Transcription below. Thank you ServiceSpace volunteers for coming up with this..
Earlier today, Nipun and I were in a break-out group and he asks, “Hey guys, think of the next big impossible idea.” I’m like, “Nipun, what’s the next big impossible idea?” He’s responds, “A moonshot. Something that seems doomed for failure.” I said, “Nipun, my big idea is, let’s have Ode to Men next time.” 🙂
And I wish you could invite my wife to speak. I’m pretty convinced she will not speak about me! I remember there was a big newspaper article once, and a lot of my friends called home and said, “Deepali, have you seen that article about Ferose?” She’s like, “Really? A newspaper carried an article about Ferose? Really, is he that important?” So that’s my wife. She’s never written about me. She keeps me grounded. As soon as I go home, she’s like, “Here are the things you need to keep here. Clean it up. Blah, blah, blah.” 🙂
In all seriousness, since this is an ode to women, I actually want to share the story of my wife — Deepali. A lot has been written about me but I think she is the hero of my life. It’s not a story not too many people know but I think we’re all family here and I’m happy to have an opportunity to share it.
I met Deepali at NIT Warangal and we were in the same class. Both of us were around 18 years of age. In a class of 60 of computer science students, she used to sit in the front row. She was incredibly beautiful, fair. I used to sit in the last row — tall, dark, and ugly. In academics, she was brilliant. She was always like the topper and my rank in a class of 60 was 52. Then I fell in love with her and we started going out! 🙂
When we started dating, the gap between class topper and number 52 was pretty big. By the time we passed out, that gap had clearly reduced. But yes, I was still ranked 52. 🙂
Few years go by, we pass out from college and both our parents got to know that we’re dating each other. Now, I’m a Muslim from Kerala, and Deepali is a Brahmin Hindu from Maharashtra. Initially, my friends said, “Ferose this is a perfect recipe for disaster.” And the next question was: “You guys are serious about getting married?” My response was, “What’s the big deal guys? We’ll just get married.” When our parents got to know about us, they said, “Are you serious about getting married? You know there are riots all around the world because of Hindu Muslim conflicts?” And my counter point was always: “Really? Am I that important that they’ll be riots because we got married?” 🙂
So it took us 9 years, but we finally got married. We had decided that we will only get married when our parents give us their blessings — and so we waited 9 years. At some point, both of our parents were thinking, “They’re not going to listen. There’s no point in fighting with them.” And we were both are getting old, so they finally gave in: “Alright might as well get married.” So we did. 🙂
The marriage was incredibly interesting. We got married in a Hindu-Muslim Act — a court wedding where you sign a form in the presence of three witnesses. Now, I had all these male friends who were always prodding me on about how they’ll be with me all the way through. But you know about male friends, right? 🙂 They talk tough, but then … so for the three witnesses, I give the name of my sister-in-law and two of my best friends in college — who were women. Push comes to shove, it’s always an ode to women. 🙂
I can show you our wedding photo — we exchange garlands and inside the courtroom, there’s a photo of me and SEVEN women. Six witnesses and Deepali. My guy friends are like, “Oh wait, when is your wedding?” And I’m like, “Hello, you guys were supposed to be here now!” All those college friends who were like, “Oh yeah, Ferose, go for it, get married” just barely showed up at the wedding. 🙂
Now, let me take it to the next level. We got married and had all this fun. Soon after, we both started working at SAP. Different teams but we were in the same company. She sacrificed her career for my sake, particularly when I got selected as a board assistant — which is a big deal in SAP that you work for the CEO’s office. Only handpicked a few people get that chance, and I had to move to Germany. She gave up her career and moved with me.
After four years of marriage, Vivaan happened. And this is by far the most special thing. She comes from a family of all women. She has three sisters. Vivaan was the first boy and I remember seeing my mother-in-law’s joy. She hugged me at the sight of her first grandchild, as if this a son she never had. Vivaan was raised with an incredible amount of love. Extremely beautiful kid. I remember an ad agency asking us, “Can we use Vivaan for an ad?” Deepali was clear: “No way. This is my baby. Not going anywhere.” Until he was 18 months old, probably the best days of our life. We enjoyed him so much, we loved him a lot.
Then, he was diagnosed with autism. And with that, our lives changed.
Vivaan now needed 24 by 7 attention, had multiple health issues, had lots of behavioral issues. It took us a lot of time to actually accept the idea that our child is going to be very different. In fact, the day I got to know, I went into the bathroom, locked the door, and cried for straight 30 minutes. Deepali was much stronger. I think we quickly realized that soon we can accept this, the more we can do for him. Since then we always said, “Let’s treat Vivaan like every other kid. He’s normal to us. Who are we to decide who is normal and who is not? Who are we?” I think he’s special in his own ways.
He just turned eight. Over the last eight years, he’s been an incredible amount of joy for us. He’s completely non-verbal; he can’t speak a word but he’s our life. And a lot of things that have happened in my life because of him. I’ve spoken at the World Economic Forum, been invited to the United Nations, met with Ban Ki-moon. Vivaan inspired the Autism movement, which started as a small weekend project and went on to now become a global phenomena.
Originally, I didn’t know much about Autism. Then, I did a Google search. Eventually, we started this weekend project, volunteers joined in, and we did some simple experiments. I spoke at the World Economic Forum and that prompted a massive movement. SAP one day made an announcement that 1% of its global workforce (of 65 thousand employees) would be on the Autism Spectrum. I wrote the press brief. When my friend, Sridhar, was reading it, he said, “Ferose, do you know what Vivaan has just done?” This is the impact of one Vivaan to the world and the ripple effect has been so much across the world.
I think Vivaan came with a purpose. I remember calling Dr. Kiran Bedi when he was diagnosed. I hadn’t spoken to her for a month and she’s like a family to me. When she first heard my voice, she said, “Ferose, why haven’t you spoken to me for a month?” I said, “You know what, Ma’am, Vivaan has been diagnosed with autism and we were pretty disappointed. We didn’t know what to do, so sorry I didn’t call you.” Then she said something that really changed my life: “Ferose, most people spend their entire lifetime not knowing what their purpose is. You’re incredibly lucky that the purpose found you. Vivaan is your key to make a meaningful difference in the world.”
That’s what all I’ve been trying to do, with projects like India Inclusion Summit. I think it’s not me. I say this with all humility when I say it’s not me. This is Vivaan’s power. This the power of an incredible mother because I think following your passion is a lot easier than sacrificing it for others. My wife has now given up everything that she had in her life, to take care of Vivaan. I remember one incredibly beautiful she once told me, “Ferose, you change the world for the Vivaan. I will change Vivaan for the world.”
Let me close with a very emotional but a funny anecdote. As you know, Vivaan doesn’t speak. And Deepali always tells me, “Ferose, you know my wish is that one day Vivaan calls me Momma. That’s it.” One day she called me very happily and said, “Guess what? Vivaan said his first word!” Excited, I was like, “Yeah?!? What did he say?” You know what he said, ‘iPad’. I’m like, “Here goes the boy.”
Thank you very much.