Noel SequeiraUnsung heroes

Microsoft launches “Heroes Happen Here”

 Charting a path Noel Sequeira, a contestant  

Call them geeks, techies or whatever you feel like. The truth is that for most IT professionals their world revolves around the computer. But then there’s more to the story. Many of these professionals use their skills to make a difference to o ther’s life. And recognition of this effort is Heroes Happen Here, a programme for the IT community in India launched by Microsoft, which showcases their achievements beyond work.

With nearly 900 entries already registered on the website, the competition to find the top 10 stories is getting tougher. While three winners will be eligible for a fully-paid trip to Microsoft Headquarters at Redmond, Seattle, all the 10 winners will receive a Dell Laptop each.

So what does it take to become a hero? Well, you should have shown the willingness to go beyond the call of duty and used any version of Microsoft’s products to fulfil it. Take the example of Noel Sequeira, a third year engineering student at Vivekananda Educational Society’s Institute of Engineering, Mumbai. Along with his doctor friends, Noel decided to create the website,, with the aim of creating a directory of volunteer blood donors who can be contacted in time of need. He says, “The idea stemmed from an incident when a friend required blood for a platelet transfusion but couldn’t get blood from the bank because he couldn’t find a replacement donor. Later we came to know that 500 to 800 people need blood everyday, we wanted to find a solution. I was the only one with web skills.”

On the other hand, Yamini Arora, manager with a telecom firm in Pune, wanted to make everyone’s life in office easy by creating an intranet system to fill forms, an idea that came after she was fed up of filling the same HR feedback form repeatedly. How many of us can boast having created a graduation project that can actually help someone? Pursuing his M. Tech at IIIT Gwalior, Mayur Gupta developed a regional language voice enquiry system for Indian farmers. “It will provide farmers with pricing details, medical, educational and local news over the internet through speech recognition. Successful experiments have already been done in Hindi and Telugu. We are in talks with villagers to implement it at the ground level,” he explains.

Says Pallavi Kathuria, Director, server business group, Microsoft India, “Over the last few years, we have seen that technology experts have evolved from being mere facilitators to frontline business contributors. Heroes Happen Here is our way of acknowledging their work.”

Leave a comment


Read the Times of India article which presents some hidden gems in India. People who are braving the odds in this country and making a real difference to their societies. Individuals who you would hardly ever come across in print or on television.

Leave a comment

A hero who goes unnoticed

Shri.Ajai Shankar Pandey


Why do we look for heroes in all the wrong places? We’re stuck in our movie seats and in our history books, while today’s heroes go unnoticed. I pondered this question and its implications while sitting inside a Toyota Qualis in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. On the drive out of the city, back to Delhi, I noticed that the wide road was spotlessly clean and perfectly paved. No cavernous potholes, no rubbish clogging the drainage system, no plastic wrappers blowing by like tumbleweeds.


“We’ve collected one crore rupees (Rs 10 million) of ‘lost’ money since July. All of it has been invested back into the city’s infrastructure and sanitation,” Ajai Shankar Pandey had told me.


Pandey, the Municipal Commissioner of Ghaziabad, is one of those heroes who go unnoticed. But he prefers it that way, and insists on not being videotaped or recorded.


“I don’t want the media to focus on me,” he says. “I want them to write about the message. That’s the power of the media, the ability to communicate ideas on a mass scale.”




His message?


Every morning, Pandey arrives to office ten minutes early and brooms the floor, dusts the furniture and takes out the garbage. He asks each of Ghaziabad’s citizens to make a similar effort.

“When I arrived, I told the people of Ghaziabad, ‘There are sixty lakhs (6 million) of us. Imagine how much we could accomplish if we each did just ten minutes of work a day!’”Pandey sits at his desk surrounded by mountains of paperwork. His rich baritone voice, echoing around the sparsely furnished room, is full of earnestness and energy. Throughout the interview, Pandey simultaneously handles phone calls and signs documents.

Pandey drew from Gandhian ideals when creating this initiative. The larger than life painting of Mahatma Gandhi in his office speaks of this devotion.

“We must be like the Mahatma in action. He not only cleaned his own house and spun his own clothes, he also went to the slum areas and did sanitation work… People say that Gandhi is a great man, but then they act in a completely different manner. I don’t want to change the institutions of this country; I want to change people’s hearts.”

While waiting for one of these phone calls to end, a wall-mounted board grabs my attention. It is covered with an array of letters from the citizens of Ghaziabad, all attributing Pandey with the monumental improvement their city has seen.

