Islands of Excellence, and being an Engineer

Recently when I was reading the bookBanker to the Poor” by Muhammad Yunus, the famous Bangladeshi professor, banker, economist and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2006, I came across this text which I have quoted verbatim below. You can buy the book at Flipkart or Amazon.

“Everyday I drove through the village of Jobra which stood between the highway and the campus. I saw barren fields next to the campus. I asked my colleague Professor Latifee the reason for not cultivating this land for a winter crop. He made some guesses for he knew the village well. I proposed that both of us go to the village and talk to the people. We did and soon found the answer.

There was no water for irrigation.

I thought we should do something about it. It was a shame to let the land around the university campus remain barren. If a university is a repository of the world’s knowledge, then some of this knowledge must spill over into the neighborhood and demonstrate that it is indeed useful knowledge. A university should not be an island where academics attain higher and higher levels of knowledge without sharing any of this knowledge with its neighbors.”

And how accurately he has observed. He was a professor in one of the best universities in Bangladesh, and he could not understand the poverty and helpness of the villages right next to the campus. His remark that if a university is a repository of world’s knowledge, it should spill to the nearby areas to demonstrate that it is useful. What a simple and insightful thought!! What is the use of our education and all institutions we have created if it can’t help the people who need it the most?

Are we doing justice to our profession?

Are we doing justice to our profession?

I am an engineer, and I have a similar network, with many people in my address book being engineers, managers, with high levels of education and skills. Living in Bangalore, it seems every other person works in a big IT company. With so much wisdom, knowledge and skills all around me, isn’t it ironical that grave problems still exist in the same society and neighborhood where we live. Shouldn’t our treasure of knowledge spill over in finding solutions to the problems all around us. Or is it that our skills can help big multinationals create new products and improve existing ones for clients mostly sitting abroad but we can’t use our skills to help our brothers and sisters, many of whom don’t even have the basic amenities to live a decent life.

Or have we created little islands of excellence all around us and we don’t bother to see the poor and the miserable condition they live in. They might live next to our doorsteps, but it is amazing how we have learned to ignore them, and similarly, how they have learned to ignore us. We travel on the same roads, live in the same neighborhood, but the similarities end here. Our homes are spacious and have the best amenities, while somewhere nearby you will also find their congested neighborhood with small houses with very basic amenities. Our children go to the best schools and ride bicycles (with gears) while their go to government schools, play barefoot on the roads with old cycle tyres. Wah Re India..

Now there must be something I am missing here. Because this can’t be right. This can’t be the state of one of the fastest growing economies in the world. If our engineers are known for their skills all over the world, why can’t they solve the problems which are nearest to them? Wikipedia define Engineers as “They work to develop economic and safe solutions to practical problems, by applying mathematics, scientific knowledge and ingenuity while considering technical constraints.” We call ourselves engineers very proudly, but if we see our daily lives, do we really think that what we do is in sync with the above definition? Even if the answer is yes, then why are we ignoring our own problems and solving problems of the rest of the world? Are we not doing a great injustice to our profession? Are we not insulting the word “Engineer” by calling ourselves so?

I would love for all to leave comments below, but I would like to request one thing from all readers. Don’t leave your comment immediately if you are frustrated, angry or offended by what I have written. I am not blaming anyone, I am just wondering at the situation. Think about it for a minute or two, go over your daily lives and see if your skills can be of any help to people around you, and then leave a comment. I would love to hear what you have to say.

P.S. – Banker to the Poor is one of my favorite books.

We walk for change!!

It was a sight to see,
And a moment to experience!
Just a walk, nothing fancy,
When people walked out of conscience!!

Flagged off by a freedom fighter,
We took a route embedded in history!
400 awake citizens walked together,
On a day which was hot and sunny!!

The heat was no match to our will,
For we were united against corruption!
We marched for the Jan Lokpal Bill,
And demanded it for the whole nation!!

We walked for change

We walked for change

There were people across cultures,
Students & professionals, young and old!
Seeking punishment for the vultures,
A new age dawns, this is the threshold!!

Four hours and eleven kilometers,
Posters, slogans and the flying tricolor!
The knife of the money launderers,
Will not be allowed to go any deeper!!

Many joined us on the way,
Knowing the end is far, but in range!
Our country you will not betray,
We walk in peace, but for change!!

What is Dandi March 2?

Dandi March II

Dandi March II

For all those who can recall their history lessons in school, Dandi March was a 24 day, 240 mile (390 km) march to produce salt without paying the tax. It is also known as Salt Satyagraha, led by Gandhi from his Sabarmati Ashram to the sea coast near Dandi. Dandi March was a very important part of the Indian Independence Movement. It was a non-violent protest against the British monopoly of salt in India, and it triggered the Civil Disobedience Movement later. It was done from 12 March to April 6, 1930.

