Everything started when our father would take us for runs in the park. We were taught to move from a young age. We grew up without any distractions like mobiles or even color TV. All we'd do daily is study, eat, and play. For us, the gym meant using the handpump, washing clothes, jumping from walls, riding buffaloes. It feels like destiny that my brother Vikash and I both joined Decathlon.
On Rakhi in 2014, he took me to Decathlon Noida for a gift and got me NewFeel walking shoes. I had told him not to spend too much. We didn't know that the prices were so low in Decathlon. I got shoes for about 1200 rupees and a ball for 99 rupees. I was so happy and proud to wear those shoes to college. My friends would tell me that I'm blessed that my brother pampers me so much.We didn't know much about Decathlon except that they made some cool products. We had got a tent that we assembled on New Year’s Eve, we were so excited thinking 'Aisa bhi kuch hota hai' (There are things/experiences like these also!).
I joined Decathlon because of my love for cycling. Cycling meant freedom. If you had a cycle, you could go anywhere. I would take both my sisters on rides, one would sit in the front, one in the back. My love for cycling can be a bit ironic seeing as I was kidnapped on a cycle as a kid. I was 11 years old, playing in a field. A stranger picked me up, and took me off on a cycle and then in a car. I didn't have any experience of being kidnapped, so I didn't know how to fight back. They put me in a room while they made the ransom call.
How running saved me
The room I was in had a few loose bricks held together with mud. A few bricks were protruding, I picked one up and started hitting the other bricks to make a hole. The Andy Dufresne in me finally knocked a big enough hole, and being lean I squeezed out of the hole and landed on my face. I ended up breaking my nose and was bleeding all over the place. The sporty side in me took over and I started to run. I didn't know where I was going, I just ran as hard as I could. After about one kilometer, I found a group of kids playing on a field and asked for help. They saw that I was exhausted and bleeding and they fetched the grown-ups. In those places, everyone knew everyone. They could tell that I was not from around there. One of the fathers took me to the mukhiya's (village head) home which was the only one with a telephone in it. I called up my dad, assured him that I was ok, and they put me on a bus back home.
That's how running helped me get back home safely. For us, sports were not an allure for the accolades one can win. Rather, they were a way of life. For my father, he had run and swam a lot. Not as a professional sportsman, but as someone who had to do that. He was used to swimming during floods, running to get from one place to another. The sport was a way of life, and the competition was life itself. We'd sleep by 9 PM and wake up by 5 AM daily. Even today that routine is ingrained in us.
If you want to learn to swim, put an alligator behind you in the pool and you'll learn quickly. I learned with a lion (my father) chasing me.
We had a pond next to our home, it was about 100 meters wide. My father forbade me from playing with a group of naughty kids who frequented that water body. Of course, I didn't listen. They would throw me in the water and I'd find my way in it. One day as I was playing with the kids, my father happened to walk by. There was a long moment when we both looked at each other. He, I'm sure, was thinking of how to impart a non-verbal life lesson to me. I was thinking of all the lessons I had learned from well-earned thrashings, and how I just wanted to escape.
He started running, faster and faster, towards me. All the times he had chased me on land, I could never get away from him. As he ran along the coast to get to me, I jumped in the water and started swimming with a furious determination in the opposite direction. Imagine how hard you'd run if you had a lion chasing you, that's what I had behind me. That was the first time that I swam the entire breadth of that pool, all 100 meters of it. I ran home and hid. When my father came home, he did not beat me. I guess he was proud that I had learned to swim.
At Decathlon, we always look to provide the best value at the lowest prices. I had a very good understanding and appreciation for the importance of low prices from a young age. One of the early contraptions I had built was a fishing rod- for 2 rupees. I got the hook for 25 paise and the string for one rupee. I was so happy and proud to create something of value from my own hands. I feel the same sense of value creation with Decathlon. My father wanted me to be a doctor. I got admission to Medical College, but my heart wasn't in it. I wanted to play football, so I joined Delhi University instead. I had no idea what I was doing, as I chose BSC which was an intense course. After the first year, I couldn't practice in the mornings as we had lab classes in the morning.
Eventually, both my sisters also moved to Delhi. I was still very fond of cycling. I got an entry-level Hero cycle for a paper delivery job. I'd wake up at 4:30 AM and delivery cycles for INR 400 per month in school.
The first time I saw a cycle was an aluminum bike by Firefox, it belonged to one of my professors and cost INR 18,000. It was beyond my means. I earned by teaching kids and along with different side jobs over the weekend. I saved up and got a Firefox MTB in 2012 for INR 20,000. I thought I had the world's best cycle, I was so happy with it. I had no idea that even a helmet was expensive at that point, as motorcycle helmets would cost just around INR 300. I went to buy a helmet and saw an ad for a race. I was stoked on my new cycle and rode 30 km to reach that race. At the venue, I saw riders arriving on Trek, Giant, Scott bikes. These were bikes that I thought only existed in some other world. Bikes that cost over 60,000, over a lac. I still managed to finish in the top 5, but I couldn't qualify as I had a puncture.
Falling in love with your passion
It was in 2013 that I fell in love with B'TWIN cycles. I had joined a local bike shop in Delhi, before that, I had no idea about Decathlon. I saw a Rockrider 8.1 in the shop, it was such a beautiful bike, and it cost INR 50,000. By that time, I had a better understanding of quality cycles. It was love at first sight for me. I felt like such a star on that bike, I felt that I could beat anyone. My boss had been to the Sarajpur store, he told me that the store was heaven for cyclists, or for any sportsperson for that matter. That's how I got to know about Decathlon. I was a fan of bikes and customer service at that time. In 2014, Decathlon opened its first store in Noida. Entering the store, I felt like I had entered a wonderland. I had taken my sister Vandana to the store for a recruitment drive. She did not make it through. But looking at the place, people, and the process, I knew at that moment that there's one place I'll join and that's Decathlon.
I applied for a job in Decathlon in 2015 through a recruitment drive. The people there knew me as a good cyclist. I did well in the DRD (recruitment drive) and joined in October 2015. My sister Minni had finished her BBA, and she's always been as sporty as I, and she applied to join in the same year.
I was so nervous during my DRD. I knew that my brother had done some really good things and I was afraid of not living up to his standard, worrying about
I never wanted anyone at Decathlon to give Minni special preference just because she's my sister. I wanted her to get to join the company on her merit.Our relationship as a brother and sister is only outside the store. In the company, I treat her as just another colleague. I don't interfere and only help her if she needs it, the same way as I would help any other teammate. We were working in the same store when we joined, but I knew that I wanted her to stand on her feet on her own as tomorrow we may not be working in the same place.
Even today when I need a friendly ear or just need to vent or ask for advice, I call bhaiya. He's always been there for me. Today, although the distance is a bit more between us, the zest for Rakhi remains the same. Back when we could not afford a lot, Decathlon was a big help to us with the low-priced products of high quality.
My goal in Decathlon was to make a positive impact on people's lives through my actions. Decathlon has taught me an organic way of business. You'll grow because you are nice to people and you want to help them.
Today, Minni is working as the Pilates Sport Leader and a coach at Decathlon Salt Lake. Vikash is the After Sales Leader for Decathlon Sports India.