10 May 2012

A tribute to Saji P George...

Nuclear Fusion is the process of releasing huge amounts of energy by combining two atoms. Energy released by fusion is considered to be much more than that released by the other process, Fission. Fusion releases huge amount of energy in the Sun's core. 

I remembered Nuclear Fusion when I was talking to Saji P George, 'SAIPER', during my recent visit to US.

It was not easy to get to Saiper. No one seemed to have his mobile number. I had to sent a mail to Saji's city council ID. He immediately sent me his phone number. When I called he was out of office. After some time he called back. Since I had saved his number, I responded with an excited 'Saji'. He asked who is this? I replied that this was Ramaswamy (in Malayalam). We spoke for about 5 minutes, me talking relentlessly in Malayalam and Saji responding (equally relentlessly) in English. He was on his way to Dentist, he told me (in English), can he call back after two hours? 

When he called back after two hours, Saji had found his 'Pacha Malayalam' (Raw Malayalam). 

I always considered Saiper as the person most similar to me while in College. We were the number one and two (Positions interchanging) 'Kathis' (Kathi: A person who has opinions on anything and is not afraid to share the same) of our batch. We had opinions on everything and sometimes even on nothing. Both of us wanted everything to be picture perfect, we wanted everyone to be happy, we both wanted a super engineering college where each of us can help the other grow and both of us wished to return to the halcyon (there is a tough word, take out your Websters...) days when seniors were seniors and locals dreaded the 'Tough Kids' of the engineering college.

And both of us loved to talk. Loved the sound of our voices as it were...

So when I was talking to Saiper, ideas and opinions were getting released dime a dozen and enough verbal energy was getting generated to power an entire village...

I had always been fascinated by Saiper. Like I mentioned before, here was a guy who was very similar to me in Engineering college (I could see Saiper cringe....) and over the years our paths had taken different directions. Saiper had joined ISRO after the Engineering, and then moved to US the hard way, by writing GRE and getting admission in Texas Institute of Technology (What is its Acronym?). He went on to graduate in Aeronautics ('Rocket Science') and had landed a good and steady job in the US. Last heard, in addition to holding a middle management position in the company,  he was also a council member in the City Council of Sunnyvale in Texas.

How 'bout me? I had joined SAIL, went to work in Durgapur Steel Plant in West Bengal, worked there for about 10 Years, then taught in a Management Institute for two years before finally ending up as an ERP Consultant having switched multiple companies. 

How is it that despite being very similar personalities, our paths diverged so significantly? Was it luck? Was it fate? Or was it a clear, goal directed approach by Saji (I knew it was not me, I was more of a floatsam, going with the flow). Were there significant circumstances, significant individuals, who helped the career directions that each of us (especially Saiper) and influenced the career decisions that he took to reach US.

By any measure, Saji was a success. He had a Degree from a leading Institute in US, works in a senior role in a leading manufacturing company in the US, attends church regularly  (as per his website), is a city council member, has two smart children, a very pretty wife, looks after his 84 year old father....

Son, Father, manager, member of the local community and husband, Saji has been playing all these roles with flair, elan and flamboyance over the last 20 years.

Of course, if you had closely observed Saji in College, you could have seen some of these traits. I am talking about roles other than Father and husband, of course. He took up the role of 'Mess Secretary' on more than one occasion, demonstrating his instincts for community service (It is a moot point if community was happy with his service, for his period is well known for the 'Chala' fish that he regularly served in the hostel). He used to attend church regularly, mostly to see to all the pretty Christian girls from our college and Vimala College who used to come there (Once back from Church, he used to mention Mercy, Lily, Viji....every names except ' Mary' (Our holy mother) seeing whom was the whole purpose of going to church...). And I had observed him studying hard on the eve of the exams..

As I mentioned before, I was curious to know the catalysts that propelled Saiper to the US from a cushy job at ISRO. How did a 'Thiruvalla Boy' became a 'Texas Man'. How did the evolution happen?

If you want to know about Saiper, who is better equipped to tell you that the man himself? 
I asked Saji to tell me his story. 

"It was sometime in '89 (Saji told me), I was working in ISRO. I had always wanted to go to US, but was not confident that I could do it. I had a friend named Venkatraman, who always used to motivate me to take up GRE and do higher studies in the US. But I kept putting it off."

"I also had a boss, named Sivaramakrishnan Nair, who was one of the most brilliant scientists that I have ever worked with. He had degrees from US, but did not (could not) work there. He motivated me to take up higher studies in the US. He used to tell me, 'Saji, you have potential, so don't waste it'. It was his continuous support that made me take up GRE'. Said Saji

"He was a good Christian", Saji told me using the well known Texan phrase used to describe a helpful person, "eventhough he was a Hindu. If it were not for him, I would still be in ISRO"  Saji told me thoughtfully.

