The President's Writings

Vaccinations

19th April 2021

Dear Friends,

These are crazy times. The second wave of COVID19 is rising rapidly. As recently as early late February and early March, there were no COVID19 patients in our hospital. We were non-COVID since there was a sense that the worst was behind us, and that the vaccinations would take us through.

In March, the second wave of COVID as hit the nation. The lessons of other nations have shown us that the second wave does return. India is no exception. Our hospital staff has once again ramped us to create 410 beds for COVID care.

Our doctors, nurses, ward staff, housekeeping crew, cleaning teams, administrative staff, security staff, project staff are working round the clock to treat those affected by the disease. The challenges are extraordinary, and what you read in the newspapers, our hospital staff is experiencing first hand.

Our responsibility is to ensure that we are not a burden on this already over-stretched infrastructure. The best way to do this, is to always wear masks and to maintain a healthy social distance whether or not there is a lock-down in effect.  

For those of us above the age of 45, we must get vaccinated.  For those below 45, you must help your older family members go get the vaccine.   

There are people worried about taking the vaccinations.  At this point, we are safer with the vaccinations, individually and as a society. The K J Somaiya Hospital and Research Centre has created a centre for vaccinations at the K J Somaiya College of Physiotherapy.  

There are personal tragedies all around us. This virus is affecting many of us directly.  Let us do our best to slow and eventually remove this virus from our lives.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

I end with a prayer:

सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामया,
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चिद् दुख भागभवेत।
ऊँ शांतिः शांतिः शांतिः

अर्थ - "सभी सुखी होवें, सभी रोगमुक्त रहें, सभी मंगलमय घटनाओं के साक्षी बनें और किसी को भी दुःख का भागी न बनना पड़े।"

Translation from Wikipedia


On the passing of Architect Jitendra Mistry

7th February 2021

Dear Friends,

The Coronavirus has affected the entire world.  It brought the entire world to a standstill, and affected our lives and livelihoods.  As an institution, at The K J Somaiya Hospital and Research Centre, we did our best to prepare for and treat those who would be affected by the deadly pandemic.  In fact we treated more than 3800 people affected by the virus.

I never thought that the disease would hit home.  On 25 December in Ahmedabad, on Christmas Day, also वैकुंठ एकादशी, also मौनी एकादशी, my father in law passed away because of the disease.  He was 82 years young.  His name was Jitendra Mistry. 

It still feels odd for me to use the past tense when I speak about him.  I feel his presence strongly, and all around me.  Physically and emotionally.  The chair I am sitting on right now as I write this email was crafted by him.

He was an architect, wood worker, art collector and interior designer.  He has left behind a unique legacy that combines all of the above and also wester and Indian traditions.  His career spanned 6 decades.  His work was nothing less than a work of art.

I am not a student of art and architecture.  But from my father and father in law who collected art, I developed a sense of art appreciation.  To see beautiful things around us.  To appreciate beauty, whether it be beauty in nature, beauty in music, in sculpture, in paintings, in landscape, in architecture and in a campus.  To make that beauty available and accessible to all of us.

I took charge of Somaiya Vidyavihar and Somaiya Ayurvihar in 2010.  At that time, our campuses were a set of buildings and institutions existing in the large tract of land purchased by Shri K. J. Somaiya many years ago, and built on by him and my father Dr. S K Somaiya.

I had seen my father in law's work and had really liked it.  I asked him whether he could help create a sense of space.  We started by building 'footpaths' and an athletic track.  Immediately, a campus that had grown organically over the years, had a common space (athletic track) and walking roads that tied it all in.  

Since budgets were a constraint, we decided to add spaces bit by bit, and over the last 10 years, slowly but surely, we built them.  We added Gargi Plaza in front of the College of Engineering, 

the Founder's garden, 

the Haveli, 

and the garden in front of the Maitreyi hostel.  He designed the space where we put the statue of my father, with the fountains behind him.

At the Ayurvihar campus, he helped design the main access road, the semi-circular garden in front of the hospital,

the Vanaspatyam garden and more.

He designed the Sandipani hostel (prior to 2010), the Maitreyi hostel, 

the delightful K J Somaiya College of Physiotherapy.

