Loyola’s Arundhati Roy: Anand R

Anand RaghavanToday I write about a classmate and friend who works on video software at a graphics processor technologies company in California. That, of course, is the wrong way to introduce Anand R (1993).

Those who remember Anand — thin as thin can be — will be amused to hear that he is running a marathon this year. To us of the 1991/1993 batch, it is no surprise to see him stretch himself for supporting education projects in India.

At Loyola, Anand was known for his academic brilliance and quizzing. What followed was predictable: 49th rank in the IIT entrance exam, B.Tech from IIT Madras, MS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and then to Berkeley for PhD. But life was not all engineering, electronics and academics for this lanky Iyer from Perunthanni. At IIT, under the spell of a few Professors, Anand had imbibed a degree of social consciousness that was wide and deep. We caught glimpses of it early on in our batch’s e-group, where Anand sounded like Arundhati Roy — green, anti-nuke, anti-Hindutva, anti-capitalism…in short, that guy who asks us uncomfortable questions. (Is it a co-incidence that their initials match?)

But it was not all jaw-jaw. At Illinois, Anand became a volunteer of Asha, the highly respected organisation that raises funds for promoting education in India. Now, eight years later, Anand is President of Asha, heading 66 chapters worldwide and 1,000+ volunteers.

As one would expect, the job is challenging. “Unlike the typical nonprofit, the coordination team in Asha has to work as a facilitating body and take decisions based on the majority decision among chapters. So it is crucial to be able to implement decisions that you might personally disagree with,” Anand said in an e-mail interview. “In a completely volunteer-driven organization, being able to motivate people to deliver tasks they volunteer for is another challenge that volunteers at every level in the organization face. Trying to see the larger purpose of the organization’s mission and objectives even in the middle of handling several unrelated emails, phone calls, paperwork, meetings and discussions is something that is important as well.”

Anand plans to run the Silcon Valley marathon on 4 November 2007 and raise funds for Asha Darshan — a project in Nalbari district of Assam, which runs primary and pre-primary schools in an area affected by insurgency. Last year, for various projects, Asha raised about $650,000 from about 350 runners in the US through the TeamAsha marathon training programme. Anand’s personal target for this year’s marathon? $2,400.

He explained, “The idea is to contact friends, family, coworkers and anyone else and tell them that you are training to run a marathon (something that is fairly difficult and requires a lot of commitment in terms of time, fitness and resources) towards the cause of education, and ask them for their support to meet your fundraising goal. It is amazing how folks step up to contribute, especially when they see your commitment towards the cause, and to running. After a long training run, having a limp while walking into work also helps 🙂 .”

I see very few Loyolites persevering in such activities for years. Most of us pursue careers and personal life goals, and have little energy left for voluntary work. Out of curiosity, I therefore asked Anand whether there was anything from Loyola that drove him towards charity work.

“More than charity work, I view the role of organizations like Asha as empowering people,” Anand replied. “Not just the people who receive the funds that we raise, but all the people who come in contact with the organization. I, for one, have got a lot more out of the organization in terms of awareness of issues around education and empowerment, than what I have given back in terms of time.

“Empowering people basically requires an egalitarian, democratic setup where no one is considered too big or too small, where there is freedom of expression and where there is commitment towards getting things done from everyone, so you motivate each other towards one goal. I think that several of our teachers and classmates at Loyola have been role models in this sense of empowering us as students, and more than anything else, I think that is what I took away from those years as a valuable lesson for the future.”

What can Loyolites do to instil in their children a spirit of charity? “I think the notion of seeing such work as charity has to change. The perspective has to be more about empowering people so they can ask for what is legitimately theirs. A nation that is in the headlines for being a superpower in the making cannot afford to have two-thirds of its population making under Rs. 20 a day, or 50% of its children under five malnourished. Just the sheer magnitude of these stats should remind us of what we need to do to help every citizen of India. Never get complacent with what you see around yourself everyday.”

He then added, “I wish that the social sciences got more importance in every higher education curriculum. Even though people like Fr. Pulickal gave us an incredible grounding while in school, science and engineering curricula pay lip service to social sciences and if anything, we need informed and educated human beings as much as we need great doctors and engineers, and this is an imbalance we need to correct outside of school through regular reading.”

Anand’s page on the Asha website quotes Sahir Ludhianavi

It is true, we did not turn this world into a garden
But atleast we removed some thorns from the paths we travelled

Know more about Anand’s run

Note: The views expressed here by Anand are his personal views.

14 Comments

  • Anand: If you’re reading this – my heartfelt wishes for the successful completion of your effort at the Silicon Valley marathon.

