Author Interview: Warikoo Talks About Why He Wants To Be Simran’s Dadi and Why We Should Aspire To Do The Same

Ankur Warikoo, of Epic fame (pun intended), dropped by our store for a quick signing and an inevitable audience-directed conversation. The face of Indian self-help online and offline, and a man whose words feature on every footpath if not every phone screen, is also a story in himself. Devoid of all the preachy, formulaic and generic babble that comes to mind when we think of self-help, Warikoo refrains from and seems incapable of that deeply patronising ‘holier-than-thou’ act that seems synonymous with being an online life guru. And this is pleasantly apparent in the conversations he initiates. A life-long promoter of the ‘self’ and its value, the small miracle of staying true to oneself and the discipline of respecting one’s integrity and mobility, Warikoo dreams of being like Simran’s dadi from the classic blockbuster DDLJ, and now we do too! Tune in for some fun, easy and direct conversations on all things life, living and reading.

Kunzum: Why ‘epic’?

Ankur: The genesis of ‘epic’ was the first book’s title: Do Epic Shit.  I started believing in that as an ideology nearly 12 years back and I love it. It comprises of 3 words: action is greater than thought. Like we’d come across an idea and immediately think ‘Oh, I had thought of this long back.’ But that doesn’t matter. Somebody did something about it while you didn’t. Action will always be greater than thought. 

‘Epic’ is doing something greater than what you were destined to do, or what you were born into, or even going beyond your assumed capability. You go outside of your orbit to do it. ‘Shit’ means that you’re having fun while you’re doing it! It’s colloquial for just having fun and not dragging your feet every Monday morning. And I knew that the title of my first book had to be Do Epic Shit. What I didn’t know was that the word ‘epic’ would become the common thread because of how people latched onto it. The running thesis now is that all the books that I write from now on out, should have ‘epic’ in some shape and form. 

Kunzum: You have a distinctive way of speaking, especially in your videos online. Why is that? And what are some quick and easy tips on becoming an engaging and effective communicator? 

Ankur: A lot of people ask me: How do we create our personal brand? How do we become an influencer? How do we start creating content on YouTube or Instagram? Because so many people are creating content online, and there is a massive crowd of such creators.  But the truth is when I started creating content, which is not, by the way, four years back, it was nearly 12 years back, there always were fantastic people who were doing the same thing that I was doing. I haven’t done anything new or said anything new. But I would like all of you to believe that the only thing that makes your content unique is frankly only you.

There’s nothing else that makes your content unique because there is no new content in the world. Content is what has already survived, thrived… has been passed on through generations. And what you add through your experiences, your delivery, your emotions, your storytelling etc is what will make that content unique. Don’t try and impress people. Do your thing and see who gets impressed. And thankfully we live in a country of 140 crore people, so we’d never lack an audience. Even if your content is trash, it is bound to impress someone. All you need to do is just be consistent with whatever you do. You will automatically attract the audience. But if you start to look at a certain audience and then get in your own head about who to impress etc, then you’ll start pandering to them and. You’d begin to speak and behave as per their requirements or wants. And that is when you’d lose the only thing that is truly yours, which is your own identity.  

So the only thing that I’d say is to just be yourself. And don’t try and dismiss yourself before the world dismisses you. You will be surprised at how many people would love you for what you have to say, for the way you say it, with the expressions that you have. 

Kunzum: What advice would you like to offer to young individuals in their 20s, especially those anxious about what they’d like to become? 

Ankur: I often get this reaction, that Oh you keep talking about 20s and people in their 20s. What about people in their 30s or 40s?’ And I say, “Well, it’s a secret, but whatever I tell 20-year-olds to do is what I’m currently doing in my 40s and what you can do even in your 50s. There is no real difference. I’m just marketing it as something for the 20s, but it applies to everyone.” 

So, one, it’s a misconception that only people in their 20s do not have their careers figured out. I’m sure that people in their 30s and 40s are just as confused about what to do in life, or they’ve submitted to their fate and the flow of life as being what it is. It is a constant endeavour to figure out what you want to do in life. To figure out whether you’re doing it the right way, whether you want to do this forever, whether you like doing it or not. 

DDLJ is a much-loved movie for several reasons. Raj, Simran, Pyar and all such great things, with the added bonus of Switzerland and that context. I want to talk about the scene where Simran’s father forcefully brings Simran back to India. Presenting a pre-selected suitor to her, telling her that she has to get married to him and that she has no choice. And she has also very gracefully submitted to her future. 

