May 18, 2014

I embraced the meaning of  ‘avatar’  long before James Cameron made the movie: a concrete manifestation of an abstract concept.


For me, when I first encountered India in 1992, the first manifestation of  Bharat was opportunity. I was a young man. I was given a choice to select one of two countries: India or Philippines – to put into practice what I had learned to do in the U.S.– develop renewable energy.


I recall cogitating on this choice for just a half minute: a country of a Billion People versus a country of 100 Million!


USAID’s Sam Schweitzer and his colleague Jeffrey Humber (mentors – both of them), gave me this extraordinary opportunity: to travel to India with a delegation of 20 so-called energy experts, and to travel across India for six weeks, garnering data, and then writing recommendations of what we would like to see in the way of policy changes that would serve to spur foreign direct investment into India’s energy sector. A noble project. This was the beginning of a great odyssey.


It was June of 1992: the early days of the Narasimha Rao government. My assignment was to break off into a smaller grouping of six, and to travel to Andhra Pradesh, to Calcutta, and then to Orissa. We were to meet with electricity boards (SEBs), and public power distributors, and consider where investment would be needed and how to mobilize this investment – sums of money that would run into the billions.


The monsoon was upon us. There was only Air India at that time, and flight delays were normal. I recall how desperately I would try to decipher what was being said by our hosts over the loud din of air conditioning, which would only be switched on as our discussions began.


Most of our hosts at that time had never encountered Americans. Accents were thick – both ways.  Americans were a relatively rare species then, as India had earlier embraced the technologies of Eastern Europe.


As we traveled through monsoon-flooded hinterlands looking at power stations and switch yards, not only did the avatar of opportunity take form, but another important avatar occurred to me: one of humanity.


I felt a deep sense of being connected to and with the people. I encountered openness and honesty and candor as I had rarely experienced in the U.S. I sensed a genuine affection being shared and expressed, and I realized then what I realize today: if there was anywhere I could ever make a difference, particularly in my chosen career vocation of developing energy infrastructure, it would be in India. I felt humanity; I felt love. Each day I became enriched as I opened myself to India.


The avatar of  love is a powerful force. This transformed me from one experience to the next, through thick and thin, vitalizing me – and even still today!


When we finally presented our findings after six weeks traveling across India, which changed all our delegation in degrees in profound ways, Minister NKP Salve courteously received our 3 inch thick report. He looked up at our group: “Very impressive,” he commented. “Now, who among you would be willing to stay behind and implement your findings?” I was the only one of 20 who raised his hand.


Thus began a 12 year residence in India, the avatar of love and humanity deepening year by year. USAID’s India Private Power Initiative (IPPI). The Cogentrix Project – one of the so-called ‘eight fast-track projects’.  Unocal’s Bangladesh to India Gas Pipeline. Working with Deepak Parekh and R. Vasudevan and Former RBI Governor IG Patel on Hindustan Oil Exploration Company.


When asked why I am so taken by India, the answer comes easily: Each layer of experience with India, with its people, with humanity, has made me a better human being. I remain smitten and humbled.


One day in October 2004, I received a surprise call from one of my most respected mentors, Ambassador Wisner. He said: “We need you in Washington to run the U.S.-India Business Council. Big things are about to happen. The Prime Minister is likely to visit Washington, and President Bush is likely to visit India.  USIBC needs a businessman to help shape the relationship.”


The next ten years is history: The 2004 Tsunami. U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation. Two-way trade in excess of $100 billion. Defense cooperation surpassing $12 billion in a decade. Unprecedented cooperation in homeland security following 26/11. Space collaboration. An inter-twined U.S.-India knowledge economy.


My new avatar after a 22-year association with India will be to return to what brought me to Bharat in the first place: ushering massive U.S.investment into the country, and helping facilitate Indian investment into the United States. India is on the move.


India First Group, LLC will be the vehicle. Opportunity is the driver. But underpinning all of this is the very goodness that attracted my mother to choose to die in India, and my wife and me to live there for more than a decade: the love and decency so evident in the people.


Jai Hind! God Bless America!  Namaskar!