Monday, June 23, 2008

A Modern Rishi - article by Nutan Thakur

India used to be a land of Rishis and sages. We are the proud inheritors of the culture initiated and propagated by such legendary persons as Vishwamitra, Vashista, Narad, Yajnavalka, Agastya, Bhrigu, Durvasa, Garg, Jamini, Dadhichi, Kapil, Valmiki and Vyas. If we had Vishwamitra who could control his senses to an extent that only Menaka, the ultimate beauty, could affect her, we also had Vashista who dedicated his life to the society producing such brilliant and rare students like Rama, Laksman, Bharat and Shatrughna. If there was Valmiki who started his life as a dacoit and later got himself transformed into the immortal poet of one of the world’s oldest and best known epics, the Ramayana, we also have Narad, one of the most knowledgeable saints who was respected by one and all but also had the habit of putting in such words here and there that could prove explosive for the persons concerned. While Agastya Muni had the ability to drink the entire ocean when challenged, Vyas was a man who could write such contrasting notes as the wars at Kurukshetra and the Srimad Bhagwat Gita at the same time. Durvasa, a saint quite well known for his touchiness and sudden bursts of anger accompanied by such curses which not even the King of the Gods had the power to overcome was also one who, when pleased gave Kunti the boon which enabled her to have six unparalled sons each one of whom was second to none in valour and wisdom.

Then there was Dadhichi, the son of Atharvan, a saint who did not hesitate for a second when the situation so demanded and the Gods came to him begging for their survival as against Vrita, who had become the leader of the demons.

And why only the saints and the Rishis. Our land also has been witness to Bhagirath, a King of Kosala and the descendant of the Suryavanshi king Sagara. While due to some curse of the sage Kapila, sixty thousands of Sagara’s sons had turned into ashes and the empire was turning into a ruin, it was Bhagirath who took the vow to bring Ganga from the heaven as required for the penance of his ancestors to get fulfilled. Bhagirath went to the Himalayas and stayed there for years praying to the God almighty day and night. Such deep and committed was he to his vow that ultimately even the Gods had to relent before him. First came Brahma and then Lord Shiva and they were left with no option than to fulfill his demand of sending the river Ganga on the earth.

After so many years we have again come to a stage when the river Ganga is receding back. Due to the sins of the successive generations of mankind as regards themselves and as regards the nature and the environment ,the massive river is slowly turning into a pale shadow of what it used to be. The day is not very far away when we might be left only with the river bed where the river once used to be. So great is our greed and avarice that we seem to be totally ignoring the ill-effects of such a result. Blinded by our selfish intentions and personal motives, we seem to be thinking only in terms of materialistic comforts and monetary well-being. If we could have our way, we would even sell the entire river to people on per square feet basis to dry it and to form buildings on these dried plots.

The effects of such harmful, nonstop and ruinous actions have started being visible. The global climate change, ozone depletion, global warming, raising of water level, rapidly dwindling forests and the death of many kinds of flora and fauna are just a few samples of what we are to see in the successive years. But, even these are being able to open the eyes of the rich and the powerful who regard the nature and its resources as the products to be milked to the hilt in a use and throw manner.

It is because of this that we need a Bhagirath once again. We need a person who does not think in terms of money and land and personal comforts and cars and bank balance. We need some one who is equally adept in bookish as well as practical knowledge base. We need a man who has the heart of a saint and the brain of a scientist. We need a man who can avail of all the riches of the world and has had enough opportunities to do so, yet had the courage and conviction to leave it all to lead a simple and Spartan life in the most dedicated fashion because he thinks that India is a poor country where it is his duty to live as any other poor Indian.

How many such Indians we have around us today? How many of the engineering graduates of those days when the engineers were rare in number and were treated like kings do we have amongst us who studied at the best institutes in India and abroad at a time when most of the Indian could not even think of going to America? How many of them have the ability and firmness to go to a small place to live in and dedicate his life to the cause of tutoring the younger generation particularly when one is universally regarded as an expert of world fame in a highly complex technological field of very high demand?

