Happy Indepedence Day

Independence Day: Agra and the Silicon Valley

On our 70th Independence day (by the way independence from whom?), My thoughts go to the so many people who sacrificed their lives to throw the British out. In a small way, there were some of us (as Indians) in the 60’s and 70’s who took “arrows in our backs” in the Silicon Valley to pave the way for the younger breed of Indians who are doing so well in the technology sector.

My grandfather and grandmother lived in Agra in the 40’s. They fought against the British alongside Gandhi. Eventually my grandfather was jailed in the Agra jail for one year for civil disobedience. My grandmother had 3 children and sold milk and ice cream from a cart to make enough money to feed the children and send them to schools. When my grandfather was released, to a hero’s welcome, she had already started Singhal Dairy that eventually employed hundreds of farmers and poor people who started making a living by delivering milk, butter and yoghurt to the city dwellers of Agra. My grandfather was elected to the U.P. Legislative Assembly and soon enough, we had the honor of serving many of India’s illustrious leaders such as Nehru, my grandmother’s famous cream with fruits.

Fast forward 35 years and their grandson (myself) is at UC Berkeley, one of America’s top universities. I had just spent 2 miserable years in Vienna as an 18 year old dealing with racism that exhausted me and discouraged me from wanting to stay in the West. But through incredible great luck my American roommate in Vienna pushed me to go to California with him and vow! Freedom, equality and pretty girls-it was awesome.

But reality hit when I graduated and started working as an engineer. Being a Jain and having been raised in a business family, I quickly became tired of doing digital hardware designs. As I moved into my own business and became successful as a supply chain specialist, I started to work with the likes of Jobs, Wozniak and Gates (not name dropping here!). But I started realizing that while I was just as smart as them, Venture Capitalists and Investment Bankers did not want to fund me because I was a mere ” Indian Engineer”. This made me go nuts and within years I did become the CEO of the first company to bring color to the PC industry-Video7. But it was tough to overcome the “Indian Engineer” label.

Of course the difficulties I had as an Indian cannot be compared to what our grandparents and even parents went through in throwing the British out. I cannot imagine being told that I would not be allowed in a first class train cabin in my own country! Or being called a “blackie”, or being shot in the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre where this stupid English General Dyer shot over 1500 of our countrymen. So lets celebrate this day with thanks to our forefathers and foremothers.

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