Then Simran’s grandmother suddenly falls ill. And I don’t know how many of you remember this, but let me refresh this for you… the scene is as follows:- She is in bed, in her home. It looks like a wonderful house. It’s a very cozy setup and she’s surrounded by the people that she loves. She looks very calm, peaceful, and content. And in that moment, she says this dialogue, she says, “ I have lived a great life. All that was left was to see Simran get married. “ 

Then she asks if the wedding can be shifted up to tomorrow etc and that is beyond the point. I was just fixated on that one sentence: ‘I have lived a great life’.  All I wanted to do, at that moment, was to make this a goal in my life. I want to be Simran’s dadi. I don’t want anything else for myself. All I want for when I die is: to be at home, on a comfortable bed, surrounded by those I love, knowing that they are all healthy, happy and settled, that there is no disharmony between them, and that the only thing I can possibly say at that moment, close to death, is that I really did live a great life. 

And I wish that everyone would have this ambition. Because if you have that ambition, then a lot of the shit that we go through in life just becomes noise.

That car, house, bank account, investment, getting or not getting likes or shares on your YouTube content– everything becomes immaterial. And you begin to focus on what matters, whatever that is for you. It can be your relationships, your career, or even money. But very rarely would someone talk of regretting not buying that Louis Vuitton bag. Like nobody will say that while dying! And nobody will be like ‘Oh I should’ve looked into taking an EMI for that car’. Nobody would say that! They will genuinely just boil down to the basics. But we get so stuck and lost in the nitty-gritty of things, that we lose sense of the bigger picture. 

And it’s very hard to keep that big picture in mind as well. I don’t say this as a guru or some ‘accomplished’ person. I have also struggled with this mindset and often find myself falling out of it. But thankfully I’ve reached a point, at 44 years of age, where both my wife and I know that what we have is enough. It’s enough. And I can’t tell you, for those who think that they don’t have enough already, how liberating the feeling is. Knowing that you have enough. Because now you don’t show up for some ‘thing’, you show up for yourself. You wake up and decide to live for yourself, and you live it the way you do. 

So whether you are in your 20s, 30s, or 40s: Remind yourself that you want to live a life without regret. And whatever you’re choosing to do in that moment, whether it’s hustling, seeking money, seeking love, or a combination of these, do it without regret. Don’t ever strive to achieve at the cost of your conscience or yourself. Don’t compromise yourself to achieve things that will only give you temporary pleasure and satisfaction. Because when you do, it’s always followed by a ‘what the fuck’ when that satisfaction dissipates and the cost is realised. 

If you can truly show up and say, ‘You know what? I worked like a maniac for the last 10 years. I didn’t sleep. I ate crap. I undervalued my relationships. But I do not regret a single day of doing that– then that’s a life well-lived. As opposed to knowing that you will regret these things but are still doing it because you believe living the life you want is out of your control. It is in your control. Simran ki dadi punchline. 

Kunzum: As someone who occupies Internet spaces, especially social media, how do you keep up with the many changes in online content? What are your opinions on the changes you have noticed, specifically within the community of content creators? 

Ankur: I don’t think about this, that’s my honest answer. When you are when you’re doing things because you love them, then you don’t focus on these small blips. 

Like we’re talking about the book Make Epic Money, and many people would say ‘Oh epic money yes, but how much is epic?’ And that’s the beauty of the phrase ‘epic money’, it’s a different number for everyone. 

The one thing I can guarantee is that this book has no shortcuts. It will do nothing for those seeking ‘get-rich-quick-‘ schemes. Because it only preaches one method of earning money, and it is a really boring one too. It preaches ‘long-term passive investing’. Where you, in a disciplined fashion, invest and then forget about the daily fluctuations. Because over a long period of time, those daily fluctuations will take care of themselves. In the end, you only have two choices: to experience life as a series of daily fluctuations and be affected by them, or to zoom out and only focus on what you’re good at, what you’d like to do, what the world would always expect from you and what how much of that you can fulfil. When you do the latter, then the trends will take care of themselves.

I love Jeff Bezos’ approach with Amazon. He had this beautiful shareholder letter, I believe it was 2005 or 2006 when he said, ‘A lot of companies keep asking me: what is changing?’ And it’s a very well-meaning and well-intentioned question because changes are here and they do signify a need for adaptation. And then Bezos answered with another question. He asked, ‘What are some things that will never change in our business?’ And then he came up with three things. 

Firstly, they believed that no one would ever go to Amazon and protest the variety of choices there. No one would reject all the choices and ask for a system where one item is assigned to you, where the choice is already made for you. That would happen very rarely. People like choices. They like the fact that they can buy anything on Amazon and that they don’t have to think twice about items being available on Amazon.

