The Resilient Idealist: Gopi Kant Ghosh
A man of superb intellect and a magnanimous philanthropist, Mr Gopi Kant Ghosh is among the few people who believes in doing something for the society. Felicitated with the Distinguished Alumni of NITR award he is a survivor who overcame his tryst with destiny to gain his life back from prostate cancer. Invited as a panel member during the NIT Conclave, Team MM caught up with him to learn more about his life and his work.
MM: Walk us through your life before REC.
GG: I was born in a bengali family but settled in Odisha. My family migrated to Cuttack in 1640. So, I was brought up here. I did my primary school at Ravenshaw Collegiate School, Cuttack before going for intermediate at Ravenshaw University. Our family had been associated with the ‘Odisha Movement’ which later led to the formation of the independent state of Odisha. I attended the 50 years’ golden jubilee celebrations of our batch in school recently. That is the connections that I can recall about my early days.
MM: Tell us something about your life at REC.
GG: There are a lot of memories that I cherish. We however had initial phases of trouble. All students of the first year were placed in one hostel that is Hall-3. The bathrooms in the hall were incomplete and we had to go out for answering nature’s call. After staying there for about two years, we moved to Hall-1, then Hall-5 and finally Hall-2. This happened primarily because the college building was all under construction. When I look around the campus now, I feel very amused and at the same time get a little confused as well. It’s all like a maze for me. New and big hostels are coming up; many departments have also been added. The TIIR building, the Golden Memorial building are all the notable landmarks that have come up in the institution. We used to pay 15 rupees a month, which has drastically increased now. Every time I come back here I find so many changes. Besides this another thing I enjoy is our annual batch meeting every year and probably 1969 batch is the only batch which has a meeting every year, so that indeed is remarkable.
MM: Tell us something about your life after REC?
GG: After graduating from the institute in Chemical Engineering, I first joined Hindustan Unilever Limited. I worked there for a period of about 8 years. Then I spent some time at IBP as well. I was a member of Konark Detergents Limited. Finally, I joined at Khadi and Village Industries Commmision as a Director and later retired as a Chief Executive Officer. After starting out in KVIC, I became the project coordinator for a UNDP program for rural areas. I went to Italy to learn about the cluster program and gain some insight into its working. I have already written about 50 books and I think you can find some in your library.
MM: Despite being a Chemical Engineer, why did you decide to join KVIC?
GG: I joined KVIC, mostly because it was a government job. We had a good salary, job security and we draw our monthly pensions.
If someone got a government job in those days with a good salary they wouldn't just throw it away.
There was an application for the post for which I applied and later got the job. After joining the job, I found out that it too had basic links to the chemical industry. We had to use dyes whose chemical composition were critical for the nature of the finished good. We also have a lot of chemical engineers on site who are currently improving the process of manufacturing of dye. Khadi has always been a small scale industry but the post was quite good for me as an administrator.
MM: What is the current status of Khadi industry in the country and what do you believe are its future prospects?
GG: Khadi is a decentralised sector basically. So its basic development is not very visible. However, over the years the general quality has improved due to interference of technology in the process. We have been able to incorporate development in small clusters as well. Business in the sector is mainly limited to small scale entrepreneurs and artisans. Their work is not coming to the surface mainly because of the fact that they do not have a brand. I though believe that there has been development in the sector because we have financed it and helped it but further development is definitely possible.
MM: You have been very active on the Indian environment scenario. You maintain a blog on Indian Environmental Network too. What interests you in this line of work?
GG: We have to interact with the environment for our needs but we have to maintain it at the same time. The disasters and the natural calamities that we are facing are because of the fury of the nature. We have to devise alternatives for various techniques that we use today so that we can protect the environment. For instance, we can replace the azo dyes with natural dyes that we can get from sources like leaf extracts. India will not be able to export its product to Europe it does not reduce carbon content in them. Even products like honey are something we are not able to export because of the increased use of pesticides. Even the use of genetically modified food grains are something I oppose. These are some of the few issues I try to spread awareness about through my blog.