Now, 81 years have passed as I write this today on 11 March 2011. We have been independent for over 63 years now, and economically independent for 20 years (since the 1991 economic reforms). But we are still not free socially. We are still not the India that Gandhiji dreamt of. An India without poverty and hunger, an India where everybody has equal opportunity to lead the kind of lives they want. We are still not free from corruption, which is one of the most menacing problems India faces in the 21st century. The Adarsh Society scam, Commonwealth Games scam and the 2G scam have rocked the nation in the recent months, causing the loss of over 60 billion dollars.

Dandi March 2 is a march organized by a group of NRIs living in the United States of America inspired by the original march by Gandhiji. It is a 240 mile walk in the US against corruption in India from 12 March to 26 March 2011. Starting at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, San Diego, California March 12, “Dandi March II” goes through Los Angeles and ends March 26 at Gandhi Statue, San Francisco. The dates coincide with the dates Gandhi did his historic march in 1930. Every major city in US, 10 cities in India and 8 other countries are organizing support events on 26 March to extend their support for the full 240 mile walk in US. The agenda is to push the government to enact Jan Lokpal Bill which is drafted to free India from the clutches of corruption by social activists like Kiran Bedi, Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, etc.

The 240 mile Dandi March was done in 1930

The 240 mile Dandi March was done in 1930

The support events on 26 March are being organized in cities like Bangalore, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kakinada, Kolkata, Nagpur, Mumbai, Varanasi and Ahmedabad. In the US, Indians are walking in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, New Jersey, Washington DC and Seattle, apart from the main march from San Diego to San Francisco. Internationally, support marches are happening in London, Singapore, Finland, Germany, etc. More information about the event can be found at The route details for the full march can be found here and all the event details for different cities can be found here.

The facebook page for the march is where you can find all the important information about the march. The Bangalore support march on 26 March can be seen at Accept the event invite to do your bit for a corruption free India. We are walking around 15 kms in Bangalore, join us for 1km, 2km, 5km or whatever is comfortable to you.

Dandi March 2 has already gathered the attention of media and some media coverage links are below –

10 Things I am glad I had done (or do) in my life

Below are the 10 things that I had done, or do in my life which I am really glad for. I am not saying I am perfect at these things, but I am getting better every passing day, and that is what matters. Read on…

1. Accepting mistakes of others
We all are human beings, and we do make mistakes. As important it is to accept our own mistakes, it is also important to accept others mistakes too. Anybody who does not make a mistake does not exist at all. So it is only wise to see other’s mistakes as just natural and move on with life. It has made my life much more joyful and easy whenever I have not passed my judgement on someone due to a past mistake. And it has helped whenever I treat a person positively irrespective of past experiences. Do to others what you expect them to do with you!

2. Build and maintain self-discipline
Before trying to manage others or to make a difference in the world, it is very important that we are able to manage ourselves. Whether deciding how much (and what) to eat, how much to party, or when to get up in the morning are all acts of self-discipline. If you want to get up early in the morning, you can’t delay sleeping in the night. It is as simple as that. It just boils down to resisting the temptation of that late night show on TV, or a few drinks with friends which will run late into the night. No doubt socialising with friends is important, but sometimes you need to learn to say “NO” (which is not easy, believe me) to focus on other important things which you have decided. Either you don’t decide to do a task (like morning exercise), but if you do decide, then self-discipline decides whether you do it or not.

3. Started this blog
Putting your thoughts to pen and paper (or keyboard and laptop) has helped me a lot. We all are social creatures, and discuss about sports, politics, religion, etc whenever we meet or talk. By putting my thoughts / views in writing, I really know what my thoughts are, and others can also come up and comment / participate in the discussion, regardless of geographical limitations. Apart from this, my writing skills has improved, and now I have new dream. A Dream of Writing a Book someday.

4. Running SaleRaja for 2.5 years
Starting a business of your own can help see the world as it is, free from the illusions which we don’t know (or choose to ignore) in our lives. In my experience of over 2.5 years of running SaleRaja, which were not very successful in terms of revenues and profits, but the learnings have been immense. It has made me even more resolved to come back to entrepreneurship, but now better prepared. Anyways, I only have one life and I don’t take it too seriously. I don’t want to save anything for my next life and want to experience everything in this life itself!! So, anybody looking for fun and adventure, I would surely recommend starting a business of your own, at least once in your lifetime.

5. Learning French
For those who don’t know, I know a little bit of French. I learned it for 18 months at the L’AF Delhi, and totally by accident. But I got more than I expected. Interacting with people from different backgrounds made my outlook towards life much more mature. There were businessmen, students, police officers, housewives and professionals in my batch, all learning about French and France. And learning a language is a channel to discover new worlds and improve your life skills. Moreover, learning a new language is always a challenge, and challenges and I go together.

