“You have to do it to know it. You can not sit in a room and cubicle and find your passion. The only way is to go out and try new things for you to know what your passion is.”
Kajal, the real-life Bunny from Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, talked to us about what it takes to follow your dreams and why you should do it no matter what. Born and brought up in Delhi, she is the co-founder of Firgun Travels through which she organises curated life-changing travel experiences. Focus on life-changing, as that is exactly how our conversation with her was.
Hey Kajal! We would love to start by getting to know you better. Where does your story start?
I had a pretty normal childhood. I attended a decent school and was academically good but always more inclined towards extra-curricular activities. Growing up, I was a bit of a rebel. If someone would tell me there is something I can’t or shouldn’t do, I will definitely do it. A small story to put that into perspective is when I wanted to play basketball, but my sports teacher felt it was only for the boys and did not actively involve me in the sport. I took that as a challenge, learnt to play basketball from the boys on my own, and then taught it to other girls outside our school timings. We ultimately ended up winning zonal twice after 2 years.
Wow! That’s rebellious indeed. We always wondered how growing up in a city like Delhi is.
Well, I come from a very protective family. So, it wasn’t all shining for me. I always had to go with my driver to attend classes, to a friend’s place, and had little freedom to explore on my own. Hanging out with friends and going to parties was not something I was allowed to do. Watching those American sitcoms growing up where kids wore super cool clothes to school, were so open to their parents and had so much freedom, I always felt like escaping from India. However, I realised instead of looking for an escape, what is needed is to stay back and bring a change.
I believe as children, we should always be allowed to make and learn from our own mistakes. It was obvious to me that despite boundaries, I wanted to reach a place where no restriction was holding me back.
We do understand that. Curious as to with these restrictions, how did your love for travel start?
That wasn’t something always on my mind. Initially, I took a job in finance and felt finance was my passion. There is a lot of scope there, and I felt I could contribute to making India more financially literate.
A trip to Kareli lake in Himachal made me fall in love with travel. As they say, when the bug bites, it bites. And this was one such moment for me. After that, I kept taking more trips even with the job. I used every official leave I could find and every excuse I could make to take more and more trips. However, making a career in travel was still not the goal.
We are sure that is precisely what most of us would love to do. What made you think it is more than just passion and that you want to make it a career?
Well, there was more than one thing. One of the important moments was when I took a trip to Goa in 2021. I had one Australian traveller with us, full of life and enjoying the trip. After the trip, I discovered a few days later that he had died… but you know what? I had an unreplied text from that guy to which I thought I would reply later.
I took a day off from my job to just think about it, and I realised that time is limited. I resigned the very same day.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do then, but I knew I had to think about it. You don’t get that chance to think in a corporate job that starts as soon as you wake up and get to sleep as it ends. I served my notice period and started to travel again. I remember just one of those days sitting on a bus after watching the sunset, I realised this is what I wanted to do. A lot of people ask me how did you find your passion. You have to do it to know it. You can not sit in a room and cubicle and find your passion. The only way is to go out and try new things for you to know what your passion is.
“Time is limited” is something we probably all know but often do not realise. What followed next?
Initially, the plan was to trip lead with other companies. However, since it was times of covid, the travel business was down, and I couldn’t find a lot of openings in companies for me to join. Even worse, I dislocated my knee while surfing on a trip to Mulki. Being in bed for 6 months, everybody suggested me to take a job back and again, and I also thought it would be best to make some money in the meantime. But just 3 months into it, I realised it was not meant for me… and I resigned again. Only this time without a notice period.
I started travelling again right after leaving my job with a knee braise. I led my first trip to Bir billing with a company one month later. On one such trip, I met Anany, my co-founder, and we decided to start our own travel company.
Leaving the job not just once, but twice, that too with an injury! Many people feel leaving their job is probably the biggest hurdle in following their dreams. What would you say to them?
Very simply, if you wake up and don’t feel like getting out of bed for your work, something is wrong. It should be the other way around. I follow Steve Jobs a lot, and he has a famous saying, “live each day like your last”. I feel life is too short and precious to spend doing something you do not love. When I work for my company or when I travel, we have days where we only sleep for an hour or two and still feel up for the next day. That is the stark difference I have seen compared to my corporate job.
How did people around you react to this?
The reaction from people around me was not very favorable. All my corporate friends thought I was crazy. People around me couldn’t understand what I was doing. They felt I was giving away a perfect life for something unknown. But I feel when you know there is something you want to do, additional factors should not stop you. Hence, I never told my parents about this and told them I was studying and preparing for competitive exams. I am not promoting this; lying is convenient, but when you are on your death bed, you can either curse yourself or your parents for your life. I would always choose the former.
I had 4 months of savings to figure out everything. However, in the third month, my options were to continue this journey or leave my flat because I couldn’t afford both. So, I left my flat. Leaving your job or your flat might seem like the biggest hurdle, but in pursuit of following your dreams, they are just steps.
What kept you going through this? You were struggling financially and did not have support from people around you; what made you not stop?
What kept me going was finding and meeting more people like me. It isn’t easy initially when everybody around you is doing things a certain way, and you decide to break out. But once you break out, you realise there are more like you. In the end, “mere jaisa ek aur hai” was all I needed to know.
It’s ok to step out of the template. It’s ok to take the leap of faith. It’s ok to take a break year and figure out what you want. If you are ok with doing something you don’t love for life, it’s ok to give yourself some time and a chance at what you love to do. What is the worst that can happen? As per society, you will lose a year of your life, but as per me, you would learn something new, and that is not that bad of an outcome.
This is amazing! Taking a leap of faith is one thing, and running a business is another. How has it been working on Firgun so far?
It has been really hard but very fulfiling. To begin with, it was financially challenging. We did not want to take investments, so we broke our PFs, and our SIPs to fund the business. We couldn’t afford an office space, so we worked out of cafes and Mcdonald’s. The number of hours we put in is crazy. There is no weekend, and there are no leaves. But overall, the satisfaction of a happy customer, being able to live a life you dreamt of, and the fact that you can make an impact on others make all the hardships worth it.
What also probably has helped is doing the startup with a friend. It is immensely helpful to share this journey with your close ones who can have your back. We are always excited about the next trip, meeting the next set of amazing people, and being able to offer them the experience of their lifetime. This is my dream and no matter how hard it is, I love that I am living my dream.
I have realized you need a fighter’s attitude in business and life. You need to believe and have faith that it will work out if you don’t quit.
Thanks a ton for sharing your story and inspiring us!
No doubt that it is hard to follow your dreams. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, and there won’t be much fuss. The world template is designed to keep you in a system, and breaking out of it involves a lot of inertia. But people like Kajal remind us that it being hard is not a good enough reason not to try and break from the template. It is difficult but absolutely worth it. Like she says, “If she can, despite all the restrictions and hardships, so can you”.
To everyone who is reading this, stop and think. You don’t have to take that leap of faith today or leave your job like Kajal. But stop and think are you living your life in a template?
Are you doing what you love?
If you knew that your life was limited, would you still be doing what you are now?