From Rs 50 to a Forbes billionaire!

P N C Menon, chairman of the Rs 1,500-crore Sobha Developers Ltd, is one of the few dollar-billionaires in India. For the last two years, he has been listed in the Forbes list of billionaires (he is listed at number 754 in the last Forbes list of world’s billionaires).

Menon set up his empire in the Sultanate of Oman with just Rs 50 in hand. Through sheer hard work and some wise decisions, he has become one of the most successful businessmen from India. Today, his company has a presence in India, Dubai, and Oman.

Sobha Developers went public in November 2006. Today, more than 4,000 people are directly employed by Menon, in addition to the thousands more involved in the construction of his buildings.

As he diversifies his activities as a businessman, he is also in the process of developing the village he belongs to by adopting the 3,000-odd families which are below the poverty line.

At Vadakkancherry in Kerala, he has built a hermitage for old people and young widows, a school for children, and also a hospital for the villagers. He also runs the Sobha Tradesman Academy in Bangalore that trains people from economically backward villages in trades related to the construction industry.

In this interview taken at the Sobha Hermitage at Vadakkancherry, Menon speaks of how important it is for him to take care of his fellow beings.

Childhood in Kerala

I am from an agricultural family in Palghat in Kerala. As my father was into small business in Thrissur, I grew up there. I lost my father when I was 10 years old, and my grandparents were not educated enough to take care of his business. My mother also was ill. So, everything disappeared in a short period of time.

You can say I became an adult at the age of 10 or 12, and started taking decisions on my own from that age. It was a very unfortunate childhood; not a happy one at all.

I did not complete my graduation; I dropped out. If you ask me why, I don’t know. Probably I was in a hurry to be on my own. Like many children who come from a business background, working for somebody else was not there in my mind.

I started my own interior decoration business; small scale contract work of the interiors of houses and offices. It was nothing to write home about.

Chance meeting with an Arab

In 1976, I met this gentleman — Brig Gen Suleiman Al Adawy — in a hotel lobby in Kochi, quite accidentally. He had come to Kochi to buy a fishing boat. I had gone to the hotel for some other work. We happened to talk to each other, and after that, he said, “Ours is a new country. There are a lot of opportunities. Why don’t you come over to my place? We will do something together. Till then, I had not even heard of a place called Sultanate of Oman. (I went back home, took an atlas and located the place!)

In Oman, with Rs 50 in hand

I decided to accept his invitation. I took my passport and within two months, I was ready to fly to the Sultanate of Oman. I had only Rs 50 in my hand as, at that time, you were permitted to take only that much money with you.

But I was excited. There was no fear of uncertainty in my mind. I had always been sure of myself. I knew I would be able to do something there. I don’t know whether it is the right attitude, but I had that confidence in me. I may sound arrogant but I was confident because I had no role model.

Starting a business in Oman

We had many pre-conceived notions about the Arabs, like they are swimming in money, etc. But this man was only an officer in the army. He had no money to put in as capital to start a business. So, both of us went and borrowed 3,000 riyals from a bank as the initial capital and started our business.

We decided to do the interiors of buildings, a continuation of what I was doing in Kerala. It was an international market but I was only a street-side contractor. Street-side contractor means you had only a briefcase with you; not even a great office. I was like a fisherman, going to the sea to fish, going to the market to sell the catch and make a living. The beginning was very, very small.

Working hard and with confidence

It was tough initially, but I worked hard, really hard. Five things were against me: I was not professionally qualified. I did not have sufficient capital. I was in a new geographical location. I didn’t have sufficient contacts. And my communication skills were poor as I had studied in a Malayalam medium school.

So amidst all the negatives, it was like chasing dreams! Yet, even though I, my feet were firmly on the ground.

And although I had all the negatives stacked against me, my confidence level was very high. The ability to understand too was very high. I never settled for anything less than perfect.

Now I feel I had divine blessings.

Leader in the industry in Oman

I entered Oman in 1976, and in 1984, I was in the top 4. By 1986-87, my company, The Services and Trade Group of Companies, became a leader in the industry. Even now, I am the market leader there.

Remember, I was competing with European companies. Initially they looked at me as if I were a joker. But as I began to succeed, they started looking at me seriously.

Why, or how, I became the market leader was because I never transferred the money I made back to India. I invested all that in the expansion of the business.

I slowly built my enterprise in Oman. It was not easy building an enterprise; it was very, very difficult. It was like building it brick by brick, step by step. I was learning on the job with each passing day. Each step, you perfect it and go on to the next level.

