Akshay Verma: Bihar's Mr. Brightside
The writer, Puri (left) with Verma
This article was originally published in 2014, ahead of the General Elections. As Bihar goes to the polls in 2015, the profile on Akshay Verma, who set up the Sarvjan Kalyan Loktantrik Party that is contesting the assembly elections, is worth another read.
Spring 2010, Hyde Park in London was buzzing with tourists and locals alike. And as I recall on this hot summers evening in Delhi, there were twelve adults running around a designated playing area. We were careful not to knock over the elderly or the prams carrying newborns, having said that one of us did run into a tree. The tree wasn’t harmed; the player concerned sprang to his feet and ran into the distance. We were dressed in English Premier League merchandise or t-shirts handed out by investment banks on CSR (corporate social responsibility) days. And there I met Akshay Verma, then with UBS.
I disliked him the moment we met. Why? Because he became the conversation he walked into and to be honest he did make the right noises and made valid points! I sat there thinking, here’s someone who’s going to be competition at a bar or at a social gathering or to be honest at anything I did. Little did I know then that Verm as we call him was someone who would become a friend, brother and in many ways a voice in my head that directed me to think twice before taking any decision, be it a right or wrong decision was secondary in his books, as long as I could stand by it.
We shared and continue to share several common friends, and within a few weeks of having met him I found myself with bag and baggage, sharing an apartment with him and our flat-mate Arpita Sinha. Baker Street seemed nice and there was something about 39 Mary’s Court. It became the hub amongst the young Indian community in a way. Friends and friends of friends gathered over evenings, as seasons came and went I found myself getting to know Akshay. We discussed several things but what found its way back to our dining table was – politics and India. This never-ending belief that there was a lot to be done back home was a conversation that several of us had, but here we are – with one of us actually contesting. Along the journey of getting to know each other, we found ourselves sharing rooms on our travels too. Calcutta, Riga (Latvia), Berlin, Brugge, Florence, Cinque Terre, Las Vegas, New York. We were getting to know the world but we were also getting to know each-other. My ambitions lay in writing and being an author, his was to work with the people of Bihar. The competition I had imagined became camaraderie and I found a supporter in my endeavors.
It was crystal clear to us that he was going to fight the system and start working in Bihar as soon as he was done with his degree from Columbia. Arpita and I were sat in our drawing room watching television one evening in 2010 when Akshay came darting through the room with a piece of paper in his hand. “I’m going to attend SIPA!” he said. The setting and reactions across the room could be best described as a Karan Johar moment from Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham(incidentally a movie we’ve seen together, way too many times.) Baffled, uninformed and confused, I looked up SIPA on my smart phone to find out about the program in Public Administration that attracts the finest from across the world to educate themselves in governance and policy matters. Wow, I thought to myself. Here’s someone who first attended St. Stephens’ College in Delhi, then went on to Oxford University and now was heading to an Ivy League institution. With a world of finance and banking looming in front of him, he chose a life that caters to public service.
There has been a fair bit of media coverage about Akshay’s plan of action, his involvement in community and his vision but this article is about Akshay Verma the person.
Napoleon Bonaparte (not Napoleon Dynamite) said, “Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.” Truer words haven’t been spoken and the passion and ambition that guides Akshay is something I have witnessed on an everyday basis. His belief in wanting to make a difference in the lives of others isn’t a mere idealistic thought but an active drive towards achievement by laying down plans and following through with them.
As of the 5th of May 2014, there are 1643 registered political parties in India and Akshay Verma’s Sarvajan Kalyan Loktantrik Party is one of them. The party symbol is that of a balloon. As I continue to follow his journey online and in person, I find myself believing even more in his abilities as a new-age politician. Where the pajama is replaced by a pair of jeans and the smile is genuine.
And as Bihar goes into polls, I sincerely hope that those voting in the constituency of Muzaffarpur realize that one of their sons has come back to make a difference to their lives. Degrees might allow one to gather knowledge but the last two years of actively working with farmers, fishermen and weavers has given Akshay an experience of a lifetime. It is with this hope, ambition, passion and honesty that he wishes to seek a place in parliament.
Some people write chapters on history, others make history, interestingly Pandit Nehru attended Oxford University and BR Ambedkar was from Columbia. Here’s hoping for change and a better tomorrow with Mr. Brightside.
(Arjun Puri was born and raised in Kolkata, back when it was still called Calcutta. As a young child he spent time in Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru – before their names changed. His last long-term home was London, and he fully expects it to call itself something else soon. Arjun graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2007 and worked as a banker for 5 years, before he realised it was not for him. Arjun now lives in Delhi and works in the education sector. He loves books, sport, people and travel -- and most of all, Leyla, his German Shepherd).