Currently, the Ekalavya sports centre is under construction, and the Madhuban garden in the Vinay Mandir courtyard.  

He helped plan the retrofit of the hospital as we created the Superspecialty section, the casualty and also the external look and feel of the hospital.  

Two buildings that he designed and are still to be built are the administrative building of the Somaiya Vidyavihar University and a Museum to house the art collection of my father.  He had also said that we could house a part of his collection.

We created a master plan for the Vidyavihar campus and were working on parts of the Ayurvihar campus.  

I can keep going on.  As I walked through our campuses, whether it be the lobby of Maitreyi, the Founder's garden, the delightful college of Physiotherapy, and so many other spaces, I cannot but appreciate the power of spaces, of landscape or architecture that he designed and the sense of community that this helped create.  

Sahir Ludhianvi said 

माना कि इस ज़मीं को न गुलज़ार कर सके

कुछ ख़ार कम तो कर गए गुज़रे जिधर से हम

हम खुश नसीब थे कि आप यहाँ से गुज़रे।

A salute to a man who died young.  I will certainly miss you.

 

Samir Somaiya


Gandhi Jayanti

6th October 2020

Dear Friends,

Last week the country celebrated Gandhi Jayanti.  2 October.

A face on our currency notes.  A statue on a street.  A person in the history books.  A movie made by Richard Attenborough.

Who was this man?  There are very few people around now who knew him personally.  I met one such person last week.  I was driving back from Ahmedabad to Mumbai.  I stopped at the Atul guest house to have lunch.  The Lalbhai family invited me home.  I had the honour of eating with them.  Among them was Dr. Vimla Lalbhai. 93 years young.

We spoke about COVID and the subject matter I taught at Cornell.  After lunch, when I rose to leave, she showed me a book on Gandhi.  I asked her, whether she had ever met him.  Met him?  She said that she had studied at Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi, and the only two Gujaratis her dad knew when he sent her there to study were Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel.  She breezed in and out of their residences while she was in Delhi.  How many times did you meet him? I asked her.  She said she could not count.  But she simply said, he was a fearless man.  A man of character. She had the same opinion of Sardar Patel.  "They were giants", she said.  She wondered whether the current generation and others that follow will understand and value what Gandhiji had to teach.  

I told her that my grandfather, K. J. Somaiya had met him only once, as a young man, at a large rally.  But irrespective of that, Gandhi had had a profound influence on his life.  When Mahatma Gandhi was jailed in the 1920s, a 20 year old Karamshi decided to observe complete silence and fast one day every week.  This vow he made because he said, why should Gandhiji suffer prison alone for all of us.  He was fighting for our independence.  In solidarity with Gandhiji, a young K J Somaiya took this vow, and he kept it until he was 96 and could no longer eat on his own.  76 years of keeping complete silence and not eating every Wednesday.

Who was Mahatma Gandhi? and how did he come to have such a profound influence.  One encounter and K J Somaiya gave up wearing all variety of clothing.  He just kept 5 pairs of khadi kurtas, dhotis, a Gandhi topi and shoes.  Simplicity.  And अपरिग्रह। Not keeping anything more than one needs.  

Shri K J Somaiya was a self made man.  Started poor but found success in sugar trading.  He started his first sugar mill in 1939, in rural Maharashtra.  A place where the caste system was strong.  And he started a school in 1942 to educate the children of the people around him.  He did this in the 1940s when the caste system was so strong and the divisions still stronger.  And he built a school that welcomed all, especially those who were marginalised. He was only 40 then, but he was inspired by Gandhiji's instruction to bring those who are disadvantaged into the mainstream of society.  Not merely to bring them 'in' but to bring them into the 'mainstream'. 

In 1959, he established Somaiya Vidyavihar.  As a commitment to repay his debt to society.  He again echoed Gandhiji's thoughts, that education is meant to create great citizens of India and the world.  That education is more than being literate.  It is to know the art of living and giving.  