‘Competing with myself’

I always compete with myself and in that competition I am a failure. There are two personalities here; the man with the requirement and the man who delivers. The man with the requirement demands a lot which the other man cannot deliver. That is why he is a failure.

I will be sixty this year-end (2008-end). Probably I may die without achieving what one part of me yearns for. There is always a gap in what you have achieved and what you plan to achieve.

From interiors to full structure

In 1986, I decided to be a full time builder. What I did was backward integration: from architecture to structural engineering to designs. We are probably the only backward integrated company of this size and type in the whole world.

From factory-building, we went to construct houses, and then to large commercial buildings. We also did private palaces in the Middle East.

I became a citizen of Oman a decade ago. From Oman, I moved to the United Arab Emirates.

Doing business in India

When I came to India to do business 14 years ago, it was to diversify the geographical spread. I chose Bangalore as our destination in India. I started Sobha Developers in my wife’s name. Because I had done even the palaces in the Middle East, I came with top-end knowledge. That was why we succeeded here too.

We have completed more than ten commercial projects on turnkey bases, covering 1.85 million sq ft. Forty residential projects have been completed and about 32 are in the process of completion.

Under contractual projects, we have built office buildings for Infosys, Timken, Taj, Mico, HP and Dell.

We went public in 2006. Now we are a Rs 1,500-crore company.

went to Oman to start a business with Rs 50 in my hand. Today, I am in the Forbes list of billionaires. In 2007, I was listed in the Forbes list. In the 2008 list also, I am there.

If you ask me how I felt, I would say, it was a very satisfying experience. Internationally, the tag has its advantages. If you do not have acceptance in the market place, you will not be able to continue as a businessman.

One has to admit that there are only 1,200 people in the world who are listed. So, it was a nice feeling.

The life of a billionaire

I live a good life and I don’t feel guilty about it. I have beautiful houses, beautiful cars and I have also ordered a private jet now.

However, after a point, money cannot be the motivating factor. Money is only a byproduct of success. Success for me is. . . well, if I am at step 10, then I see success at step 20. So, success is infinity for me; it never ends.

I come from a middle class family and I still have those middle class values.

Dreams of a billionaire

My first ambition is I want to prove that in India, we have a global Indian company in the real estate and construction industry. I want people from anywhere in the world to look at my buildings and say, what a building! What construction!

My target for this global Indian company is 2011. My dream volume: 10million sq ft of buildings, and 10 million sq ft of infrastructure. I am confident we will achieve that dream..

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Mercy Killing petitioner beats death, hugs life

Two years back Seema Sood longed for death and had even petitioned the President of India for euthanasia. But hope triumphed over despair and today, walking with difficulty, but walking nonetheless, after a total knee replacement surgery, the Bits Pilani gold medalist is ready to take on life once again.

The turnaround has been both spectacular and miraculous for the 37-year-old who lost all movement of her limbs for 15 harrowing years after a crippling attack of rheumatoid arthritis. The disillusionment was so intense that she wanted permission for mercy killing. But that was then.

“I regret the letter to the President,” she said, still frail and moving in tiny steps with the help of a walker. “Everything was so dark for me earlier, but I am excited about my mobility now and I am confident I will improve.”

Walking for the first time after 1993 on Thursday, Seema, a resident of Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, has another regret: that she spent the most productive years of her life in bed struggling with deep dejection when her twin masters degree from Pilani in engineering sciences and information technology could have taken her places.

Amazingly, when she won the gold medal from her institute, she had already been attacked by the dreadful disease and was on heavy steroids.

Fortunately for her both the Himachal government and her alumni association have come forward to help her out. She has been granted funds from her native state for replacement of all her joints. “This includes the knees, the hips, the shoulders and the elbows. The delayed treatment had made her case complicated and tough,” said Manoj Wadhwa, orthopaedic surgeon in the private Mohali hospital that is treating her.

The doctor said there will be a 15-day gap between the other surgeries of hips, shoulders and elbows and Seema would take another six months to recover. But back from the brink, Seema, who teaches math and chemistry to children of her village back home, is ready for the big leap ahead. “Don’t give up on life. That’s what I say,” she says feebly, but determined as doctors usher her to the hospital room which will be her house for the next six months.

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Software Engineer-to-be at 16!

Imagine this: a sixteen-year-old schoolboy, with a plum job offer at hand? Hard to believe? It was for us too – till we met Arvind Thiagarajan, an unassuming standard XII lad from DAV Chennai with an impressive title – Bell Labs Scholar 2000. This Chennai lad is one of the 655 Indian students who took the exams conducted by The Lucent Technologies India. Of these only 8 students were selected and all of them were from the South.

