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"I hope that as i get older, I get wiser and become more mindful. If I am more mindful, I see more opportunities,” says Srirupa Dasgupta.
Growing up in Calcutta, India, in a household with her extended family, she shared the space with her paternal grandparents, four uncles, and their families. “When somebody would say, ‘How many brothers and sisters do you have?’ I would say ‘Nine,’ but also in India there is no word for ‘cousin’ so it’s all brothers and sisters in Bengali,” she says. When everyone was home, there were twenty-four people in total and each floor of the house had two families along with a common dining room and living area. Meals were eaten in shifts: children, grandparents, men, and women. She enjoyed the bustling household and recounts with great joy one year when her mother allowed her and her sister to have and decorate a tiny plastic Christmas tree. “My sister and I went to a Catholic missionary school. We wanted to celebrate Christmas—and my mother was most accommodating.” Dasgupta rounded up her grandparents and uncles and she and her cousins performed a nativity play and sang Christmas carols. “Thinking back, this is craziness—a complete Hindu household doing these things,” she says with unbridled laughter.
Her mother was a college physiology professor and her father an electrical engineer. Their standards were high and the competition in India was intense. “It was even worse then because there were no jobs so people continued their education because they didn’t have anything else to do.” Dasgupta was a good student, but admits she would not be at the top of her class—which is what it would take to get accepted to a top Indian University. She would often have fights with her father who told her she had to study science and she needed to secure a successful career.
Dasgupta went from embassy to embassy looking at colleges that accepted international students, offered financial aid, and had the majors she wanted. She started with the most competitive. Dasgupta was accepted to Smith and came to the United States to complete a double major in art and computer science. “One of the things I like about the liberal arts system is that you’re not locked into one thing. I’m bigger than that. I have many more interests than this one field of study.” The concept of a double major was so appealing to her that the first time she heard it was possible to study two completely different things, she felt no boundaries
In 1984, computer science was a brand new field of study. “What I learned through computer science was how to think like an engineer: mathematical thinking, creative problem-solving. You take something and you create an elegant algorithm to get from A to B.” She enjoyed learning to code and figuring out how to bring a concept to reality. Dasgupta often says she doesn’t like limits (this, not this) but that she prefers possibilities (this and this).
She shares what she learned from studying computer science. “If I’m working really hard at something, like really pushing, then something is wrong. There must be another way. How do I go with the flow and make it work for me as opposed to pushing against it?” she asks. She looks at the big picture pattern, noting that if she can pause long enough and not get lost in the micro, she can be successful. She laughs as she equates this philosophy to The Jungle Book and “The Bare Necessities.” Dasgupta was given many opportunities to succeed and never felt out of place in a field dominated by men. She says many of her jobs were women led and that she had wonderful mentors.
Her other interest is art. “There is art and beauty everywhere,” she says, believing in the Hindu thought of the divine in everything. To Dasgupta, art and beauty come through cooking and presentation, the fabrics of the clothes she wears. When she travels, which she does a great deal, she brings back souvenirs that are both beautiful and utilitarian. “I don’t just want it to be beautiful. I want it to be beautiful and useful.”
Today, Dasgupta works at Franklin & Marshall College as the director of web content and multimedia. She is also the founder of Upohar, a local restaurant and catering company whose social mission is to generate employment opportunities for resettled refugees. Upohar is the culmination of Dasgupta’s desire for beauty, ability to solve problems, and mindfulness to create opportunities for others.
“So how do I live my life? I want to see the beautiful and the beauty in everything and everyone. It’s reflected in what I do, what I wear, how I am, where I spend my money, and how I raise my kids. I like to appreciate all the small things and I’ll pause and look at the ceilings or the flowers. I always want to have a childlike wonder at the world. I never want to lose that. Every once in a while I get caught in the daily grind, but life doesn’t stop. There’s no rewind button.” She says her life’s practice is to be mindful and to align her beliefs with her actions. “A fortune cookie once said, 'Opportunity only knocks once; be alert.'”
“I don’t want to tell other people how to live their lives. People should do what they want to do. Each person needs to find their own way,” she says with no judgments and then with exuberance: “Life is for living. Enjoy every moment…that’s what I try to do.”