Secondly, very rarely would anyone say that an item is too cheap and that they’d rather have it be expensive. They wouldn’t say ‘Oh, these prices are too comfortable. I’d much rather be robbed blind by them.’ 

And thirdly, no one is going to protest same-day delivery. No one would say ‘Oh, why are you delivering my items by today evening or tomorrow? I’d much rather have it delivered a week or a month from now.’ That they really prefer it when things are slow, and don’t enjoy same-day shipping. 

So irrespective of what’s happening in the world, people will want more products, cheaper prices and fast shipment. And if we keep working on these three things, then we’ll never be out of business, trends or money. 

The same goes for me. Will people always want to make money or want to find a relationship with money? Yes. Will people always want to learn? Yes. Will people always want to become a better version of themselves? Yes. The medium will change. It’s school and college today, it’s YouTube tomorrow, and it may be Chat GPT thereafter. It will be books in some shape and form. Will books in their physical shape change or not? I think it will conclusively change. But the intention of reading a book and its value will never change. 

All you do is just stick to the core outcome and trends will manage themselves. Or you could follow the trends and drain yourself of energy because you don’t know what you have to catch up with. 

Kunzum: What formative experiences would you say have come to shape your philosophy? 

Ankur: I don’t think I have a philosophy. I have an approach. It’s nearly not endorsable. But the approach has been a combination of two or three things. 

Firstly, I grew up with a very clear plan of what I wanted to do. I knew exactly what I wanted to do very early on in life. I wanted to become a space scientist. To work at NASA. To go and work on Mars one day. And this was before Elon Musk came into the picture. And before Shahrukh Khan’s Swades. I had very clear ambitions. And then none of that worked out. Not because the plan didn’t work out. I was doing well in it. I was in the US. I was doing my PhD. I received a 100% scholarship. I was at the top of my class. But I wasn’t happy, so I dropped out of my PhD and came back to India. At the age of 24, I started my life all over again. 

And when you experience this shock at the age of 24, to have had only one dream and to have crushed it yourself, it sets you up for life. At least I believe that. Because it told me that we are only foolish to assume and confidently think that we can plan our lives. Life would laugh at your plans, give them a tight slap, change everything and then ask you to plan again. Life will keep testing you. All your plans should be trashed. Don’t make plans. Just live life and decide how you want that to go. What should your value system be like? What should your habits be? What’s the routine you’d inculcate in your life every day or even every month? What would you like to repeat from that? So that you develop a certain type of mindset.

I didn’t think of all of this at 24. It was only upon reflection that I realized that this was serendipitous. It wasn’t by choice. It wasn’t like, yeah this was life’s plan and now is the time to be the bigger person. It is only in retrospect and upon reflection that I recognised how I lucked out when I realised that I wasn’t happy doing the thing that I always wanted to do. And I’m glad that I dared to opt out of it and figure out what I wanted to do next. What it told me was to stop over-indexing on plans, goals or targets for life. Because when we plan like that or set long-term goals, then we often make the mistake of attaching a timestamp to it. Like yeah, I want to buy a car, but by 25. We live life in terms of these timed goals. And the worst thing about it is that if we do achieve it within that timeframe, then we begin to feel like gods. But if we don’t, then we start cursing ourselves. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter. If you achieve it, then you’ll enjoy it. If you don’t, then you might realise that maybe you didn’t really want it, or that you didn’t work hard enough for it. 

What changed in me, fundamentally, was to stop making goals or targets and start making habits. Something that you’d do every day so that you don’t have to think of where life will take you.  And I am a true student of habits. This is why I’d often tell people that I’m a boring man because I can do the same thing every day. Wear the same clothes, eat the same food, and repeat things almost clinically. This type of boredom comes as a huge advantage in my life because I can just keep replicating what works best for me and never stop. 

And this has taken me in directions that I could not have planned for myself. I couldn’t even have imagined it. I came back from the U.S. exactly 20 years ago. And if someone had told me then that in 2024 I’d have 10 million followers on social media and 3 books under my name, become a bestselling author in my country, and be at a place where people would beg me to come to their colleges or offices to speak, that people would travel from god-knows-where to get a selfie or an autographed copy of my book, then I would tell them to stop smoking whatever it is that they were on. But the truth is that it did happen. Not because I planned for it to, or knew that it would. It’s because I set my life in a way where I stopped thinking about where it was taking me and just continued to enjoy the benefits of the habits that I’d built over time. And this is something I’d recommend highly, especially to those in their 20s. Just pick up good habits, because when you do, you’d be shocked at how far they take you in life. 

