Meeting Dr Raghunath Mashelkar would be a dream come true for any true blooded city reporter. Meeting him for an interview that has nothing to do with his achievements as an eminent scientist and achiever but as an conceptualiser and an editor, whose latest book on Gandhi has made him part of an Indian’s everyday conversation is a priceless opportunity that came to me on a platter.
The venue and the time were fixed.
All I had to do was show up. And read the book in concern, of course. Which I did.
Timeless Inspirator – Reliving Gandhi – can leave us, the third generation Indian of an Independent India – dumbfounded. After reading about 10 chapters it also struck me that this book can also inspire us; this third generation, cynical Indian who has grown up bombarded by varying views on the Father of our Nation, his eccentricity, his sexual preferences, his idealism, his weakness and so on – leading us to decry the essence of his principles and teachings in our lives altogether.
Reaching out to this sceptic, this Indian, me, is this compilation of the thoughts and beliefs of the existence, prevalence and relevance of Gandhi’s teachings through 45 icons of an emerging superpower; a compilation that proves to us that though we may disparage the relevance of Gandhi today, the 45 icons of our nation believe that his teachings hold merit today more than ever before.
This book brought me a sense of connect with the MAN, not the icon, the persona or the legend, making me move on from merely referring to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as Bapu and Father of the Nation to the fourth generation Indian of an independent soon-to-be-superpower India growing in my own home, to someone whose thoughts and ideals are worth holding on to even today.
Pune Metro (PM) caught up with Dr Mashelkar (Dr M) at his office on a sunny afternoon where he spoke about what Gandhi meant to him, how the book originated in his mind and where he sees the book heading.
PM: “First of all, our heartiest congratulations on the launch of this unique work of art. It is an amazing compilation and a superb product.”
Dr Mashelkar: “Yes. It’s a world class product in terms of quality. The design of the cover has the names of the icons – it’s their book. And the two wheels of a Charkha were replaced by a symbol of infinity to exemplify the timelessness of the ideas captured in the book.”
PM: “How did the idea of the book originate?”
Dr Mashelkar: “Well, I was honoured by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering in 2008, when I gave a speech entitled `Indian Innovation: From Gandhi & Gandhian Engneering’. I had then said that India’s greatest gift to the world in the 21st century would be Gandhiji’s teachings.
I spoke about Gandhian Engineering (More from less for more) anchored on the two important tenets – affordability and sustainability. Later I wondered how an architect or a scientist or a corporate leader today would view Gandhi’s philosophy. I wanted to include a kaleidoscope of experiences that spoke of Gandhiji’s philosophy and its relevance today. Thus the idea was born.
Amazing thing about this project is that idea was conceived in March 2010 and the book came out in October. So concept to realisation took just 6 months.”
PM: “What prompted you to choose these 45 icons that have been featured in the book?”
Dr Mashelkar: “The idea was to contact the iconic achievers of the country, all of them I hold in high regard. From people like Narayana Murthy, scientists like R K Pachauri, social workers, people who have done a lot for society, Abhay Bang, Dr Mohan Dharia, people like Kiran Bedi, who transformed Tihar jail, sportsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar… a kaleidoscope. Amazingly, practically all 50 of them said we can’t say No to you. As you can see from the list they are the busiest of the lot. 45 could submit their manuscripts in time.”
PM: “The book is outstanding. What according to you was the strength that ensured this book was out in 6 months flat?”
Dr Mashelkar: “I must admit here that I had a terrific editorial team – Jayshree Shahade, Dr Triveni Goswami Mathur, Sushil Borde. I would say the contribution of people like Abhijeet (Pawar) was fantastic because when we approached him for publication of this book it took him 10 seconds to say yes. Ashutosh and his team in Sakal publications worked so hard. And finally, for the launch we decided that the last of the Gandhian that we have, Mohan Dharia, he is 87, should release this book and where else but Aga Khan Palace to release this book and what other day but 2nd October to release it. The day, time was right and the whole experience at the release function was so uplifting and there you are!”
PM: “Who is your personal favourite amongst the 45 authors who’ve contributed to the book?”
Dr Mashelkar: (Laughs) “They’re all my favourites. I cannot really single any one out. All of them have also been friends by the way. People like Sam Pitroda, Sunil Gavaskar, Kiran Bedi I’ve known for a long time. (Narayana)Murthy and I have been very close. Rahul (Bajaj) is a personal friend, R K Pachauri, Pachy as we call him is also a friend. So practically everyone out of the 45 has been very well known to me.
But if you ask me what is the reader’s reaction, even some of my best friends, who are scientists said that when we got the book in hand we read Sachin (Tendulkar) further adding we will read the remaining later (laughs). That tells you about the unabashed admiration that every Indian has for Sachin.
