By the end of the third day it had dawned on Avnish Bajaj that India was a country straight out of Kafka.
He had been quite cool when the ordeal began. He was in Delhi and a policeman had come calling. The visitor looked like the quintessential Delhi policeman: the belly and beret were not perfect, and the speech was earthy. Actually, he could have been a policeman anywhere in India.
“Saab has asked for you,” he said. “He wants to do a joint press conference with you.’
Not bad, Avnish thought. Finally, he was going to get some recognition for all the hard work his team had done to help the police arrest the young IIT Kharagpur student who had put up video CDs for sale showing teen porn on Baazee. This CD showed a boy, 17, and a girl, 16, engaged in oral sex. Both were students of Delhi Public School, Mathura Road.
At the time Avnish was innocent enough not to know that if the police call you on a Friday afternoon, it is nothing but ominous. Sure enough, upon his arrival at the office he was put under arrest. “But I have not done anything wrong. Why worry?” thought Avnish. “I am in a new industry and these things happen. Surely, they will understand the logic of it.”
The next day, they shifted him to Tihar. And everything changed.
The place was freaking scary. “I am completely innocent and I have been put here in this awful place. Who pays for this?” he had demanded of his lawyer.
Soon, Avnish was talking to the United States embassy in New Delhi. He was lucky that he was a US citizen, a fact that no doubt escaped the Delhi police.
The Americans intervened through the diplomatic channel. They also tried to educate the Indian authorities about how the cyber laws worked in other countries. With the case now being reported in the global media, the Indian government and authorities became supportive. Soon it looked like the police were nuts, probably trying to divert public attention from other issues.
Avnish got bail after three days—three gruelling, soul-sapping days. “In some ways I am proud of it. You feel like a martyr when you go to jail for an industry,” he says.
That industry is flourishing today: Flipkart, Snapdeal, Paytm, ShopClues, and Amazon’s India arm operate online marketplaces, helped by the understanding created by the case against Avnish.
Not just that, most of today’s entrepreneurs share Avnish’s self-confidence. They face adversity knowing that they have dealt with it before.
. Kunal Bahl, much before he set up Snapdeal, scraped plastic off things at a factory near Delhi for Rs 6,550 a month. He was deported while working in the United States.
. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, in a phase before he became the celebrated CEO of Paytm, used to go back to his house only in the dead of the night, so he did not have to face the landlord.
· The stress rose so high for Phanindra Sama, who founded RedBus, he had to take shelter in Vipassana.
· Yogendra Vasupal, founder of Stayzilla, almost smoked and drank himself into the ground.
· The first chartered accountant Suchi Mukherjee approached, when she wanted to set up LimeRoad, told her to go back to London.
· Shashank ND, in the early years of Practo, used to place his bed strategically close to his work desk, so when he collapsed, he did not hit the ground. Bhavish Aggarwal, when he decided to set up Ola, was berated by his father for becoming a travel agent.
· Mu Sigma founder Dhiraj Rajaram went to a dinner on a day he had three of his wisdom teeth taken out; he did not want to miss the deal.
· The founders of ShopClues gave a contractor Rs 9 lakh to do up their first office; he ran away with the money.
All of them bounced back.
The Tip of the Iceberg is about their remarkable journey. Some found their destination, some did not.
Some of the extracts that have appeared so far:
How PayTM’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma chased his dream instead of a degree