The title of the video is “Anu Aunty, Engineering Anthem” but actually it is a fun anti-engineering hymn set to rap music. “Engineering degree means good wife, MNC job; Moms say at kitty party…” go the lyrics, and “I won’t do what you want to find a biwi; I need life a bit more than I need a CV…”
Bangalore-based entrepreneur Varun Agarwal’s Anu Aunty video in which he grooves with a silk sari-clad, sunglasses-toting Aunty has become a viral hit. Within weeks of its release, the video, where the aunty admonishes “log kya kahenge?” is closing in on a million views.
The video and the best-selling book (How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-founded a Million Dollar Company) that preceded it, are fast turning Agarwal into a crusader whose theme song — that an engineering degree leading to an MNC job is not the only dream for young Indians — is resonating with the audience.
“Anu aunty represents India’s society, which forces kids to become an engineer or a doctor. Through the video, my message is don’t feel pushed into doing what you don’t like or don’t have the aptitude for. Instead, go find your passion,” says Agarwal, 27.
“Don’t be a loser, engineer-doctor means lot of money” raps Anu Aunty in the video whose chorus is adapted from Iggy Azalea’s Fancy. Teaming up with Bangalore-based stand-up comedian Sanjay Manaktala, Agarwal counters with a Bollywood reference, “I’d rather be The Lunchbox than Chennai Express.”
His is a ‘Been there-Done that’ story. Like many Indian teenagers, Agarwal said he felt pressured into joining an engineering course. He flunked in dozens of subjects before finally graduating from a Bangalore-based engineering college. But unlike the masses of Indian engineers, Agarwal chose to chase his passion by turning into an entrepreneur. His Alma Mater, launched in 2009, is an online store that provides custom-made apparel and memorabilia to alumni of Indian schools and colleges.
These days, Agarwal is a sought-after speaker at colleges, and even at technology companies where he charges up to Rs 1.5 lakh to expound on the “Anu Aunty” theme. The entrepreneur has totaled 250 talks including to executives of Unilever in London, college students in Pune and to employees of tobacco firm Philip Morris in Macau. The engineering college in Pune where he spoke recently, played the Anu Aunty video before his talk.
Agarwal’s popularity is as much a sign that India’s engineering job boom may have played itself out while its entrepreneurship story is just taking off. Engineering students are more inclined to gyaan from an irreverent 27-year-old rather than an inane Power Point presentation by a career expert. “I tell students it is okay to make mistakes or fail. There will be many chances to make good,” he says. The common refrain in the Q&A following his talks is, “How do I tell my parents?”
Since the launch of his video, Agarwal has been receiving hundreds of emails and Facebook messages from engineering students who tell him they feel trapped studying subjects they dislike or, worse, in well-paid jobs they detest. “I ask them to use my example to convince their parents and family,” he says.
The entrepreneur is now busy raising venture funding for his company but is still logging three or four speaking engagements every month. “I want to be invited to speak because of what I do. I despise motivational speakers and I never want to be one,” he said.