    Ashok: In my opinion, the title you have chosen for the post is a great honour for Ms. Roy. 🙂

  • A real inspiring post, Ashok, about a Loyolite who the rest of us juniors, only knew till now as a brilliant student. A sad fact indeed that many of us have career goals but so few of us have a mission to help others also succeed in life. Anand, I will try to make it for the Nov 4 marathon, and cheer for you.

    As an aside, when we moved out of junior school to the 5th, your Nobles batch was in the 10th and later became the first Plus-Two batch…our adoring eyes were always on you folks…you guys were seniormost in the school for 3 years, a priviledge none else have enjoyed. I would look up from our lowly perch at the bottom of the steps during the Assembly and try to see if i could place a name to each of your faces. Ashok, some day I’d like to see a post on this blog about your batch’s years in Loyola.

  • Hi Ashok,
    Finally a great blog on this truly great Loyolite. The fact is that though many of us posess the means very few among us have the will or commitment to devote a part of our free time to such noble causes. And who better to realise the value of education for children (who are not as privileged to have that) than someone like Anand.

    Loyolites in U.S should definitely try to make it to the marathon to at least support Anand even if they are not participating in it. I really hope people like Jiby would be there to cheer Anand.

    While many of us shy away from other than job duties involving responsibility and accountability, one can only look at admiration at the passion and dedication displayed by Anand at this juncture

  • Dear Ashok Chetta,
    Truly a great blog on an exemplary person….yet another Loyolite all of us are ‘dil se’ proud of…Rather than sitting around on comfy armchairs and commenting on social causes (like many ‘greats’), Anand Chettan has shown the harder way about by tackling such issues head on. An example all of us should try and emulate….
    There is a class mate of mine too, Jeevan J Arackal….I don’t know in detail, but as of last week, he is in cholera-hit Orissa with an NGO, on some disaster relief work…

  • It would be great if you guys can cheer Anand and help him reach his target.

    Deepak, I knew that I would be lambasted for comparing him to Arundhati R. You are so polite as always.

    Like Renjith, please use this Comments section to tell us about other such extraordinary people from Loyola. To me, Anand’s extraordinariness lies in voluntarism, more than the cause per se. But as Karthik observed, in Anand’s case, the cause too is noble.

    I’ve never thought of writing about our 1991/1993 batch. But Jiby now gives me ideas. Truth be told, I think ours was an ordinary batch, like any other at Loyola. Ah! Did I stoke the bee farm, and not just this little hive?

  • Hi Ashok,
    Great initiative, i should say!
    What i liked most abt ur article on Anand, was that you were searching (and rightly finding) for something in him that we normally DON’T do as Loyolites!
    Hearty Congrats Anand !
    Now, coming back to Loyola & our batches, I believe I am now at a maturity level ( I now tutor & mentor abt 150*2 Management students out of a Business School in Bangalore) to reflect & comment on what Loyola offered & (more importantly) did not offer as a school. Can I, in your blog ?!

  • Its a great joy to know someone is setting aside time for a good cause and my heart felt support and wishes from the bottom of my heart for the success of his venture

  • if this is the same asha group i know i think they are doing lot of works directly/indirectly in tripura also. I don’t want to go into specifics. But good to know that someone i know is associated with it. Good luck anand. Again great post ashok, keep it up…

  • Great to hear of someone from Loyola at the head of a movement that rejects the charity approach!
    Another awesome post, Ashok.

  • Sunil, if I’m posting on the topic, I’ll remember to seek your views on that topic. If not, to post an occasional thought, why not set up a community/team blog here at loyolites.com?

  • Great going Anand.I have heard about Asha working in some areas of Andhra Pradesh and to know that the president of that organisation is my own batchmate is thrilling. wishing the very best in your endeavours. do get in touch for any thing that u do in andhra pradesh.

    Wonderful post Ashok

  • Dear Ashok,

    This post is actually a remarkable coincidence from a very personal point of view for me. One day back in 2003, our class had the privilege of meeting Anand. If i remember right, he was on leave from US for his wedding, was visiting Loyola as an old boy and DP promptly brought him to our class, full of IIT aspirants like me. I distinctly recollect him telling us his of high JEE rank (very humbly of course) and the kind of work he was then doing in US. At the time, it was of course his brilliance in academics which struck me (inspired would be a better word) and later on, I have quite often reflected on this brief meeting and genuinely felt such genius was being wasted in some far corner of US. How wrong i was! And i am glad i am wrong. It is wonderful to learn that a loyolite is doing such tremendous work towards a great cause and personally, eye-opening to learn that the loyolite in question is the same Anand R.

  • Comparing one with arundhati roy is disgustful. I dont consider arundhati as a sensible humban being. so do not compare sane people with insane species
    r venkatesh

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *