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Arunima and Sreedharan

October 29, 2013

Last week I was at Delhi speaking to around thousand young people about Swami Vivekananda and how we could creatively apply his message for National Reconstruction. The highlight of my visit was the speeches made by many other achievers and dignitaries. I would like to particularly mention two of them who left a deep imprint on me. The first was by the young and lively Arunima Sinha and the other by the grand old technocrat of India, Mr E Sreedharan.

Arunima was a national-level volleyball player traveling by train to attend an interview for a job at CISF in April 2011. A few thieves had entered the bogie of the train that she was traveling in and were taking away money, jewelry and other possessions of her fellow travelers. When she protested handing over her gold chain, the thieves threw her out of the moving train. As luck would have it, a train was moving in the opposite direction at that exact moment and ran over one of her legs. Badly injured, she lay there the whole night and 49 trains had chugged along with no one noticing her. Local villagers noticed her the next morning and her struggle to survive began. After treatment at many local hospitals and finally at AIIMS, she managed to survive but one of her legs was amputated. Though the Government did come to her rescue after courts intervened, many tried to malign her with the accusation that she had attempted suicide. Her condition and the subsequent societal reactions did little to deter her determination to not only live but to live a different life from then on. A chance reading of Swami Vivekananda’s works also happened around the same time. From her bed at AIIMS, she announced that she would climb the Mount Everest soon. People including the doctors around and her own mother ridiculed her. Some even labeled her ‘crazy’. But she was determined and her elder brother, who worked in the army, quit his job to be with her and encouraged her on.

After painstaking practice and with little support coming, she continued to live every minute of her life to realize her dream. She had made this idea of climbing Everest her only mission in life. Two years after her tragic accident, she did realize her dream and reached the summit of Mount Everest on 21st of May 2013. She proudly hoisted the tri-colour and placed the photo of Swami Vivekananda on the summit. Today she travels around the country, inspiring hundreds of young people to take on the task of rebuilding India. What a treat it was to listen to her personal narrative told in such child-like fashion! She is so full of energy that one can hardly spot any anger or hatred towards the people who were responsible for her fate. She sees the whole incident as something to learn from. There was no self-pity or an arrogant sense of achievement in her. People like Arunima give us faith that the power and potential of the human spirit is indeed limitless. She politely accepted my invitation to come to Mysore and share her dreams with the youth of this region too.

The other person who is the silver lining in the dark clouds of Indian bureaucracy is Mr E Sreedharan. He is called the ‘Metro Man’ of India and has many firsts to his credit. Apart from being the key person in the construction of the Pamban bridge and the Konkan Railway, Sreedharan is best known for building the world-class metro network in New Delhi. What he has achieved is a great lesson for our public servants. Every project that he has handled has been completed much ahead of time and within the earmarked budget. His standards of integrity and transparency are legendary. He had a simple message to deliver. He said that all the achievements credited to him were not because of him, but only because of the four institutional values that the entire team espoused and followed. He called it the powerful and poignant message that the DMRC gives to this country. These values are:

  • Punctuality
  • Integrity/Transparency
  • Professional Competence
  • Social Responsibility and Accountability

At a practical level, he mentioned that the result of practicing these values was not just the absence of corruption of any kind within DMRC, but the net result was that DMRC laid 65 km of metro line in 7 years and 3 months as against the allotted time of 10 years and much within the stipulated budget. Compare this with the Calcutta Metro that took 22 years to lay 17 km of track with a cost over-run of 14 times the original budget. To prove a point, DMRC laid the next phase of 135 km within 4½ years as against 5 years of allotted time. The Delhi Metro is also one of the few metros in the world that can boast of a 99% punctuality rate of its trains. It has reduced the average commuting time of an individual by 45 minutes each way. Half a ton of emission is avoided each day only because of the metro. More than 200 accidents that would have otherwise occurred each month on the roads of Delhi is also avoided as the Delhi Metro provides a cheaper, more reliable, faster and safer transport alternate. Listening to Sreedharan, one cannot but help feel proud that India has such accomplished people quietly giving back so much to our country with an impact that would last beyond their lifetime. So much to learn from such extra-ordinary men and women around us. People who not only believe in themselves, but whose lives are sources of inspiration for generations to come.


Categories: Musings
  1. November 3, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Yes, it is inspiring to know of such people. It is good to have some one like you to write about them and make them known.

  2. Venkatanathan R
    October 31, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Dr.Balu. Thanks for sharing.Truly inspiring.

  3. Anand Narayan
    October 31, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Kudos Dr.Balu for this article, which enthuses us to practice the same in our life, and give something to this country in our own little way.

  4. Harishkumar A M
    October 30, 2013 at 5:00 am

    Its really an inspiring stories I would like our children to read sir, I am taking the printout of this and put it on our School notice board. Thank you sir.

  5. na
    October 29, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Very inspiring.

  6. October 29, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing Balu. Inspiring and refreshing.

    But, what a pity though that people like Sreedharan often have to create a “bubble” within the public service bureaucracy to “shield” their unit from the general organisational culture prevailing within the rest of the bureaucracy. Makes me a bit cynical about change, even while such instances offer inspiration.

  7. October 29, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    May their tribe increase!

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