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'Getting into IIT was an overpowering inspiration'

December 13, 2006 19:12 IST
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An interview with Kanakasabapathy Pandyan can never be brief. A multi-faceted person that he is, conversation with him is bound to digress and you would actually hate to drag him to the original point of discussion.

Pandyan sports a spirit of adventure that has spanned over 30 years. This streak started in his days in IIT when he built India's first working hovercraft. He has since been involved in businesses needing concept selling and technology integration. His current interests are in working with businesses in new domains, for high growth, in different capacities. Currently, he is responsible for 'strategic planning for growth' for Graphiti, the animation studio known for world-class content creation.

Identified closely with the development of Internet in India, Pandyan and some similarly interested friends were the first evangelists of the Internet and the power it could bring to India. During mid-nineties, he worked closely with Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, the first Indian ISP and the international telecom services provider.

A founder member of NASSCOM, the premier institution that represents the Indian software industry, Pandyan handled NASSCOM's CyberCity conferences and exhibitions, which activated the Indian Internet movement.

In a long chat with Senior Associate Editor (features) Indrani Roy Mitra, Pandyan dwelt on the forthcoming PanIIT Global Conference to be held in Mumbai in the third week of December.

What is it about IITs that sets its graduates apart from others?

First of all, IITs teach their students to think independently and spontaneously. However, with IIT entrance examination getting complicated and exhaustive over the years, that spontaneity has taken a backseat -- it's a bit of concern for old IIT-ians like me.

Tell us about your IIT experience of making India's first hovercraft.

The making of the hovercraft was a part of our BTech project. We had a very limited budget. Our department head hailed the idea and said, "If you can do it, I will support you." He worked with us, got some special funds sanctioned for us. We got permission to try out the hovercraft at the Chennai airport. It was a great experience.

Years in IIT were the best parts of my life. Those were the days when we could think freely and try out any idea that came to our mind. Even in situations where we find a problem, we could voice our opinions. IITs (still) have an excellent aura of frankness and candidness.

Did you have any role model? 

For me, getting into IIT was an overpowering inspiration -- IIT was a role model in it, all the more so because I came from a small town. I studied entirely in the Tamil medium. I did not have any role model in particular. I was lucky to have heard about India's premier institute from a friend and never had doubt that 'it was the place to go'.

'Inspire, Involve and Transform India.' Can you dwell upon the significance of the theme for this year's Pan-IIT global conference?

Inspiration is the key ingredient of IITs, as I told you before. It's time we share our bit of inspiration with the rest of the country. It is time we talked about the wonderful experience of being in the premier institute of the country.

Unless we are involved in the society, we won't be able to bring about a change -- a transformation for the better. Therefore, all three aspects of the theme are interlinked. If as an ex-IIT-ian, I can think objectively, the onus is on me to let that thought percolate to the people around me.

Many IIT-ians have preferred to go abroad rather than work in India. Do you think this trend is changing now? How can India retain its talented people?

It's a tough question to answer. I made a decision to stay in India. I went through the process of applying for foreign institutes but I did not leave.

IIT-ians who went abroad were exposed to a wide variety of experiences, market trends etc. Many went as they were lured by fabulous pay packets, better lifestyle. There is nothing wrong in IIT-ians' desiring to move out of India.

I always felt it is not fare to educate people and then send them off. So the responsibility rests on the IIT-ians to make use of their knowledge to try and create a better work environment and create improved pay structure so that skilled people are compelled to stay and work in their country.

What are the challenges that India faces in the new millennium? How can IIT-ians help address these challenge?

Poor environment for youth growth, poor education structure are the toughest challenges. If India can improve on them, other improvements are bound to follow suit.

One can't deny that poverty does remain a big challenge but if these two challenges are taken care of, poverty too will get addressed automatically. I believe -- if proper education and basic amenities are available, poverty too will get alleviated gradually.

What would be your advice to people aspiring to join the IITs?

Be open, competitive, original and thorough.

What role can IIT-ians play to develop India as a knowledge economy?

I think I have already answered that.

Should India have more IITs?

Of course, the more the better. Education in India will improve enormously if we have more such premier institutes. But there should be no compromise on quality. Government can also consider upgrading some of the existing engineering colleges.

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