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Review: The making of Sam pitroda

, December 2, 2015, 0 Comments

making-sam-pitroda-marketexpress-inThe telecom sector made dramatic progress in India during the last 20 years or so. It was one of the major achievements of the UPA era. A key person behind this dynamic revolution was none other than Sam Pitroda. He was like a friend to Rajiv Gandhi and continued to serve the country under the leadership of Dr Manmohan Singh. Culling out extracts from his new book we try to peep into the human side of this technological genius.

Sam Pitroda was born in a poor family. In his autobiography, he writes, “The dwelling where I was born was tiny, but then my father began making a little money, enough to build a house near the train tracks – three small rooms, a kitchen, a veranda. All of the kids, eight of us eventually slept in one room on mats.”

The school he went to inculcate Gandhian values. He writes, “Our teachers wore the Gandhian dhoti. The atmosphere was suffused with Gandhian teachings. The emphasis at Sharda Mandir was on living a moral life, being honest in everything, and never lying, stealing or doing anything disruptive to the community, and taking responsibility for ourselves.”

On his college life Pitroda writes, “The major subjects I studied were physics, mathematics and chemistry. Chemistry I wasn’t fond of, but physics and mathematics I found captivating….Mathematical series, especially, opened up a new world of thought – the Jacobian series, the Taylor series and the trigonometric series.”

Talking about his early influences he says, “Gandhi became my role model for truth, simplicity, love, sacrifice, character and ethics. And Einstein became my role model for scientific thinking, imagination and innovations.”

In spite of his Indian village upbringings he made sincere efforts to adapt to cultures of a different world. On his first journey by ship while going to America for studies, he mentions, “I realized I had to adapt. I wasn’t going to eat with my hands anymore. I had to behave the way people around me behaved. Our fellow passengers would put their napkins on their laps, so I did the same.”

On his journey to America, he had touched London. On his experiences in London, he writes, “We spent the next couple of days in London getting oriented to the Western lifestyle. We loved London. The double-decker buses, the bobbies with their funny hats, the mounted soldiers outside Whitehall in their splendid uniforms. London was beautiful and clean.”

Describing life in London, he further writes, “Even more impressive was the sense of orderliness all around. Everyone was doing whatever they were doing, the vendors, shoppers, sightseers. But it wasn’t at all chaotic; there was no mass confusion, the noise level didn’t break your eardrums.”

On the education system in America, he comments, “Studying in America was an altogether different experience. In India, I was taught to remember facts. I was tested and graded only once a year on the basis of my memory. In the US I had options to select courses and I was tested and graded every few weeks on a regular basis. I was taught to focus on problem-solving and critical thinking, collaboration, teamwork and a lot more.”

His financial condition was none too comfortable in America during the initial years. On his family’s experience, he writes, “Our lives, Anu’s and mine, were progressing smoothly. We picked up a black-and-white TV in decent working condition from the garbage, bought a used refrigerator for 10 dollars, a stove for 20 and a sofa for 40, and began our journey – with little money but lots of adventures.”

Looking back over his illustrious career in India dealing with C-DOT, Technology Missions, Telecom Commission and so on he observes, “I realized that I am also at the crossroads, like world and my India. Technology has changed everything, including me, and the potential for change is even bigger in the future. It is time for me to change too? Now that I am not going to be preoccupied with India, it is time to pay attention to the wishes of my family? I know that Anu wants me to spend more time at home, travel less, meet with family and friends, and focus on my health.”

Keeping in perspective his four year old granddaughter Sam Pitroda writes, “I want Aria to know that I was a loner. I never could fit into any box, club or society…. I also built a network of connections and contacts with global leaders and champions. I want Aria to know that I lived in multiple countries, different cultures – and multiple realities – at the same time. I had lots of energy and focus, and learned to get things done against all the odds of the world stacked up against me.”

Sam Pitroda, ‘Dreaming Big – My Journey to Connect India’, Penguin Books.