Continued from Previous Page
Decision to go back to India
I was always certain about going back to India but when it would happen and where I would work was not certain. Teaching in TAET made my decision easier since I wanted to get out of it as soon as possible. I was getting suffocated because of lack of research work. Besides Nandini was also finishing her Ph.D. in Agronomy by June 1981 and so we had to make a decision one way or the other by that time.
Thus I decided to visit India for 25 days in November/December of 1980 and hoped to locate a suitable place where I might work. My father-in-law also helped me in deciding where to go since I was not aware of some of the places that we visited later on.
Thus together with my brother and father-in-law I visited cities of Mumbai, Baroda, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pondicherry, Chennai and Phaltan. From Phaltan I and my brother then went to Lucknow and Delhi. In most of these places I visited various research establishments and institutes working in renewable energy. Besides seeing what work they were doing we also discussed with the staff and other people the working conditions and other matters since I was scouting for a place where I might work.
Moreover this trip was also like a “Bharat Darshan” where fleetingly I saw India and its myriad problems.
Thus in Baroda I visited Jyoti Ltd. a company involved in developing renewable energy devices while in Ahmedabad we visited one of the largest Eucalyptus plantations in India. Visiting Ahmedabad also provided me a chance to see for the first time Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram. It was in quite a poor condition next to the stinking Sabarmati river – a far cry from the days when Gandhiji gave the call for Dandi March from here and this was also the place where people from all over the world came to.
In Mumbai I gave a talk at IIT Bombay after which they started the process of hiring me as an assistant professor. They sent me a firm offer in March 1980. I was going to be paid a salary of Rs. 1,750 p.m. with a promise of faculty quarters later on. Initially I was supposed to stay in a one room guest house.
In Mumbai I also met Mr. Darbari Seth one of the key associates of Mr. J.R.D. Tata. Mr. Seth besides being a close business associate of Mr. Tata was the Chairman of Tata Chemicals and hence a big Tata honcho. After finishing my Ph.D. I had written a five page letter to Mr. Seth about some of my ideas regarding India’s energy program and a request for a job since I wanted to come and work in India. He immediately replied and wrote to me that in my next trip to India I should see him.
I had no idea who Mr. Seth was. I had written to him on the advice of one Dr. R. L. Dutta who was in 1979 the President of International Solar Energy Society (ISES) and whom I had met in Atlanta ISES conference. However when I was in Mumbai I enquired about Mr. Seth and came to know that he was one of the leading industrialists of India.
Mr. Seth was very cordial and since he was scouting for key people for his newly formed Tata Energy Research Institute he got a couple of his colleagues to sit in the meeting. He told me that he really liked my letter and remarked that it reminded him of a similar letter written long time back by Dr. Homi Bhabha to Mr. J. R. D. Tata regarding starting of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR)! I did not understand the import of that remark but later on when I found out more about Dr. Bhabha and TIFR I was really thrilled that Mr. Seth would give me such a compliment.
Within 10-15 minutes of our meeting, Mr. Darbari Seth started calling me beta and told me that a very big job was waiting for me at the Tatas if I do decide to work with them. But probably in my fit of arrogance I told him that I would like to work in rural India. Still he suggested that Tatas could help me in that endeavor. Later on I was told that had I wanted there was a strong possibility of my getting the directorship of Tata Energy Research Institute.
In Mumbai I also had dinner with the late Piloo Mody, the founder President of Swatantra Party and a very illustrious Member of Parliament. Mr. Mody, a rotund man with a very jolly temperament, asked me to join his party and told me that the future of people like me is in politics rather than rural development! He regaled me with the stories of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. Piloo and Bhutto were roommates in Berkeley during their student days.
In Hyderabad I visited ICRISAT and the R&D Center of BHEL. Sometime in 1980 BHEL had sent me a job offer in their R&D center. I therefore used this opportunity to find out a little more about them. One of the key officials in the R&D center was one of my IITK classmates. Most of the R&D officials who were working in renewable energy field had heard about me because of several stories which had come in the press.