"Those days, you could not take up TOEFL and GRE from Kerala. So I went to Chennai and based on my GRE Scores, I was able to get in to Texas Institute with Scholarship", Saji continued, "Those were the days of tight Forex control. You could only carry a maximum of 20 dollars when travelling abroad. So I landed in US with just 20 Dollars in my pocket" Said Saji grandly.

Of course, he had heard of all those millionaires who had come to US with just 20 Dollars in their pocket and made it big in US due to the dint of their hard work. That was different from a person who lands in US because, his country rules prevented him from carrying more cash. 

"But your sister was here in US, she could help you if you were in need", I pointed out. I had to prick a hole in the balloon of gravitas that Saji was building up.

"Of course, that it true, but you have to remember that both my sister and her husband were trying to establish themselves in US and they also had a very small kid by the time I was here. I was not very comfortable asking my sister from money" Saiper replied.

"By the time I graduated from the Institute, the economy had got into a recession. I couldn't get a job. So I worked as a mechanic for about an year. I cleaned engines, fitted cars, literally dirtied my hands with Grease Paint. I had taken a flat here in Texas, and found that many Indians who came to US in search for jobs landed at my apartment. At one point, there were 6 people staying in my apartment and I was the only earning member. All of them are doing well now." Saji told me.

"That was a very kind gesture on your part" I was appreciative.

"That is what we are in this planet for, isn't it Rama?" Saji was philosophical, "As individuals, we have to help others where possible"

The guy's heart was in the right place...

"My work as a mechanic also helped me in another way. I learned to understand the problems of lil' guys", Saji mentioned.

"Lil' guys?" I asked

"Yes, lil' guys, the guys who work under you in the plant you know, the mechanics, the fitters, the painters. Who keep the wheels of the Factory operations running", Saji explained patiently.

'Lil' guys........'

"When did your father come to live with you?" I asked.

"He came in '90 after my mother died. Since then he has been here in US with me. He is enjoying a lot. He goes for regular walks, has many friends. Sometimes he pines for 'Nattinpuram' you know. You know Rama (Saji the philosopher piped up) all thru our childhood our parents supported us. So it is our responsibility to look after them when they are older. That is only natural" Saji responded

I was touched by the downright earthiness and simplicity of Saji's logic and response. Hat's off to you man. 

It is easy for us in India to get our parents to come and stay with us. But to get a grieving parent to a different country, especially when you yourself are struggling to establish yourself, and ensuring that the parent is happy and to finally ensure that he gets a citizenship...That is exemplary demonstration of a son's commitment to his father. 

Saji was walking the talk. 

"To continue the story of my career, since the early days of my trouble, I have managed to get job (s) in US and am currently settled here in US. I have a good job, has a wonderful wife and great kids, have my 84 year old father staying with me. What more can one ask from life?" Saji was again into his philosophical, 'Kathi' self.

"You know, you are a classic example of Maslov's hierarchy of needs. Initially person is motivated by his physiological needs like food. Once these are sated, he then moves on to security needs like house, enough money in the bank etc. Once these are satisfied, you get into the third level of needs, which is the 'Social Needs', you want to be a part of a group. Most of us, including you, achieved this by getting into a good job with some good colleagues. Fourth need is the 'self - esteem' needs where one is motivated to be recognized for his contribution. You fulfilled this need by doing community service, tell me about it?" I couldn't help show off my knowledge of motivational literature. Once you know stuff you got to show off somewhere....

Saji was more than happy to talk about it. "The culture of community service is very strong in the US. From early on, I and my family were enthusiastic participants in church activities. From then on, moving to becoming a member of City Council was a natural progression. I am enjoying my work here, even though it is sinecure (Saji didn't say this word, Saji said the work at council is voluntary and do not pay anything, you do the math)" Saji concluded.

We spoke some more. 

I was fascinated by my discussion with Saiper. From growing up in the early eighties in Kerala, confused and not knowing his full potential like most of us, Saji has come a long way towards fulfilling his potential. While he has some way to go to reach the 'Self actualization needs', the fifth level in Maslov's hierarchy, Saji has his basics right. He seem to be having clear vision, follows simple steps to meet his vision,  has played his various roles with panache and has built up significant level of experience and expertise. It is only a matter of time Saji fulfills his full potential. 

Hats off to you Saji. It was wonderful and elevating talking to you. I enjoyed every bit of our discussion. 

I have become your fan....

Finally, why Fusion? Because the discussion between me and Saji is like the fusion to two 'Kathis'. Enormous amount of verbal energy is released when we talk. 

Note: Some of the facts mentioned in this mail may be wrong. After all this is written from the memory of a call that I had with Saiper about 20 days ago. But the spirit of this mail is very accurate. 

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