Three of these students are from Bangalore, three from Hyderabad and two, from Chennai! (The other lucky chap is Sundeep Venkataraman from PSBB). Arvind has been provisionally offered a post at the Indian offices of Lucent Technologies, where he’ll don the garb of a Software Engineer. He has also been awarded a scholarship of Rs.25,000.

Arvind’s biggest ambition in his life at present is to get inside the IIT. Easy to understand, especially as both his father and uncle have IIT-IIM background. He is the only child and his mother is a homemaker. What attracted Arvind to computers and software at this young age is, in his words, his love for solving problems. And surprisingly, he is no avid web surfer! Anyway, here’s wishing you the very best of luck for a fantastic future, Arvind.

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Inspiring speeches of the 20th century

Dear Friends,

Click the link below to listen to inspiring speeches by great world leaders.


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Life after near-death

Times Review profiles extraordinary people who refused to let life-altering mishaps get them down


Earlier this month, a 20-yearold girl showed Mumbai an act of incredible courage. Sneha Kale, on her way home after giving an exam, fell off an overcrowded local train; her right leg, which was crushed under the wheels, had to be amputated immediately. The very next day, the spunky girl went to write her next paper. “And why not?’’ she asks, “I had prepared, and I was confident of doing well.’’

Sneha is casual about her decision to not wallow in self-pity. “My parents are the emotional kind,’’ she says. “If I am not brave, they’ll break down. In any case, I need to live and to work. And in order to work, I need to get on with life. It as simple as that.’’
—Ketan Tanna

Joginder Singh Saluja, aka Bittoo, has won the Mr India national title in body-building and power-lifting pageants for three consecutive years. The fact that his powerful biceps completely obscure his lifeless lower limbs comes as a reassurance to many that nothing is impossible.

When he was barely ten months old, Bittoo contracted polio which left both his legs damaged. “I underwent 10 operations till the age of 14, after which I hit the gym,’’ he says. “People made fun of me when I held the dumbbells for the first time. The more they laughed, the more motivated I felt. I can now lift about 150 kg bench-press. Assi ta cheetein haan, kise toh nahi darde (I am as tough as a cheetah. I fear nothing). Just try really hard, and you can get what you want in life,’’ says Bittoo who now wants to set up a gym for the physically handicapped.
—Neha Pushkarna


Rathi’s spinal cord was ruptured when the wheels of the train ran over her right arm, severing it from her shoulder. And as she lay there unable to move, she saw another train approaching on the same track. “Unable to move, I couldn’t do a thing even as I saw it running over my leg,’’ she says. After the train passed, another train driver shunting an engine spotted her and shifted her to hospital.

“I had just finished writing my income-tax exams then. The doctors had given up hope, and said I would remain bedridden all my life. I don’t know if you can call it a miracle, but a few months after the surgery I actually recovered and began to live like everybody else.’’

Menon acquired an artificial leg, and switched to using her left hand. Initially it was difficult, but she overcame every difficulty with her sheer grit—she wrote three exams after the accident, topped in all and went on to become inspector of income-tax.
—Prashant G N


The day is still etched vividly in the 22-year-old’s memory. “It happened on August 12, 2002,’’ she says. “Rajesh was my neighbour and I had rejected his advances. I was on my way to school when he threw acid on me. It burnt my face, head and chest. I lost my eye and ear in the attack.’’ The expense of Shruti’s surgeries almost crippled her father, a tailor, but they got by with funds from NGOs. She then worked with a bank as a telemarketer for a while but is now looking for a job.

Shruthi discontinued her studies because of her medical problems but managed to pass her tenth-standard exam with the help of her parents. “Initially I found it tough and used to be very upset but thanks to my family I have managed to deal with whatever came my way. Now I feel I am normal. All I can say is one should live in the present,’’ she says.
—Ketan Tanna

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‘You Can Do it Too’ – Secret of Sabeer Bhatiya’s Success

Sabeer Bhatiya an ordinary guy from banglore came to Los Angeles eleven years ago, in September 1988. He was 19 at that time and had only $250 in his pocket and knew nobody in America.

Sabeer intended to complete his degrees and go back to India to work with some Large Indian Company as an engineer. Sabeer did his MS in 1993. Sabeer thought that one should be superhuman to start a company and it was an impossible task for him.

But during his graduation in Stanford, he used to spend his lunch hours in the basement of Terman Auditorium. He listened to enterpreneurs like Scott Mc Nealy MBA’80, Steve Wozniak and Marc Andreesen, they all had a common message – “You can do it too.” Sabeer knew that famous people always says so to inspire others.

