I am Pallavi Singh, my dad calls me Rimjhim, my friends, Lola. I was born in Munger, a small town in Bihar, in east India famous for its firearm factories and rich history, where my father started his innings in Bihar judiciary.
Ever since the day I felt poems arise in my heart (I was 9), I have wanted to touch people’s souls with my words. I have been writing while doing many others things to win my daily bread and satisfy my curiosity about the world.
At the same time, deep learning has been my life-long quest. In everything I have done, I have noticed an insatiable hunger in me to learn, devour knowledge and do something that creates something of immense value to the world.
Research gives me that space.
It allows me to feed my hunger for creating new knowledge, to learn everyday, to feel and see the world in fresh dimensions, to be humble, to continue doing my journalism with more richness and responsibility, and to still be able to commit to fiction and non-fiction writing in free time.
I am working towards a future where my love for narratives, economic & business history and journalism can come together and contribute to something larger than me.
Rebel with a cause
My writing dreams were discouraged by my father, who felt my true potential was in doing what half of my family was already doing – join the civil services or the judiciary.
I escaped into a journalism program miles away from home and started as a cub reporter in one of the most fiercely competitive news industries in the world: Indian journalism.
It didn’t take long for me to find my niche as a journalist and I sometimes rebelled and often just worked very hard to make my place as a writer of long form. My editors could recognise my passion and offered me opportunities to travel and to write, two things I love most.
I was a rebellious teenager, with very low patience for casteist slurs, discrimination and patriarchy, and I think my staunchly feminist father must take all the blame because he raised me to be a strong woman and made sure I was adequately equipped to take on challenges in the big, bad world just as my brother would. I don’t find it difficult to understand why – after years fighting for justice for the poor and the underprivileged, both my grandfather and my father believed in equality for women and that must begin at home.
People, places, journeys
My stories are essentially efforts at understanding how complex, long-run processes – from capitalism to culture to globalisation – affect individuals and households.
As a journalist, I never conformed to the rigour of a 350-word news break; I was always about deep, reflective journalism that focussed on processes and unseen, hitherto unnoticed transformations.
My love for diving deep with my reporting and research isn’t a secret, and therefore, taking up full-time research alongside continuing to write long-form in free time was the next logical step. My parents call it my constant restlessness to find my place in the world, my bestie who knows everything about me calls it the very essence of me, and I just call it a compulsion, a calling that doesn’t let me sleep at night often.
I have never been comfortable doing anything else more than trying and seeing what I can do, what keeps me happy on a long term basis, and how I can contribute even one percent in making this world somewhat better than it is.
I am drawn to people, places and journeys, and that explains why I love to write and travel. As a journalist, I put people in my stories. People and cultures fascinate me so do economy and business. You can always find me chatting with strangers on streets, in taxi rides, in shops and hikes, looking for fresh perspectives, soul-stirring stories.
I am never comfortable seeing suffering around me without doing something about it. Because I couldn’t do it with money (because I am not Bill Gates), I try to write about people and developments that need to be written about, that need your attention and empathy.
I care more for ordinary people who are caught in extraordinary circumstances or have exceptional stories to share. I find them beautiful, genuine and inspiring. I can happily travel miles just to listen to them. Or, path-breaking research that changes the narrative or makes us rethink the established paradigms. I always have time for digging archives, historical records, for reading that expands the mind and our understanding of the world.
Pivots and learnings paved path for research
But, for someone who always has believed that every wall is a door, I didn’t come to academia without dabbling in digital leadership and startups. My curiosity for fast-paced digital transformations led me to embrace a digital leadership role soon after I graduated from the LSE with a Masters degree in Economic History.
After reporting on political economy, caste and culture and politics for nearly a decade, I was curious to know how the business world worked, how businesses and news organisations were embracing digital, how startups were fuelling the new economy, and most of all, what was women’s place in it?
I started my stint at a startup backed by NewsCorp as the first and the youngest woman in its leadership team and gradually saw things change, especially in diversity and inclusion. I later partnered with an LSE batchmate and friend to help run the art-tech startup she founded, which I still mentor.
I realised two things: corporate leadership and start-up founding space continues to be very difficult for women. I’ve been keen to train fresh women graduates in my team as a digital leader because I believed someone needs to invest in their learning and training so they could build a career path for themselves that eventually helps them grow and break the glass ceiling. They need to be ambitious, persistent, emotionally resilient, and brave. They need to learn to say “no” and to push ahead with paths that help them progress, whatever they think that is.
At the same time, a solid base is important, so early career mentors are super important and I can’t emphasise this enough. I had many great ones as a journalist and even as a corporate leader, and I believe I need to give it back to those who need it. That explains why I mentor grad school applicants for a mentoring collective led by students from Cambridge University.
(In the pic, myself and Poulami (R), founder, The Bomway)
Born for research
I think research comes naturally to me. I was born with an inclination for deep experiences in life, deep learning, and passion-driven work. I can devote hours to research and writing without flinching; I enjoy it.