What strikes me is their diversity: A small thank-you from a boy at the local middle school, a thick, glossy letter featuring an impressive letterhead and fancy signature from a local industrialist, a four-page, hand-written note in Hindi from a 65-year-old woman.

When Pandey puts down the phone, I comment on the amazing outpouring of support he has received in just six months in office.

“That’s not even one percent of the letters!” he laughs, pointing at the board. “We hardly have place to store them any more.”

Pandey begins the interview by recounting an incident that occurred in 1994, while he served as subdivisional magistrate in the Mathura district of the Agra division.

“I’ve always had an interest in urbanity, so my whole life I’ve worked to understand it. I believe that man learns from experience, and one experience from my time in Mathura will always stay with me,” he says.

One day, the sweepers suddenly went on strike and made impossible demands. Within a week, heaps of garbage lined the roads. All around the district, things became quite unsanitary and disgusting. I asked the citizens to help me dispose of the waste; they refused. I told them it was in their own best interest, but no one listened. Then, I asked the sweepers to call off the strike, and they refused. Now I have a real problem, what am I to do?” he asked.

“I again thought of Gandhi, and decided to follow his teachings. Every day, I went out into the middle of town, carrying my broom, and I would proceed to sweep the streets and gutters. It was only me at first, so my effort didn’t make too much of a difference. People pointed and laughed at me. But after a few days, my colleagues began to help.

“Three then five and finally ten joined me in the street. After five days, the citizens saw our sincerity, and began to help themselves. Soon, we had 1,000 people working for four to five hours each day. Seven days we did this. Finally, the sanitation workers came and begged us to stop. They wanted their jobs back, and agreed to stop the strike,” he remembers.

Pandey says the incident taught him two things.

“Firstly, the elite class of society, who usually behave as if they are above this work, are capable of picking up the broom. And secondly, the sanitation workers will work harder if they know they are respected and appreciated for the difficult work they do. When society is in harmony, it’s a reciprocal process that works for everyone’s benefit.”

After his experiences in Mathura and with his devotion to Gandhian ideals, Pandey felt compelled to make a difference, though he was unsure how to do it.

It was another incident, in 2000, which finally propelled Pandey to formulate his plan.

I was on a trip to Germany, and while in Frankfurt, I had what some might call an epiphany.

“While strolling through a spectacularly clean park, I thought to myself, ‘If only India could take care of its public spaces like they do in Germany.’”

“As I thought this, I noticed a young woman, who was dressed in expensive clothes, and was walking her dog. Suddenly, the dog stopped, and did his business. This woman immediately withdrew a plastic bag from her purse, collected the waste and deposited it in a nearby dustbin. That’s when it hit me: just ten minutes a day,” he says.

“All cultures have their respective good aspects and bad aspects. I believe we should synthesise the good aspects and filter out the bad ones. India may have a lot to teach Western cultures, but we have plenty to learn from them as well. We should exchange our best values.”

When Pandey took office on June 18, he found that Ghaziabad suffered from chronic corruption. It was so bad that city officials and hand-picked contractors had established an in-built 15 per cent hidden payment for each new project. In response, the populace became apathetic and the few honest contractors in town packed their bags and left. Civic sense had disappeared altogether. Pandey had found the right place to implement his plan.

“There were a lot of problems and much work to be done. But, more or less, these same issues occur everywhere. Wherever there is construction occurring, whenever these contracts are signed, there are caucuses of people making money that they didn’t earn. I’d seen it and dealt with it before.”

Pandey points out that there were two radically different approaches available to him:

“I could use the whip to threaten, scare and bully the contractors and officials into acting straight. Or, I could use the Gandhian approach, and appeal directly to their souls. Which one of the two do you think works best?” He asks rhetorically, before continuing, “My experiences in the police force have taught me that using the whip does not work in the long run, only the short run. But when you appeal to someone’s soul, though it may not work in the short run, it will almost always work in the long run.” 

Pandey met each of the involved parties one-on-one and asked them a few uncomfortable questions. “I told them: ‘Brother, this money you are making will raise your children, pay for their food and fund their education. Don’t you want it to be earned honestly?’”

After sufficiently shaming them, he proposed a three-pronged plan meant to benefit both contractors and municipality alike. 

“Number one, they had to agree to complete what they had already been paid for. Many projects were lingering unfinished, but contractors had already received the full sum from the government. Number two, any inferior work — and there was a lot of it — was to be redone in a proper manner. Finally, I told them that the 15 per cent in-built hidden payment will not be pocketed by any member of my staff ever again. Now, that 15 per cent is invested directly back into the city’s funds.”