After completing his graduation Sabeer dropped the idea of going home. He took up a job with Apple Computers and so did Jack Smith, his friend and co-worker.

Sabeer and Jack had a dream to start a company and they were really working hard on it. They wanted to email notes to each other, but they were afraid of being accused by their bosses of spending their working hours on personal projects. They had personal American Online account, but they could not access it from office network. Jack was frustrated by all this problem. And this gave birth to an idea of free e-mail accounts that can be accessed anonymously over the web – HOTMAIL.

In mid-1995, Sabeer began his business plan for a netbased personal database called Javasoft. Javasoft became the front for Hotmail for Jack and Sabeer in December.

Sabeer knew Hotmail was an explosive concept. Sabeer convinced Imperial Bank to loan him $100,00. Then he convinced McLean Public Relations to represent Hotmail in exchange of stock.

In June the product was ready to launch, at that time they had 15 employees working for them. They launched it on July 4, 1996 – Independence Day – as Sabeer and jack thought free email was a great Independent idea and populist tool. Every body who owned a computer had their own email accounts, but with webmail, they could log on from anywhere in the world. The first users found it all by themselves and then it spread like a forest fire. there were 100 in first hour, 200 in second hour and 250 in third hour. the idea was so intuitively powerful that 80% of those who signed up for Hotmail; learned about it from a friend.

In just 2 1/2 years, Sabeer built Hotmail’s user base faster than any media company in history- Faster than CNN, faster than America Online. By summer 1998, with 25 million active e-mail accounts, the company was signing up new users at the rate of 125,000 a day.

On the New year eve,1997 the negotiations with Microsoft was finalised and the ownership of Hotmail was exchanged for 2,769,148 shares of Microsoft worth $400 million. Everbody in the valley was shocked with the dealing. but 8 months after the New Years announcement, microsoft ‘s $400 million price tag looked like a bargain, considering Hotmail had more than tripled in size since it was purchased. Nobody thinks the price was unjust anymore. Sabeer had a 3year commitment (through 200) to head Hotmail for microsoft.

Being the head of the world’s fastest-growing media company, backed with Microsoft’s financial muscles Hotmail’s Juggernaut appears unstoppable. He feels absurd when people call him ‘Powerful Man’ he is just ordinary flesh and blood like anyother man.

He say – “If something is success, it is wildly successful.

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Dreaming big is the key to success

On June 15, 2008, a fledgling Ahmedabad-based garments and fashion accessories company, Liverpool Retail India Ltd (LRIL) made a splash in the retail space by launching 151 outlets of a new brand ‘Barcelona’ across the country covering 15 states in one day..

Its chairman, 50-year-old Vijaysingh Rathore may well be another retail czar in the making to take on the likes of Future group chairman Kishore Biyani. That’s largely because, like Biyani, Rathore is a man who has unerringly got his finger on the pulse of the consumer.

Recounting his days as a struggling entrepreneur, Rathore recounts how the idea of launching affordable but value-for-money readymade garment stores for the fashion-conscious aam aadmi came to him while visiting a sale in a small town. “I saw how poor quality garments were selling like hot cakes largely because they were at discounted prices. For the rate-conscious lower and lower middle-class consumer, price is a major factor while buying a product. That’s what gave me the idea of trying my hand at selling good quality, readymade garments which would offer value for money at really affordable prices,” he confesses.

What he has also factored in while giving a final shape to his retail dream is the fact that the Indian consumer, apart from being extremely price-conscious, is also a sucker for discounts. “That’s the reason that ours are essentially discount stores which offer hefty discounts for eight to nine months in a year,” reveals Rathore.

An unassuming man from a humble background, Rathore did not learn the fundamentals of launching a business from any fancy B-school. A Masters in Economics from Agra College, Agra, his first job was that of a lowly-paid milk supervisor for Hindustan Lever Ltd in the moffusil town of Etah in Uttar Pradesh way back in 1988. “Even then though I dreamt big. I always wanted to make a name for myself,” reminisces Rathore.

And since Etah was too small and insignificant to accommodate his burgeoning ambitions, Rathore soon left for the country’s entrepreneurial paradise, Ahmedabad, in search of his dreams. But it is not as if he struck gold the minute he landed. The first decade in Ahmedabad too saw him flitting from one insignificant venture to another. “In Ahmedabad,” recalls Rathore, “My first job was again that of a salesman for a stationery marketing company following which I switched over to a small-yarn trading company where I had my first exposure at handling finances as well.”

