The President's Writings

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


How Cornell influenced me in charting the course at Somaiya

25th December 2018

Dear friends,

Last month I was invited to speak at the South Asia Programme at Cornell.  I was asked to speak on, how my student days at Cornell (and elsewhere), have influenced the work we do at the Somaiya institutions.

I thought deeply about that, and thought, that the best way to communicate that was visually. I realise that the images are not showing in this email, I will send a link to an uploaded presentation later today.

I explained to them, that I just applied to Cornell, since my friend was, and I gave the exams and made the applications to 'give him company'.  When I did get admission, I was very keen to go, and asked for permission.  My mom was ok, father was not, but if grandfather (K. J. Somaiya) allowed, I could go.

He said, why not Somaiya.  I said, no Chemical Engineering here, and Cornell is far better than Somaiya.  He did not mind that.  But said, 'Go, but promise me, that when you return, in your lifetime, you will try to make our institutions to good, that if a candidate applies to Cornell, he/she will also apply to Somaiya'.  And he allowed me to fly.

He traded dreams.  Made my dreams his, and his mine.  How powerful!!

Below is a picture of my grandparents when they came for my Masters Graduation.  K. J. Somaiya is 90 years old.

When he came, he saw our sports field at Cornell.  He said, why can we not have such a field on our campus.  And he planned it.  However, he could not see it built.  So, the first thing I did, when I took charge, is that I built a 400 m running track in 2011.

 

I had learnt from him to observe, and if you see something that is good, ten quickly adopt it.  But do not be blind.  Take what is good, and leave behind what is not.  And that, in everything, there is a good and a bad.  

Many years ago, while walking near the University of Geneva, in Switzerland, I had seen a giant Chess Board, and so:

 

 

In fact, when I attended Cornell, the first thing I noticed, was that there were gardens everywhere, and that the landscape was very inviting.  On our campuses, we had buildings, but the space between buildings was unattended.  So, I thought of creating gardens, and green spaces.  And areas for sports.  At the Vidyavihar campus, we have done a lot, at the Ayurvihar campus, we still have a lot to do.  

The picture below shows the founder's garden just before, and after completion.  What I am not showing, and did not show at Cornell, that many years ago, there was too much litter on our campus.  I am so proud, that we take pride in our campus spaces, and feel quite terrible, when I see people throwing trash.  

 

 

I also saw lovely sculptures on the campus at Cornell, and thought that we should have them too.  For example, they had a nice statue of their founder.  But high up.  I thought that we should have one too.  But not so high.  Shri K. J. Somaiya had written in his notes:

કોઈને ઉપયોગી થવાની તક ન ખોવી
Do not lose an opportunity to be useful to others

 

 

Similarly, I put a statue of my father, that was so wonderfully unveiled by His Holiness The Dalai Lama in early 2017.  In fact, when I met him after my father's death, he pointed to me and said 'you look like your father, your father was my friend'.  I felt blessed.  My father. Dr. Shantilal Somaiya did much to establish communication with various religions, at the highest level.  

Similarly, I had never stayed in a hostel.  And lived at Cornell housing for 3 years.  They had nice buildings and nice gardens outside.

 

 

Well, I think our Maitreyi looks better than Alice Cook house - What do you think?

There were also other changes to make.  As late as 2010, we did not have common ID cards.  Each institution had their own.  There was no common campus identity.  In fact, students were discouraged from going to other parts of the campus (canteens, etc).  At Cornell, I noticed a common campus identity, and thought that we must also have one.

When I studied at Harvard, I really liked their bookstore - the Harvard Coop.  So, Amrita and I, decided to build one like that in Mumbai too.  So, if you have not visited Kitabkhana, you are welcome to visit (it is at Fountain).  I think books are necessary.  We have become to used to reading 3 minutes (or less) at a time.  Books are windows to a different world.  They need our time, we need to get lost inside them.  Kitabkhana is a place to lose oneself. दिल ढूँढता है, फिर वही फुर्सत के रात दिन......(movie मौसम - शायर - गुलज़ार)

 

 

The academic environment was also very refreshing at Cornell.  I also teach there.  I can decide my curriculum, readings, method of evaluation etc.  I realised, that here, we had to teach what the University told us.  That had to change, and that is why we applied for autonomy, and got that in many institutions.  If one has to grow, then one has to learn to think for oneself, decide what is worth learning, how much, and what is ok to leave behind.