Many contractors didn’t believe him or were unwilling to accept his offer. “A lot of them did not trust me at first; they thought I had a hidden agenda. Or they laughed at me and said I was crazy,” he admits, before continuing, “People said, ‘It is not your job to do this. You just like all the media attention. This is all a big drama you are making, with the jhadu (broom) and the hidden payments.’

During those dark times, while others tried to humiliate him and sabotage his efforts, Pandey held onto lessons taught to him by his father.

“I’ve always tried to emulate my father and his values. When I was younger, he told me that perseverance always prevails. He said, ‘Whenever you try to do something great, they’ll make a joke of you. But if you can withstand their taunts and stand strong, you have made it past the first stage. Then, in the second stage, they oppose you. They may even try to do you harm. But if you can pass that stage — it’s a very difficult thing to do — then you will succeed.

 So Pandey blocked out the negativity, and worked to bring a positive outlook to his office based his approach on three tenets: Honesty, transparency and teamwork. He expects each city official to embrace these values with the same passion he does.

“He’s the best employer I’ve ever had. It is a dream to work for him. At the core, he operates in a very simple way. He’s completely honest; he never says one thing in a meeting only to tell me something different behind closed doors. It’s a refreshing experience,” says Arun Kumar Mishra, an accountant working for the municipal corporation.

Pandey had planted the seeds of change, and slowly, they took root and blossomed.

“Recently, in the last few months, the people have truly embraced my idea. Construction is completed in a satisfactory, timely manner. Companies which had once denounced Ghaziabad altogether for its corruption have moved back and started operating again. Citizens are sacrificing ten minutes each day. And Ghaziabad has never looked better.”

When asked to project his programme from a macro, country-wide perspective, Pandey hesitates. “I can’t assure you it will make it all the way to the top. But it’s a self-motivating philosophy, and if enough people take it up in earnest, the potential impact is immeasurable.”

After the interview, Pandey hands me a ceremonial gift, the same he gives to each visitor to his office: A brand-new jhadu.

“It’s a physical manifestation of the philosophy,” he says. “We should always envision a brighter future. Right now, India stands at a crossroads. My goal is to give her a push down the Gandhian path


December 19, 2007

Text: Matthew Schneeberger | Photographs: Rajesh Karkera

Leave a comment

8-yr-old social worker inspires students

8-yr-old social worker has dream meeting with Suriya


Chennai: Rattling off a list of his favourite cartoons (Perman, Ninja Hattori, Shaun the Sheep), eight-year-old Karan Dravid seems like every other child his age. However, the desire to help those less fortunate than him has made Karan an inspiration to his peers and even landed him a meeting with popular Tamil actor Suriya on Wednesday. “I had a lot of fun. He asked me how, at my age, I thought I could help underprivileged children.

Actually, I became interested in this sort of work when volunteers from the Indian Development Foundation (IDF) made a presentation at my school about persons living with leprosy. After I became a member of the organisation, we were taken to B R Hills where I saw how tribal children lived. I came back to school and made an appeal to the students to donate old clothes,” Karan said.

Starting from here, he became responsible for Hewlett Packard providing 30 used computers to IDF after he had made an appeal in the Bangalore edition of TOI to IT firms to donate their old machines. “I visited Tappad village in Rajasthan where I met children who had never seen a mirror before. When I came back, we arranged to send them computers, a few geometry boxes and mirrors,” Karan recounted. It was his father Sai Premkumar, who introduced Karan to the every day struggles faced by underprivileged families.

“He is an inspiration to his classmates. They want to learn something from him. I think when there is an interaction from one child to another, it makes a lot of difference,” Premkumar said.
Appointed the youngest brand ambassador of IDF, actor Suriya wished Karan the very best of luck, C Chidambaram, Southern Regional Manager, IDF, said. “He told Karan never to forget the work he has done so far and to keep going,” Chidambaram added.

Leave a comment

Village labourer cracks IIT entrance

Radhika Iyer
Friday, June 6, 2008 (Khammam, AP)

With hard effort and single-minded devotion, you can make possible what seems impossible.That is what an 18-year-old has shown in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh. With not enough to eat, and no money even to burn the midnight oil, in a village with hardly nine hours daily power supply, the boy managed to secure 453rd rank in the IIT entrance exam.

However, he has won only half the battle yet.At Garikapadu village in Khammam district, the IIT entrance rank holder, Narasimha Rao, is a labour under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme.With the daily wage of Rs 80, Narasimha wants to repay dues for borrowing books from a reference library.