In the 1970s he established the Girivanvasi Pragati Mandal.  To go to Adivasi communities and take healthcare to them.  He would ask the best doctors of Mumbai to give up 2-3 weeks of their time and accompany him to the poorest of poor places.  Where people did not have clothes to wear or food to eat, let alone healthcare to benefit from, and serve their needs.  I remember accompanying him as an 11 year old in one of these camps, running errands from the 'store' to the OT, delivering much needed medicines back and forth.  Somaiya students and faculty would join him at these camps, learning the spirit of service and making friends for a lifetime.  By being in such places, seeing such poverty, and serving these 'have nots' they got the education of a lifetime.  My 93 year old uncle mentioned to me last month, that his job was to bathe all the sick men who came to the camp seeking assistance.  A job he did with open arms.

And Gandhi influenced many.  In so many parts of the country.  Vinoba Bhave who inspired the Bhudan movement, inspiring many to donate millions of acres of land to the landless.  Kasturbhai Lalbhai in Ahmedabad.  Doshi kaka who was an eye surgeon in rural Gujarat, who emptied his bank account at the end of each month to start fresh.  When I asked him about the 'uncertainty' that would cause his finances, he said he was ninety years old, and in his life, help from God in a good cause was always certain.  So many of them.  Big and small.  But nation builders all.

Gandhiji loved the Bhajan - વૈષ્ણવ જન તો તેને કહિયે (Vaishnav Jan to Tene Kahiye.. the song sung by Shri Purushottam Upadhyay as an MP3)

Please see the translation below.  If we can embody those qualities, then we are truly educated.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaishnava_Jana_To#Lyrics

I salute Gandhiji, and the spirit of service and the vision of India that he dreamt off.  To that dream.

Sincerely

Samir 

PS: If you have not seen the movie or read the books listed below, please do.

The movie:

Gandhi by Attenborough

The books:

Freedom at Midnight - Dominique LaPierre and Larry Collins


Happy Diwali

15th September 2020

Dear Friends,

A very Happy Diwali to all of you.

Diwali is a day where we do a लक्ष्मी (wealth and prosperity) Poojan a चोपड़ा (books) Poojan.  We also perform Pooja for चित्रलेखिनी (pen), महाकाली (Ink) and Ganesh.  

My grandfather, our founder, Shri K. J. Somaiya was very much an entrepreneur.  For all those in business, Diwali is a big day.  It is a day when we begin our new financial year, and we seek blessings for a good year ahead.  It is a day where we make and also reaffirm our resolutions for the new year.

The resolution that he composed so many years ago is still very relevant today.  He wrote it in Gujarati, and I would like to share that with you:

શ્રી લક્ષ્મીનારાયણ પ્રભુની ક્રપા રહો.
May we be blessed by Lord Lakshmi-Narayan

સદૈવ સર્વ પ્રાણીમાત્ર પ્રત્યે સદ્ ભાવના સદ્પ્રેમ રહો.
May we always have good will (सद् भावना) and affection (सद् प्रेम) towards all living beings.

સદૈવ સન્માર્ગે દ્રવ્યસંપાદન કરવાની બુદ્ધી રહો.
Bless us so that we have the wisdom to pursue the path of prosperity only through the righteous path (सन्मार्ग).

સદૈવ દ્રવ્ય એજ સાર નથી એવી જાગૃતિ રહો.
Bless us so that we always have the understanding (जागृति)  that wealth is not the ultimate goal.

સદૈવ દ્રવ્યપ્રાપ્તિ પછી સમતોલતા રહો.
Bless us to that we do not lose our mental balance after achieving success (it must not go to our head!!)

સદૈવ જરૂરિયાતવાળાઓને ઉપયોગી થવામાં તત્પરતા રહો.
Bless us so that we are always eager to extend a helping hand to those in need (ज़रूरतमंद).

સદૈવ પ્રભુકાર્ય, સંસ્કૃતિના કાર્ય, સમાજના ઉત્કર્ષના કાર્યોમાં દ્રવ્ય અને શક્તિનો વિનિમય કરવાની બુદ્ધિ રહો.
Bless us so that we always use our wealth and strength to further the work of God (प्रभु कार्य), culture (संस्कृति) and society (समाज)

સદૈવ ભારત-વર્ષની તેમજ સમાજની સંસ્કાર વૃદ્ધિના પ્રયત્ન થતા રહો.
Bless us so that we work to enhance the cause of our country and values of society.