We have started a Master's in Polymer Science, a Master's in Healthcare management, and are planning a host of other initiatives.  Within courses, and in new programmes.

Cornell also had many project groups.  I still remember, speaking to the students after having received a copy of the Cornell magazine, describing how Cornell had won the Formula racing competition.  And I wondered, that are these competitions only for Universities such as Cornell.  Can we not compete, I challenged our students.  And now, we have so many groups.

 

 

Recently at the MIT Media lab (where I also took some courses), I saw that the walls of the classrooms were made of glass.  So, we have also created glass walls at the extension building of the K J Somaiya Institute of Engineering and Information Technology.

 

 

In fact, our incubator space riidl, was also inspired by a similar visit at the MIT Media lab.

While visiting Cornell Tech, the recent New York City campus of Cornell University (that was gifted to Cornell by New York City - and that speaks volumes for a City's commitment to higher education, given how much we need to struggle), I saw that they had started a startup studio.  I suggested that to riidl, and we created a similar programme here as well.

 

 

And then to take students from one campus to another (their medical campus is a four and a half hour drive from the parent campus - ours is a twenty minute drive), they have a bus that continuously moves between them.  That helped create joint and interdisciplinary projects. 

 

 

In medicine, the challenge has been to create an institution that provides great care to all.  In India, poor go to teaching hospitals, and those who can afford it, to expensive ones.  In the USA, everyone prefers to go to a teaching hospital.  I wanted to make ours like that.  And so we added a super specialty wing to our hospital, to improve the overall hospital.

My father passed away in Australia, in a teaching hospital, where he was taken after he slipped and fell, and hurt his head. Though he did not survive, I thought we should have a similar emergency room in our hospital.

K J Somaiya Medical College & also the Hospital

But we are also different in many ways.  We do work in adult education, in under privileged areas.  We have built a gorgeous centre at Jetavan, in Sakarwadi.  This initiative by the K J Somaiya Centre for Buddhist Studies was built using quarry dust, fly ash, jute, cow dung, and old style casting techniques from Kutch.

जेतवन

 

 

We recently inaugurated the Maya Somaiya library (named after my mother), that was 'Highly Commended' by the magazine Architecture Review (only one of three such this year), and was covered in the international magazine Domus.

Maya Somaiya Library at the Sharda School in Kopargaon

 

 

We also do work at Nareshwadi - to work in health, education, and livelihood of the tribal community.  And we have a 100 student बालकाश्रम. We also teach artisans in Kutch business management, and principles of design.  Their convocation is the best I have ever seen, with graduates walking down the ramp in a fashion show, in a village with more than 6000 in the audience.  And the audience is full of friends and family.

 

 

We are a rare institution, where the K J Somaiya Vidyapeeth conducts its entire curriculum in Sanskrit, run by the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan.  

But this is only the beginning.  In the future, we want to build a school of Indian music and dance, of the arts, painting, drama.  We want to build a museum. We want to build more science laboratories, more health care facilities, more sports facilities. More places to live, learn, and live some more.

It is only possible to do because of what they founded, dreamt, and built.  

I made a promise to my grandfather. In the words of the poet Robert Frost: "I have promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep."
It will take time, but many of you are walking with me in making that dream a reality.  From the housekeeping staff who cleans the campus, the student who imagines a lander on a Jovian moon, the doctor working in Pratikshanagar, the teacher preparing his/her lecture notes and thousands of you, we are all in this together.  

Please continue walking with me in fulfilling that promise.  In the words of Kaifi Azmi:  उठ मेरी जान, मेरे साथ ही चलना है तुझे


Kazakhstan

13th October 2018

Dear friends,

Kalaben Acharya and I just returned from Kazakhstan.  I was invited by their President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to attend their 6th Congress of World and Traditional Religions, and invited to speak on behalf of Hinduism, on we could make the world can be made more safe and secure.