Kunzum: What books beyond your own would you recommend as essential reading? 

Ankur: There are so many books I would recommend but I won’t call it essential reading.  Reading is a habit that has stayed with me. I would thank my parents for that. We never had the money to buy books, and coming to a bookstore like this would’ve been like rayisiyat, which we never had. So when we’d take a train for that one odd annual family vacation, then we’d have the opportunity to buy books. That was the occasion for our book buying, for picking up a Chacha Chaudhary, Pinky, Billu, Sabu and all from a thela. Beyond that, school libraries were the only places for getting books. And then when my wife and I were dating each other, we used to go to the British Council and there’d be a massive collection there. It was also a fancy place to date. It was also away from any outside disturbance that could be there looking at us and so on. 

It was lovely just growing up with books and they have truly helped me. And it’s ridiculous to me that at the price of one large pizza, you’re receiving the sum of an entire life’s worth of experience. And I feel this particularly when I read an autobiography. I’d be pinching myself thinking about how this is the sum of someone’s life and all that they’ve learned, at the cost of 200 or 400 bucks, and all I’m cribbing about is the length of this book.

So here are a few books I’d recommend based on the decade that you’re in. For your 20s, we’d start with basic books. Atomic Habits is a good book, not a pop culture book but a genuinely good one. Read it for what it means, that small habits can revolutionise your life. So do start with small habits. Not that you need a six-pack, but that you’d show up at the gym. Or reduce 500 calories from your daily intake. These ‘atomic’ habits will compound to big changes. Then there is another book that I really love, it’s called Tools of the Titans. It’s by Tim Ferriss. It is a conversation between Tim Ferriss, who runs a big podcast, with lots of people on how they run their lives and the tools/habits they use in life. So this one book offers the knowledge gleaned from various lives and multiple experiences.

And my third recommendation is Rework, which is by Jason Fried and DHH. These are founders of a company called Basecamp or 37signals, and it’s a book that reimagines ‘work’. How do you look at ‘work’ in a way that is different from what we have been taught about it? 

And with all due apologies, I must confess that I don’t read fiction. Because there was only one fiction book that I read… and like Surdas I feel like I have seen it all and now I’d like to be blinded. It was The Fountainhead. The Fountainhead is what we read when we were in our 20s. Reading Ayn Rand at the Hindu College library, lapping it up. And I was just so fascinated by the book and how Howard Roark looked at life. After reading the book I decided that this is what fiction is, that nothing can top this and that I’m ready to be blinded because I’ve experienced fiction as much as I could’ve. Beyond that, I might’ve read maybe one more fiction title, but nothing more than that. So I’d be a bad judge of fiction. 

In your 30s and 40s, particularly if you’re having a midlife crisis, I would recommend a book that is very rare and not often talked about. It’s called Atmamun. It’s written by this guy called Kapil Gupta. It’s a book that will destroy and shake every notion that you’ve ever had in life. So only read it if you’re ready to read it. Read the first two pages and if you start shaking your head, disagreeing with all that’s being said, then stop reading it. Because if you continue then it’d destroy your life. Only read it when you’re prepared for it, which I think would be in your 30s or 40s, don’t even bother with it if you’re in your 20s because then you’d genuinely surrender life, philosophically. 

And one really nice book, that I would highly recommend to people in their 30s and 40s, is The Almanack of Naval Ravikant. And I’m glad that people have read this book because Ravikantis now this startup cult figure that people from the startup world have known for a long time. And we’ve grown up consuming his content and so on. But Eric, who was the author of the book, has really popularized him and his ideologies in a meaningful manner, which I’m glad about. 

One final book is a wonderful book on Stoic philosophy called The Guide to the Good Life. Stoicism is something that, upon reflection, feels closest to my own ideologies on life. This book offered a lot of clarity on how to think about Stoic philosophy in its truest sense.

Beyond that, please don’t stop reading books. At least read the first couple of pages of any book before you decide if it’s worth your time. One thing that I’ve learned and has liberated me is that it is as much the book’s responsibility to hold your attention as it is your responsibility to give your attention. So if any book feels boring to you, then feel free to drop it, because it isn’t doing what it is supposed to. And it may come back to you at some point later in life, which is fine. But in that moment, don’t drag a book just because you got one and feel obligated to read it. That’s the worst approach to reading, as well as living your life.

Pick up any one of Ankur Warikoo’s “Epic” Books from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.

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