સદૈવ અસ્પૃશ્યતા હિન્દુસમાજ માંથી દૂર કરવા પ્રયત્ન થતા રહો.
સદૈવ હરિજનોને હિન્દુસમાજના મુખ્ય અંગ તરીકે અપનાવતા રહો.
Bless us so that we continuously strive to remove untouchability from our society.  
Bless us so that we strive to bring into the mainstream, in fact make most important (मुख्य) - those who have been excluded from our society. This remains relevant today, since when we speak of an inclusive society, we think we have done or said enough.  Here he has used two words - मुख्य & अपनाना - To make most important, and to adopt as one's own.  Both these words go far beyond making an inclusive society. 

સદૈવ વિરોધીઓ પ્રત્યે સહિષ્ણુતા અને સહાનુભૂતિ રહો.
Bless us so that we always have empathy towards those who oppose (विरोधी) us.  If we could cultivate this - we may find it easier to find solutions to our common and shared problems. 

Why is this important.  
Shri K. J. Somaiya was born very poor.  In a small town in Malunjar - in rural Maharashtra.  He struggled through tough times.  He lost his first wife to illness soon after marriage.  And he did not have money to bring his second wife home (my grandmother- Sakarbai) since he did not make enough to feed himself.  He did not have the resources to travel to Kutch even to see his first born (my father Shantilal) for many months.  He worked tirelessly.  Often to no avail.  But Providence smiled at him later and in 1939 he started a company - The Godavari Sugar Mills Limited and achieved great heights in this business.

It is in this context that the above resolution that he wrote is relevant.  In the early 1940s, he soon started a school next to the company in Kanhegaon and Kopargaon.  They are still functioning.  It was his commitment, his repayment of a debt the owed to society.  समाज ऋण.  He wanted to give back by providing education, healthcare and development.  And so he founded Somaiya Vidyavihar, Somaiya Ayurvihar and the Girivanvasi Pragati Mandal.  

This is the work we continue.  I run a business - Godavari Biorefineries  - And I appreciate what all entrepreneurs do.  But he made us aware of what our responsibility is.  In the way we run our business, and the way in which we use what we have achieved through it.   I am ever mindful of the resolution that he asked us to write.  

Let us all continue to strive to build a better world.

शुभ दीपावली 

समीर सोमैया 


62 Foundation Day

9th September 2020

The last few months have been difficult for all of us.  What we took for granted was not to be.  I have often thought that the world is always like that, and that change is the only constant.  But occasions that disrupt our lives are always happening to us individually, or all around us, or in some country of another, in some state or another.  But this pandemic has affected us all, globally and locally.  

Incoming students are coming 'in' digitally. We can't wait for the campus to resume and for us to welcome you in person.  And for returning students, the campus is lost and lonely without you.  The word सूना really comes alive.

Today is our 62nd Foundation Day.

We have always been celebrating our Foundation day 'in person' - with a great celebration on our Somaiya Vidyavihar campus.  This year, the world has turned upside down.  

The Foundation Day is to reflect upon our Founding principles.  न मानुषात् परो धर्म। No religion greater than service to humanity.  ज्ञानादेव तु कैवल्यम्। Liberation only through knowledge.

Both the above sentiments are important.  Liberation only through knowledge.  And we are a विद्याविहार।  A place of learning.  Learning is that which broadens our minds and expands our horizon and enables greater possibilities.  Encouraging passionate and well reasoned discourse.  And that it is knowledge on the basis of which you learn to make judgments and informed opinions.

न मानुषात् परो धर्म - because ultimately we are all here to make a better world.  For ourselves, our family, our community, our state, our country and the world.  And we will all do it in our own way.  In the choice of our professions, our commitments, and our passions.  Sahir Ludhianavi has expressed it beautifully:
माना कि इस ज़मीं को न गुलज़ार  कर सके, कुछ खार कम तो  कर गये  गुज़रे जिधर से हम

My grandfather, Karamshi Somaiya who founded the institution created Somaiya Vidyavihar as a repayment of a debt to society.  समाज ऋण he used to say.  He was born poor, studied little, but what he learned gave him a window of opportunity.  And he felt that his success obliged him to create similar opportunities for others.  And today, we have 40,000 students under our umbrella. Much like he must have been.  A student, wide eyed, with big dreams for himself, his family and his country.