The job did not last long but what Rathore took with him when he left the company was a friend and partner, Kailash Gupta, who shared his dreams of making it big and with whom he finally created LRIL.

However, Rathore’s first few faltering steps towards carving his own business were doomed for disaster. “Initially, Gupta and I did consultancy work advising small companies on financial activities. Then, in 1995 we started trading and export of medical products and opened offices in Russia and Nigeria.”

The venture folded up shortly leaving Rathore saddled with huge losses. “I learnt a lot from my failure. First, never to get into a business without sufficient knowledge and second, never to base a business model on hearsay, by supposed experts. My venture failed because I had no knowledge of the medical business and the products with which I was dealing—which is why I was misguided,” he confesses candidly.

In 2001, LRIL was incorporated and initially Rathore and Gupta started the garment business by supplying fabric and garments to multi-level marketing companies. Thereafter in 2004, they started working for other branded companies in the areas of networking, location identification and arranging franchises.

The exposure proved invaluable when in 2006, LRIL winged out as an independent retail venture. “By then we had figured out that there was a huge potential in the unorganised garment retail sector. In the country’s Rs 40,000 crore-apparel market, the organised market is just Rs 18,000 crore. Our aim was to tap the remaining Rs 22,000 crore in the unorganised sector,” reveals the LRIL chairman..

The LRIL model is so staggeringly simple that it’s a win-win formula for all concerned. “We saw that the small mom-and- pop apparel shops have limited stocks and a small range of products. That’s largely because they function on small margins and are dependent for supplies on wholesalers and mediators.” LRIL targeted these retailers making them an integral part of its franchise-business model. “We decided to rope in these small retailers as our franchises, outsourced our manufacturing to various locations across the country and evolved the Liverpool brand for the fashion and price conscious customers,” Rathore elaborates.

The franchise model also ensured that overheads required for setting up these outlets were kept down to bare a bare minimum as it did not involve space acquisition by the company itself. But how does he keep a check on the hrs quality of his products with manufacturing being outsourced. “Firstly, we provide the materials used ourselves. Second, we have a central warehouse where everything is scrupulously checked for quality,” Rathore discloses.

In just two years of its existence, LRIL today has a staff strength of 60 employees, 150 labour staff at its godowns and provides indirect employment to about 1,200 people across the country. The company, so far, has 142 Liverpool outlets in many cities and has just launched another 151 outlets under the Barcelona brand catering to the middle and lower-middle segment and also covering the semi-urban population. “That’s because the craze for branded products among the rural population is also huge and this brand will provide them with an easily available and affordable brand.”

On the drawing board are plans for boutique stores for the high-end market of discerning high net-worth customers as are plans of setting up an ultra modern manufacturing unit with a built up area of one lakh square feet at Ahmedabad and also taking the Liverpool brand abroad, all at an estimated cost of over Rs 500 crore. He also plans to foray into other segments of the fashion industry equipping his shops with googles, belts and other fashion accessories. Plans have also been drawn up to to enter the lingerie business. Like the man, his office in a bylane of Ahmedabad is remarkably Spartan. His mantra for success? “Meticulous future planning and anticipating public demand carefully as also studying the market closely,” he says. The company’s turnover has jumped from Rs 35 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 60 crore in 2007-08.

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Striking it big against odds

Ilavazhaki’s life has all the elements of a fairytale. Growing up in a slum in Vyasarpadi, she had to work hard for things that most children take for granted. As a fish-cart puller, her father Irudhayaraj brought home earnings too meagre to feed a family of five. Ilavazhaki had often forgone her meals for the sake of her younger sisters, Ilakiya and Sevanthi. Needless to say, she considered buying school books unnecessary expenditure for her struggling family. And there was no bitterness when she had to discontinue studies after class IX.

But for a square-shaped wooden board, Ilavazhaki’s life would have been totally devoid of hope. She was six when she first tried a hand at carrom. This was not surprising, because the game is an integral part of life in the slums. Often, a carrom board is the only entertainment slum-dwellers can afford. Many of India’s greatest carrom players are from the slums.

Watching his eldest daughter play, Irudhayaraj, a competitive carrom player himself, realised early that his family had an exceptionally talented child. Driven by ambition to make Ilavazhaki famous, he found the energy to train her everyday, after spending tiresome hours on the road.

Dad’s determination

His efforts were not in vain. Winning the junior nationals thrice, Ilavazhaki was well on track for the kind of glory that he wished for her. And she kept his hope alive after graduating to the women’s category, winning three golds in the Asian championship in 2005 and picking up another three in the SAARC championship, held the same year. The moment daughter and father were waiting for arrived in 2006. After striking it rich again in the SAARC championship, she won the World Championship in New Delhi.

