A dangerous optimist, Mashelkar is uniquely multifaceted. In 1998, this scientist received J.R.D. Tata Corporate Leadership Award, an exclusive honour reserved for Indian Corporates. In 1998, he was also elected Fellow of Royal Society, the topmost honour reserved for world’s pathbreaking scientists. But then he also pioneered `Gandhian Engineering’ -`More from less for more people’ – catering to the needs of the poor. And why? Mashelkar says, as a poor boy, he studied under streetlights. He understands the pains of poverty.
Mashelkar valiantly fought and revoked the wrong US patents on turmeric and Basmati rice based on India’s traditional knowledge. But to US multinationals, he licensed patents based on modern knowledge of Indian laboratories, pioneering the trend of reverse transfer of technology.
He is a Director on boards of India’s leading companies, from Tatas to Reliance. 38 global universities have bestowed honorary doctorates upon him. The Government’s trust in him shows through the twelve high-powered Mashelkar Committees, many of them on contentious issues.
As its leader, Mashelkar transformed CSIR, the world’s largest chain of laboratories-heralded as one of the top ten achievements of Indian Science & Technology in the 20th century. He has received Padmavibhushan at the hands of President of India and Star of Asia at the hands of George Bush (Sr), former US President.
f god permits one wish, Mashelkar says he will ask for one day on earth again in 2050 to see his dream coming true – India as a leading advanced nation.
I am a great believer in the amazingprowess of Indian Talent. Our erstwhile Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee used to say `India’s future is in IT, namely IT as in Information Technology’. I also used to say ‘India’s future is in IT, but it is IT as in Indian Talent!’
I had attended a seminar on export competitiveness of India several years ago. There was a discussion about what could be India’s best export to the world. Someone cryptically remarked “without doubt, they are the IIT graduates!” In other words, he was saying that India is a great exporter of top Indiantalent!
In this top Indian talent, perhaps the Maharashtrian talent leads in every field. Garje Marathi has demonstrated that this hypothesis is absolutely true by highlighting the very best of Maharashtrian Diaspora, who have been top performers in several chosen fields, namely, academia, civil/ architecture, economics, entrepreneurship, medicine, medical research, technology, theatre and music and even spirituality!
The book carries inspiring stories of great achievers, who have left a deep imprint by their life and work, wherever in the world they went, from US to Europe, from UAE to Singapore!
Reading this book was a thrilling experience for me. In many cases it was a journey down the memory lane, since I have not only known some of these high achievers but I have been also a fellow traveller with them in their journey of life.
Let me elaborate this with just one case. This is the case of a great genius, Avinash Dixit. Avinash (1959-1961) and I (1960-1962) studied in Jai Hind College in Mumbai. The genius in him was obvious to us in those college days, when I and my friend and classmate from Jai Hind College, Arun Dravid, used to go to Avinash to seek his guidance on how to write an ideal exam paper. We would try to do our best, but our best was not good enough for Avinash; he had such high standards! He believed in a ladder of excellence that was simply limitless!
Incidentally, in 1961, Avinash stood first in Mumbai University in Inter science with 89% marks, a record at that time. Next year that is in 1962 Arun Dravid stood first and I stood second in Inter science in Mumbai University.
But my special memories are that of the year 1963. Avinash had stood first in B.Sc. with mathematics principal and physics subsidiary. The day the results were declared, he invited me for a cup of tea in the evening at his residence. He congratulated me for standing first in the first year Chemical Engineering exam in Mumbai University Department of Chemical Technology (MUDCT) by breaking the record. I also congratulated him little realising that he had also broken the record, because I never asked him as to what marks he had got. We then went for a walk on Marine Lines.
Someone met him on the way, who after congratulating him, also asked him about his marks. Avinash said he got 100%. I was shocked. Avinash had created a record, which can only be equalled but can never be broken. And he continued to climb on the limitless ladder of excellence during the rest of his life!