I don’t think I have ever worked in a job that I didn’t absolutely love. Passion defines my existence, every single thing I do. I am an artist at heart, someone who truly enjoys what one does and does it with the vigour of a day-dreamer. I am quite lost when I am at work. Everything else fades around me. As a child, I often forgot to eat while doing homework or reading. I would spend hours in the library or travelling, two of my greatest loves.
Sure, sometimes, I don’t like many things I have to do (like talking to too many people in a day, or mass gatherings, or group holidays, they are cluster*****!)
I think I inherited this from my parents (below). My father still doesn’t go to bed without reading a book; my mother is a versatile, devoted perfectionist, she does everything skilfully and with great passion and expertise. I am somewhere halfway from them and I have a long way to go. Still, I think they inculcated in me a great work ethic and a passion for work through their lives.
My father still works very passionately, and each of my siblings seems to have this affliction (crazy siblings on the right >). We love what we do, and when we work, the world just disappears from our mindscapes. We are lost peas in a giant artistic pod, forever driven by a certain kind of hunger that makes us very curious and insanely driven.
Fresh out of LSE with a greater appreciation for business and economic actors in an economy, I lapped up an offer to lead digital at one of the fastest growing startups in India, backed by some of the biggest names in investing. I was to build, lead and manage a team and report to the CEO for communications and marketing. From a newsroom, I was transported to a corporate boardroom where I was working with Harvard MBAs and IIT-IIM grads leading business, product and technology verticals.
As marketing, communications and content lead, I had to work with all of them and devise solutions to drive business goals. I worked more than 70 hours a week and loved every minute of it. I learnt on the job everything I had never done before – understanding google analytics, social media management, website traffic, and product development.
It was a period of immense growth and learning, and my curious mind was at work. I noticed new ways of doing business and persistence of old world transactions even in a technology-driven business and wondered how the two could co-exist. It was fascinating!
Out of sheer curiosity, I wrote to Prof T Roy at the LSE, where I had studied Economic History, and was in no time reading up on business history. How India did business and who were the capitalists who enabled it? It is not one story neither is it a story of individuals alone, I realised. Indian capitalism was distinct and rooted in community and caste origins, with a very distinct flavour, and a lot of such old business systems persist even today alongside new ways of doing systems.
My questions led me to one of Prof T Roy‘s exceptional students, who helped me delve deeper into India’s Business History with his excellent recommendations and insights, and luckily enough, I am now getting to pursue my research with Dr Michael Aldous at QUCEH, alongside the wonderful Dr Chris Colvin.
I am on an exciting journey, and everyday, there are fresh revelations, fresh pivots, and fresh learnings.
I also continue to write and since August last year, I have diligently sent my poetry newsletter The Belfast Writer every Sunday to my list of subscribers.
I think what we do for work should be something we can love. It must drive our curiosity and hunger to an extent that we can give it our best without breaking up in pieces. It shouldn’t feel like work. Writing and research are that thing for me. They deeply satisfy my soul so I could never live away from these. Well, not for long (barring the detour in corporate which I enjoyed too because I love leading and mentoring and investing in people – that’s one of my hidden talents!)
If I don’t write or read, I feel like I have perished. I would rather flourish. At the same time, I want this to be fun. So I am trying to constantly figure out ways in which all of my interests can converge and deepen my satisfaction, steer my purpose on earth in a more meaningful way, and ultimately lead to some social good. At the end of the day, it’s all about finding what I am here to do ultimately. It should be more than just earn my daily bread. it should be about people, it should be about knowledge, it should be about a smile or a flicker of empathy or kindness, or an inspiration stirred somewhere. This shouldn’t feel like work.
Why I write
My father would never let me do anything else than study for the IAS as he, like many parents in India, believed that education should lead to a position of prestige and influence.
This fuelled my rebellion even more and I wrote even more aggressively. I wrote in diaries he would never read. Not even my poet mother. The more they ignored my hunger for words, the hungrier I became.
At the same time, I made friends who nurtured the writer in me and held me in their arms when I was unsure about anything I was doing.
As a teenager growing up in Bihar in a family with its roots in bureaucracy and politics, working in a corporate set up was not my dream. Like I said, my dream was to write and touch a few lives and perhaps live on through my writing.
Writing helps me connect at an intimate level with people and convey to them everything I am and everything I can do about them. It’s not different from how a doctor would feel with their patients or a lawyer about his client who has been truly wronged.
I felt the same as a journalist writing about people and the same I feel about people I write about in my stories. I feel the same about my readers who read my poems. The feeling of shared belonging and shared experience permeates my writing and I am now hoping it would also illuminate my research.
What else do I love?
I love solitude, nature and doing up my home; I also love embroidery, knitting and illustrations. I am also a selfie queen so 90 percent of my photos are selfies! I hate street food but I can spend hours shopping for vintage items in flea markets. I love home-made beauty products and wear little or no makeup. Someday, and I don’t know when, I want to start a podcast and write a film script.
I love Indian ethnic clothes and jewellery. I can never compromise on good shoes because I love walking. And, I love treks, driving and solo travels. And, hey, talking to strangers is my TOP thing to do.