After three life changing years of living in India, it’s now been about 8 months since I left. As time passes I realize I probably won’t be living there again anytime soon (at least for an extended period of time). It’s a very bittersweet feeling.
India is a country I fell in love with. It’s a country that shaped my life in more ways than I can count. I foresee myself visiting many more times in my life, but I have accepted that my time living there has come to a close.
With this realization, I can’t help but reflect on all the wonderful things that happened to me on my journey. I can’t help but reminisce on all the magical ways that the world manifested my wildest dreams (and more).
When I look back on my experience in India, the quote from the book “The Alchemist” often comes to mind –”When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.”
Time after time, I felt that the Universe (or Mother India) conspired to manifest my desires in the wildest of ways. While these experiences have happened to me all around the world, it never happened elsewhere quite like it did in India. Both the frequency and intensity with which India threw my dreams at me (and tested me all the same), are unlike anywhere else in the world.
I often tell people, “If you try to fight India, it will fight back harder than anything you have ever experienced. But if you can learn how to flow with India, it will wrap you up in it’s magical embrace.”
This is my story of India wrapping me up in it’s magical embrace, and my favorite stories of serendipity along the way.
To set the stage for you, let’s rewind back to May 2014, when the momentum of magical mystery truly began….
May 2014: I have been living in India for about a year, and upon realizing that I’m not fulfilled with my work, I quit my job in Digital Marketing with one of India’s fastest growing startup companies. I had no plan, a few thousand dollars in savings, and a fresh 5 year business visa thanks to the company I just quit working for.
A few days after I quit my job, my roommate came home and said, “Troy, I’m going to give you a microphone and I need you to emcee a stage for three days.” He was organizing a conference that I can best describe as Woodstock meets Startup Fest.
My reply? “Hell yea lets do it!”
And just like that, my career as an emcee and host began….
Given that I had no experience, I needed some training. The night before the event began the lead host, a man named Vineeth Vincent, gave me some coaching. He showed me how to introduce speakers, stressed the importance of promoting the sponsors, and taught me that time tracking is key to not messing up.
My training lasted a total of five minutes and the core messaging was simple, “don’t fuck up and don’t forget the sponsors.” I was confident I could rise to the challenge.
When we finished training, we started to get to know each other. I asked him if this is his full time job and he proceeded to tell me how he travels all over India as a professional emcee and beatboxer. When I heard the words “beatboxer”, my ears perked up.
I yelped “No way, I’m a freestyle poet! I have a routine where the audience gives me a word and I create a poem off the top of my head. Any chance you’d be willing to give me a beat? I’ll show you.”
He gave me a beat, I spit some rhymes, and the rest was magic. Bond solidified. Although it was my first time meeting him, within 10 minutes I felt like he was someone I had known for years.
The next day I was the host of my own stage at a 500+ person entrepreneurship event. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but once I got into the swing of things it was one of the most fun experiences of my life. I made ice cream with dry ice, met entrepreneurs and investors from all over India, and built relationships that paid dividends for years to come.
Fast forward to the end of day 1 — the lead sponsor was about to make his keynote speech, but no one was at the main stage. He was visibly frustrated. We needed to get a crowd together so I ran over to Vineeth and said, “We need to build a crowd. Im gonna get a random word from the audience and start rapping, just give me a beat.” Without hesitation but some resigned skepticism, he followed my lead.
I hopped on the microphone and said “Ok everyone I’m going to need some audience participation. My name is Troy Erstling and I can make impromptu rhymes off the top of my head. So give me a word, any word, and I will turn it into a poem right here on the spot.” It immediately grabbed the attention of a handful of people and someone gave me the first word. I can’t recall what they said but I gave a 30 second rhyme and BOOM tons of applause. I decide to go for another. Same response. Momentum was building in a positive direction.
Within 3–4 raps we had a crowd of 100+ people… We built the crowd we needed. The sponsor had a visible smile on his face (he was enjoying the rhymes too), and we saved the day.
The next day we decided to kick it up a notch. It was the final day of the event, and a panel of India’s largest investors were about to go on stage. So what did we do? We introduced all of them in rhyme… The crowd loved it. They wanted more.
There was a concert scheduled at night so we decided to mimic the same structure of what we did the night before. I would ask the crowd for words, he would give a beat, and then I would rhyme. Only difference? This time we were live on stage under the lights with a crowd of a few hundred people. The excitement was palpable.
Long story short, we crushed it. The audience loved it, we got a huge response, and were on stage for close to 30 minutes. It was a success.
Shortly after the event Vineeth offered to take me under his wing and get me gigs with him around India. He said that I could definitely earn some money if I were open to it, and he would be happy to get me started. Needless to say, he sold me.
Over the course of the next two years I proceeded to host 20+ events both with Vineeth and on my own. Sometimes I was an emcee, introducing speakers and maintaining the flow of events. Other times I was a rapper, brought there to entertain the crowd and show them something new. Most times, it was a combination of both, where I was the host and used rapping to entertain the audience.
Some of clients I’ve worked with? Microsoft, Ebay, Paypal, Infosys, Wipro, and Akamai, among others. I’ve rapped to audiences of 500+ people and been the lead emcee for 3-day events with 1000’s of guests. It’s been an incredible journey, and it all started the first time I said, “I’ve never done it before but I can figure it out!”
The best part? The new opportunities didn’t stop here.