It is these things that make Sri G D Agrawal so unique and venerated. It is these characteristics which add to his aura and give him a rare cadence. It is this which makes him different from so many ordinary mortals around us.
And when a man of such background and such features decides to put forth his live for a cause which he regards as worth it and goes all out for it, he is bound to create ripples. India can not ignore such a person nor can it overlook his act and its concerned ramifications. What Sri Agrawal has done has only raised his stature in the eyes of every citizen of India. His efforts have already started showing results. But like Bhagirath, Sri Agrawal does not believe in settling for half-measures. He is a man of different mettle. But, we all know that he will be successful in his cause. No government can ignore him nor can anyone risk any damage to a great soul like him.

We are all praying for his well-being and are also completely hopeful of his success in the endeavour so dear to him and so much the need of the hour.

Dr. Nutan Thakur, Editor, Nutan Satta Pravah

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Dr. G. D. Agrawal Scientist and Rishi

Dr. G. D. Agrawal Scientist and Rishi

Meeting Dr. G. D. Agrawal in his spartan, two room cottage in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh, you would never guess what an accomplished and distinguished scientist he is – first Member-Secretary of the Government of India’s Central Pollution Control Board, former Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT Kanpur and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. The list goes on and on.

Yet this eminent professional sweeps his own floors, washes his own clothes and cooks his own meals. He retains only a few possessions and dresses in homespun khadi. At the age of 76, his main mode of transport within Chitrakoot is a bicycle and when he travels further afield, he goes by ordinary bus and second-class train. These are the deliberate choices of a devout Hindu whose deepest values are for simplicity and reverence for nature. Dr G.D. Agrawal is the doyen of environmental engineering professionals in India. Well past retirement, he continues to teach and inspire students as an Honorary Professor of Environmental Sciences at the Mahatma Gandhi Chitrakoot Gramodaya Vishwavidyalaya, in Chitrakoot (M.P.).

Dr Agrawal is a much sought-after EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) consultant and a Director of Envirotech Instruments (P) Limited, New Delhi – a company that he established with some of his former students from IIT-Kanpur. He is an engineer’s engineer, the person senior professionals turn to for solutions to difficult technical problems. At CPCB he was instrumental in shaping India’s pollution control regulatory structure. He has been a member of various official committees for policy-making and administrative mechanisms to improve India’s environmental quality.

Dr Agrawal is a legendary and inspiring teacher whose students remember him with awe, admiration and affection. In 2002, his former students at IIT-Kanpur conferred on him the Best Teacher Award. He has guided scores of Masters and Doctoral students who are now leaders in the field of environmental engineering and science. Among his more prominent students was the late Anil Agrawal, the trail-blazing founder of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.

Dr Agrawal has been deeply committed to supporting rural development initiatives grounded in scientific methodology. Among others, he has helped mentor well-known development activists like Dunu Roy (IIT-Bombay,’67) of The Hazards Centre, New Delhi, Dr Ravi Chopra (IIT-Bombay,’68) of People’s Science Institute, Dehra Doon and Rajendra Singh, a Magsaysay awardee and founder of Tarun Bharat Sangh.

Born in a farming family in Kandhla (Muzaffarnagar district, U.P.) in 1932, he did his schooling locally and graduated in Civil Engineering from the University of Roorkee (now IIT-Roorkee).

He started his career as a Design Engineer in the Irrigation Department, Uttar Pradesh and later obtained a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He has dozens of scientific publications to his credit. Dr Agrawal is both deeply religious and rigorously scientific.

His passionate devotion to the River Ganga comes from his strong Hindu faith; his conviction that we are staring at an unprecedented ecological and cultural catastrophe comes from his powerfully logical mind. As a citizen and a patriot, he has made it his life’s mission to recall India to its glorious traditional reverence for nature and to share that wisdom with the “developed” world. His sense of his duty allows him to do no less.