This is the kind of story that Jerry Davich and Denis Berlien give in their book ‘Connections – Everyone Happens For A Reason’.
A few years ago when I was looking to purchase a particular book and went searching for it on the internet, I was directed to ‘Scholars Without Borders’ . Bingo, I was able to get the book but had problems paying for it with one particular credit card and had to use another. When I complained about the inconvenience, the man behind the website wrote to me a very nice letter and explained the problem and assured me that the matter would shortly be resolved and in the meanwhile, if I had other requirements, he would be perfectly happy to send the books in advance and await payment by cheque or demand draft. This kind of trust from a total stranger was new to me and I tried to find more about the man, Ramakrishnan Ramaswamy and discovered that he was a fellow Tambram and a teacher to boot.
Ram is a bit greyer and thinner on top now, and every now and then tries to compete with me with a greying beard. Otherwise the photo is quite a resemblance to him. If I had asked him for a photograph, he would have had a fit so I stole it from the web!
I have a high repect for teachers, as I am sure Magpie would vouch for, and decided to make friends with Ramakrishnan Ramaswamy and I have not regretted it for a moment. We spoke to each other on the phone and met when Ram came down to Pune and have been in reasonably good touch via email, SMS and Facebook.
Ram is an amazing person fully deserving to feature among my list of heroes for reasons slightly different from the last hero about who I had posted. Let me give some background.
Ram is an Army-brat. Born to an Officer of the Indian Army, he has had the kind of life and career that a typical Indian middle class person has. Focus and emphasis on education above all, and an unusual vision about their station in life.
Ram is a graduate of one of India’s prestigious institutions of higher education, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. The Indian Institute of Technology, is the IIT that Scot Adams character Asok, in the comic strip ‘Dilbert’ comes from.
Like many graduates of IIT, Ram too went to the USA for higher studies and got his PhD from, a great Ivy league institution of higher learning, the Princeton University. AND, hold your breath, Ram’s subject is not an ordinary one that anyone and everyone can study and get degrees in. Physics is the subject and Ram’s own specialty, hold your breath again, is Chaos Theory.
Unlike most IIT graduates who go to the USA for higher studies and settle down there, Ram decided to return to India and teach. He is currently Professor, School of Physical Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi India, and I am told on excellent authority, that he is a highly respected and effective teacher of a difficult subject.
So far, so good. This does not make him my hero. What makes Ram a hero for me is his dedication to spreading education via books to places where books are difficult to procure. This is his where his Scholars Without Borders comes in and that is precisely what they do. I have bought many books from them and Ram has always told me that he will get any book for me from anywhere in the world as long as I am willing to pay for it. He has not let me down so far, though now, the initiative is no longer receiving his personal day to day attention, as his staff attend to the nitty gritty of the business.
Ram’s obsession with this particular aspect of education has got him due recognition and funding from the Ford Foundation which has enabled him to set up an initiative called ‘Access Equity’.
Ram is a remarkable person and I am very proud and happy to count him as my friend. For all his achievements and status, Ram is an ordinary guy, simple and humble to the extreme. Unfortunately, he is extremely busy with his teaching, his obsession, guest lectures all over the place, and rafting down the Ganges! The last one, a totally unprofessorlike hobby but in which he seems to take great delight in. Unfortunate because, I do not get to meet and talk to him as much as I would like to.
Ram, I hope you won’t blush. I salute you. You can buy me a Pav Bhaji when we next meet.