I lost contact with Avinash, as he did his well-known Mumbai-Cambridge-MIT- Berkeley-Princeton journey. In contrast, my journey was simply Mumbai-Salford-Pune! Why? Despite having Fellowship offers from some top US and Canadian universities after my B. Chem. Eng. in 1966, I decided not to go abroad. I decided to do Ph.D. in MUDCT in India with my great Guru, Prof M.M. Sharma, who had inspired me. After a brief 6 year teaching and research stint in U.K., I returned to India at the age of 33 to serve Indian science. This happened due to an inspiring meeting with Dr Nayudamma, the then DG of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in the year 1974. He had visited London, had met me, inspired me and had given a clarion call to me as a young Indian scientist to return to serve the motherland. I instantly responded by returning to India. So my entire professional career (after being an NRI for a brief while) was in India and my path never crossed with Avinash. And then our paths crossed in November 2005 thanks to NAS, which is the US National Academy of Science. NAS was established in 1863. It is the most prestigious science academy of the world, besides, of course, Royal Society of London, which was established in 1660. It is very difficult to get elected to NAS. Just to prove that point, one of my friends would always remind me that Sir Harry Kroto was elected as Fellow of NAS, but only five years after he had won the Nobel Prize!
Since 1863, only six Indians working in India were elected to NAS. In 2005, I became the 7th. By a great coincidence, Avinash was also elected to NAS in 2005. In a special NAS ceremony in Boston in November 2005, both of us were inducted as NAS Fellows. Reuniting after 40 plus years after travelling altogether different paths, Avinash in USA and me in India, and then signing on the same page in the NAS Fellowship book was something very very special.
Our paths were about to cross again, when both of us were bestowed with the honour of Padma Vibushan by the President of India. I received it in 2014 and Avinash in 2016. I wish we had received this civilian honour in the same year, just as we received the NAS honour for our scientific research in the same year! I had met Nobel Laureate Prof Amartya Sen during the release of his book ‘Argumentative Indian’ in Rashtrapati Bhavan a few years ago. Prof Sen and Avinash are close friends. Prof Sen told me that Avinash’s work is considered to be game changing and that Avinash is a fit candidate for Nobel Prize. I was so proud to hear this. I hope and pray that this happens sooner rather than later. If and when that happens, he will become the first individual of Maharashtrian origin to win it.
I read a comment by Avinash in Garje Marathi. Referring to the scene on research and technology in India, he says, ‘There is much improvement in this area and Dr. Mashelkar has greatly contributed to the improved conditions’. I was proud to see this endorsement, as this is precisely my mission for last 40 years since I came back to India at the young age of 33! I have written rather extensively about Avinash, I could do that for others that I have known personally too.
I could write about Sadanand Joshi, who pioneered Horizontal Well Technology, and made a big contribution through his ‘Joshi Equation’. I could write about Abhay Ashtekar, who’s Loop Quantum Gravity as an approach to unify Einstein’s general relativity with quantum physics has been pioneering. I could write about young Samir Mitragotri, who has scaled such great heights by becoming a Fellow of US National Academy of Engineering, US National Academy of Inventors and also US National Academy of Medicine at the age of 45, an amazing feat! I could write about young Abhi Gholap, who is a great technopreneur, and whom I saw climb a steep ladder of excellence, when I served as the Chairman of Scientific Advisory Committee of his company Optra 10 years ago. I could also write about Srikant Datar, from whom I learned about how we must rethink the MBA, when we worked together as members of the Board of Directors of KPIT Technologies. These are some of the individuals, with whom I have directly interacted. But I could also write about my admiration and appreciation of the life and work of those in the book that I have not known personally but whom I have admired enormously over the years for their path- breaking contributions. But I will avoid that temptation for want of space.
I want to thank Anand Ganu for giving me this opportunity to go down the memory lane. Many of the Marathi super- achievers covered in the book have come from areas that I have spent my childhood in, for example, Girgaon, Worli, Dadar… Many have gone to colleges that were iconic in our times, Jai Hind, Elphinstone, Fergusson… I also want to thank Anand for giving me the opportunity to feel proud of our world class Maharashtrian talent, of amazing Maharashtrian achievers, for reminding us again that a Marathi mind has always proved to be second to none, given an opportunity and this ‘opportunity’ issue reminds me of an anecdote.