MM: You have authored and co-authored numerous books on various issues mainly relating to environment. Please elucidate on your work.
GG: My earliest works were on anthropology. I submitted about 40 papers in science congress over the years. I have also worked in tribal areas. So a few of my works were based on the life of the people there. After that most of my work has been based on environmental issues. I have written books on ‘Bee Keeping’ as well books on honey making procedure as well. I was posted at Bhubaneswar temporarily during the super cyclone and in Gujurat during the devastating earthquake. My experience there helped me write a 6 volume book on Disaster Management. I have written two books related to literature as well. One book on the anthology of Indian literature wherein the development of 25 Indian languages have been traced. My other book was in reference to the eastern Indian languages. The book was titled ‘Daughters of Charyapada’, considering the fact that the eastern Indian languages like Odia, Bengali, Assamse and Maithili all are very closely related with the ancient Buddhist script of ‘Charyapada’. Apart from that I have been also a propagator of Gandhian ideology as well. I have contributed to the translation of Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘India of My Dreams’ and published it as ‘Amara Dhyanre Bharat’. Similarly, another book titled ‘Nari o Samajik Abmanana’ has been published which too is a reflection of Gandhian ideologies.
MM: Since you have displayed a great lot of interest in literature as well, who are your favourite writers and how has their work inspired yours?
GG: In modern literature I like Dan Brown. I like his style of writing, the way he takes genuine facts and uses them as a base for his fictions. Amitabha Ghosh too I believe has a very similar style of writing. Even I wrote a similar fiction on the super cyclone in Odisha. The village was all fiction and so were the characters. Among Odia authors I like the works of Fakir Mohan Senapati. I have gone through almost every piece of his literature. Saroj Chandra Chatterjee was my favourite among benglai authors. Sankar Dev was a saint whose writings in Assamese I have cherished. In poetry poems by Radhanath Rath and Bhimabhoi are my favourites. I am not sure many people are aware of the fact, but Bhimabhoi’s poems actually represent India at UNESCO. Sukanta Bhattacharya and Bhudhadeva Bhattacharya are two of my most dear bengali poets. Najrul Islam is someone whose works amuse me. He was Rabindra Nath Tagore’s contemporary as well. His writings are something I enjoy a lot.
MM: You have been a survivor throughout your life. In this regard how would you describe your fight with prostate cancer?
GG: I am a very positive minded person. The other advantage that I felt that I had was that I had prostate cancer which is one of those cancers which could be detected by a blood reports. It completely changed my lifestyle. When I discovered my PSA level to be 7.42 I went to Tata Medical Centre where I got my PSA checked again. I demanded an appointment which though initially refused was later granted to me. My second PSA test revealed my PSA to be 9. Then I went biopsy. Then I was given the choice of whether I want to go with radiation or remove the prostrate. After some deliberation I decided to go with surgery. After a few months of the surgery when I again checked my PSA I found it to be above 4.00 which was the normal limit. Then again after consulting the doctors I had to go for radiation which now seems to have worked out perfectly for me. I used to go for 35 radiations for about a month. I drastically changed my diet, reducing my non veg intake and increased fruits and also quit smoking. I have always believed in a medicine free life and did physical exercises like I play table tennis with my grandson.
MM: How you used to maintain an ideal work-life balance?
GG: My professional life generally included paperwork apart from field duty. However, even though I had a goverenment job, I tried to clear all the files by 6 pm everyday to avoid overworking. What I analysed was 80% of the files do not require much thinking and just needed to be signed, because of which the work load was less and life was easy to balance.
MM: Any word of advice for the readers?
Live positively. Try to do something for the society in some way or the other. I would like to cite an example of one of my batchmates, Prasanna Senapati who has been running an orphanage in Chhend village. Also, I try to help tribal people and artisans in whatever way possible.