Dreaming without Gurbaksh Chahal

I always felt out of place at family gatherings. Other than Aunt Zarina’s husband Rasheed, no one else understood the idea of a digital agency. Growing up, there wasn’t an easy answer for the question of what I planned to do after graduating university. My dad wanted me to be a doctor and my best friends were studying to be lawyers and accountants. And there I was – coding, designing and creating. I was the kid going left when everyone around me was going right.

And so I had find career role models outside of my family and friends. Fellow UTSC alumni like Dev BasuSatish Kanwar and Arjune Selvarajan as well as professionals like Bhupesh Shah and Divyan Selvadurai began to fill that void. Entering my final year of undergrad, I needed greater foresight. Where were the South Asian titans in my field? It was great that Indra Nooyi was running PepsiCo and Vikram Pandit was running Citigroup, but where were were the South Asian marketing mavens and media moguls?

On the eve of graduation, I discovered The Dream by Gurbaksh Chahal. His story resonated with me in a way that no one else’s had. It was the story of how the son of South Asian immigrants created a digital agency and transformed it into a media empire. It was the story of how someone who looked like me had made a place for himself in a world where, frankly, there aren’t a lot of people who look like me.

It was his story. And it was going to be my story.

I am the son of South Asian immigrants. Alongside my co-founder Kareem Rahaman and my wonderfully diverse team, I’ve been growing a digital agency for the past year. And the higher I climb, the fewer people I see who look like me, let alone share a similar context. I speak at events where most of the time I’m the only South Asian (sometimes the only visible minority) on the agenda. I feel proud to be the first among my family and friends to do it like this. And it’s a privilege like no other to guide and support others like me who are trying to make it in the game.

Seeing Chahal at the top of this game meant a lot to me. It was the benchmark. It was the blueprint.

I awoke this morning to the latest update on a news story that has been truly bothering me. Last week, Chahal pleaded guilty to misdemeanour domestic violence and battery charges, dodging 45 felony counts for the videotaped 30-minute beating of his girlfriend. Home security footage reportedly showed Chahal beating and kicking his girlfriend 117 times during the incident. I awoke to news that TechCrunch had dropped Chahal’s company, RadiumOne, as a Disrupt NY sponsor. This is was in response to Leena Rao’s poignant letter to the board. In the face of these charges and developments, Chahal’s response came in the form of this bullshit non-apology.

Truthfully, I gave up on Chahal when the story first surfaced in August. That initial disbelief has since turned into anger.

I have no eloquent way of putting this: Fuck you, Gurbaksh Chahal.

How do you go from Oprah’s couch, to this? You might have carried a generation forward, but this has taken us all several steps backwards. So on behalf of every South Asian who was inspired by you, only to be sorely disappointed…fuck you.

We’ll be taking The Dream from here.

This post was originally posted on Medium.