My father, Dr. Shantilal Somaiya had done much to foster inter faith understanding, and had been recognised in Kazakhstan (I have written more about that in a past letter here: https://www.somaiya.edu/oop/en/view-communications-page/37)

I would like to share with you, the text of my speech, below.  

His Excellency Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan.

His Excellency Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Leaders and Representatives of World and Traditional Religions

The word secure, is derived from Latin, and means ‘se’ -  without, and ‘cura’, care. Meaning ‘without care’. Without worry.  Without fear. How do we help create a world where we all feel secure, free from fear and threats, and one in which we feel free to dream, hope and pursue our dreams.

The Sanskrit verse, taken from the sixth chapter of the Maha Upanishad, is engraved at the entrance hall of the Parliament of India, The verse says:

अयं निजः परो वेति गणना लघुचेतसाम् |उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् || 6.71

“This is mine, that is yours, say the small minded.  The entire world is a family, for the large hearted.”(6.71)

We all live in very diverse worlds.  Our worlds can be divided into nations, religions, languages, ethnicities, genders, and as many differences we can think about.  Our way of dress, the food we eat, the colour of our skin, the culture to which we belong, our way of worshipping God, etc., are all expressions of those differences. Do we celebrate this diversity?  Or do we seek to want the world to look alike and exactly the same, and one that conforms to our world view?

These differences have often become an obstacle to our living together. They must instead be seen as enriching our human community and our lives.  The verse quoted above makes us see the world as one without boundaries, and just as in a family we have different members with varied hopes, dreams, ages, and abilities, so also the entire world.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.”  If one is to look at the world as one family, then one must care for the world. The Bhagavad Gita also says that

यज्ञशिष्टाशिनः सन्तो मुच्यन्ते सर्वकिल्बिषैः ।

भुञ्जते ते त्वघं पापा ये पचन्त्यात्मकारणात् ॥ 3.13॥

Meaning, that one who cooks for himself alone, is committing a sin.  And only he who eats last after providing for all, is freed from sin.  Here, the meaning is to pursue action, to pursue work, but to work for all, and to partake of the fruit of one’s work, only after making sure that all others have been provided for.  After we have ‘secured’ for others, their well being.

If people in the world looked out only for themselves, and did not bother or care for those around them, then you have the world that is ‘secure for me,’ but ‘there is no place for you’.  Mahatma Gandhi was referring to this ‘greed’.

We must not become blind to other people’s needs, deaf to their cries of help, indifferent to their problems. We must always be alive to address the needs of our extended families, the needs of those living next door, the needs of those working with us, the needs of those who we perceive to be ‘other’ than us, i.e., a different country, a different religion, a different culture.

In  the Atharvaveda, it has been said : Earn with a hundred hands and give with a thousand hands.

“शतहस्त समाहर सहस्रहस्त संकिर” | (Atharvaveda III.24.5).

Meaning that one must work, and one must earn.  But one must earn to give. To provide a safer and more secure world.

And we must set examples in our own places of work and activity.   We all exercise some degree of ‘soft power’, i.e., a power exercised through persuasion, instead of ‘hard power’ that is exercised through military force or economic sanctions. This can be demonstrated by example, or the environment we create in our spheres of influence.  If I represent an educational institution, we must welcome all. All people from all walks of life, demographies, religions, languages, cultures. We must celebrate diversity. We must also understand that we may have different value systems. Do we provide a platform to be able to discuss different values?  Can we agree to differ, can we agree to come together?  Do we only tolerate one other, or do we truly respect each other.

Much violence is being perpetrated in the world in the name of religion, nationalities, languages, cultures, and other boundaries.  A poet famously said:

कोई हिन्दू कोई मुस्लिम कोई ईसाई है

सब ने इंसान न बनने की क़सम खाई है

निदा फाज़ली

Meaning that we have all decided to be Hindus, Muslims and Christians over being people.  We must be people first, and remember that in all conversations.