Until this victory, Ilavazhaki was in the shade. Winning the world championship made her known beyond the small circle of players and followers, which is the world of carrom. Recognition of her talent did little to change the condition she and her family lived in. Her family still struggled due to the lack of any substantial income. Ilavazhaki has a form of hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), induced by her anxieties about her family. To her credit, she crafted some of her brilliant victories despite being handicapped by sweaty palms.

The tide turned in the early part of this year. Days before she left for Cannes to compete in the Fifth World Carrom Championship, she was offered a job as sports secretary by the Sri Ramanujar Engineering College (Vandalur), known for its interest in improving the lot of brilliant sport persons battling difficult financial situations.

After Cannes, which saw her crowned world champion for the second time, life has not been the same. Her position as sports secretary in the college meant she could be a student again. To help her make up for the lost years, she is being trained how to use a computer and speak English. She has also joined a meditation programme to help her deal with the psychological problem that makes her palms sweat. The college management is willing to give her father a job as a driver, provided he gets a licence. Having enrolled for driving lessons, the fish-cart puller is working towards it. A seat, in a polytechnic or an engineering course, is reserved for one of her sisters, Sevanthi, who is in class X.

Suddenly, everything seems to be falling in Ilavazhaki’s lap. Following her Cannes victory, the Tamil Nadu Government gave her a cash prize of Rs. 10 lakh. A few companies are keen to have her as their brand ambassador. The All India Carrom Federation is campaigning for an Arjuna Award for Ilavazhaki. If she gets it, she will become the first woman carrom player to be thus honoured. And, what’s more, it will be the perfect culmination for a fairytale.

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A published author at 15, he’s still not satisfied

As a child, Ronen Chatterjee hated to read and was merely an average student. His teachers grew frustrated with his lack of direction, essentially writing the young lad off at an early age. Ronen himself admits, “I was more or less having no aim in life.”

But the otherwise unremarkable young boy began to display two exceptional talents — an impeccable memory and the ability to create narratives in his mind.

This knack for story-telling didn’t take Ronen’s family by surprise, however. His father Bhaskar Chatterjee has authored a book on management, Maruti [Get Quote]: The Indian Experience; and his mother Rupa Chatterjee has written a series of books, including Sonia Gandhi [Images]: The Lady in Shadow.

Urged on by his parents to take up the pen, Ronen started his first story; three years later, he hasn’t stopped.

Now 15, Ronen is the youngest published novelist in India. His debut offering, Fire Within, uses the game of tennis as a vehicle to explore the intricacies of familial relationships. It traces the story of three generations of the Roy ramily – Rohan, his son Rohit and his grandson, Raj – and their dedication to the game they love.

In an interview with’s Matthew Schneeberger, Ronen describes writing the book, his struggles with publishers and plans for the future.

When and how did this idea of writing a book originate?

I never dreamt that I’d be an author today. I say this because, when I was six or seven, I didn’t really like to read. I didn’t like to write. I was lazy, more or less having no aim in life.

But, one thing was, my imagination started to kick in. I could make pictures in my mind and move objects around; it was like an escape route from reality.

Stories started forming in my head and I tried to express it to my mother. And I told her, “I have this story and I want you to write it.” But she told me, “If I write it, you won’t get that satisfaction that you want. If you write it, it will be much better, because then it will be the way you want it.”

She told me this around 2003. And then two years later, in November 2005, I decided to put pen to paper.

And it was like a fish to water. I just kept writing and writing. I realized this is what I want to do. This is what I want to write. When I started, it was aimlessly; because I never dreamt that one day it would be a proper book.

And from there it just continued; it just kept growing, and my stories got better and better and better. My parents said, “This is a talent we have on our hands, we should try and have this published.”

So your parents supported you, but how about others? Your peers, teachers…?

I didn’t tell my teachers! I kept it a total secret. Because, at this age, all the teachers, and usually even parents, say, “Just keep studying!” They don’t care about extra activities. And this type of talent (writing), people hardly recognize, no one takes it seriously.

I first gave it to my friends and they said it’s good. I didn’t want to expose it to too many people. And then one day, it suddenly came out in my school. I got very scared, I was wondering what they would say. My teacher took it to the head of the English department, who read it and returned it without a word. Next week, at the PTA meet, the English head told my parents I should focus on my studies.

That was the feedback I got from the school! I got no encouragement. Now that I am published, they have all congratulated me, though.