My classmate was incredulous when I told him that I would like to come back and work in BHEL! He said that I was mad since almost everybody wanted to get out and go to US and when I had an excellent job there why did I want to come back? This was the general comment I heard in every organization I went to. In those days hardly anybody ever came back to India. It is only recently that the IT sector has started attracting a sizable number of NRIs to come back.
In any case I found the atmosphere at BHEL quite bleak and my classmate emphatically told me never to join the organization because there was too much politics and which project you worked on depended on the whim of the top boss.
I heard similar stories even in leading institutes like IIT Bombay and IISc Bangalore. In Bangalore I went to see Dr. Amulya Reddy’s lab on rural technology. The work did not appear to be very great but his lab used to get tremendous publicity in UK and US. I had written to him a letter similar to the one that I wrote to Shri. Darbari Seth, but Dr. Reddy never replied to it. He did not even show the courtesy of acknowledging its receipt. Besides much later on when I met him and told him about the letter he said that he never replied to letters! I had never met a more arrogant person before in my life. In US even the Nobel Laureates had the courtesy of at least acknowledging the receipt of letters.
However other staff members at IISc told me that if I wanted to join the Institute then I would be most welcome. Nevertheless I was also aware of the politics associated which such institutes though in all fairness IISc has fared much better than other such institutes in India.
This was my second visit to Bangalore, the first being in 1971. It was a beautiful city with broad tree-lined roads, tremendous greenery and hardly any traffic. Today it is one of the most polluted cities in India with traffic jams a regular feature and high rise buildings replacing trees!
In Chennai we visited the Murugappa Chettiar Research Center (MERC) which was being run by my former IITK professor Dr. C. V. Sheshadri. I had selected one of his scientists to TAET program and though Dr. Sheshadri was not in town the TAET participant showed us around. We found that they were doing quite interesting work applicable for rural areas and there was freedom for the scientists to do research. My father-in-law suggested that a similar set up can started in Phaltan where he was already running a very small institute called Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). This was the genesis of my thought process which ultimately culminated in my joining NARI when I came back to India in September 1981.
From Chennai we went to Pondicherry where we visited Aurobindo’s ashram and saw his room and the place from where he used to preach. The environment of the ashram was very quiet and peaceful. Besides we enjoyed our stay at the Pondicherry beach.
An interesting incident happened when we returned from Pondicherry to Chennai. We traveled by a state transport bus and got down close to the five star hotel where our stay was booked. It was pouring when we got down from the bus so we took 2 cycle rickshaws to take us and our luggage to the hotel. After a great difficulty the sentry of the hotel allowed the rickshaw puller to take us inside the hotel compound. It was an unheard of thing for a rickshaw to go inside the compound of a 5 star hotel since it was normally frequented by people with cars.
I was quite upset by the treatment meted out by the hotel staff to the poor rickshaw puller for no fault of his. So I decided to take him for tea with me in the hotel restaurant. The rickshaw puller refused to go inside the hotel as he was deathly afraid. Despite my pleading and telling him that he should not be afraid since I was with him, he refused to come telling me that the hotel staff would harass him later on. It reminded me of what my father once had told me that during the British Raj whenever a white man walked on the footpath the natives would get down on the road because of fear. The British were somehow replaced by the rich in independent India!
Our last stop was Phaltan from where I and my brother went to Lucknow to see my parents and then to Delhi to take the flight back to US. As we were coming to Phaltan by train I decided to take a ride in the engine. In 1980 there were steam engines still in use in this part of the country. It was my childhood dream to ride a steam engine. So I went and talked to the engine driver. He was thrilled to give a ride to a US university professor! So I and my brother rode about 50 km in the steam engine. The technology of the engine had not changed since early 1900s when they were introduced on large scale in India. Somehow that steam engine reminded me of the situation in India where we were still in the stone ages because of the socialist thinking propagated by the political leadership.
In Phaltan I spent a couple of days at my in-laws and there my father-in-law told me that if I decide to come back then I could run NARI in whatever way I wanted. By this time I had also decided that it would be much better to do something on my own, no matter how small it was, than to get a job. The offer of running NARI was therefore quite tempting and so I decided to take a plunge. It was a different matter that he reneged on his promise later on!