To see this unity, and to keep reminding us of this, we need dialogue.  Dialogue is about listening to, understanding, and learning from each other in the knowledge that truth, and goodness are not exclusive to any religion in particular, but are spoken of in all religions.  

In this Sixth Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, at the invitation of the Honourable President, Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, we are provided the opportunity to come together, and discuss how we can, hand in hand, create a better, secure, peaceful and harmonious world.  Let us keep trying.

 

But what was even more wonderful, was, that on the way back home, on my flight from Delhi to Mumbai, I met an elderly lady, who was on her way to do the Haj pilgrimage.  She was on a flight for the first time, and we started talking about life.  She mentioned, that before she left her village, she invited her entire village for a celebration, and fed every one, गुलाब जामुन and जलेबी.  People of all religions, came to celebrate, and to bid her farewell.

She also mentioned, that as always, in Navratri, she gave money to the village temple for नारियल चढ़ाने के लिये। as she did every year.

When I left, I said ख़ुदा हाफिज़, and she said, मेरा नमस्कार।

This is our world, and how it also should be.

Samir Somaiya


Maya Somaiya Library at Kopargaon

7th September 2018

 

Dear friends

This past July, we also inaugurated the Maya Somaiya library in our Sharda School at Kopargaon (Maharashtra).  Many of you may not know, that we also run schools in many parts of India, and this is one of them.  

I named this library after my late mother, who passed away in June this year.  The reason I thought of naming this library after her, was that books kept her happy and her world big.  She had been suffering from auto immune diseases.  And in the last 5 years, her hearing deteriorated dramatically.  She used to catch infections quickly, and because of her compromised immunity, she could not leave the house or even her room much.  In this situation, she turned to books, and she read much, and she read good literature.  That kept her happy, and as I mentioned, her world big.  And so the name.  

She used to love to sing, and promoted many artists in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  I have attached a song that she had sung - रस्मे उल्फत सिखा गया कोई, दिल की दुनिया बसा गया कोई।

The library is attached to a school.  The conversation started when I had taken my daughter Gayatri there, to speak to the students about her love for reading.  Gayatri was also a school going student.  The students engaged with her, and mentioned to her, that they needed a proper library.  

And so, why not build a beautiful library.  And why not in rural India.  Why not have architecture that motivates, and captivates.  One that a student will carry with him/her long after he or she graduates.  To encourage reading, and widen one's world.  My friend also designed this building.  It has no pillars in the building.  The 'ceiling' is made of brick, and is self supporting.  The library and its architecture was covered in the current edition of the Italian architecture magazine Domus.

This school is a few km away from Shirdi (10 minutes).  If any of you do visit Shirdi, please visit the Maya Somaiya library at Somaiya Vidyavihar's Sharda School there.

Do see the pictures that I have attached, and if you like Gazals, listen to my mother's voice.

Samir Somaiya

 


Startup School at Riidl

31st August 2018

Dear friends

I spent time at the Startup School at Riidl this evening.  It was wonderful to be there, and interact with the staff, faculty, and shishyas who have signed up.  The energy was electric, and the motivation of the participants to make their locality and/or world a better place was inspiring.

A couple of years ago, I visited Cornell Tech in New York City and saw their Startup Studio https://tech.cornell.edu/studio/curriculum/startup-studio-1/

It was simple, yet disruptive.  Instead of teaching students a theory of innovation in lectures and case studies, this was encouraging students to make their own case, and take the learning to their table.  

Action learning.

There is always an idea, and then there is transforming it to reality.  My father used to say, that to transform an idea to reality, it is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.  Gaurang and his team, have converted that idea, transformed and built it, in their own way, into a powerful programme, with a wide variety of participants, ages, dreams and aspirations.  A welcoming place, to educate, and to transform, and to change ourselves, and the world around us.
https://riidl.org//startupschoolindia

Here's to a better world.


