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Interview with Vikram Gudi

We recently caught up with our biggest individual donor, Vikram Gudi.

With both parents being born in India and his mum born in Mumbai, Vikram’s ties to Mumbai remain strong and his reasons for giving back are inspirational.

Check out the interview below to learn more about Vikram and what motivates him.

Charlotte: “Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?”

Vikram: “I was born in Birmingham but both of my parents are Indian – my mum is from Mumbai and most of my extended family live there too. I’ve always had a strong connection with the city. I have been going there since I was born and spent every summer there, so for me it is like a second home”


Charlotte: “What are some of your interests?”

Vikram: “It’s all music and music related things – making, listening to, seeing live and talking about. I also have a soft spot for cricket, photography, art and charity work”

Charlotte: “What do you do for a living?”

Vikram: “I run Elephant Music and I’m the co-founder of Split Music. Elephant Music specialises in putting music on TV and film trailers. Split Music is a music publisher – we manage the rights of artists, composers and DJ’s globally. I also produce music and compose myself. It’s an interesting question because my answer is always evolving with the times. I love what I do and sometimes pinch myself because I can’t believe I made a career out of it”

Charlotte: “How did you get to know about Reality Gives?”

Vikram: “I was watching Sky Sports and there was a documentary on Nasser Hussain; I felt partially guilty about not visiting Dharavi enough. Seeing those smiles on the faces of the kids made me want to sign up”

Charlotte: “Why have you chosen to support Reality Gives?”

Vikram: “There is the nostalgia and the proximity to Mumbai but growing up I wasn’t allowed to visit or even understand about the slums and I regret this. I feel that there are many wealthy people in India that could and should be doing more to support NGOs, so I’m doing my best to help from the UK”

Charlotte: “What would you like to see happen in the future with Reality Gives?”

Vikram: “I would love to see a Music Department and for the kids to be exposed to creative arts – film, photography, anything that is outside of the standard education. They need to be exposed to creativity at a young age. An information revolution is happening where IT is replacing the need for people in jobs, but creativity cannot be replaced.

I would also love for the cricket academy to be taken more seriously and it would be a beautiful story to someone to come out of it and play for India, it’s not impossible – talent will always shine through”

Charlotte: “What advice would you give our students?”

Vikram: “Don’t lie to yourself. If you naturally like something pursue it, but just try to balance it out. You can be good at a number of things but only exceptional at one thing – follow it passionately”

Charlotte: “Who has had the biggest influence on your life?”

Vikram: “My Dad – what I’m doing now would be impossible without the support of my parents. Their belief and faith that I was doing the right thing made my career path a reality. They never pressured me as much as most traditionally Indian parents to get a ‘real job’, they were just happy that I was doing something I loved”

Charlotte: “What did you enjoy most at school?” 

Vikram: “I barely studied music at school – I found it too academic and not fun or creative. What I enjoyed most were the people, not a specific subject as such. I was surrounded by extremely intelligent individuals which was inspiring. Some of my best friends are from my school days and I wouldn’t be me without them”

Charlotte: “Now for some slightly more fun, personal questions. Describe your life using just film titles?”

Vikram: “Spinal Tap, LA Confidential and Lagaan”

Charlotte: “If you could steal credit for any piece of art, song, film or book which one would you claim?”

Vikram: “For a film I would go with Zardoz by John Boorman, the song would be Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and the piece of artwork would be Ciphers and Constellations by Juan Miro.

Charlotte: “What would you say has been for you your favourite travel destination?”

Vikram: “Koh Phangan in Thailand It’s the only place I’ve ever been where I’ve ever hit 100% holiday mode.”

Charlotte: “Lastly, what projects are you currently working on?”

Vikram: “I’m not normally allowed to say but there are a couple of Marvel movies, an experimental art / music project with the Whitechapel Gallery and our next record on our label”

Working in Dharavi

A question I have been asked often is – “What is working in Dharavi like?” Once you assume that there is no expectation of dreariness, it is quite a valid question.


At the risk of generalising, most “well-off” Indians don’t dream of working or even going to the infamous slum of Dharavi on a regular basis. I will argue that they spend their lives working hard so they’ll never have to live in the slums (if that makes sense). The aforementioned question is therefore valid.

To answer it, I will illustrate using an incident. This morning while making my way to our trusted restaurant for lunch, I became fascinated by the papad making industry in the open courtyard surrounded by homes. We pass this place regularly, but it always gets my attention. I quickly took out my phone to Google something about the industry and kept walking. Obviously, I bumped into a huge iron beam poking out of the foundation of the 2nd storey of a house. I may be under average height by global standards, but tall by Indian measures and therefore, I am supposed to bend while taking short cuts. I have known it forever, but looking into your phone while walking does deserve a punishment.

Anyway, while I grabbed by now-in-pain head and walked forward, I saw friendly faces with concerned looks on them. A peculiar thing of walking through the slums is at each particular time of the day it smells a little different. Usually during the first half of the day, I tend to find lot of detergent or soap bar aroma in the area. Mid-day ish I can smell food, and to an extent I can tell which region the family inside is from. And towards the end of day, it is sort of not a very pleasant smell.

One thing that never changes though is either smiling people standing at the gates chit-chatting with the neighbours, or people walking through, always with a demeanour of purpose. The walk finally ended with “Cheap Thrills” by Sia playing loudly from a house, and we reached the restaurant soon enough.

Another aspect of working in Dharavi is that I like to look at it as a “Privileged slum”. Through decades of focus it has received from government, NGOs and businesses, Dharavi is now rising upwards with multi-storey buildings and ambitions taking flight. I work at 3 different locations on different days of the week, and an Uber can get you right to the door of each one. There is no dearth of clean and hygienic eating places, and plenty of shops for all needs.

My favourite part about working in Dharavi is the immense burst of colours every day when I step into the place. Hundreds of people in their diverse style of clothing, bustling shops and buildings, animals and also overflowing garbage dumps. Somehow it makes the scene super vibrant. Personally, for me it is much more exciting and motivating than the sterile and perfect corporate buildings.

If you don’t believe me, I invite you to come see where I work 🙂



Suman Barua joined Reality Gives in September, having left a software engineering job to pursue his passion for helping others learn. He won a place at Harvard University to pursue a Masters degree in the field, and is now our Director of Education.