Be exactly who you are. You can fit in any space you see yourself, by being fearless.

                                                                                -Dawn Angelieque Richard (b.1983), American Singer

Fear causes doubts, delay and eventually no action. Without action nothing happens. If we analyse little deeper, we can develop the power and choice of cultivating thoughts and emotions. Shekhar, my engineering classmate (1968-73) facilitated this process in me without being aware of it.

Shekhar R. Borgaonkar (b.1952) is younger of the two sons of Ramachandra M. Borgaonkar (1918-2014) and Shantha Bai (1927-99). Ramachandra uncle was working in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bangalore as draughtsman. Though born deaf, he was a prolific writer, mainly fiction and a poet. I remember having read some of his short stories in Deccan Herald even before I met Shekhar.

We belonged to the first batch of engineering under Semester scheme which was introduced in 1968 by Bangalore University, replacing the existing Integrated scheme. There were six subjects, workshop, engineering drawing, Chemistry practical in the first two semesters. For each of the subjects there were two tests and two assignments within a span of four months and this carried twenty five percent. Being a playful and casual adolescent during most of my High school years, it took time for me to settle down to the hard grind of the engineering course.

As I was settling down, I got to interact with Shekhar and realised quickly that he stood out as a tall personality, not just physically, but also emotionally and intellectually in the class of sixty students. Even though he was in his teens like most of us, he had the maturity to handle any situation – during the class-room as well as outside. Apart from being bold, he never got intimidated by the challenges posed by situation/people.

It all started with Shekhar asking me one day, do I play chess and when I said, yes, he suggested that we can play blind chess. Though it was good fun for testing my memory, I did not progress much. Having experienced playing blind chess long ago, recently when I was part of the audience during a Chess competition held for blind children by Rotary, I was amused looking at the courage and enthusiasm of those children.

I vividly remember a situation when one of our classmates was wielding a knife to attack a few classmates who were teasing him. Shekhar counselled him and the others patiently and avoided a possible bloody fight. Subsequently Shekhar and this classmate continued to study together even during post-graduation.

When we were in our final year, Shekhar suggested that being the Class Representative, I should lead the college chapter of a National Students’ Organisation and arrange for some interesting programmes. As India had just then won the Bangladesh war, I invited a young Army Captain Sridhar from Infantry Corps, who had fought the war to share his experiences with us. The talk was titled, Meet the War Hero! Under the auspices of the same organisation, we also organised a seminar of projects done by final semester Electronics students as part of the curriculum, inviting a Professor from Indian Institute of Science as chief guest. These experiences subsequently helped me to take up leadership position both during my stint as R & D engineer at Indian Telephone Industries as well as later during my entrepreneurial years, when I was nominated as the President of the Electronics Industries Association.

Having completed graduation, Shekhar joined M.Tech to specialise in Microwave at Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. On completion of M.Tech he registered for PhD in the area of Microwave at Indian Institute of Science (IISc). As he could not align with his research supervisor in a few areas, after a couple of years of research work he changed his research topic from Microwave to Computer Science and completed his PhD. After completing his doctorate, the variety of jobs that Shekhar handled is a great testimony for his fearlessness and ready to experiment nature.

State of Karnataka is well known not only for initiating banks in the private sector (Canara Bank, Corporation Bank, Syndicate Bank, etc.) as early as first quarter of twentieth century, but also is the first State in India where professional colleges, both in engineering and medicine were established in the private sector[1].  Subsequently many more colleges for professional education were established and Sri Jagadguru Murugarajendra Institute of Technology (SJMIT) was one such engineering college established in 1981 at Chitradurga. No sooner he completed his PhD program from IISc, Shekhar could have easily found a teaching position in any of the established engineering colleges anywhere in India; but, he decided to take up teaching at SJMIT which was just a year old then, that too in a tier 3 city! His next career move was more daring!

Bangalore is known as the Silicon Valley of India for nurturing Information Technology (IT) Startups. It was during early 1980s today’s IT giants Infosys, Wipro, etc. were taking baby steps. Ashok Narasimhan was one of the earliest executives employed by Azim Premji while establishing Wipro Information Services along with Ashok Soota. After working with Wipro for a short stint, Narasimhan left for USA and established a Startup, Custom Cut for developing software to stitch suits. In 1986 Shekhar resigned from his teaching job to join Custom Cut and worked in the USA for a while and returned to India for establishing the development centre at Bangalore. In 1987 he joined hands with Vinay Deshpande, one of a very few pioneering IT entrepreneurs in the early stages of Computer era, who had established PSI Data Systems, to work on Telecom projects for nearly four years.

Shekhar suddenly vanished from the engineering scene and I came to know that he had become a disciple of one Swami Kalki Bhagawan, who deputed him to rural areas for spreading spirituality among people. I did not get an opportunity to meet Shekhar during the period (1992-96) when he was a Swamiji.  By the time I met him again sometime during 1998, he had become an entrepreneur by establishing IP Cell to work on Voice over Internet. As the startup was starved of cash in less than two years, he became a consultant to Srujana Creations, a company established by his friend and worked on Aerospace project. In 2002 he joined Hewlett Packard Labs, Bangalore as Research manager and went on to become a director before retiring in 2012.

During 2003 on one of his trekking trips to Shravandurga, Shekhar had parked his car near a farmer’s house at Adkamaranahalli village of Magadi Taluk situated about 40 Kms from Bangalore. When he returned from trekking around 6.00 pm, the farmer’s wife had prepared food for him. This process was repeated whenever he went for trekking to Shravandurga. The hospitality shown by the farmer’s family made Shekhar to adopt the family and help them to improve farming techniques, establishing a bio-gas plant and other related activities. In 2018 Shekhar decided to live in the village itself and presently he is in the process of completing his house there.

It will not be possible for me to find another person like Shekhar, who has demonstrated fearlessness in terms of choosing career options ranging from agriculture to spirituality!

[1] B.M.Sreenivasaiah College of Engineering, Bangalore (1946) and, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal (1953)


Janaury 22nd, 2024 | Ravi 71