So without seeing the place where I would be working or the facilities available I took the decision to start my career in a very rural setting where I knew neither the local language nor the milieu! I still shudder today at the thought of my actions and do believe that I really showed the true entrepreneurial skill of jumping first and then trying to find out where I have jumped!
In Lucknow I was interviewed by the newspaper National Herald. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a couple of days later a half page interview of mine with my photograph was published in it. It elicited very good response since people where amazed that I was thinking of coming back. Shri. H. N. Bahuguna-a close friend of my father’s and one of the major opposition political leaders of India read it and informed my father that he would like to meet me. Thus I had a long meeting with him in New Delhi. I found him to be a very intelligent and articulate leader. Even later on many times whenever I met him in Delhi we used to have long discussions on energy matters! He once told me that if he became the Prime Minister he would like to make me his energy minister!
However meeting other intellectuals like George Varghese who later on became the Editor of Indian Express and some senior members of Mrs. Gandhi’s congress party gave me a feeling of gloom, but I felt that they were old and hence living in the past and thus pessimistic. I was unperturbed by all these and had firmed up my plans of coming back to Phaltan to run my own small set up. As they say in Sanskrit “Vinash Kale Vipareet Buddhi” meaning that before a person’s downfall his intelligence and ability to make proper decisions fail. I was following it perfectly!
After 25 days I returned to Gainesville and told the news to Nandini. Naturally she was thrilled that she would be able to go back to her home town Phaltan, but was not sure if I had made the right decision. But I was quite enthusiastic about it.
The day I reached Gainesville Dr. Farber immediately called me and asked me about my decision and when I told him that I was going back he was quite crestfallen and said “I hope you are making the right decision”. He obviously did not like my decision and so probably informed Mr. Alan Jacobs in Washington. Mr. Jacobs flew to Gainesville sometime in February ostensibly to discuss about the progress of TAET, but I guess his main agenda was to dissuade me from going back to India.
So Mr. Jacobs came into my office and tried to dissuade me from going back. He sat in my office for nearly four hours discussing various issues and told me that I was committing hara-kiri in going back. “I have been to India many times and have seen the conditions. When everybody in the world is coming to US, I really find it strange that you are going back and specially from a good place like Gainesville”, he said. “You know with my clout in Washington I can get you a green card in a second and can even put the issue of US citizenship on a fast track”, he informed me. “All these issues can be taken care of. You are extremely important to the success of the TAET program and we would not like to loose you” he told me almost pleading with me.
After about 4 hours I told him “Mr. Jacobs I was not born in US so I cannot become the President of US but I can become the Prime Minister of India! Isn’t it enough reason for me to go back!”. “Oh so you have political ambitions” he remarked. I said “No that is beside the point. India is my own country and I would like to go back and try to do something worthwhile with the knowledge I have gained in US”. I had become so arrogant that any voice of reason was immediately shut out. I was a shining example of “Vinash Kale Vipareet Buddhi”.
Mr. Jacobs was not convinced or happy with my decision. “Are you coming to Washington anytime soon” he asked. “Yes I do have plans to go to Washington to see some of my friends before I leave US” I said. “Come and see us. Maybe you can change your mind about going back to India”, he said while leaving.
After this discussion I am sure he briefed Dr. Farber because again Farber called me to ask my final decision and when he found out that I was not going to budge he decided to search for my replacement.
So I framed the necessary advertisement and also interviewed the candidates. I thought that was the right thing to do. Most of the candidates thought it odd that I was interviewing them to replace me! This is what I have always tried to tell my staff at NARI but very rarely has it ever happened that somebody who is leaving will help in finding their substitute.
Just before I resigned from TAET in June 1981 I got an opportunity to visit Egypt as a consultant. One of the TAET external lecturers was a staff member from Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA), an NGO based in Washington D.C. They used to do quite a lot of work for USAID in different countries. The lecturer had come to Gainesville on our invitation and wanted me to go to Egypt to evaluate their national kerosene cooking program.
