“I want younger generation to get a contemporary view on the relevance of Gandhi in the modern scenario”

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told Dr Raghunath Mashelkar, the eminent scientist and recipient of Padma Shri (1991) and Padma Bhushan (2000) awards in recognition of his contribution to nation building. But this interview has nothing to do with his achievements as a scientist and achiever but as an author whose latest book on Gandhi has made him part of an Indian’s everyday conversation. Excerpts. Dr Raghunath Mashelkar Dr Raghunath Mashelkar’s Timeless Inspirator – Reliving Gandhi has been creating waves across the country. Ritu Goyal (RG) 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.

RG: Timeless Inspirator… is an amazing compilation and a superb product. What’s your say on this?

Dr M: 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 infinity was chosen to exemplify the timelessness of the ideas captured in the book.

RG: How did the idea of the book originate?

Dr M: Well, I was honoured by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering in 2008 for which I wrote a speech on India’s greatest gift to the world in the 21st century – Gandhiji’s teachings. I spoke about Gandhian Engineering (More from less for more) and the two important tenets – affordability and sustainability. Later I wondered how an architect or scientist 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 the idea was conceived in March 2010 and the book came out in October. So concept to realisation took just six months.

RG: What according to you was the strength that ensured this book was out in that short time?

Dr M: 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 this book it took him 10 seconds to say yes. I would say that the effort of the team in bringing this out was absolutely terrific. And finally, for the launch we decided that the last of the Gandhian that we have Mohan Dharia, who 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 release was right and there you are!

RG: What prompted you to choose these 45 icons that have been featured in the book?

Dr M: The idea was to contact the iconic achievers of the country, most 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. Still, all 45 of them could submit their manuscript in time. The busiest of them all, Narayana Murthy, was the first to submit.

RG: Who is your personal favourite amongst the 45 authors who’ve contributed to the book?

Dr M: (Laughs) They’re all my favourites. I cannot really single any 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 sort of very close. Rahul (Bajaj) is a personal friend, RK 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 when we got the book in hand we read Sachin (Tendulkar) and kept saying remaining we will read later (laughs).

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.

RG: There’s a lot of personal insight that has gone into the writing. Can you tell something more about it?

Dr M: One of the things I would like to quote is what Dr Vijay P Bhatkar told me (he sends an email to Gandhiji) when I first read it there were tears rolling down my eyes, “I didn’t write it. It was like somebody else was writing it for me, like he told me to write it.”

And most people have thanked me for giving them a chance to write this because they say we did a huge introspection. Actually if you want to know more about individuals, you will get to know more 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 terrible. For example Anil Kakodkar was down with malaria and pneumonia at the same time. He came out of the hospital and wrote the passage.

RG: What are your expectations from the book?

Dr M: 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 contemporary views and reflecting on the relevance of Gandhi in the modern scenario. I don’t think this has ever been done. You must have never seen a Narayana Murthy, Mallika Sarabhai or Amjad Ali Khan talking of Gandhi.

When I presented the book to president Pratibha Devisingh Patil she said ‘I’m so glad you’ve done this’ because the relevance of Gandhi in this century is even more than the gone century whether it be in the 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 that this book has to be integrated in the curriculum. Dr Ramaswamy, who is also a contributor to the book asked us if we could bring the cost of the book down.

RG: So will the cost come down?

Dr M: Yes definitely. We are working on a low cost version. When we advocate ‘More from less for more’, this book should also follow that. In the case of the book however, less has to be very less. Idea is to get it translated in Marathi and Hindi to start with and then other languages. Idea is to see that the book reaches worldwide.

China will be an economic super power but India will be a great soft power. 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 and must reach out to everyone. I want this book to reach all the parliamentarians, the movers and shakers.

RG: What is the best accolade you have received so far?

Dr M: (Smiles) Many of the people who have read the book said that this Diwali they won’t gift mithai (sweets) but this book.

RG: Who wrote the introductions to the icons? There is a deep insight into their personal lives that a normal person would not have!

Dr M: Introductions were written by me. I didn’t want a normal CV in the introduction. Since I know them personally I didn’t make references to their achievements alone.

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