Monday, March 13, 2006

LATENT 3: Sam Pitroda

Sam Pitroda, Chairman of the Knowledge Commission of India, addressed an audience of students on the 8th of March, 2006 at the Thakorbhai Desai Hall, Law Garden, Ahmedabad. That is where I found material for this post.

He narrated to us an incident about the time when he was in India and had invited a friend over for dinner. They agreed that the guest would come over at 7:30 in the evening. Sam made an entry into his diary, reminding him of his appointment.

At 7:30, however, two things happened. One, the guest did not arrive. Two, Sam forgot all about the dinner guest and settled down for his meal. At around 8, after Sam had finished his dinner, the guest arrived. Sam, being the good host that he is, settled down for a couple of drinks with the guy. When, after some time passed, the guest refused to budge, Sam inquired why he had come over. "But you invited me for dinner !!", the fellow retorted. Sam, in a fix, had to have his dinner a second time.

But this prompted Sam to think. "Why did this happen, I asked myself," says Sam. "And I realised that the problem was that although I'd made an entry into my diary, there was nothing which REMINDED ME of the fact that at 7:30, someone was due at my place. So, I did a very simple thing. I wrote a program for a circuit where it would check for a scheduled time against the current time, and if the two match, would notify the user. I filed for a patent and the world's first digital diary was born."

After a couple of years, things changed for the worse. Rajiv Gandhi, the then PM with whom Sam had a good understanding, was assassinated and Sam was without a job. In a desperate bid to get his life together, a penniless Sam had to go America, that too on a tourist visa. There, he saw various companies such as Sharp, Sony etc. selling digital diaries.

"'Wait a minute,' I said, 'this is my invention.' So, I wrote to the all the leading electronic firms saying that what they were selling was under patent and that they must pay me royalty. They saw the name, Satyanarayan Gangaram Pitroda, an Indian, and said nothin' doin'. I said 'Fine', went to my lawyer and filed a suit against each one of them. That is when they realised that I meant business and paid me the due amount. And that," Sam pauses for breath, "is how I got my life back on track."

Unbelievable. All the while that we've been using digital diaries, I do not think many of us knew that it came from the mind of an inspired Indian. Wow!

And even today, the guy isn't satisfied. "What is keeping you guys from being active?" he asked us. "Today, I'm 64 years of age, and just about yesterday I've finished filing for another 20-25 patents."

Everything around you is waiting for a change, you just need to look around with a questioning attitude - Sam Pitroda