Humans of Harker: Nirban Bhatia reflects on “grit”

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Melissa Kwan

“A lot of people are skeptical of [my startup] idea; they’re not too sure whether it’s going to work or not,” Nirban Bhatia (12) said. “They don’t necessarily support me in trying it out, and they find ten flaws that people have already told me about. They’re trying to almost pull me down just because they feel it’s something that’s really not going to work. I’ve just got to learn how to take everything with a grain of salt, so I can continue to push forward and make my idea a reality.”

by Varsha Rammohan, Reporter

Nirban Bhatia (12) sits on the steps of Shah patio, his sky blue turban standing out in the sea of dark attire.

“I guess generally I’m the one person who will stand out in a crowd, and that is because of my identity,” he said. “I’m not afraid of that—that just propels me forward everyday to tell other people about what my turban and my beard stand for. Ninety-nine percent of Americans don’t really know my identity’s background, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. There’s always room for improvement to make my friends, neighbors, peers more aware.”

He gestures as he speaks, his voice remaining calm and unassuming. His friends appreciate him for his loyalty and his friendly demeanor.

“When I first introduced myself, I was a little bit scared because this was a new school to me,” his close friend Rishi Chopra (12) said. “He was always there, and when I first met him, he came up to me actually. He was really nice and humble and kind, and he was trying to make me feel like I was part of something new here.”

While Nirban used to resent the questions about his Sikh identity, he eventually realized that his peers’ questions stemmed from a place of curiosity, not of intolerance.

“My turban is almost like my crown—my gift through our religion,” he said. “A lot of people will have different comments about what they think it means, often equating me to notorious terrorists or calling me Muslim just because they don’t understand the difference between what different turbans look like. That’s what my whole identity is about.”

Nirban connects his cultural heritage to his studies, conducting his Mitra research on the Sikh genocide in India. His mentor, social sciences teacher Carol Green, has watched him grow over the course of the project.

“He doesn’t need someone else to tell him what to do. He just gets things done,” she said. “I’ve watched him chill out a little and just enjoy being in the classroom for the sake of learning.”

Nirban was inspired to write by the impact of the genocide on his own community.

“My own personal community was involved with the genocide and actually some of my distant family members were killed as a result as well,” he said. “That definitely inspired me to learn more about it and also make other people aware of the impacts it’s had on the Sikh community.”

Looking past his religious identity, Nirban crafts his identity as an entrepreneur. As a child, Nirban noticed that neither of his parents wanted to cook dinner once they came home from work, and they often resorted to takeout. This problem sparked an idea for his startup: Xpress Chef, a service that provides in-home chef services. He credits his personal motivation to his belief in the concept.

“I think it’s really just my passion and desire to have my own idea,” he said. “I just feel so strongly—like this qualifies as almost like a home run that people can use this for their parties and their day-to-day dinners, lunches. So just to make it a reality, I think it’s important to dedicate as much time as you can.”

Nirban dedicates his time to logistics and customer outreach. Over his time working at the startup, he has developed entrepreneurial “grit.”

“I think [my biggest challenge is] getting people to believe in me,” he said. “A lot of people are skeptical of the idea; they’re not too sure whether it’s going to work or not. They don’t necessarily support me in trying it out, and they find ten flaws that people have already told me about. They’re trying to almost pull me down just because they feel it’s something that’s really not going to work. I’ve just got to learn how to take everything with a grain of salt, so I can continue to push forward and make my idea a reality.”