Sanjoy loved computers and people who worked with them. He believed that there was so much to do in this field. Much of his focus was on rural computerization, and e-governance. His better known ideas were CRISP, and then IT.Com. He coined the term 'Bangalore - the IT capital of India' and floated concepts like the IT Corridor, Digital Unites (as against Digital Divides) - amongst others. He promoted Linux too. And the BIT club at Bangalore. And the rural IT quiz. And simputers. And e-mandi.
Among his various ideas to promote IT based poverty intervention programmes were the Digital library (Documentation/ storage/ retrieval/ access of public domain software packages), simputers (a low cost IT technology for application in rural areas especially for SHGs), computers for Africa (a plan for creating school computer centres and community internet facility in Africa) He outlined the idea of a digital library, C-Coms (Computerised computer management system for awareness and empowerment)
Amongst his spread of ideas were IT forums
in Sri Lanka and more actively in China.
"What are the problems you are facing in running your business, and how can the Indian government support you?"
These were the very first words I heard from Sanjoy Das Gupta on a Saturday afternoon when I was first introduced to him at the STPI headquarters in Electronic City in Bangalore in early 1998 by its Director, Mr. Naidu. Sanjoy had just been assigned the gargantuan task of becoming Karnataka's IT Secretary at a time when Hyderabad was gaining tremendous momentum and stealing the limelight and business away from Bangalore largely due to AP's charismatic leader Chandrababu Naidu.
As I had lived mostly in the US and only heard or read negative press about the bureaucracy surrounding the Indian government, Sanjoy's first words could not have been more welcome. In fact, his power over the English language coupled with an acute understanding of prioritizing and addressing business issues had me in complete disbelief that I was speaking to somebody from the government. Interestingly, we were indeed having a significant "issue" in running our business and the Indian government did need to support us. Finally, someone cared.
Back in late 1996, when we expanded our operations out of the US and started in Bangalore, the Indian government was quite unprepared for the opportunity that faced the IT industry due to the revolutionary changes being brought about by the innovations in telecom & the internet. This was a time when there weren't any BPOs or Call Centers across India serving the global markets. VSNL held a monopoly on providing data and voice services, and Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) was in its infancy. This was a time when having US customers' calls routed to an India based office and vice-versa was considered "illegal." In fact, in trying to build a software product business, we were trying to do just that. We wanted to take advantage of India's talent pool beyond the typical software engineering story and into technical support, documentation, translation, sales, marketing, finance, HR, and administration - all for the US parent company - with employees from India. Think of it as a BPO for our own company. Clearly, this model would create a lot of jobs in India and help our American parent company with cost savings - a win-win scenario. Obviously, this "new" business model required seamless "voice" connectivity between the US and India where our Indian employees would need to be able to make calls to any number to the public exchange across the US via a US dial-tone and number which terminated in India. Sounds logical and straightforward, right? This was "illegal" then.
When I described this problem to Sanjoy, he instantly understood the potential this model held for the Indian industry and its ramifications if the government encouraged such "seamless" connectivity as opposed to discouraging it simply to protect VSNL's long-distance telecom monopoly. Sanjoy invited me to speak at the Prime Ministers Task Force Panel to create awareness amongst the powers-to-be. He introduced us to the leaders in the Telecom and Communications Industry at the state and national levels to discuss these issues that were holding back the potential of the IT industry. His efforts during that time went a long way in paving the path for the BPO, Call-Center, & Software Industries by helping toward changing the laws that today make voice communications seamless between India and the rest of the world. Sanjoy opened up my belief in the government.
While we began working together on resolving our telecom related issues, Sanjoy learned more about our company and what we were trying to do. He understood the significant differences within the software services and products business. He encouraged us at a time when trying to build software products from India for the global market was considered too risky and was generally discouraged. I shared Sanjoy's passion and vision for helping India's software industry evolve and go up the value chain by creating intellectual property out of India. After all, the world's biggest software companies were primarily into product development and not services. This is when I discovered Sanjoy's burning desire (and belief) to make India stand head-to-head against the best in the world. Little did I know at that time that this quest was not limited to business issues.
