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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.