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Dr D.K. Ghosh, Chairman and Managing Director, ZTE Corp.

May 15, 2005
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As a child growing up in a well-to-do business family in Kolkata –­ his father owned an electrical business –­ Dr D.K. Ghosh imbibed the Communist propensities that permeated the intellectual atmosphere in the city and the state.These leanings, now that he is older and mature, have transformed themselves into a desire to do social work that will help the rural poor.

To this end, he is actively involved with an informal group of like-minded individuals –­ known names in the corporate world –­ to use telecom technology to improve the lives of India's rural poor.

Using his 35 years' experience of the electronics and telecom industry, Ghosh is working on a pilot project in the village of Baramati in Maharashtra where the local women have been helped to set up a cooperative. They have been taught to use computers and use these to find out the best prices for their milk and milk products. By not having to go through middlemen who invariably fleece them, the women fetch a better price for their product and are better off than before.

Elements of this pilot are being finetuned. In six months' time, Ghosh and his friends hope to set up similar projects in 25-30 other villages. They work on it in their spare time ("some people like Rashid Kidwai have made a tremendous sacrifice to work on this", he notes), out of a passion to bring progress to areas of India that still wallow in backwardness.

They will watch this model for a year to assess its success in using computers and telephones to get rural Indians a proper price for, say, their wheat, directly from the mandi or a quicker sale of their perishable produce.

"If all goes well, we intend to replicate it in many other parts of the country.Anything that can bring in more income for them is to be welcomed. All this technology represents tools that can be used by the poor once they have access to them and know how to use them," he says.

"Even more importantly, once we have established the use of mobiles, the internet and computers, we will be able to stem this mass migration of people from the villages to the cities. Rural women will become entrepreneurs and they will actually be creating jobs in their villages for others. So villages will be self-sufficient."

Ghosh has been with Siemens for 11 years. As executive director and board member of Siemens Public Communications Network, he is fascinated with the application of the latest technology to ageold problems. If he became an engineer from IIT Kharagpur who later got himself an MBA and a Ph.D, rather than the poet he wanted to be when he left St. Xavier's in Kolkata, it is because his father scotched his romantic desires firmly with "you can't live off poetry, you must become an engineer".

To compromise, he chose to become a telecom engineer rather than an electrical engineer. He is a fellow of the Institution of Electronics and Telecommunications Engineers and is on the policy-making bodies of numerous industry and trade associations.

None of this has stopped him continuing to write, both poetry and fiction,whenever he has the time and the inspiration. His wife Deepa also writes poetry but he says that hers is much better than his.Does he plan to publish his poems one day? He laughs: "No, no publisher will ever touch them! I write for my own pleasure. Once or twice a month, my wife and I organise cultural evenings at our home where we have music and poetry recitations followed by food and refreshments.I'm not even allowed to recite my poetry here as my guests won't tolerate it."

Ghosh is a voracious reader, a habit instilled in him by the Belgian Jesuit fathers who taught him. "They were wonderful people, friends more than teachers.And they were very good at detecting your weaknesses and working to improve them.On one occasion, my mind went blank when I went on stage to recite a poem. So my teacher deliberately put me in a production of Julius Caesar so that I got so used to speaking on stage that I overcame that nervousness."

His love of literature and writing also stems from those days. He has written several books –­ The Great Digital Transformation is the most recent and his new book, Digital India, will be released shortly. Photography is another passion –­ he will be taking his Sony 828 with him when he and Deepa go to South Africa and Kenya this summer for their annual vacation.

So are electronic gadgets.He uses three mobile phones, has the latest Toshiba laptop, and an iPod Photo with a colossal capacity on which he keeps his entire library of photographs. That's just in the office, mind you. There are other gadgets at home.

Ghosh has worked for various companies over the years, including a 19-year stint with Philips in Kolkata and Mumbai.Even after 35 years in the business, telecom still excites him.Now, of course, it is even more exhilarating than ever before because of the fantastic rate of change that renders products obsolete very fast.

"What this environment has done is create an east-west divide," he says. "The market for cellphones in the west is saturated. Customers want products with large capacities and rich in features, no matter what the expense. In the east, people want cheap, no-frills phones with the best designs. That's why the east is emerging as the R&D centre of the telecom industry because so much of the product, process and design innovation in recent years has been done in countries like India, China, Taiwan, Brazil and Russia, and the west has recognised this fact."

So Ghosh expects much of the creativity and innovation in future too to come from the east and, he hopes, from India in particular, which has the potential to become a manufacturing and R&D hub for the industry. This will serve not just the eastern markets but markets in the west too.

"At the moment China is far ahead of us and we are a weak second because of the government policies we have followed in the past. But with the current team –­ the telecom minister, the finance minister and Montek Singh Ahluwalia –­ we are finally changing these policies and it is my mission to ensure that India emerges a winner."

Asked in what ways would he describe himself as a typical Bengali, he smiles. "The stereotype of the Bengali is that he is lazy, loves fish, loves talking big and dresses badly! That's not far from the truth. But apart from the practice of holding cultural evenings at home, the only other Bengali thing I uphold is the penchant for setting up an `adda'. I tried to set one up here in the office but found no takers.Everyone is so busy that no one has time to sit around indulging in such wasteful practices!"

One thing the Jesuit fathers taught him, among others, was to laugh at himself. Ghosh says that too many people in Delhi take themselves too seriously."They could have a less stressful life if they took themselves less seriously." For keeping stress at bay, he undergoes what he calls an hour-long `ordeal' of Art of Living breathing exercises and yoga every morning. He is not, however, a follow of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living.

For good health, he also watches his weight. Or rather, Deepa watches it for him. "Everything I like is denied me by my wife." Does he deny her anything? "No, out of the question. She is far more dominating, I've never had the chance."

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