It was just a routine exhibition that tier two towns keep hosting – a smaller version in terms of scale and participation as compared to the biggies in, say, Delhi or Mumbai. The venue – Birla Auditorium in Jaipur and the event was an expo on education services in the Pink City.
The year 2001. For a newspaper person like me, it was just another routine city expo coverage, to show glimpses of the city’s upward mobile journey when it came to offering a bouquet of newer education services – in a whole new sphere that conventional education system often ignored or found it too difficult to handle.
Located geographically closer to the union capital of Delhi at just a little over 250 kms, Jaipur more or less was like a colony of Delhi except that it was six hours away. But Jaipur one and a half decades ago was like a small village trying to grow up to be more like Delhi, in terms of facilities it offered to its citizens and educational options available to its youth. It was also the time, a major newspaper like Hindustan Times, where I was part of the launch team, was trying to impress upon the Jaipur and Rajasthan readers the need to learn English, the language with a perceived positive link, with success.
Clearly, the youth were beginning to grasp the importance that this language held for them, and among them was a young Delhi girl – Archana Surana, an alumnus of a leading polytechnic college of Delhi in South Extension.
She had floated a small design school – naming it after herself, Arch Academy of Design – whose pamphlets she and her small team of volunteers from her institute were distributing at the Birla Auditorium expo.
A group of young and attractive girls naturally made one stop to take a closer look. And for the Delhiwalah in me, talking with Archana, South Extension and the Aaloo tikkiwala of the fashionable upscale market in South Delhi, was like being in Delhi. The Delhi connection eventually led to more conversations, and eventually when HT was looking for entrepreneurs from the fairer sex in a predominantly male dominated Rajasthan society, Archana was the clear choice.
Very diffident at first, Archana walked in nervously into the HT newsroom, along with her man Friday in tow. At first very guarded, she opened up little by little, but only after she was convinced that this meeting of hers was something very different from her previous interactions with media persons.
The result of that somewhat long, two cups of over sweetened machine made coffee, answering several questions, eventually was something that she perhaps was not ready for. But, it was also the first time that she had told Rajasthan, her own story as to how she got full encouragement from her husband and his family, and how the society began to accept her by and by.
“I had realized that there was no good institute to reach creative design aspects, in the way I wanted to teach and the curriculum that prepared the girls to face the competition in the outside world, I thought why not start one,” is what I remember Archana telling me.
Since then, starting with a handful of students in a rented accommodation, Arch Academy of Design has come a very long way – a full-fledged college with high-end design courses with campuses in Jaipur, Delhi and NCR.
“My dream is to have the best Indian Design University,” Archana told me a few years back during one of those conversations. Persuasive, determined and resourceful, Archana works to a goal with a proper plan that is workable. She may not be happy with the pace of her own progress, but then in just a decade and a half, she has established herself as the Pink City’s leading women entrepreneurs and is consulted by the government on a host of issues – ranging from entrepreneurship to education to women oriented welfare programmes.
Her success lies in identifying the right talent for the right job, and allowing them to be. A business tactic that she says she learnt on the job, after she launched Arch Academy of Design in year 2000. Over the years, she has built a team of teaching faculty and installed well equipped labs and infrastructure conducive to extract the maximum creative instincts and nurture creative talents of the student community.
A this-generation entrepreneur, she is adept at using technology and has self-taught herself, whether in business or technology as she uses elements from both in her attempt to create a top class design institute in the country.
Living in Chennai now, I have fond and nostalgic memories of both Jaipur and Archana and always consider it my good fortune to have been associated with both. More power to both of them.