been really nice to us over the last few years to support us in our mission. Of course, we always want more but they have been very kind to us. Apart from that we also have an annual photography exhibition, which is conducted by a group of photographers called TGIS (Thank God It’s Saturday), which basically comprises of all the students of Mr. Anand Sharan whom I also learned photography from. We have this exhibition once a year where we exhibit and sell these photographs. The money raised from that goes towards MSSI funds The solo exhibition I did with Honeycomb Art Gallery was also in support of MSSI funds and all the profits, which came out of that, are about a lakh and half. So having said all that if any corporate is seeing this who is actually willing to adopt us please let me know.
How did you develop interest in marathon running, trekking, and scuba diving a midst of your busy schedule?
I did all these things because I was curious, I wanted to learn new things and pursue my interests in what I like. I was very lucky to have got these opportunities my way, I pursued them and it was a very special feeling when we do something for the first time. Be it when you first complete your marathon, you do your first scuba dive or you do your first trek or you do your first photography exhibition whatever it might be, it is a very special feeling, they say the first cut is the deepest. From a time perspective if it's important to me I will find the time and if it’s not important to me I will not find the time. If time is up you will not be able to pursue your interests and hobbies.
Tell us about your MENSA international experience?
MENSA is basically a global organization; it tests your intelligence, if you are found to be in the top two percent of intelligence in the world population then you are invited to be part of that organization. I was lucky to have invited by them. I think it’s been great because it is an excellent resume material. If it is mentioned in your resume that you are a part of MENSA then it’s great and useful for showing off. You can show off to your friends and family that you are a part of MENSA. I am also a certified MENSA proctor. If anybody is interested in becoming or trying out for MENSA I will be more than happy to help.
What do you think will be the reason why people call you a ‘confused photographer’?
Confused photographer!! That’s interesting. I learned photography with Mr. Anand Sharan about five years back. Like all photographers, I have been trying different genres of photography one by one. But I think over the last couple of years I like travel photography the most because the first reason is that I travel a lot because of work. The second reason is that it forces me to do research about new countries, new locations, new cultures, and new scientific facts, which I am not aware of. So I think travel photography is something that I like to pursue more.
What is that one lesson you learned as a student, a photographer, and a parent?
Few lessons that I have learned from my experiences are:
From a student perspective, we are all students and we all are learning every time in our lives. Every moment is a learning moment. I think we all should have a growth mindset to learn new things in life and to have a curious attitude is very important. One should also have a sense of ownership about what you do so basically it’s not about having ten people do the same thing. If you need to learn something, you need to take something, fully own it end to end and take it to the finish line is what I think I want to do at least. That is to be open to new things and should always find new innovative ways of doing something different or do the same thing in a better way. Innovation I think is very important for all of us to learn to do things better and differently.
And as a photographer, I once read a saying which goes like don’t shoot how you see it but shoot how you feel it that made a big impact on me. That’s what I try to do when I go to a new location; I try to capture the essence of the place before I start taking photographs if that is possible. And also as a photographer, I learned that we have to remove what is clutter and noise in the photograph. Try to remove that, focus on the primary subject and I think that is something, which has worked for me. Like I said before when you go to a new location, it is required to do research and drive information from the Internet about the new place or talk to a few people. You should know what is the essence of the place, what is that place stands for, what is their culture and try to capture all that in a frame, I think that is very important. And also learn new scientific facts like how the star moves in a night sky etc. When I went to shoot The Great Wall of China, one of my Chinese colleagues told me that an interesting fact about it is that ‘if you haven’t walked on the wall of China you are not a real man’. So I find it very interesting.
As a parent, I think there is no perfect parent in this world but I have two lovely daughters, one is doing her MBBS and the second is in her 10th grade. One thing I try to do is be the person my daughters want me to be and I think that is the best thing I can do.
What is your life mantra or life motto?
I feel nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it and work towards it. I think one should wisely pick your battles, not every battle is worth fighting for. Always be positive and don’t take life so seriously and also look at things from another's point of view like why is he saying what is he saying etc. I strongly believe that what happened in the past is great, what is happening now is great and what will happen tomorrow will also is great. They should always be positive about whatever happens in life. What happened to me is that opportunities come knocking at my door pretty often from different areas even though I may not pursue it I at least open the door and say hello.