The STPI was planning to set up a unit in Northern Karnataka. They had planned a major event in collaboration along with Northern Karnataka's emerging IT industry and universities to celebrate its announcement. Sanjoy invited me to the panel to primarily share my experiences in entrepreneurship with the local student and business community. Spending time on this trip with Sanjoy, exposed me to another dimension to him - his unrelenting support to rural India. I learned his ideas about ensuring a fine balance of progress across modern cities like Bangalore and emerging small towns. I will never forget the train ride back to Bangalore from Hubli with Sanjoy and Mr. Naidu. It was on this ride that my relationship with Sanjoy extended into friendship.
Anyone who spent any decent time with Sanjoy could not escape his wit and ability to make you chuckle. I was single at the time and enjoyed my share of partying. In fact, I had tried to wiggle my way out of the commitment to go to this event as I was occupied the night before at a friends wedding and did not want to take a bus-ride to an unknown place called Hubli (I had thought that I was going to somewhere near Calcutta as I had heard of the river Hoogly!). Sanjoy coerced me into it, and literally had a government ambassador pick me up from a Bangalore wedding and drop me at the bus station as there were no flights to Hubli then.
On the train ride back he started pulling my leg.
"So I had to pull you out of your party for this event. You mark my words. Your destiny is tied to this trip. You are going to find a girl from the Hubli/Dharwad region and will have to keep coming here over the years. You mark my words!"
Lo' and behold! That fateful trip led me to meet my wife who is from Belgaum. She was introduced to me for a job opening in my company a few weeks later by her professor with whom I had shared the podium at the event. Sanjoy's persistence had changed my life.
This trip helped me value the initiatives by the government and how important it was to sustain public-private partnership. Sanjoy was an excellent role-model for any official who believes in a strong partnership between the government and industry. Time and again his initiatives were driven around collaboration, awareness, networking, and bringing the right set of people together to overcome hurdles and encourage progress. BangaloreIT.com was another such initiative. His vision to bring together the government, education organizations, students, industry, customers, vendors, and the media was synchronized into BangaloreIT.com. This was a multi-day event that was first held under his leadership and is carried forward each year since. It is impossible to account for the widespread impact of this annual event which he started.
Sanjoy also maintained excellent relationships with the US consulate in Chennai and was quick to help companies that needed introductions for the expeditious "business express" visa program.
I always remember how meeting Sanjoy was always a combination of fun, learning, and good food (Shangon deserves credit on this front). Not many people have so much width and depth to them. When he wasn't busy changing the IT landscape for the country, he was busy with innumerable other matters. Whether it was playing competitive cricket, or coaching and architecting Aliya's horse-riding path to the Olympics, or discussing Hollywood's cowboy classics, or practicing Urdu poetries, or keeping a watchful eye on China, or reminiscing about Shakespeare, or writing newspaper articles, or practicing golf swings, Sanjoy was always trying to make life better for others.
Even though I moved back to the US in 2001, we constantly stayed in touch. Sanjoy visited the US often and advised US companies and the US government on "How to do business in India." It was a treat to have him stay with us in VA when he was visiting Shujah at Virginia Tech. In 2004, I remember going shopping for Aliya's boots in the beautiful Virginia country side right before his flight to India when I learned a lot about competitive horse-riding and the sport in general.
This was a time when I was pretty down having left the company I had founded and was at a crossroads of my career. Sanjoy was encouraging of my decision to move to India and restart my career by starting a new company, and he certainly came to my rescue. When I moved back to India, my new office and family residence was none other than the terrace room at his home in HSR Layout with the added bonus of Bazooka overseeing the kids! He stood by me when I really needed a friend. He was the first on my new company's advisory board.
Sanjoy, your love for horses (and life) was infectious. You had the spirit of a stallion. I learned a lot from you. Thank you for being a part of my life. I would like to express some of my thoughts about you through the lyrics of the song of the animated Disney movie: "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron"
Sanjoy & Aliya with my daughter Simki in May 2004 at Palace Grounds,Bangalore
I had a dream - of the wide open prairie
We are like birds of a feather
Wherever you hear - the wind in the
Sanjoy, you were more than a friend, more than a brother, you remain an angel to me.