Golkonda to Guangzhou!
And back: Journey of a seeker..
Dhruv Gupta was born in Hyderabad yet left India at the ripe age of 10 months! He lived his early years in Bangkok, Manila, Hong Kong. It was in Hong Kong in grade 3 where he first began to notice his stammer. Then, he moved again to Kobe in Japan where stammering began to control period of his life in the classroom - while raising his hand to answer question and talking to friends. However, he always tried his best to focus on school work and did very well in school. Over the school years, he tried everything he could to avoid stammering - not raising his hand in class, switching words, avoiding talking - which were socially and academically hurtful decisions. In Grade 8, he decided to challenge himself by signing up for a speech class. The class was probably the toughest class for him, and he remembers feeling hurt after one speech and making a promise to himself that he will do all he can to help other people who stammer - no one should ever go through the pain that he is going through. Keep in mind he still had not meant anyone who stammered and did not even really know what to call this different way of speaking.
He received speech therapy in Mumbai one summer which probably changed his life. The speech therapist suggested that the main problem was speaking too fast and that if Dhruv wanted he could speak fluently. This led to a strongly incorrect self-belief that stammering is wrong, and that it his fault that he is still stammering. This pushed Dhruv to hide his stammering even more and try every method possible to speak ‘fluently’.
At the end of 10th grade, Dhruv moved to Guangzhou, China, where he tried to have a fresh start. He believed that nobody here knew he stammered, so he would just try his best to hide it. He would try to speak fast so as to get all words out, speak when he knew he could be ‘fluent’, change words and avoid situations. This worked for him for awhile, and he soon made a new group of friends. However, avoiding situations played on his self-confidence and belief system that there were somethings he couldn’t do.
He graduated and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here he continued to hide his stammering and do all he could to prove that he was ‘fluent’ & confident. He soon made a group of friends who stuck with him throughout his university life. After a fun-filled freshman year, he began to feel the pressure of classes and specifically class-room presentations. He did all he could to avoid presentations & group projects but there were some projects he just could not avoid. He decided to take a speech class in his second semester of sophomore year. He had a tough time in the class and found it difficult again to give speeches. Still at this point, he had not met anyone else who stammered, so he believed he was the only one with this problem and he still could not specifically name it. He had no clue why he would get stuck on some words as he did.
He went through a very rough path his sophomore year into this junior year where he felt like he wasn’t good enough. He became very reserved and would hardly speak to his roommates. Everyone saw that he had changed, but he did not share with anyone expect one very close friend, what he was going through. All his friends thought that maybe he didn’t like them anymore or his personality had changed into being a rude person as he was secretly afraid to speak in front of them.
In junior year, he met a friend who he saw had a similar difficulty while speaking. He would block on a certain word. He instantly felt a connection with this person and they became life-long friends. He tried to attend speech therapy at the University of Illinois and went to a group session. However, after attending just the one group session he rejected the idea of returning harnessing a self-belief that he did not have the same problem as them.
In his senior year, he scrambled to attend career fairs and attend job interviews. However, partially because of the economic downturn in 2009 and his chosen major of Corporate Finance, and his self-belief that he was unable/not good enough to work anywhere - he found it hard to find a job.
He returned home in May 2009 after graduating with a B.S. in Finance, and began to search for a job in Guangzhou, China. At this time, his father had opened up a Vaastu, an Indian restaurant in Guangzhou. He had helped with the design and construction of the restaurant during his summer vacation in 2008. His father was having troubles with their then manager and asked Dhruv if he would like to join in the business. Dhruv at first hesitated, as this was not his dream (although at that point he wasn’t very clear of his dream) yet after considering it he felt he would feel proud to help his father. He joined Vaastu at the General Manager in July 2009 and underwent 1 month of training under the GM who was about to leave. From August ’09 - March ’11 he put his heart into the restaurant and it won Guangzhou’s Best Indian Restaurant award in 2009 & 2010. However, in March 2011 the restaurant was forced to shut down because the Chinese landlord had decided to reinterpret the contract and they began a legal battle.
Dhruv was convinced that he had to open Vaastu again as soon possible. After it became clear that the restaurant in it’s current location would be unable to open, he began to search for new restaurant venues. In June 2011 he found a new venue, and by mid-August 2011 the new restaurant opened. It was a smaller venue, but he tried to retain the Vaastu characteristic through decoration and quality service & food. The restaurant ran from August ‘11 - July ’13 and again won Guangzhou’s Best Indian Restaurant award in 2012.
Towards the end of 2012 he was having difficulties with his speech, as he had been having throughout the years being in the service business, and he decided to finally Google to find an answer. In January ’13 he attended an intensive speech therapy program in New York. In this program he did desensitization activities, that helped make him more comfortable with his stammering, like voluntary stammering and self-advertising. Then he learned tools like light-contact prolongation, cancellations, pull-outs, and planning what tool to use in your sentence to help make him feel more in control of his stammering. This program helped me feel like he was in control of his speech, which helped him realize that he was in control of his life.
He decided that he wanted to pursue passions beyond business, particularly in food security. He had seen the grotesque amount of food being wasted everyday in the restaurant and learned that more people were dying each day of hunger than any other disease. He decided to dedicate his life to working on food security issues. He sold the restaurant in July ’13, and moved to Mumbai.
His original plan was to attend graduate school and do a Master’s program in New York in Food Policy. However, after a conversation with a dean at his dream school, he realized he should get some experience first. During this time he began to work with the Postharvest Education Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing food loss. Through the organization he got a chance to attend a United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization conference in Rome, Italy in December 2013. This opened his eyes to type of work being done in the field. Most importantly, he learned it wasn’t a food loss or food waste issue, but more an economic issue. In big cities, there is enough distribution of food, however, people cannot afford to purchase food. Therefore, he learned the issue is rather economic policy, job creation, socioeconomic balance issues.
While in Mumbai he joined TISA. He attended a self-help group in Mumbai and was grateful to meet other people in Mumbai who stammered. He then attended his first TISA National Conference in October 2013 and was ecstatic to have met so many people who stammered from all over the country. He felt part of a long-lost family and was eating parathas in Delhi’s paratha-vali-gali like a Delhite in no time.
After returning from the NC, he got more involved with the SHG and decided to search for a permanent venue where they could meet. Through a fellow TISA member Gaurav Dubey, currently Mumbai SHG president, who found the YMCA Ghatkopar, he approached them and sealed a deal to use the YMCA venue for a year at no cost. Then he worked on structuring the SHG agenda to merge stammering self-help with the Toastmaster's organized format. This resulted in a weekly meeting with extempore speeches, prepared speeches and a fun learning session. The design of the format was finalized after consultation with Harish Usgaonker, leader of the Goa SHG and Dr. Sachin.
Through his connections at Bombay Connect, information on stammering and TISA was published in Mumbai Mid-Day (http://www.mid-day.com/articles/get-vocal-about-stammering/15102075 ), a local newspaper read by over 40% of the city’s population. This was a huge win for stammering awareness in Mumbai and India. Further, many people who stammer saw the article and contacted Dhruv to attend the SHG meetings. This helped surge the growth of the SHG.
Dhruv decided he would dedicate his life to helping people who stammer. He researched online and found several organizations that work exclusively to help children, teenagers and adults who stammer. He decided to work with them to understand what programs they offer and how he can bring such programs back to India. In June 2014 he traveled to the US to learn about these programs, primarily the Stuttering Association for the Young, the American Institute for Stuttering and the National Stuttering Association. He is excited to be back in India and apply his learnings from the west with the Indian philosophy that everything we need to know is already inside us, we just need the right perspective and a caring community to discover it.