It was part rousing motivational speech, part long-winded discourse on the Indian aviation scene, part anecdotes of soul-baring honesty, and part exhaustive dissections of Air Deccan’s past and Deccan 360’s future.
The launch of Captain Gopinath’s heartfelt autobiography, Simply Fly: A Deccan Odyssey, at Landmark recently had its share of ups and downs — much like the author’s own chequered career — but it did serve to underline the amazing connect Gopinath and his story of entrepreneurial glory has with the public at large. Absolutely packed with a cross-section of people, from young students and budding entrepreneurs to old-timers from the aviation industry and the book launch regulars, the launch went on for well over an hour, with the questions coming in an endless stream and a large section staying behind for autographs after.
Gopinath, dressed casually in jeans and a shirt, engaged the audience right from the start, ditching the stodgy desk set up for him to come as far forward as he could (his feet were half off the stage) and talk directly to them. No reading from the book for this maverick.
“I have deliberately written this book as a story — my story and the story of Air Deccan, but also the story of New India, of the India of possibilities,” he said. “This is not a how-to book or a book on Indian aviation — it’s about following you dreams, having a zest for life, about not giving up in the face of overwhelming odds.”
A straightforwardly written, engaging read, the book chronicles Gopinath’s childhood in the little village of Gorur, his experiences as an officer in the Indian army, his days of dabbling in farming, and, of course, his launch of India’s first low-cost airline, Air Deccan.
“Whenever I went to give talks at schools and colleges, people always wanted to know — how did you build an airline after leaving the army with just Rs. 6,500?” he said during a chat afterward. “So, I decided to tell my story. I especially wanted to reach young people who can get disillusioned easily in today’s world.”
That was a recurring theme during the talk — having ‘inextinguishable optimism’ about our country, and ‘perennial enthusiasm’ for trying to make a difference. “We’re all concerned about the state of affairs in this country today, but we need to stay engaged. Cynicism is suicide,” he said earnestly. “My naïve optimism sometimes got me into trouble, but it also got me out of it.”
He may have been given to platitudes (“never give up”, “find happiness in the small things”) and the overuse of inspirational quotes (Gandhi, Napoleon, Einstein…), but it all still carried conviction because of his very enthusiasm, and his anecdotes — how, for instance, he refused to pay bribes for his licenses to start Deccan, but still got them through dogged determination. Or, how he stood for the Lok Sabha elections as an independent in 2009 because of the corruption in our existing political parties.
Things, however, got a little hairy during the long Q and A session that followed, as audience members tended towards long, rambling anecdotes of their own experiences with aviation (“Is there a question?” Gopinath had to ask a couple of times) or highly specific questions on his new undertaking, Deccan 360, or on issues in aviation including, at one point, fuel tax (“Maybe we should get back to the book,” he said, a shade desperately.)
Inspiring moments did come as youngsters asked about taking the entrepreneurial leap, or being afraid of making mistakes (“only when you make mistakes do you create something — wanting to be perfect is a disease”). The detailed dissection of Gopinath’s decision to sell Air Deccan to Vijay Mallya had its moments too, as his honest, tinged-with-regret appraisal gave the audience insight into the high-stakes world of decision-making.
In spite of its duller moments, the launch was, like the book itself, a touchingly idealistic call to action. As Gopinath put it: “An indifferent citizen is worse than the most corrupt politician.”