His wife, Sakarben Somaiya was also a founding trustee.  She used to say simply - Have a big heart.  दिल बड़ा रखना। 3 simple words.  But such a wide world view.  You could have all the education in the world, but it would be meaningless if you did not have a big heart.  Much like Kabir who said:
पोथी पढ़ि पढ़ि जग मुआ, पंडित भया न कोय, ढाई आखर प्रेम का, पढ़े सो पंडित होय।

This is also the first Foundation day since the formation of Somaiya Vidyavihar University.  It represents a new beginning.  Every beginning brings with it its own challenges.  Some anticipated, and some not.  Transitionng to a University is such a challenge.  And making the new beginning in times of COVID is even more a challenge.  But we all have to adapt and learn from it.  And build an even stronger foundation for the future.

So celebrate it we will.  Dr. Pillai and I are working on a date that we will come together - digitally so that we do celebrate this further strengthening of our foundation

Joan Baez, in her song 'Forever Young' has a wonderful verse:

'May your hands always be busy, May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong Foundation, when the winds of changes shift,
May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung,
May you stay Forever Young'

You are all young.  Stay strong, stay healthy, stay happy, and stay forever young.


Happy New Year

1st January 2020

Happy New Year to everyone.

Today is also the 10th anniversary of the passing away of Dr. Shantilal K. Somaiya, my father, who led the Somaiya effort in education, healthcare and rural development, after our founder, Shri K. J. Somaiya passed away in 1999.

He had imagined that we could become a University.  He would have been delighted that his dream is now a reality.  

Everyone leaves behind some footsteps that are worth following.  Dr. Somaiya left behind a great tradition of dialogue.  I still remember wondering why he invited so many people to our home, especially when their views were so opposed to ours.  On one such occasion, when one of our guests had a world view that was very different, I asked him, as to why he invited such people home.  He mentioned that if you want to accomplish change, and to create a society that we want to live in or dream of, then we cannot do it by just talking to the people who look like us, or think like us.  He mentioned, that dialogue is necessary between people of different views and perspectives.  Only then change is possible (and we may change as well).

Our news feeds, our social media all are personalised to tailor information to us that we want.  But we cannot afford to remain isolated in this manner.  We must engage.  

And he did engage.  It was because of this that he was invited by the Vatican for work in Hindu Christian dialogue.  This was also the reason that he was invited by the then President of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan Nazarbayev, for dialogue between religions.  His is one of 17 signatures in the Baiterek Tower in Astana, to symbolise unity and understanding.  And His Holiness The Dalai Lama has visited us four times, for dialogue and teaching.  

In that spirit of harmony, I wish you all a happy new year.


London Design Museum awards our school library the Beazley Award for Architecture design of the year

19th December 2019

Dear friends,

I have written earlier about the Maya Somaiya Library that we built at our Sharda School in Kopargaon in Maharashtra. 

https://president.somaiya.edu/en/view-communications-page/84 

https://president.somaiya.edu/en/view-communications-page/95

Last month, the London Design Museum announced their annual awards for the best design entries.  They are called the Beazley awards.  I am delighted to say that under the architecture category, among all the global entries our library won the best architecture design of the year.  You can read more about the award at the link below :

https://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/beazley-designs-of-the-year/architecture/maya-somaiya-library

We never built this for an award.  We wanted to create a space.  And it is so nice to see that an Indian entry, a Somaiya Vidyavihar entry, our entry for a library in a rural school, not on the beaten track, has won another global and prestigious award.


Somaiya Vidyavihar University

29th August 2019

Dear friends,

On the 26th of August 2019, Somaiya Vidyavihar University has become a reality.  Many of our institutions will combine together to become a part of this University.