I was chairing a committee for the selection of the Chief Innovation Officer of National Innovation Foundation. I found that the individual that I was interviewing had experience in branding a product. I said “I want to brand my India. How would you do that?” He was puzzled. He had branded a soap and a refrigerator, but he wondered as to how he could brand a nation. I said “I will make it easy for you. Let me tell you as to how other nations brand themselves. For instance, US brands itself as a land of opportunity!” He immediately replied, “I will brand India as a land of ideas”. Now here is the issue. India is a land of ideas but it is US that is a land of opportunities. That is why our young people with aspirations go to US, which provides them an opportunity to reach their own potential. Our challenge is to make India a land of opportunity.
My Convocation address to Pune University in 2003 was titled ‘Brain drain to brain gain to brain circulation’ and I ended it by saying ‘It was always great to be an Indian. Now it is great to be in India’. I say so because I firmly believe that India is well on its way to become a land of opportunity; and there can’t be a better proof than the one I will give now through another anecdote. I was addressing a gathering of young students. The title of my talk was ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram’ I said Satya Nadella is now the CEO of Microsoft. Sundar Pichai is the CEO of Google. May be, one of you will become the Shiva, taking over the role of CEO of, may be Apple! One of the young fellows got up and said something that still reverberates in my ears. He said “Sir, please try to understand our generation. Your generation was one where you wanted to somehow land in USA and may be seek a job in Microsoft, Google and so on. The next generation was one, who had the ambition of becoming the CEOs of Microsoft, Google and so on. Our generation wants to create our own Googles, our own Microsofts here in India.” This may appear to be somewhat hyped but it also tells us the confidence of our current young generation about their belief that India can and India will emerge as a land of opportunity.
As they say, you can take a Maharashtrian out of Maharashtra. But you cannot take Maharashtra out of a Maharashtrian. The book carries some interesting chapters on how Marathi is preserved in China, Israel and Mauritius. And I have witnessed this myself in a space of just two years. I remember I was invited as a Chief Guest at the Bruhan Maharashtra Mandal (BMM) convention in Atlanta in 2005. I was amazed to see the pride, energy, enthusiasm and commitment of over 3000 Maharashtrians in that gathering. Shortly thereafter, I was a chief guest at Maharashtra Mandal’s annual event at London. Again I witnessed a phenomenal commitment to preservation of our culture and heritage. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to give the annual Presidential Lecture in the world famous ETH University in Zurich. Somehow, the news went around and there was a spontaneous gathering organised by the BMM Switzerland. It was a Dussera day and we all celebrated it in a way that I felt as though I was in India! And shortly thereafter, I received the honour of giving the Wolff-Ramanujan lecture in Paris. French Academy of Science was my host. The news again went around. And we had a gathering of Maharashtra Mandal, where I spoke. I witnessed the same zest for preserving our culture, our traditions with great pride. I only talked about my experience in Atlanta, London, Zurich and Paris. But I am sure this must be the case around the world. I feel so proud. But I also feel proud about another thing. Our Maharashtrians , while shining in their Karmabhumi, which opened for them the world of opportunity, have not forgotten their Janmabhumi. Each one of them is giving back and that too in their own way. Garje Marathi captures that spirit and more. And that is why, for every Maharashtrian this book is a must read.
Finally, my hearty congratulations to Anand, Suneeta, Shailesh, Gayatree, Abhinav, Shyam, Shankar, and indeed all others in the ‘Team Garje Marathi’ for bringing out this master piece. I have only one suggestion. It was logical to do this book in English. But do translate it in Marathi so that it reaches out to the nook and corner of Maharashtra, especially the young, who will be inspired with these amazing stories of the stars amongst our Maharashtrian Diaspora and also develop the spirit of