View from India: Path breakers of a different kind

A recap of some of this year's notable personalities, whose hard work, determination and far sightedness has made them a cut above the rest.

Abhilasha Barak creates history

The daughter of an army official, Abhilasha Barak spent her formative years in the military Cantonment. When her father, Colonel S Om Singh, retired in 2011 and her elder brother had his passing out parade at the Indian Military Academy in 2013, the fact that she was moving out of military life stirred her from within and became the starting point of a life-altering decision. An alumnus of the Lawrence School Sanawar and with a B Tech degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Delhi Technological University, Barak was offered a job in Deloitte, USA. Destiny willed otherwise and, back on the home turf, she joined the Indian Army in 2018 and underwent extensive training at the officers’ Training Academy before being commissioned to the Army Air Defence Corps. Rigorous training won her recognition as she was awarded the Silver Cheetah Trophy for Excellence.

Barak, who hails from Haryana, is credited for being the first woman officer to join the Army Aviation Corps as combat aviator. The 26-year-old made headlines after successfully completing the combat aviation course and Captain Barak was awarded the coveted ‘wings’ along with 36 Army pilots at the Combat Army Aviation Training School in Nashik. The Indian Army shared pictures from the event on its official Instagram and wrote: 'Golden Letter Day in the history of Indian Army Aviation.'

To put things in perspective, women were previously only part of ground duty in the Indian Army. Things changed with the start of a course in Army Aviation last year. The initiative is to encourage women to join the Army and spread their wings; that’s understandable as women officers have been flying helicopters in the Indian Air Force and Navy for some time.

The Indian Air Force has now inducted 10 women fighter pilots.

Public health, imperative for economic growth

A sense of responsibility and sensitivity are required to give away huge sums of money towards a cause. Multiplying wealth is a big thing and channeling it for a larger purpose is a bigger thing. This understanding is reason enough for Ajit Isaac, chairman of Quess Corp, and his wife Sarah Isaac to commit themselves to public health. The couple has made a donation of ₹ 105 crore (1.05bn rupees, or £10.3m) through the family-run Isaac Foundation. This philanthropic commitment is for setting up the Isaac Centre for Public Health (ICPH) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) campus in Bangalore. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between both parties. Spread over four years, the donation will go towards developing facilities and investing in capacity buildings in terms of labs and equipment. The upcoming centre, which could be operational by 2024, aims to create best-in-class post-graduate education and research programmes in public health. Spanning over 27,000 square feet, ICPH will be located in the Medical School’s Academic and Research block of IISc.

Quess Corp is a leading business services provider and the couple’s gesture goes beyond lip service or tokenism. As per media reports, it has been felt that the country needed an institute like the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. ICPH will offer dual-degree programmes such as Masters of Public Health-PhD and Masters of Public Health-MTech Research. The annual student intake will be 10 per year with a steady-state student population of about 40 over time. Funds will be provided for executing research projects in public health, including bio-surveillance, digital health and mobile-based diagnostics. International fellowships for students, scholarships, visiting chair professorships and endowed chair professorships will also be encouraged. ICPH is envisioned to be a top-class centre for clinical and academic research in public health. In any case, public health should be of priority for a country to progress. Patient data needs to be documented and IISc, with its medical-clinical-science expertise, fits the bill. Moreover the academic institution is of world-class repute.

RRI turns 75

The Raman Research Institute (RRI), founded by Nobel Laureate Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, has entered into its 75th year. Raman’s contribution to science and research fetched him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930; his path-breaking discovery of the Raman Effect, or Raman Scattering, is phenomenal. The physicist discovered that light that passes through a material is scattered and the wavelength of the scattered light gets altered. Scientifically, the award-winning discovery is the inelastic scattering of a photon by matter. Thereby energy is exchanged and the light direction changes. The Raman Effect was discovered on 28 February 1928 and, since then, the government has observed 28 February each year as National Science Day.

The then Mysore government gave Professor Raman a plot in Bangalore in 1934. Raman also founded the Indian Academy of Sciences (IASc) in 1934, established RRI in 1948 and later gifted moveable and immovable properties to RRI and IASc. Raman served as RRI’s director until his demise in 1970. Subsequently, IASc established a public charitable trust, which we know as the RRI Trust. The RRI Trust maintains and sustains the Raman Research Institute, an aided autonomous research institute that receives funds from the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India. RRI’s areas of research include astronomy and astrophysics, light and matter physics, soft condensed matter, and theoretical physics. Over the decades, scientists-researchers have contributed towards the country’s scientific progress.

Born in 1888 in south India, Raman was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1924 and knighted in 1929. Besides enriching the country’s scientific landscape, Raman studied Indian drums and was the first to offer an analysis on the scientific studies on Indian percussions. His understanding of acoustics became a prelude to his further pursuit in optics and quantum mechanics. Raman was ahead of his times, and felt research should find a purpose for common use. Along with his former student Panchapakesa Krishnamurti, Raman started Travancore Chemical and Manufacturing Co Ltd in 1943. Renamed as TCM Limited in 1996, the company is reckoned as one of the first organic and inorganic chemical manufacturers in India.

In 1954, Raman was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour. As quoted by the media, Raman once wrote that the essence of science is independent thinking, hard work and not equipment. These thoughts hold good even today.

Legacy of Hamara Bajaj lives on

It may not be so easy for a scooter to have an emotional connect with the masses, but that’s the kind of reaction Bajaj Chetak evoked. Coming from Bajaj Auto, it was a household name and probably the only means of transport for people across the country. The tagline Hamara Bajaj, or Our Bajaj, reinforces the sentiment. Rahul Bajaj, the industrialist who nurtured it and gave mobility to the middle class, died in February this year at 83.  

The grandson of freedom fighter Jamnalal Bajaj, Rahul was the oldest member of the Bajaj clan. After studying economics and law, he brought home an MBA degree from Harvard University and took charge of Bajaj Auto in 1965. He stewarded the company until 2005. The group grew from strength to strength until it became a conglomerate of 40 companies representing two-wheelers, financial services and electrical appliances.

Inspired by Vespa's Sprint scooter, Bajaj Chetak took its name from the horse that the Rajput King Maharana Pratap rode. There used to be so much demand for Bajaj Chetak that the waiting period for the scooter spanned from five to 10 years. After 33 years of production, the scooter was phased out and motorcycles led the production on. The iconic scooter is now positioned as the Chetak Electric Scooter. Bajaj Auto has produced its vehicles in the areas of Pimpri-Chinchwad, Chakan and Talegaon, located in outer Pune. Over the years, the company contributed towards the growth of Pune as an auto hub, complete with auto ancillary and component manufacturers.

A respected industrialist, in 2001 Rahul Bajaj was awarded the Padma Bhushan, an award for distinguished service of higher order. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha, which is constitutionally the Council of States. The industry leader may have gone but he has handed over the baton to his son Rajiv, who is now at the helm of Bajaj Auto. Sanjiv, his other son, is taking forward Bajaj Finserv, a digital marketplace of financial services products.

These are individuals who have made a mark in society. They’ve taken ethical decisions and navigated tectonic shifts in the industry and handled challenges with maturity.

Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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