I accepted the offer on one condition that I should be given two days off to see the pyramids and the Cairo museum. This was agreed to and I enjoyed my one-week stay in Cairo as a guest of the National Petroleum Research Center evaluating their kerosene cooking project. All of the former TAET participants from Egypt got together in Cairo and showed me the pyramids and the Cairo museum.
I also saw the poverty and corruption in Egypt which was similar to that in India and witnessed the seething anger beneath the surface against President Anwar Sadat. The TAET participants informed me that there was a tremendous rise in Muslim fundamentalism in Egypt and their anger was directed towards US. Since Anwar Sadat was perceived as an agent of US hence it was directed towards him. Just 6 months after my visit President Sadat was assassinated by his own security guards.
During the Egyptian visit the first strike of Airport Controllers in US took place, so all the air traffic was disrupted. I got caught in this disruption and so my flights to and from London were cancelled. The Pan American Airlines put me up in a hotel in London and this gave me an opportunity to see the city. I saw the famous London Museum and also went to meet the Editor of New Scientist the famous science journal. He had given me an invitation to visit him quite sometime back. He took me to lunch in a Gujarati Restaurant in the center of London. I told him that I did not need to eat Indian food. “I and my staff eat here everyday”, he replied. That was when I realized the growing popularity of Indian food in Britain. That was 1981. Nowadays it has become a huge business in UK and in fact the food of the Indian subcontinent is the most popular food in that country.
The next month went in packing our household goods for sending them back by ship. Since I was going to set up an Energy Lab at NARI I had bought a lot of equipment that I thought I might need. Later on I found out that they were quite inadequate and hence added majority of the equipment to my lab from local sources.
We decided to take back only books, some crockery, an old music system and scientific equipment. We used to live in Diamond village quite frugally so there was hardly anything else to take. Our apartment in Diamond village was probably the only apartment which did not have air-conditioning (AC). I thought if we got used to AC comforts then we might not be able to manage in India. Thus every July/August during the hottest and the most humid months of the year our resolve would nearly be broken but we survived for nearly 5 years without air-conditioning.
I used to have a secondhand black and white TV set which I had purchased for $50 and sold it to another student for the same price. Similarly my Toyota car which I had purchased secondhand for $ 600 was also sold for $ 600 which I thought was a good deal since I had used it for 5 years. It was a basic car with no air-conditioning or any other frills like radio etc.
We packed all our books and other household goods in cartons which we picked up from garbage bins outside liquor stores or bars since all the liquor was packed in nice carton boxes. Packing all this material made me quite an expert packer and I used to tell Nandini that in case my experiments at NARI fail then I can earn money by becoming a packer.
We also made a detailed list of contents in each and every box. All these boxes were put in a wooden crate and the whole shipment weighed about 1.5 tons. It was dispatched from Jacksonville, the nearest seaport. The shipping company also informed us that there was tremendous pilferage which took place at Mumbai port so we should be certain that our man was present when the shipment arrived. So I informed my father-in-law about it who in turn informed his brother-in-law the commander-in-chief (CC) of the Western Naval Command in Mumbai! Thus the ship carrying my shipment was tracked by the navy satellite and led to an amusing incident.
When the shipment arrived in Bombay sometime in October 1981 the Commissioner of Customs was informed that an important shipment of CC has come. Thus at the Bombay port when I went to collect it quite a number of customs officers were present since they were curious about it. I gave the concerned customs officer the thick file with detailed lists of material in the boxes.
The customs officer could not believe that what I had brought in 1½ ton crate was nothing but books, my old music system, some household crockery and scientific equipment. He kept on asking me to give him some scotch whisky since majority of boxes were either of Black Label scotch or Chivas Regal! Finally he could not control himself and told me that he had never seen a more stupid person in his life who came back after 7 years’ of stay in US and in transfer of residence did not bring either a car, a refrigerator, an air-conditioner or a TV but only books. He asked me why the Commissioner of Customs was informed when I had nothing to declare! Till my shipment left the dockyard he was still not convinced whether I had told him the truth or had hidden something in my boxes which he could not find!