It took you a year to get the book published. Could you describe that process?

That was the harsh part, because you have to come back to reality. There are hundreds of writers in Delhi, actually God knows how many, and they’re all working ten times harder than I am to have their books published. And yet so many of them are unsuccessful.

The publishers we went to all said good, but you are too young, just 13, a small kid, he is not old enough to enter this competitive world. After every rejection, I told myself it didn’t matter; we simply went on to the next publisher, and the next. Finally, we ended up with Haranand, and they said my age could actually be a selling point, a fact the other publishers failed to recognize. So that was how I got my chance.

Do you have a system, a set target for how much you write every day?

Sometimes I write for hours and hours. Actually, when I was on vacation, the first thing on my mind – after my exams – was that I had to complete the book. It was like the homework I gave myself. It worked, because I really developed a passion for what started off as a hobby. In fact, it is only

But then there are some days when I don’t write anything at all, because I also have to balance my studies. I gave my studies a back seat, but it doesn’t mean I can completely ignore them. In India, marks are everything.

When I was writing the book, there were many school-nights that I stayed up until two and three in the morning writing, and then I had to wake up at six, with very little sleep. At times, I didn’t manage to submit my home work in time, but I never told my teachers the true reason, that I was writing – I only told them I forgot.

So now that you have your first book out, are you 100 per cent committed to being an author?

More than that. Being an author is something I’m never going to give up. Even if it doesn’t become a proper profession, one thing is for sure, I won’t give up writing. My next book is already complete, I am waiting to finish my board exams, it should be out next year.

Writing has gotten me to where I am today. I never thought I would at such a young age do something to make my family proud. I once wondered what I was going to do in life, because everything seemed so boring. Now I have finally found a mission, to be a really good author.

Your stories are about tennis, but they’re also about family relationships. Did you do this intentionally?

There are three different generations in the tennis stories, because I didn’t want to keep just one person as the main character. I wanted to show that being the son of someone great can have really bad effects sometimes, because people, even your own parents, start expecting the same things from you. Some parents – I don’t want to say bad parents — want their children to complete the dreams that they couldn’t fulfill.

Also, I wanted to show the special side of the father-son relationships, because my dad and I are so close. My relationship with him is like this: we have very good times together where we’re best friends, but we can be very serious as well. I tried to depict that special relationship in the book.

Do you have any advice to give other young people wanting to take to writing?

You have to be yourself. If one dream of yours is really within your grasp, just cut out everything else and go for it. Enjoy life. And if you want to be successful, you have to be successful for yourself. You can’t depend on others. You must make your own future.

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At 18, he runs an anti-hacking company

At 18 years of age he is one of the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Systems administrators. His claim to fame, however, stems from the fact that his organisation endeavours to reduce cyber crime.

He gives lectures to officers of the Indian Army and Indian corporates on how to safeguard their networks and the Internet infrastructure backbone from potential raids by malicious cyber hackers.

As a mark of appreciation, Microsoft Corporation chairman Bill Gates [Images] invited him to the launch of Biztalk servers in India in 2006.

Meet Vineet Kumar, the founder and CEO of the Global Ethical Hackers Association (GEHA) and the National Anti-hacking Group (NAG); the latter is a non-government organisation which 10,000 hackers have joined as members since its inception back in 2003).

Vineet and these NAG members belong to a category of hackers that take pride in calling themselves ‘whitehat hackers‘ These are ethical individuals who are opposed to the abuse of computer systems by malicious hackers known as ‘blackhats‘.

Interestingly, despite his expertise in a field as arcane as hacking, Vineet has had no formal training in his trade. He was attracted to computers as a child and managed to get the hang of surfing the Internet and chatting online. During one such session in an online chatroom, he met his mentor, who he refuses to name.

“He was a ‘greyhat‘ hacker,” reminisces Vineet. “He was based out of Chicago and gave me hacking lessons over IRC (Internet Relay Chat).”

How does Vineet know that his mentor was somebody based out of Chicago?

“I used some of the techniques he taught me on him,” chuckles Vineet, explaining that one can obtain the IP address (Internet Protocol address) of a machine without its owner knowing. “I did it for fun and to know if it actually works.”

It’s hardly surprising, then, to learn that this mischievous streak caused Vineet’s teachers to brand him ‘naughtiest kid in school’ back when he attended the Army High School in Ranchi, his hometown. By his own admission, he misses those school days. Today he is pursuing a four-year course in Information Technology and Infrastructure Management Services, ITIMs, from Sikkim Manipal University.