Even at work, his thoughts revolve around science.”When I am working in the field also, I think of questions in physics. I just can’t understand how these mobiles work? How the waves travel?” says Narasimha.Narsimha’s mother Lakshmi can’t tell what exam her son has passed but the labourer parents say their son has made them proud.”My boy said he would buy me a gas stove to cook after he gets a job. I know he is grown up now. My eyes burn when we burn wood,” says

Lakshmi.Narsimha managed to get coaching in an IIT institute in nearby Vijaywada with the financial support by some elders in this village. Now the 18-year-old has to attend counselling at IIT Madras on June 18, for which he does not even have travel expenses.”After I am settled in life, I promise to pay back the money. I will be so thankful,” says Narasimha.

( 5 ) Comments

Awe-inspiring: The waiter who will be an IAS officer

K.Jaya GaneshMay 27, 2008

Inspired by the spider, the Scottish king Robert the Bruce told his men, ‘If you don’t succeed the first time, try, try and try again’K Jayaganesh’s story is similar. He failed the civil service examination six times but never lost heart. The seventh time — his last chance — he passed with a rank of 156 and has been selected for the Indian Administrative Service.

Jayaganesh’s story is inspiring not because he did not lose heart but also because he comes from a very poor background in a village in Tamil Nadu, and though he studied to be an engineer, he worked at odd jobs, even as a waiter for a short while, to realise his dream of becoming an IAS officer.Read on for Jayaganesh’s inspiring achievement, in his own words:

Childhood in a remote villageI was born and brought up in a small village called Vinavamangalam in Vellore district. My father Krishnan, who had studied up to the tenth standard, worked as a supervisor in a leather factory. My mother was a housewife. I am the eldest in the family and have two sisters and a brother. I studied up to the 8th standard in the village school and completed my schooling in a nearby town.

I was quite good at studies and always stood first. Coming from a poor family, I had only one ambition in life — to get a job as fast as I could and help my father in running the family. My father got Rs 4,500 as salary and he had to take care of the education of four children and run the family, which you know is very difficult.

So, after my 10th standard, I joined a polytechnic college because I was told I would get a job the moment I passed out from there. When I passed out with 91 per cent, there was a chance for me to get entry to a government engineering college on merit. So I decided to join the Thanthai Periyar Government Engineering College to study mechanical engineering. My father supported my desire to study further.

Even while doing engineering, my ambition was still to get a job. If you look at my background, you will understand why I didn’t have any big ambitions. Most of my friends in the village had studied only up to the 10th standard, and many did not even complete school. They worked as auto drivers or coolies or masons. I was the only one among my friends who went to college.

I understood the importance of education because of my parents. My father was the only one in his family to have completed school, so he knew the value of education. My parents saw to it that we children studied well.

In search of a jobFour days after I completed my engineering in 2000, I went to Bangalore in search of a job and I one without much difficulty. My salary was Rs 2,500 at a company that reconditioned tools.

It was in Bangalore that I started thinking about my village and my friends. I wondered sadly why none of them studied and worked in good companies. Because they had no education, they always remained poor. There was not enough money to buy even proper food. There was no opportunity there; the only place they could work was the tannery in the nearby town. If they didn’t get work at the tannery, they worked as auto drivers or coolies. In short, there was no one in my village to guide the young generation.

I thought would I be able to help my villagers in any way?

Getting interested in the civil service examinationTill then, I had not even heard of something called the civil services examination. It was only after I went to Bangalore and saw the world that I was exposed to many things. I came to know that a collector in a small place could do a lot. At that moment, I decided that I wanted to be an IAS officer.

I resigned and went home to prepare for the examination. I never thought resigning was risky because I had the confidence and knew I would do well.

My father also supported me wholeheartedly. He had just got a bonus of Rs 6,500 and he gave me that money to buy study material. I sat in my village and studied from the notes I received by post from Chennai.

Failed attemptsIn my first two attempts, I could not even clear the preliminary examination. I had no idea how to prepare for the exam, what subjects to opt for and how to study. There was nobody to guide me.

I had taken mechanical engineering as my main subject. That’s when I met Uma Surya in Vellore. He was also preparing for the examination. He told me that if I took sociology as an option, it would be easy.

Even with sociology as the main subject, I failed in the third attempt. But I was not disappointed. I knew why I was failing. I didn’t have proper guidance. I started reading newspapers only after I started preparing for the examination! So you can imagine from what kind of background I came from.

