Rahul Khandelwal : Founder of Unlearn Formulae
You don’t find may people who have the courage to follow their heart and do what they want to do. Rahul Khandelwal, IIT Delhi alumnus and founder of Unlearn Formulae chose to be happy in life by doing what he wanted to do. The path is not easy but for him life is free and wild like his own beard!
1. From a Small Town boy in MP to IIT Delhi to Corporate World to NGO to Unlearn Formulae, you seem to have taken a really adventurous route. In retrospection, how would you connect the dots?
Well I am from a very humble small town of M.P. called Nainpur. My childhood was like that of any other child at a village with no exposure to the cruel competition and rat race. Life was quite relaxed. So when I passed 12th I started asking people, what to do. Somebody told me that IIT’s are the best engineering colleges of the country. So I asked them how can I get in there, and I was told go to Kota. That was the day I decided to get into IIT. I didn’t even know the full form of IIT but I somehow knew that this was my destination. I made only two choices for myself, either I will go to IIT or I will come back home and do business with my dad.
After IIT, during the first three months of my Job I realized that I cannot sit in front of a computer and do this mundane repetitive work for people without knowing the bigger plan. I can’t work with such hypocrites and such insecure people. I can’t work for someone having a fear of boss in my heart and I can’t waste my time and life like that. I finally quit my job in the third month itself.
I don’t take decisions based on logic but I take decisions based on my intuition because I believe that intuition is the more basic and general form of logic and logic is derived from the basic instincts. And for me the most important thing is a happy life where I am working on what I love to do.
Then I joined an NGO called Pratham, with the thought that I will get time to think what I want to do with my life. While working with Pratham, I travelled to many places and saw the education standards in the govt. schools. Somehow I was able to connect it with my childhood as I faced the same problems in my school education. While working there for 2 and half years I created a mathematics module to cater to the needs of children in classes 1 through 5. The module was implemented statewide in Punjab under Parrho Punjab Learning Enhancement Campaign 2010-11 & in Himachal Pradesh, under Aadhar 2010-11.
Then Unlearn Formulae was started in December 2010.
One thing I have always tried to ensure is to do what I like to do. If you are doing something you love, you pour yourself into it. I always have faith in Mother Nature. I never knew the path of my destination but with that faith I walked the path and now when I see back I can say that if you want to do something new, something creative, you need to walk on an unknown path, on the path on which nobody else has travelled before. The joy of walking on that path will keep you ALIVE every day. And there lies a secret in it, if you walk on an unknown path to do something you love to do, you may have to leave everything behind but you will be experiencing complete new life.
2. Why do you think so many people are unhappy?
Being an engineer I see life as a problem and the way we live is the solution we choose. If I see most of the people around me unsatisfied with their life and cribbing all the time, I can surely say that it can’t be a calculation mistake because millions of people can’t commit the same mistake. There must some fundamental flaw in understanding the problem i.e. life and the approach to solve it. So here I am trying to understand the problem called life.
3. What is math to you?
Math to me is a tool to get in touch with the core of the students. Their fears, their hesitations, their self-doubt and their belief in themselves. Once you get to the core of the problem, you can help them grow as confident, thoughtful and rational individuals. The bigger agenda is to convert them back from being machines to human beings. I don’t know how I will do it but again having faith in Mother Nature I have started my journey and also have started seeing some results. I want these children to be happy when they grow up and enjoy life rather than always cribbing about it.
4. The problems that linger with primary education seem to be present in the higher education as well. What is your comment on the teaching methodology in IIT?
Rather than commenting I would like to share what I have gained and learned from IIT, for which I have never repaid and will be in debt for my whole life and probably can never be free of that debt. The best thing about IIT’s is they teach you adaptability. You get amazing friends for life, you get to learn a lot from your peers, and you learn to struggle. You will always bump into at least one professor who you look up to and will be your mentor rather than a teacher.
Regarding on our part it’s us who are always looking for shortcuts; it’s us who always look for an easy attendance course, it’s us who want a course where we can get good grades with least efforts. I am not saying that it is always our fault but if we want to see the institution change we need to make that change happen in ourselves first because that is our circle of influence not the institute.
5. Did working in Pratham transform your life? How? Please share some incidents.
Working in Pratham made me realize that what it means to do what you actually want to do or what you are doing out of joy by putting your heart into it, without any fear. In my two and a half years at Pratham, there was not a single day when I did not want to go to office. Every morning used to be a new morning and I was always excited about going to work. It is also very important who your colleagues and boss are. I would like to thank my Pratham team for giving me the wonderful experience.
6. What do you get to learn from the children you teach?
I learn innocence. I learn to ask what you don’t understand. I learn that no questions are stupid. I learn that what is obvious for you might not be obvious for the students. I learn to observe sharply and I learn to be young.
7. Why this long fluffy beard?
I just like it this way, in fact I can ask you a question why not any beard? Beard is a natural phenomenon and I am not opposing it. I don’t understand why people shave their beard off?