Did you know that Steve Jobs, who introduced many innovative products at Apple Inc. briefly worked in Atari – the video game maker – and then traveled to India in 1974, as a 19-year old teenager, after dropping out from college? He stayed for seven months in India wandering aimlessly (as his biographer puts it) across Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh (mostly). But why did a broke Steve Jobs travel to India and what did he (hope to) learn?
Influenced by the Hippie movement of the 60s/70s, Steve Jobs took a Spiritual journey to India in order to find & connect with his inner self. He was seeking enlightenment through deprivation, simplicity, and ascetic experience. He came to meet a popular Guru (Neem Karori Baba), but the latter had died before Steve even arrived in India. He tried seeking spiritual enlightenment from other Gurus, but was not convinced with any of them.
Before coming to India, Steve had read many books on eastern philosophy and Zen Buddhism, and was also influenced by the Hare Krishna movement. The Indian trip was recommended by a college friend, Robert Friedland, and Steve was joined by another friend Daniel Kottke, who traveled with him to many places across North India – mainly in buses and trains.
Steve Jobs traveled to Nainital in the Himalayan foothills. He rented a room there, with just a mat to sleep on. Since he couldn’t find his Guru he traveled to other places, most notable being Haridwar, along Ganges river, for the Kumbh Mela carnival that saw more than 10 million saints gather.
Steve got to read ‘The Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahansa Yogananda and was highly influenced by the book. His biographer says Steve kept reading it at least once every year, until his death.
As you can expect, the journey was not exactly rosy, with Steve being affected by dysentery (among others) and losing 40 pounds. His friend, Daniel Kottke, who was later the first employee of Apple, lost all his money and travel cheques (they were stolen), and Steve helped him by paying for his travel and food.
I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes in Steve’s own words on his travel/experience in India, as told in the book – ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson.
“Coming back to America, was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead. Intuition is a powerful thing, and that’s had a big impact on my work.”
“Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic. It is learned and is the great achievement of Western civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else, which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not. That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.”
I happened to read the book ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Iccasson and recommend everyone to read it. It is the biography of a tech wizard who redefined computing and design. When you learn the extent of Steve Jobs’ obsession with perfection, you will surely be inspired to do whatever you are doing, better. I have reviewed the book in my technical blog.
Also, don’t forget to read this interview of Daniel Kottke – Steve’s companion in India – immediately after Steve’s death, on what he remembers about their journey in India.