6. Reading Books
Having started reading books regularly only in Jan 2010 (after college), I can say it is changing my views and thoughts on a lot of things. I would like to put an hour of reading daily an activity as important it is to exercise daily. Reading a book (I mostly read self-help, autobiographies, and business books) is like viewing a life from somebody else’s eyes. It gives you a perspective about life and people from another person’s point of view. I am going to continue with this habit forever, and in some 3-4 years, I am going to have my own library with a good collection of books.

7. Making my own rules
Most of the people live their life according to what is the norm, what everybody else is doing. It is assumed that you need to follow the so called rules, or “conventions” to get what you desire, be it your job, family or whatever it you may be wanting. But I beg to differ. Who says that I have to do what everybody else does? Intact, if I know the outcome of a task I am doing, what is the fun in doing it. I only have one life and I don’t want to live it the way other people want me to. I might encounter some failures or setbacks along the way, but that be it. The fun of not knowing where you are going only can get you what you normally can’t get. That is why I studied computers too much during my school days that other subjects suffered. That is why I started SaleRaja… And read “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Ryand if you need more.

8. Helping others
Helping other people, either those for whom I am responsible for, or somebody a total stranger, has always given me so much satisfaction that has never been matched by doing something for myself. I totally experienced a different kind of satisfaction (like I have never experienced before) when I was leading the 99acres team in Noida. It was a responsibility which I didn’t took seriously when I started, but it showed me shades of my character even I wasn’t aware of. Helping / Mentoring a new bunch of engineers right out of college changed me as a professional, and as a human being. I feel more connected with myself after that experience. I don’t think if there is a better feeling than knowing that somebody is smiling or sleeping peacefully because of you.

9. Moving to Bangalore
Bangalore has taught me a lot. In fact, I think moving to any new city will give some experiences and learning that can’t be attained otherwise. You get to interact with new people of different culture and language. A lot of my misconceptions of how things happen in life have cleared after moving to Bangalore. New places to travel and explore also add to your to-do list after relocating to a new city. In Bangalore, I have come to believe that honesty and integrity still exist in this world and you don’t have to be cruel or selfish to survive. It is often said that judge a society by how it treats its weaker sections. How the locals in Bangalore treat and respect women and elders is totally heart warming. I want to wander along the globe, moving to a new city every few years and keep on learning to be a better human being. Bangalore, your time is getting over soon 😉

10. Living in today
“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is because they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.” Most people are either worried about their past or the future, missing the present in the process. It is important to understand that we can’t change anything what has happened in the past. Neither can we second guess the future. At best, we can make a plan and work for the best outcome. But if it does not, it is wise to learn the lessons from failures and move on. Love life. Love yourself. Living for today while having fun and making everybody involved in your life happier is what should be our goal for the day. Watch the movie “The Groundhog Day” to realize how we should live our lives. We all have only 24 hours in a day, and it is important to make them count.

My take on Bangalore

The Ulsoor Lake - One of the Numerous lakes in Bangalore

The Ulsoor Lake - One of the Numerous lakes in Bangalore

Eighteen months after moving here,
I feel much better off than before!
Looking in hindsight I feel,
I am glad I came to Bangalore!!

It is a brand the world has noticed,
And come to recognize India for!
The whole software / investment boom started here,
And I am glad I live in Bangalore!!

With our cheap manpower and outsourcing,
The city is not only a noun anymore!
Bangalored is now a verb used to indicate a layoff,
When jobs are moved offshore!!

Me having come from Delhi,
I can say one thing for sure!
When it comes to how to treat women and elders,
Those from up north can learn a lot from locals in Bangalore!!

Some people stretch it too far,
And call it India’s Singapore!
But let us not forget the mess,
With traffic, pollution, and garbage galore!!

Infrastructure, or lack of it, is a big problem,
Which you will realize as soon as you step outdoor!
With the speed of urbanization in the last two decades,
A lot of catching up needs to be done, wake up Govt of Bangalore!!

Bad Traffic is one of the issues,
Which critics of B’lore point out to level score!
But then it is a common problem in all Indian cities,
And it is unfair to single out just Bangalore!!

But the weather here is like a silver lining,
When wind blows and the clouds roar!
You should forget everything,
And just be glad you are in Bangalore!!

I do miss the winters of Delhi,
And the various hangout options are difficult to ignore!
But for me, given my state of affairs,
I will anyday choose Bangalore!!

P.S. – This poem reflects my personal opinion about Bangalore and hence no offenses to other cities and people living there.  I have just tried to put into words my current take on Bangalore 😉