Every big city has an ethos of its own: Paris (romance), New York (ambition), and Beijing (political power). “For Mumbai, that distinguishing trait would be jugaad,” says Parmesh Shahani. He translates the Hindi term as “innovatively making do with tremendous constraints.” Thanks to Mumbai’s energy and cultural reputation, the megacity—India’s financial capital—is now bursting at the seams. While the physical infrastructure demands immediate attention, the intellectual architecture of the city should not take a back seat, he says.
Mumbai is Shahani’s hometown and inspiration. He earned his first degree from Bombay University in finance in 1996, then a postgraduate diploma in film and television from the Xavier Institute of Communication in the same city. He reported news for the Bombay Times; founded FreshLimeSoda.com, India’s first online youth magazine; and worked in business development at Sony Entertainment Television. He got another degree, in education, in 2003, and won an award for promising teachers. And that was all before coming to MIT to pursue comparative media studies.
After graduating from MIT, Shahani returned home to set up a venture capital unit for the automobile manufacturing corporation Mahindra & Mahindra. Since 2010, he has worked with the Godrej Group, an industrial conglomerate headed by Adi Godrej ’63, SM ’63.
In 2011, he founded the think tank Godrej India Culture Lab to promote Mumbai’s cultural offerings through collaborations between the city’s academic, corporate, and creative spheres. The lab aims to stimulate discussions of what it means to be Indian and modern, and it organizes both private gatherings and large public conferences on topics such as youth culture, the Indian diaspora, and urbanism. He also runs public Friday Funda gatherings, featuring talks, music, or films, on the Godrej campus.
One topic that remains close to his heart is the issue of gay rights. During his stay in Boston, where he was openly gay for the first time in his life, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. Inspired, he made homosexuality the subject of his graduate thesis. He returned to India and wrote Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)Longing in Contemporary India. In 2009, India decriminalized homosexuality. Since then, Shahani has advocated for corporate diversity policies that specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. He often speaks on LGBT-related issues at corporations including Google’s India office.