Today’s AMA is with a friend, well most are. This is with Sudeep Shenoy or known as RJ to his friends owing to the colorful job he held at a city radio station for a couple of years. Recently he started a freelancer job at a bike taxi aggregator called Rapido. Like all middle class Indians I was taken a little aback. We are more than obsessed with the words dignity of labour and hence I was a little out of air when I heard he had given up on looking for a mainstream job and pull a taxi. Hence the AMA with RJ.
Q. Do you agree for an AMA style interview over whatsapp that will be posted on a public blog?
RJ: Whatever that means, you are my big fans.
Friends right? They always wanna play it cool
Q. First off, what made you do Rapido? No judgement here but you are quite qualified to do a lot of other things. Why choose to ferry people on your bike?
OK so its not about qualification. One thing is I don’t like sitting in one place doing a desk job. Secondly I love riding. I love going on a 2 whleer and then Rapido came along and I thought Why not. Instead of roaming around not doing anything I might as well do Rapido and make some money.
Also another reason is I understand how difficult transportation can be. Especially when you want to go somewhere, travel economically and reach somewhere on time. For example there have been times when I thought I might miss a train taking a Rapido I’ve made it to the station, and today I have so many customers going to the train station in a hurry. Rapido really is the answer to our modern-day traffic problems. It sometimes you feel you are doing a social service. Moreover you get to meet so many different people, not that I’ve kept it touch with anyone but I’ve had so many memorable conversations. Almost 90% of the times its been a good experience. People are mostly respectful and so colorful.
In fact since I was young I wanted to try different things, I wanted to try something I called a 30 day employment challenge where I would try one different job each day. This was long back, maybe in 2007 or 08. But it didn’t work I didn’t get a lot of support, as in from people who could actually give me jobs. But I enjoy doing different things, hence Rapido is not surprising.
Q. Its interesting, the 30 days employment challenge. Can you talk more? Did you write down a plan on what jobs you would try? And what happened? How many jobs were you able to try?
This was when I was 18 or 19 I guess. Definitely not when I was doing my masters. It was when I had started hosting events as an MC. I was doing my own events and hence was meeting a lot of people. People from various walks of life and hence getting excited about everyone. I wasn’t looking to get paid, it was just the excitement and curiosity of the different jobs.
Unfortunately not many people wanted to give me jobs, like for example I wanted to be a doctor’s assistant, obviously I couldn’t become a doctor, so I tried to be an assistance but even that had a lot of protocols and I could do it. I couldn’t be a cop either, but they said I could be a traffic warden, which I tried. I did a teacher thing, I did social welfare volunteering thing, I did an MC and I think I did about 5-6 random things. In future if I get a chance to do it I would do it again.
He actually went on to say that he’d like to see it in school curriculum where children get to experience different things. His idea was that knowing what different people did would actually help put children in each other’s shoes and reduce the condescending and judging that we do to each other.
Q. Can you talk about some interesting people you met while doing Rapido?
RJ: A lot of interesting rides. Doctors rushing to hospitals, people who wanted to reach railway stations. I got a drunkard who was abusive on the phone. I went ahead and completed the ride in spite of it. There are lot of rides that are very far off from the city. I also remember one ride in the rain, where the customer asked me why I don’t have a rain coat for the pillion. It gets funny sometimes too. Now I’m actually getting to see what auto drivers go through. The pains of not getting return rides and barely breaking even. It’s a wonder how they make ends meet.
Q. I remember once you said you got a booking of a person without limbs? Can you tell us what that experience was like?
RJ: Yes, once I got a booking in a college. I big university like campus and the booking was inside the campus. The person asked me to come right into the college. Like literally into the quadrangle of the college. I went there with difficulty and then I saw a person who’s 1/3 my height. He literally had no lower body. No belly, no thighs, no legs, nothing, and he was all alone. I wasn’t as shocked at his appearance as I was anxious of the next events. He asked me to get the bike as close as possible to the wall. He then used the walls and hopped on to my bike like a gymnast. I was shocked. I was scared while driving the bike as mine is more of a sports bike, but he was confident and has such a pleasant personality. He got off at a mall just like he’d got on, like a gymnast. I didn’t feel like taking his money, but I didn’t want to treat him any differently and hence accepted the fare.
Q. I know you had a corporate job, and as you said you’re not a desk job kind of person. Did you have any adventures with entrepreneurship?
RJ: I was bored. Slogging long work hours, managing to butter people, struggle through office politics and then endure judgmental process of ratings. I just couldn’t take it.
And about entrepreneurship, me and my boss at TCS did start off together to form a social media management consultancy. He initially quit his job and started something else, a year later I quit TCS too, by then he had already failed at his start up, so we decided to start something a fresh and hope that we didnt fail. We’re still at it, but just taking a little break right now.
Q. Talking of Rapido again, you seem to suggest most people using Rapido are nice, but what about how you see them? Do you judge them as cheapskates who can’t hire a cab or an auto? or Is judging not part of the job?
RJ: Not really, its more of a convenience thing than about money. If you think about it, its common sense. I car or an auto takes way longer to get somewhere than a bike. And Rapido is not always cheaper than an auto. So definitely can’t call them cheapskates, and as I said earlier, I’ve learnt a lot about judgement and prejudice from Rapido, so its obvious that I make sure I never judge anyone
Q. The RJ question. How did it happen and why did you leave that?
This was a long time ago. Way back when Mangalore didn’t have private radio stations. There is no exciting story, I just saw an ad in the paper inviting applicants for an audition. This was when I was in 11th-12th class, so naturally my mom was against it and hence I dropped it.
A few years later I met an RJ from Radio Mirchi while going to a mall. We struck a conversation and instantly hit it off. He even invited me to the radio station after college where I hung out with the RJs and had a nice time. That was when I was introduced to community radio station called Radio Saarang. Its a unique concept where anyone in the community could be an RJ. My mum didn’t have any objections this time.
By this time I was already doing good at Radio Saarang. It was at this point that I decided I wanted to be in Media. I took up a course in mass media and journalism instead of the regular engineering that everyone thought I might also end up in. This is where I did a 16 hour long marathon presentation on the radio. I was the youngest RJ to do this.
To answer your question of why I gave it up. It was starting to become like any job, repetitive and mundane. Hence I moved on, but the experience of being with the people, being in the news excited me and so I decided to stay in the media field.
Q. Last question, I have to admit I only thought of interviewing you because of Rapido. So the important question to you is, do you see such blue collar jobs coming to the mainstream? and Do you think our society is ready to see and treat people doing Blue collar jobs in the same light as the next guy with a regular day job?
I think it is already happening. A few years if an educated person was pulling an Uber or Ola people would laugh at you, but now people are actually pleasantly surprised and approve of it. Its an added income and people see it that way.
Ofcourse its not everyone’s cup of tea. It requires firstly to break the mental block of doing a blue collar job and not to mention it is physically and mentally challenging. And you need an aptitude to actually do a driver’s job all day. Its not that anyone without a job can do it, you need to like driving, atleast a little more than the next person.
As for mainstream jobs, I don’t think this would replace your mainstream jobs per say. All your jobs are safe – you will find enough engineers or doctors or anything else. Its your classic supply demand scenario. There weren’t enough Olas and Ubers and hence there was an opportunity, but now the market has saturated itself and it doesn’t really make sense to quit your day job and start driving to make some money.
These AMAs is not with celebrities or anyone special, but general ordinary folk who happen have a colorful personality. After all, it is the ordinary that gives rise to the extraordinary.