KJSIEIT extension building

27th August 2018

Dear friends,

I am really delighted, that our extension building of the KJSIEIT has been featured on the website Archdaily.

https://www.archdaily.com/899721/kj-somaiya-college-for-information-technology-sameep-padora-and-associates

We are trying to create spaces, for creating environments of learning.  This extension, that has 6 rooms, which we have named after the six seasons, addsd a wonderful and hidden space behind the main building.  In this next month, we hope to complete the space, with the extension of the canteen into the area between this and the old building.


Transition

15th May 2018

Dear Colleagues,

There is always a time for transition.  Mr. Ranganathan has served as the Secretary of K J Somaiya Trust, and all Trusts supported by our group.  After serving for over 16 years, he will now make way for Lieutenant General Jagbir Singh.  Lieutenant Jagbir Singh takes over from today, but the period of transition will be until 1 December 2018.

Mr. Ranganathan has served us for over 16 years, and carried on the tradition of Mr. P M Kavadia before him.  We now welcome Lieutenant General Jagbir Singh, who retired from serving our country after 39 years of service.

While in service, he had administrative command of the Indian Army in peninsular India, with over 30 establishments and 75,000 personnel under his control.  He oversaw the working of 9 military hospitals, and premier education institutions and schools of the Army.

We are delighted that he joins us, and will, start taking over from Mr. Ranganathan as Secretary of all the Trusts under our fold.  Please join me in welcoming him.


To help others

17th February 2018

Dear friends,

About 15 years ago, I met young girl in rural Karnataka who wanted to study.  She was in the 10th standard, and aspired to be a Doctor.  But, for want of money, her family was thinking of getting her married.

I asked her mother, if she would consider continuing her education, if we funded her education.  Her mother readily agreed, and the young girl is now a teacher.

Should this remain a chance meeting between two people.  Could we not scale this?  There are so many promising students, who for want of opportunity and/or money, are forced to give up their education.  

Amrita and I always thought that we should expand this.  That it should reach more people.  More people should contribute, and more should be helped.  We have continued to help and contribute individually, and request friends to assist.  Currently, every year, more than 600 new students are helped.  

This year, Amrita wondered, that could we involve our Somaiya students to help fund raise for this.  And she is trying to involve our community.   

I invite you to visit:

https://svvchallenge.ketto.org/

or 

http://helpachild.in/home.aspx

A little bit goes a long way.  


Prof V N Rajasekharan Pillai has joined us as our Provost

29th January 2018

Dear friends,

I am pleased to announce, that  Prof V N Rajasekharan Pillai has joined us as our Provost from the 24th January 2018

He takes over from De. Rajen Welukar, who had to leave a few months ago for personal reasons.

Prof. V. N. Rajasekharan Pillai has been at the helm of affairs of many higher educational and scientific research establishments for the last 47 years of service as a teacher, professor, researcher, and executive head of Education, Science and Technology establishments in the country and abroad. 

 

An Elected Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Prof. Rajasekharan Pillai is one among the top-cited Chemistry researchers in the country. He created an internationally renowned research group.

 

Top executive positions which he occupied include the :

Vice-Chairmanship  and Chairmanship of the University Grants Commission, Government of India;

Executive Director of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), Government of India;

Vice-Chancellor of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU);

Chairman of the Distance Education Council, Government of India;

Vice-Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala;

Vice-Chancellor of Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kerala; Executive

Vice-President of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology & Environment;

Ex-Officio Principal Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of Kerala;

Chairman of the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority, under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India;

Chairman of the Kerala Biotechnology Commission, Government of Kerala.

President of Mewar University, Chittorgarh, Rajasthan.

President of a New Delhi NCR-based Civil Society Organisation, Human Development Foundation India,

Director Board of Apollo Group of Hospitals and on the Boards of several academic institutions and research establishments in the country and abroad.

Prof Pillai will oversee the Academic and Administrative responsibilities of Somaiya Vidyavihar and Somaiya Ayurvihar.  We do hope that under his leadership, we are able to create the world-class institution that our founders dreamed of, and worked towards.

 

Samir Somaiya