Twitter Facebook LinkedIn
<< >>
Web Specials >> Reflection
21 Jun, 2017

 

A telecom pioneer reflects on physics
SAM PITRODA

What did India's telecom pioneer, Sam Pitroda, learn from Gandhi and Einstein ? He explains how physics shaped his world view. This is an excerpt reproduced (with permission) from his autobiography published recently.

Sam Pitroda
Sam Pitroda (Photo credit : Sam Pitroda)

I read about Isaac Newton, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Enrico Fermi and, above all, Albert Einstein. I was awestruck by these people who seemed to make things happen simply by thinking about them. I had learned to revere Gandhi, now I learned to revere Einstein.

In Baroda there was a well-known institution of higher learning, the Maharaja Sayajirao University, established by the progressive King Gaekwad. We were poor, but we had good grades. Manek and I both enrolled there, in the science faculty, which we had heard something about. The university was home to other colleges as well, teaching the arts, humanities, engineering but, sadly, nobody had told us about these, as we had no one to guide or mentor us. No one in our extended family had ever been to university, and many, if not most, of our aunts and uncles could neither read nor write.

By this time we had taken a small two-room apartment with one of our cousins, Vajubhai, who had also come from Titilagarh to Baroda to study. Manek and I had been living together our entire lives, having been away from home for years now. We had always been close inseparable, in fact. We wore the same clothes, liked the same movies and music, and ate the same food. Every day we rode to school together on our sole bicycle, Manek pedalling, me riding pillion, holding our books. We were more than brothers we were each others' best friends and closest confidants.

The major subjects I studied were physics, mathematics and chemistry. Chemistry I wasn't fond of, but physics and mathematics I found captivating. I might not have been an especially attentive student before, but now I was surely enthralled. Mathematical series, especially, opened up a new world of thought the Jacobian series, the Taylor series and the trigonometric series. I was completely taken in, delving in deeper and deeper as my studies progressed. Math seemed to me the very foundation of life. Our mathematics professors kept me on the edge of my seat. Numbers, I noticed, made things happen, made the world go round. The concept of zero, for example what a powerful concept it is; you go up to some point, put a zero, then you start all over again; here in front of us was the origin of decimal notation. With just this little idea of zero, you can link up all the things in the world; you can go up to millions and billions. You can't do that without the notion of zero, a concept I was thrilled to learn had first been formulated by Indian mathematicians.

The same went for physics too. Physics was an extension of mathematics, the application of math in the real world. You could sit at your desk with paper and a pencil and determine exactly at what point a car driving at a certain speed would tip over going around a curve of a certain radius. In your head you could see the laws that governed how objects interact, how they move, collide, speed up and slow down. I read about Isaac Newton, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Enrico Fermi and, above all, Albert Einstein.

I was awestruck by these people who seemed to make things happen simply by thinking about them. I had learned to revere Gandhi, now I learned to revere Einstein. One influenced great global events by his actions, the other explained the mysticism of our universe with his thinking.

They fascinated me. Gandhi, marching to Dandi to protest the salt tax, fasting to bring about change and reconciliation, and changing the course of history by projecting his immense moral force. Einstein, on the other hand, sitting there with paper and pencil, creating an entirely new science, with no equipment, no instruments, no computers. Nothing. He just visualized it, sitting there and saying to himself, 'Ah, these things go like this, those like that. Particles, waves, energy, velocity. Ah' Changing the whole direction of the world and humanity. Gandhi became my role model for truth, simplicity, love, sacrifice, character and ethics. And Einstein became my role model for scientific thinking, imagination and innovations.


Sam Pitroda is an internationally respected telecom inventor, entrepreneur, development thinker, and policy maker credited with bringing telecom revolution in India. He was the head of Telecom Commission in 1980s and chairperson of National Knowledge Commission (2005-2009) and was advisor to the Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovation. His book Dreaming Big : My Journey to Connect India was published by Penguin (India) in 2016.