One day I was emceeing a children’s event that had a clown. He put his juggling balls on the table, and I innocently picked them up and started juggling. The event organizer looked over at me and said “hey you’re pretty good! Would you ever be willing to dress up as a clown and do that?” You can already assume my response…HELL YES!!!
While many people would be too ashamed to dress up as a clown and think of it as a degrading job, I welcomed it with open arms. When living in Korea I worked with 7 year olds and loved it, so it seemed like a fun way to spend the day. Run around with kids juggling and having fun, and get paid to do it? Didn’t sound so bad to me, so I signed up.
I did one gig, which then turned into another, and another, and another.
Around this time another opportunity arose from the juggling skills. Rather than dressing up as a clown, the event manager offered me a job at a Great Gatsby themed party. My job? Walk around, juggle, and strike up conversations with the prettiest girls. BEST. JOB. EVER.
Then one day I get a call asking me if I want to dress up as Santa for a children’s party. Once again — YES PLEASE! This one was too absurd to turn down. I’m Jewish, so the idea of a Jewish santa was too priceless and had my inner Larry David going crazy.
Does the serendipity stop there? Oh no no no. It only gets better…
One day Vineeth brings me to a studio so we can record a track together. After hearing me speak, Vineeth’s friend says, “You have a great voice. Are you interested in doing any corporate voiceover work?”…I’m assuming you can already guess my reply…
The next morning I went to breakfast with my roommate. I said to him, “How awesome would it be if corporate voiceover work somehow leads to putting my voice in a cartoon?! It has always been a childhood dream of mine to have my voice in a cartoon!” We laughed at the absurdity of the conversation, but it stopped there. We had no real intentions of pursuing voice acting in any meaningful way…yet 😉
As we got up from the table, a British man in his mid 40’s looks up at my roommate with a large smile and says “How’ve you been?! I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you lately. Do you have some time? I would love to chat about something.”
We sit down at the table and he says “I’m looking for two American voice actors for an animated film I’m working on.”
At this point my jaw is wide open and dropped on the table dumbfounded. I say, “Did you just hear the conversation that we were having? I was JUST talking about putting my voice in an animated film!”
He says, “I didn’t hear what you were talking about, but I did hear you speaking and I think you have a great voice, and I was already interested in speaking to Daniel…are you interested?”. “YES, sign me up.”
A week or so later my roommate and I show up at a mansion on the outskirts of Bangalore for our audition. We walk into a room filled with natural sunlight and are introduced to the two producers of the cartoon. He puts an animation on the screen without any audio and simply says “go”.
Daniel and I proceed to create random voices off the top of our heads and completely wing it. And we nail the fucking shit out of it. It felt so natural it was scary.
Needless to say, we got the job, and that’s how I got started in voice acting.
Since that fateful day I have recorded 10+ characters in different films and online youtube series. For some reason I always play the villain. In the beginning I was always upset when I didn’t get the main character role, but over time I learned to love the role of villain. There was a steep learning curve, but those memories of searching within for the right voices still give me chills.
My next ambition? Voiceovers for video games 😃
What happened to that British man in his mid 40’s? His name is Sal Yusuf. He became one of my closest friends and I look at him as a father figure and mentor. His discipline for his art is unparalleled and he is the embodiment of pursuing your dreams. He is an inspiration to me and he continues to push the bar in his craft to this day.
And Vineeth? He drove me to the airport as I left India. He was the last friend I spoke to before leaving the country indefinitely. I still consider him as a best friend and brother, and I look forward to the day when we are reunited once again.
Some other fun stories of serendipity that I didn’t include for the sake of brevity? Rapping on stage lead to a TEDx Talk. I found my job at Zoomcar because I was introduced to the two founders after I struck up a conversation with a judge at a business plan competition. The producer of the cartoons that I performed in? I accidentally met him at a startup event and now I recruit for his company via BrainGain. My advisor and mentor? I met him at the startup conference I was the host of — he was one of the speakers. The 2nd person I hired for my company? I randomly met him at a cafe I work at in Bangalore. The 3rd and 4th hires for my company? Happened at the same cafe.
How did I end up in India in the first place?! I messaged a friend of mine on Facebook that I met in Argentina. I found out he was living in Bangalore on a fellowship in social enterprise (fancy jargon for internship). I applied for the same internship, I got in, got placed in Bangalore, and he became my pseudo-advisor/boss. He was also the same person who handed me the mic to emcee, and the same person who did voice acting with me. Today he is one of my closest friends on the planet, and I have to pinch myself in gratitude for all that he has done for me.
I share this story to express gratitude for all the people who helped me throughout my wonderful time in India. I share this to reflect for myself what a crazy roller coaster the journey was in hindsight.
India is where I discovered my true self. It’s where I started my career. It’s where I had my first real relationships. It’s where, in many ways, my life truly began.
Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way. Thank you for all the wonderful relationships that I built. Without you I wouldn’t have accomplished anything that I did.
Thank you Sharat, Sumit/Samata/Sonic of Campus Diaries, Ajit and the staff of Yogisthaan, the initial BrainGain placements (Sarah, Stan, Perry), thank you Greg and David for giving me a job that ultimately lead me to discovering what I actually wanted to do with my life, and so so so many other people.
I’m not sure where my next move will be just yet (hint; it’s most likely in South America), but I know that India will always have a special place in my heart, and it’s somewhere I will visit again and again over the course of my life.
Until my next visit, namaste, namascara, and many head wiggles 😃 Here’s to more stories of serendipity as life continues to unfold in magical ways!
Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!