After the dispatch of the shipment both of us decided to visit all our friends in US before leaving the country. Thus we bought ‘See America’ passes of Eastern Airlines for $ 300 each which allowed us unlimited travel all over US for 1 month. This was a wonderful and very economic way to see America.
Most of my IITK friends were really amazed at our decision to go back to India. Some of them said that they would like to do a similar thing. So I told them to join me, but they gave all sorts of reasons such as they could not get good whisky in India, could not do proper shopping etc. etc.! They had really become Americans and to them these things were far more important than anything else. Now I realize that one has to be a mad person or have a “janoon” to take such drastic steps as we did. Later on I realized that it also requires quite a lot of guts to do so.
We also visited Washington D.C. to meet our friends the Baardas and to again see the Smithsonian Museum. I also informed Mr. Jacobs about my coming to Washington and since he was out of town during the time of our visit he asked his colleague Mr. Bill Eilers to meet me. Bill a Physics major from Harvard University was the Director of Energy Office in USAID. He had come to Gainesville a couple of times to evaluate TAET and had got a liking for me.
So he first took us to show his office and pointed out that I would be occupying his chair if I do decide to stay back. Then over a sumptuous lunch in one of the best Chinese restaurants in Washington D.C. he again asked me to rethink over my decision to go back. He also suggested that they might use my services for consultancy later. However it never materialized because next year Bill passed away. I lost a dear friend in the USAID Energy Office.
We left US permanently on India’s Independence Day – August 15, 1981. There was a tinge of sadness in leaving the country where I had spent 7 very happy and productive years. There was also a sense of anticipation and a little apprehension regarding our future in India. In any case the die was cast and I have never brooded over the past but have looked towards the future.
We spent the next 15 days traveling in Europe. We visited a couple of our friends in Basel, Switzerland and Strasbourg, France and saw great museums and old churches in these cities and nearby areas.
We also used this trip to attend the International Solar Energy Society (ISES) conference which was held in Brighton. U.K. It gave us an opportunity to see London and the garish “Taj Mahal” of Brighton.
We arrived in hot and humid Mumbai on 30th August 1981. The putrid and sewage filled air of Mumbai airport greeted us as if to remind us that we had arrived back home. We reached Phaltan on 31st August 1981. On 1st September 1981 which was my 31st birthday both of us were given appointment letters as research scientists in NARI!
It has been little more than 25 years since I came back from US. In late 1981 when I returned, very few Indians with an IIT degree came back. Even the ones who did come back went to big cities like Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore etc. I went straight to rural Maharashtra which was as alien to me as any foreign country since I hardly knew the local language or the milieu. This was because I had mostly spent my life staying in cities in Northern India.
Why did I do it and was it worth?
I came back to India because of my arrogance. I thought with my father’s political connection with Shri. Sunder Lall and others and with scientists like Dr. Atma Ram I would be able to get involved in the energy and technology scene at the National level. Also the inflated notion about my own ability made me believe that I would help change India.
India is a very old civilization and great spiritual and political leaders like Gautam Buddha, Ashoka, Akbar, Mahatma Gandhi, etc. could not change it and yet I felt in 1981 that I would play an important role in doing so. How wrong I was! India did not change but changed me and this is that story. I consider my coming back as the detoxification of Anil Rajvanshi! In fact I thank the higher forces for making me think irrationally such that I left everything to come to rural Maharashtra! I chose Phaltan because this was the only place I knew at that time where I could do something on my own.
This is also the story of my self-discovery and I have always thanked the higher forces for giving me a place, no matter how small it is, where I could think deeply on different issues, reflect on them and write about them. At the same time remaining connected to the outside world via the Internet allowed me to share my thoughts with like-minded people on a much bigger scale.
My decision of coming back to rural Maharashtra was never dictated by altruism of helping India but was due to the selfish reason of doing something meaningful in my life. The challenge of using technology for rural development was tremendous. However at that time with the knowledge and wisdom that I had, I never planned for long-term goals. I just crossed the bridges as they came. In fact I have never done any long-term planning and have accepted events as they come.