I think all of them are absolute gems. All of them are people I respect enormously. All of them are also people with enormous integrity.”
PM: “What I found incredible as a reader is that some of them such as Sam Pitroda or Pachauri who we know so little about as ‘people’ there’s a lot of personal insight that has gone into their writing.”
Dr Mashelkar: Yes, you are right. I would like to quote from what Vijay (Bhatkar) told me (he sends an email to Gandhiji). When I first read his piece there were tears rolling down my eyes. Vijay said “I didn’t write it. It was like somebody else was writing it for me, like he told me to write it.”
And most authors have thanked me for giving them a chance to write because they said we did a huge introspection.
Actually if you want to know more about these individuals, you will get to know about them by reading this book and what they have written. It’s a kind of a mirror. Look at Rahul Bajaj – he is so transparent. He has tried to look at himself (in his write up). He has done enormous introspection – how he has lived up to the values of his father, etc…
Some of them told me that because of this challenge they bought books and read Gandhi again.
Many of them did it under conditions that were so hard . For example, Anil Kakodkar was down with Malaria and Pneumonia at the same time. He came out of the hospital and wrote his piece.
Perhaps the busiest of them all, Narayana Murthy was the first to submit.”
PM: “What are your expectations from the book?”
Dr Mashelkar: “I have great expectations from this book. I want it to be read by the younger generation. We’re trying to get the book to reach out to them.
What we see in the book is India’s iconic achievers giving a contemporary view and reflecting on the relevance of Gandhi in the modern scenario.
I don’t think this has ever been done. You will have never seen a Narayana Murthy, Mallika Sarabhai or Amjad Ali Khan talking of Gandhi.
When I presented the book to President Pratibha Patil she said ‘I’m so glad you’ve done this because the relevance of Gandhi in this century is even more than the century gone by’. And that is true, as you can see, whether it be global economic meltdown, climate change, increasing terror…. What Gandhiji had said was right – There is enough for everyone’s need not for everyone’s greed and that is exemplified in the economic meltdown we saw.
Whether it’s cricket, dance, music, finance or anything else, Gandhi’s values have an impact even today. Everywhere you see, Gandhiji’s principles are becoming more and more important.
I, therefore believe the messages from the book have to be integrated in the curriculum for our students.
Dr Ramasamy, who is also a contributor to the book, asked us if we could bring the cost of the book down so that he could distribute it to thousands of aspiring young scientists.
PM: “So will the cost come down?”
Dr Mashelkar: “Yes definitely. We are working on a low cost version. When we advocate ‘More from less for more’, this book should also follow that. If the book has to reach millions of students, then less has to be very less.
Idea is to get it translated in Hindi and Marathi to start with and then other languages. Idea is to see that the book reaches out worldwide.
China will be an economic super power but India will be a great soft power, thanks largely to Gandhiji’s teachings. Look at what Rama Bijapurkar has done – Global Swadeshi is an amazing concept. What I want to make sure is that it does not remain in this book. The thought leadership of India is here in its full glory and it must reach out to everyone.
I want this book to reach all the parliamentarians, the opinion makers, the movers and shakers.”
PM: “I am sure you’ve received a lot of praise from people for the book. What is the best accolade you have received so far?”
Dr Mashelkar: (Smiles) “Many of the people who have read the book said that this Diwali they won’t gift mithai but this book.”
PM: “One last question Dr Mashelkar. Who wrote the introductions to the icons? There is a deep insight into their personal lives that a normal person would not have!”
Dr Mashelkar: “All 45 introductions were written by me! I didn’t want a normal CV in the introduction. I didn’t make references to their achievements alone, since I know them personally, I tried to bring the real person out.
PM: “Thank you so much for sparing your valuable time and talking to us Dr Mashelkar.”
Dr Mashelkar: “Thank you! When it comes to this book, I can talk for 24 hours.”
“Though Gandhiji is no more, his philosophy of peace, reverence to all and non-violence has become far more relevant in the existing world, filled as it is with hatred, animosity and misunderstanding. There are small wars among nations. It is neither such wars nor nuclear or hydrogen bombs that can save the world. Only the philosophy of Gandhiji can. Even his message to live with nature is equally relevant against the threat of Global Warming. To adopt the way of simple living and high thinking of Gandhiji and his philosophy ‘Gandhian Engineering’ have become far more relevant than ever before. In this context, there is no substitute to the ‘Timeless Inspirator’ in order to save humanity and Mother Earth.”
Concluding paragraph of essay by Dr Mohan Dharia, Padmavibhushan recipient, veteran freedom fighter, founder of Vanarai, fondly known as the Green Man of India.