In an earlier email, https://president.somaiya.edu/en/view-communications-page/91, I had mentioned how I had promised my grandfather, our founder, Padma Bhushan K. J. Somaiya, that I will, in my lifetime, endeavour to make Somaiya Vidyavihar an institution that any person in the world would want to apply to.  This was a condition he made, when he allowed me to go study at Cornell.  We traded dreams.  My dream to go to Cornell, and his dream to make Somaiya into an institution that his grandson, and by extension, others would aspire to attend.

Becoming a University is a necessary part of that journey and that goal.

Jawahar Lal Nehru, said at Indian independence:

'A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old into the new'  
Later he adds 'The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and and achievements that await us.'

This is a similar time for us.  Becoming a University is a time for charting our own course.  On what we teach, and how we teach it.

Our vision statement https://www.somaiya.edu/en/our-vision articulates the kind of institution we are trying to create.

We do dream of making a world class institution of teaching, research and service, and build on the aspiration of our founder.  We need to imagine what makes for a good education.  We need to determine that for ourselves, in our local context, and in the global world that we live in today.
Today, many of our institutions transition to University status.  Our other institutions are also part of this journey toward excellence.

I would like to make our new beginning with the old Hindi film song:

आज पुरानी ज़ंजीरों को तोड़ चुके हैं
क्या देखें उस मंज़िल को जो छोड़ चुके हैं
चाँद के दर पर जा पहुंचा है आज ज़माना
नए जगत से हम भी नाता जोड़ चुके हैं
नया खून हैं नई उमंगें, अब है नई जवानी
हम हिन्दुस्तानी ...


Maya Somaiya library wins a global award

13th March 2019

Dear friends

I was so happy this morning, to find out, that the Maya Somaiya library that we built and inaugurated last year, at the Sharda School we run in Kopargaon, won the 'Building of the Year' award for 2019 under the education category.  This is a global competition run by Arch Daily and is extremely prestigious.  There were over 4000 entries and only 15 winners (one for each category) were chosen.

https://www.archdaily.com/903713/maya-somaiya-library-sharda-school-sameep-padora-and-associates-page/37

It is always nice to create a sense of space. I have always felt, that when we travel overseas, we see lovely spaces created in those countries. Similarly, when we travel back in time, in our own country, whether it is the Taj Mahal, old Jaipur city, Udaipur, temples in Kerala, Ranakpur, the Jama Masjid in Delhi, the pols of Ahmedabad, a simple village in Kutch, there is a sense of space.

We need to reimagine spaces, and we must want an aesthetic. Architect Sameep Pandora and his team, along with the Sharda school staff, Somaiya Vidyavihar staff and the Staff of Godavari Biorefineries have done a wonderful job of articulating and giving form to this dream.

The article states that 'The library is, in fact, one of two Indian projects to take top honors this year - a strong first year showing for the nation whose design talent seems finally to be coming to the fore.'

https://www.archdaily.com/912997/winners-of-the-2019-building-of-the-year-awards?fbclid=IwAR26PYSAJsIJYqk8wDZWrUaqXa1H7cWC2exYxo0pUsfdmpFOjihf8SaNpUc-page/37

I am so happy, that we as Somaiya Vidyavihar were the clients for this project, and that this is one of our libraries, and also, as an Indian, that we have won an international award.

My late mother, after whom we named the library, would have been so happy today. Books were her life.

Samir


Dr. Shantilal Somaiya Birth Anniversary

29th December 2018

Dear friends,

Today is the 91st birth anniversary of my father, Dr. Shantilal K. Somaiya.  He was the Vice President of Somaiya Vidyavihar from 1959 until 2010 when he passed away.

There are many things I learned from him. One thing I would like to remember today, is his efforts at reaching out and engaging in dialogue.  

Once, when he had invited people with completely different points of view and opinions from ours, I asked him as to why he invited such people.

And he replied: " How else will we achieve change if we do not engage with people we do not agree with or think differently ? "

I did not agree with him then, but the more I have thought about his, the more I see how right he was.  We either close our ears to opinions and views of those we do not agree with, or worse, try to shut them up.  We do not engage in meaningful dialogue.  We see this everywhere in the world, as the world grows more intolerant.

His message was of a more inclusive world, that respected others and tried to achieve a common understanding based on dialogue.

Samir