However there were lots of struggles initially. Very soon after coming back the ground realities hit me and all the romance and arrogance vanished. Phaltan was a very difficult place to live and work in those days. I and Nandini lived for 2 years in slums of Phaltan in a small rented house. We moved into our house designed by me in early 1984. It is a comfortable house and has a passive cooling system which is very useful for Phaltan climate. We both used to daily bicycle to the Institute a distance of about 3 kms one way. In 1984 my brother who was going to Saudi Arabia as an orthopedic surgeon gave me his old scooter which he had got in 1975 from Chief Minister’s quota! That was our first vehicle.
For purchasing even small things one had to go to Pune - a town 100 km away. Now with milk, sugarcane and horticulture economy, Phaltan has grown to be a mid-size town with super markets and availability of other services. Also the communication was almost non-existent in those times. For example just to make a long distance phone call to any place was a nightmare. One had to book a call in the early morning and if one was lucky the call would materialize by the evening. So quite a few times I would hop on the bus and go to Pune just to make phone calls. The bus journey in those times took about 4 hours one way. Today the situation is much better with the availability of broadband connection and telephone facility to call anywhere in the world without a problem. Also the roads are much improved which has about halved the travel time from Phaltan to Pune.
When I came to Phaltan there was a flat piece of land where I was supposed to start building my energy lab. The Institute had a small building with almost no other infrastructure. I got an old fan fitted in my office and that was the only fan in the whole Institute. Besides one rarely had electricity so the fan was mostly non-functional! In the early days of setting up my lab, it was very difficult to get engineers and scientists. It took me nearly 4 years to get the lab functional and hire decent staff. Even now there is a tremendous problem in getting good staff. The situation has become worse because we cannot compete with the very high pay packets being offered by the industry.
Thus now I realize that one of the biggest drawbacks in setting up the Institute in a rural area is getting good people to come and work. The rural infrastructure precludes any long-term commitment by people to work in such institutes. This has been the main reason why NARI has remained a small institute. Still even with the small staff and infrastructure we have been able to do commendable work with lots of firsts to our name. Our Institute therefore is quite well-known nationally and internationally.
During my stay in Phaltan there have been many frustrating as well as exhilarating moments. Just 6 months after coming back with reality and frustration setting in I decided to leave. So Nandini started packing our household goods. After half an hour of packing I suddenly realized that if I also go back to US then I would become another data point of the millions of Indians who are in US. I asked myself that why am I quitting now when I was so proud of taking a different path? This was the last time I ever gave a thought of quitting. Though I had to suffer through many trials and tribulations later on, the thought of leaving Phaltan never crossed my mind again.
My work at NARI has mostly focused on developing devices and policies for rural development with special emphasis on the use of high technology for holistic and sustainable India. When some of these technologies and ideas have been picked up nationally and internationally then it has been an exhilarating experience.
For example our work on Taluka energy self sufficiency became a national policy. Similarly our pioneering work on ethanol from sweet sorghum is now established nationally and internationally. So is our work on gasifiers, safflower, lanterns, ethanol stoves, electric cycle rickshaws and vehicles for the handicapped, etc. All these pioneering efforts have inspired people all over the world. This has given me a great satisfaction. Our work is on our website which is extensively accessed worldwide. For our efforts in rural development we have also received quite a few prestigious national and international awards.
I came back with tremendous idealism to see a change in India for betterment, to see the rural areas become progressive and the general level of living of majority of people to improve. In 25 years I have seen the tremendous rise of middle class, the wealthy becoming ultra wealthy and the corruption increasing manifold. In fact it is now an important quality in a person to be corrupt, because if you are not corrupt then you are not dynamic! This is really a painful realization and also the fact that the role models for the young have nearly vanished.
In our times the role models were Nehru, Gandhi and scores of other great people who had sacrificed their lives for the country. Now the role models are gods and goddesses of western society, the Paris Hiltons, the Bill Gates, the Sabir Bhatias, etc. The pay packet is the biggest god and role model for almost all the youngsters. The upward bound middle class with a large number of shopping malls chockfull of consumer goods and increase in their so called “standard of living” gives them a feeling that India has arrived.