Vineet spoke to’s Prasanna D Zore about ethical hacking, his responsibilities as CEO of GEHA and NAG and the pressure of handling such a career while he is still in his teens.

So you are an ethical hacker. What exactly does that mean and what made you pursue becoming one?

I prefer to be called a cyber/ information security advisor. Ethical hackers are hackers who work for a good cause — in other words, they are security researchers who plug the vulnerabilities and loopholes of online networks.

I do not concern myself with the philosophy of ethics, but with the simple knowledge of right and wrong engrained in my character. I work in favour of national interest, to save my country from cyber criminals who have a personal axe to grind.

You are only 18 now and CEO of the National Anti-hacking Group, NAG. What responsibilities does the position entail?

My responsibilities include managing the team, security projects, conferences, seminars, consultancy/ advisory assignments, taking important decisions and enabling the smooth functioning of the organisation.

You mentioned that you are pursuing a four-year course in Information Technology and Infrastructure Management Services from Sikkim Manipal University. Doesn’t being CEO of an organisation interfere with your academics?

Yes, at times I do feel that my job responsibility interferes with my academic success. However, my ambition to be different from others belonging to my age group gives me the strength and will to work. Nothing worth achieving comes without concentrated effort.

How did you manage to accomplish so much at such a young age?

I think, that old adage holds true — “Where there is a will there is a way”. I also believe that at 18, I am at the most creative stage in my life — I’m young, imaginative, full of positivity and inspired by the potential that the future holds for me.

Who are the people that are benefited by the NAG initiative?

We constantly try to solve social problems that stem from online activities by creating awareness in the field of cyber/ information security. Our efforts serve to protect children, students, families, individuals, and organisations (government as well as non-government) from the unseen criminals of the wired and wireless worlds, because we genuinely believe that social conscientiousness is primary to achieving a peaceful cyber co-existence.

We also voluntarily render our security services on a regular basis to providers who cater to society and the service sectors. The target beneficiaries includes schools, colleges, universities, educational institutions, financial institutions, the government sector, national and multinational organisations.

Our social commitment is to “enable people to use information and communication technology without fear”. Our issue concerns not just our country, but the world — today, a wired or wireless existence is almost as important as the physical.

Can you narrate any incident where NAG helped protect India from a dangerous cyber attack?

We protect many organisations, both government as well as non-government, from being violated. I am, however, bound to keep quiet by my professional commitment and therefore cannot disclose any information, nor the nature of my work. My friend Yash Kadakia and I have created a special security brigade to plug the vulnerabilities and loopholes in websites and networks and to provide them with timely guidance and security advice. According to a recent survey we conducted on Indian websites, 90 percent of them are vulnerable to violation; some of them possess critical information that should not be compromised under any circumstances. I would say that cyber security is still not given a priority in India.

What’s the difference between a white hat hacker and a black hat hacker?

The basic difference is not in the nature of the work but in their objectives and motives. The techniques and strategies used by both are the same. However, whitehats work in the positive interest of online security, whereas blackhats work to disrupt it. A white hat generally focuses on securing IT systems, whereas a black hat will focus on breaking into them.

You are a regular on the lecturer circuit. How did it begin? What kind of lectures do you give and how do they benefit your audiences?

It all started a couple of years ago when I was attending Ranchi’s Army High School. My father is an army officer and his colleagues, my teachers and friends all recognised the hidden potential in me. That’s how I began giving lectures to create awareness on cyber security.

I make the audience aware of the techniques adopted by cyber criminals and provide tips on how they can keep themselves secure. Those who fall prey to hackers are usually victims of ignorance – my mission is to dispel the darkness of ignorance by kindling the light of knowledge.

The audience usually accepts the stark truth that both the wired and the wireless worlds are vulnerable. They exhibit interest in knowing more about security and are ready to pay a price for a secure existence. They also appreciate my social initiatives.

Can you tell us something about your childhood? Who is your inspiration and what are the respective futures of Vineet Kumar the white hat and Vineet Kumar the student?

I was always an average student, but was quite dedicated when it came to computers. Sometimes I spent all night working on my machine and would end up sleeping in the classroom! My teachers branded me naughtiest kid in the school — I was always up to some mischief, but the strong discipline enforced by them ool helped me follow a straight path. How I miss those memorable days!

AS for my future, Vineet Kumar the white hat and Vineet Kumar the student are the same person. As a white hat I provide security to Internet users. As Vineet Kumar the student, I try to increase my knowledge. These two aspects of my life are like two sides of one coin — one manifests work, the other stands for growth and the urge to make a success of myself.

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