The fingers of ten hands would not be enough to count the number of awards and honorary doctorates Dr. Mashelkar has received in the course of his professional career. You would need the fingers of a few more hands to count the number of his memberships of prestigious scientific institutions in India and abroad. Add to this the number of committees he has chaired, the number of lectures he has delivered and the number of papers he has published.
In the autumn of his life, an ordinary mortal, bestowed with so many honours, would have chosen to call it a day and bask in the warmth of his past glory. Not Dr. Mashelkar. At 73 he continues to follow a punishing schedule to propagate his mantra – to get more from less for more – in far-flung corners of the world.
Let me explain this term. It means harnessing the most innovative breakthroughs in science and technology for the larger social good.
In other words, how to get a better output from fewer resources for the benefit of more people.
The people he mainly has in mind are, first and foremost, those at the bottom of the pyramid – a concept forged by C.K. Prahlad, a close friend of Mashelkar.
Both of them jointly authored a paper on this subject – entitled ‘Innovation’s Holy Grail’ – that was published in the July-August 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
It was hailed as a blue-print of Gandhian engineering and Gandhian innovation. This was the last paper Prahlad published before his untimely death.
Mashelkar has since harped on his mantra – more from less for more – on every conceivable platform – in his lectures to college students, in his inter-actions with school children, at civic receptions, in his presentations to fellow scientists and technologists, in his discussions with government representatives and in his interventions in board meetings of leading corporate groups.
Ever since I got to know him many, many moons ago, I have marvelled at his energy, his drive, his net-working skills, his public relations savvy and, above all, at his bubbly optimism.
Decades of dealing with witless politicians, obdurate bureaucrats, profit-obsessed businessmen and envious peers hasn’t turned him into a cynic.
He has had his share of controversies. But he has always managed to emerge from them with few, if any, dents in his reputation.
In the years that we were in Delhi, he and I, along with Dr. Vijay Kelkar, had discussed the need to create an institution in Pune more or less along the lines of the India International Centre.
The three ‘kars’, or ‘kar-sevaks’ as we were subsequently dubbed, did realise our ambition. The Pune International Centre was set up in late 2011. Mashelkar was chosen to be its President, Kelkar its Vice-President and I, the chairman of its programme committee.
This gave me an opportunity to observe Mashelkar deploy his astuteness, tenacity and charm from close quarters.
Thanks to his leadership, PIC has within a short span of time established itself as a premier forum of innovative thinking and action in various fields of endeavour: economic and political, social and cultural.
PIC’s policy papers have helped shape policy decisions both at the state and the national levels. The lectures and conferences it has organised, like the cultural events it has held, have attracted large and enthusiastic audiences.
I am grateful to Dr. Mujumdar, the lodestar of Symbiosis, for asking me today to pay a tribute to this remarkable individual: a scientist by vocation, a social reformer at heart, a patriot of the finest vintage and, no less important, a loyal friend in all seasons.
I have often asked myself: What is the source of his unflagging energy? Who or what inspires him to sustain his vision?
It took me a while to find the answers. His principal source of inspiration, I learnt by and by, has been one person: his mother.
She brought him up in the most trying circumstance and as he excelled in his studies and in his career her ambitions for him soared.
It is from her that he learnt that a life well lived is one where you use your knowledge and talents to comfort the afflicted and, if necessary, to afflict the comfortable.
He has lived up to her expectations and indeed exceeded them. In the process he has proved to be a worthy son not only of his own adorable mother but of Mother India as well.
Let me end with a prediction. It hasn’t been dictated by the configuration of stars.
Raghunath Mashelkar has impressed us in the past with his achievements.
He can be trusted to surprise us with even more far-reaching accomplishments in the near future as well.