Yet 60% of our rural population lives without electricity and without the basic amenities of life. Only when they start committing suicides do they enter into our national consciousness or vision field. It is these people who are the future of India and yet it is sad to see that there is no national debate or seriousness of purpose to improve their lot. All the measures by political parties are targeted towards the next elections and with their very short attention span no long-term strategies and appropriate implementing mechanisms are being put in place.
Most of the times during my 25 years’ of stay in Phaltan I have interacted with the rural population, but also had occasions to interact with the highest “rulers” of the land. The quality of these leaders leaves much to be desired. One of the greatest tragedies of India has been its corruption which is like a cancer and is eating into its entrails. The first causality in a corrupt society is governance and because of the lack of governance most of the fundamental issues have not been tackled in India.
India is a young society where 54% of its population is below 25 years’ of age. The aspirations of this young society, majority of whose members live in rural India are not being fulfilled. Most of the modern rulers of India have come from urban settings and have no understanding of the rural areas or the welfare of the farmers who are the mainstay of the country, with the result that they spout the slogans of rural development but do not know how it can be achieved.
Yet to find the solutions to the problems of our rural population offers the greatest challenge for any engineer or technologist and I feel that most of the Indians who are abroad should help in trying to solve these problems with the help of extremely advanced tools of science and technology. After all whatever we are and wherever we are is because of the early life that we spent in this country. The real challenges are in India and if we can improve the lives of our rural population then we would have solved the problem of 1/5th of mankind!
I have no regrets about coming back to India and especially to Phaltan, because I cannot imagine having done all the things that I have done here anywhere else - more so in the US. Besides living in rural Indian setting teaches you many things.
For a starter it makes you spiritual! With hardly any avenues to spend money and availability of very little amenities one starts living a simple life which is the first step towards spirituality. Initially one does not like it but with time one starts to enjoy the benefits of simplified life. Thus I recommend such a life for almost everybody who believes in sustainability because when one becomes sustainable in personal life then the world automatically will become sustainable. One can live a simple, high thinking and emotionally satisfying life in much less energy.
This does not mean that we should live a primitive life. In fact the extremely high technologies that provide modern tools of communication and power are an important part of reducing the energy consumption thereby promoting sustainable living. What is needed is to curb our greed for resources which promotes consumptive lifestyle.
This is a very hard lesson to learn for people who live in big cities, metropolises or western countries. The daily seduction by high-powered ad campaigns is very difficult to thwart. However when simplicity becomes a way of life then one becomes quite immune to the effects of such seduction!
I therefore thank the higher forces who made me come to rural India so that I could develop this feeling of simplicity in my daily life and now I feel that it is my duty and responsibility to spread the message. This I have been doing through my work, speeches and writings.
Internet has provided a powerful tool to spread the message and I feel satisfaction in the knowledge that all the NARI work and my writings occupy a very high place on the Google search engine. Thus our work is read extensively and hopefully inspires people round the world. This is attested to by the fact that we receive voluminous e-mails and our work and writings are quoted on other sites and in blogs.
I have always believed that the purpose of human beings is to first become happy and self contented and then give something back to the society. Coming back to India and Phaltan has helped me to do both these things.
As I have become internally more secure, the level of contentment has also increased. Similarly I feel that with our work we have been able to give back something to the society.
Nevertheless in all these matters one should try to follow one’s inner voice. If the parameters of success are to be dictated by others then one cannot claim to be internally secure and content. The measures of success and failure should be honestly evaluated by oneself.
Thus to a lot of people I may have been a failure when after so much promise in US I left everything to come back to rural India but I use the measure of my contentment and find that I have not done that badly!
I still have regrets that probably in my lifetime I will not be able to see India as a land of prosperity and contentment, where most of our citizens do not have to follow the rat race of US or China where the greed for materials and resources knows no bounds, but will be able to live a life which is meaningful, happy and contented and thus sustainable and holistic. It is the India of my dreams and if in any way I have been, or can continue to be able to contribute a little towards this goal then I feel that my life has been a success.
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