Because I got tips from those who passed out, I passed the preliminary in my fourth attempt. We were given free accommodation and food only till we wrote the main examination. After that, we had to move out. I didn’t want to go back to the village but staying in Chennai also was expensive.

I tried to get a job as an engineer but my efforts turned futile. I then decided to look for a part time job so that I would have time to study.

Working as a waiter in ChennaiI got a job as a billing clerk for computer billing in the canteen at Sathyam Cinemas. I also worked as the server during the interval. It never bothered me that I, a mechanical engineer, preparing for the civil services, had to work as a server. I had only one aim — to stay on in Chennai to pass the examination.

Attending the interview in DelhiAfter I got the job at the Sathyam Cinemas, I was called for the interview. As counselling was my hobby, a lot of questions were asked about counselling. I was not very fluent in English but I managed to convey whatever I wanted to. Perhaps I did not articulate well. I failed in the interview.

Preliminary again, the 5th timeOnce again, I started from the beginning. Surprisingly, I failed in the preliminary itself. On analysis, I felt I did not concentrate on studies as I was working at Sathyam Cinemas.

I quit the job and joined a private firm to teach sociology to those preparing for the UPSC examinations. While I learnt the other subjects there, I taught sociology. Many friends of mine in Chennai helped me both financially and otherwise while I prepared for the examination.

Sixth attemptI passed both the preliminary and the main in the sixth attempt but failed at the interview stage.

While preparing for the interview, I had written an examination to be an officer with the Intelligence Bureau and I was selected. I was in a dilemma whether to accept the job. I felt if I joined the IB, once again, my preparation to be an IAS officer would get affected. So, I decided not to join and started preparing for one last time.

Last attemptI had to give the last preliminary just a few days after the previous interview. I was confused and scared. Finally, I decided to take the last chance and write the examination. Like I had hoped, I passed both the preliminary and the main.

The interview was in April, 2008 at Delhi. I was asked about Tamil Nadu, Kamaraj, Periyar, Tamil as a classical language, the link between politics and Tamil cinema etc. I was upset since I did not wish the interviewers at the start and they did not respond when I said thanks at the end. Both the incidents went on playing in my mind. I just prayed to God and walked back.

The day the results were outI was extremely tense that day. I would know whether my dreams would be realised or not. I used to tell God, please let me pass if you feel I am worthy of it.

I went to a playground and sat there meditating for a while. Then, I started thinking what I should do if I passed and what I should do if I didn’t.

I had only one dream for the last seven years and that was to be an IAS officer.

156th rankFinally when the results came, I couldn’t believe myself. I had secured the 156th rank out of more than 700 selected candidates. It’s a top rank and I am sure to get into the IAS.

I felt like I had a won a war that had been going on for many years. I felt free and relieved.

The first thing I did was call my friends in Chennai and then my parents to convey the good news.

Warm welcome in the villageThe reception I got in my village was unbelievable. All my friends, and the entire village, were waiting for me when I alighted from the bus. They garlanded me, burst crackers, played music and took me around the village on their shoulders. The entire village came to my house to wish me. That was when I saw unity among my villagers. It was a defining moment for me.

What I want to doI worked really hard without losing faith in myself to realise my dream. My real work starts now. I want to try hard to eradicate poverty and spread the message of education to all people. Education is the best tool to eradicate poverty. I want Tamil Nadu also to be a literate state like Kerala [Images].

Just take my example. I could come out of a poor background to this level only because of education. I didn’t get any guidance when I was young. So I want to give proper guidance to the youth in the villages. They have the ability to go up but there is nobody to guide them. I want to be a guiding force to such youngsters. As I come from that background, I understand them best.

ReservationsI strongly feel that reservations are needed to uplift the section of society that is at the bottom. Unless you lift them up, they can’t come up. As they had been at the bottom for thousands of years, they are not equipped to compete with the higher sections of society.

Now that I am going to be an IAS officer, I will move to the creamy layer in reservations. My children would be from a background that is totally different from what mine was. If I continue taking the benefits of reservation, I would be doing injustice to society. So, I will not take the benefits again.

Photograph: Sreera


( 3 ) Comments

Let us Inspire Minds to Change Lives

Dear Friends,

This blog consists of real life stories of people who have  achieved great success in life after a great struggle. My idea is to inspire youth of this country ‘to do something’.    I wish to make available inspiring stories of success of people at one place so that they can be accessed easily by youth.

 Let us get inspired from their deeds. We must inspire our minds so as to change this World.


Leave a comment