The Sikh Who Changed Modern-Day India
By Kushwant Singh

Gurujot Singh

The following is one of the many stories that are to be found in Khushwant Singh's new book, Sikhs Unlimited, which was recently released in India. Chandigarh-based young Khushwant is a regular SikhChic.com columnist and also writes for "The Times of India." As well, he frequently contributes to "India Today."

"If I could outsource it, I would."

Imagine waking at 2.30 a.m., to catch a flight at 5.30 a.m. from Chicago with change-overs at Atlanta and New Jersey, to reach Washington, DC's Dulles airport at 3.30 p.m. And, of course, the airline had left my luggage behind. Continuous travel, hopping in and out from hotels, houses and airports for almost two months had starting fatiguing me, and the luggage episode was the last thing I needed.

"Sat Sri Akal," I said as I immediately recognized the white American Sikh, though he looked more like our Bhais in the gurdwaras. A paunch and a white kurta-pyjama, a similar coloured turban and a flowing beard.

"Khushwant Singh?" he asked.

I heaved a sigh of relief at the baggage claim area as I had been running from pillar to post trying to trace my luggage.

"I'm Sri Daya Singh, brother of Gurujot Singh," he quickly added, "and he is waiting for us outside in the car, probably doing laps, as you cannot park here."

"'Ah, OK," I replied, and hurriedly scribbled my contact details for the United Airlines Lost Baggage Claim agent.

Gurujot Singh was not to be part of the book, until I reached America and was told that I would be naive not to include one of the pioneers of off-shoring and outsourcing to developing countries, especially India.

Driven by the late Harbhajan Singh Yogi's desire in 1989 to create employment opportunities in India, Gurujot Singh had humbly obeyed his master's orders. Harbhajan Singh (aka Siri Singh Sahib) had instructed his students to transfer American technology into India, but Gurujot Singh went a step further.

Gurujot Singh, right, Harbhajan Singh Yogi, center

Based on the philosophy that there is $200 billion being spent on jobs performed in the U.S. that could be off-shored to less developed countries at one-half of the current cost, he set about creating call centres, technical help-desks, telesales, customer service and other services that could be provided over the telephone, internet, mail or facsimile for American corporations in less privileged countries.

Gurujot's HealthScribe Inc., a medical transcription firm set up in Bangalore in 1993 and now valued at over $1 billion, had set off a chain reaction that was to have a far-reaching impact on Indian socio-economic life.

The back office business processing project, that was meant to be based on a model to boost social engineering to create wealth and employment in developing countries, rather than to only make money, kicked off a new lease of economic freedom amongst youth, especially young women who, because of their economic dependence on a male-dominated society, were at times subjected to physical and mental abuse.

And what Punjab missed, but Bangalore gained and Pakistan's Punjab and South Africa are also getting, is a story that would be unravelled after I reached Gurujot Singh's office at Sterling, Virginia.

"Welcome," said Gurujot Singh as I got into his car, unhappy with the events of the day. Gurujot Singh, an army man, wore an aqua shirt and white trousers, had a paunch - though not to compare with his brother's - and very bright eyes, probably hawkish enough that made him see the opportunity that lay in India.

"We are putting you up in the Marriot Suites," said Gurujot Singh.

Interestingly, by now the trend of interviews had changed, as I moved from one entrepreneur to the other. Unlike before, where I was staying with families, starting from Cleveland onwards, I was being checked into luxury hotels by my hosts and the interaction was more over meals or in offices, rather than the usual at-home chit-chat that I had become used to.

"Worldbridge International," read the signboard on the door that Gurujot Singh opened with a click of a key, guiding me to his office. As it was a weekend, the office had zero attendance, except the three of us.

"So what are you looking for?" he asked.

"I am at the door of a man who I believe triggered what the world calls BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) activity. I have simply come to have a peep into your life and your work," I replied, and like any other corporate meeting, we got right down to business.

The digital recorder was switched on, and Gurujot Singh began: "It was Yogiji who set the idea rolling, when he said that he had got the Indian technology of yoga to America and it was time to transfer American technology to India and asked us to go to India."

"You mean it's so simple - off-shoring in exchange for yoga? This aspect has not been revealed to the public, surprisingly," I added.

"Yes it is, technology for technology," he replied emphatically. "Yoga is nothing but a technology, a science of living that was introduced in the U.S.A. by various yogis in the early twentieth century."

A veteran traveller to India to spread Harbhajan Singh Yogi's yoga, Gurujot Singh showed up in India for the first time, for the purpose of technology transfer only, in 1990.

"Thinking about it, the first seeds of offshoring were sown when we started to digitalize manuscripts under back office processing in New Delhi and Chandigarh for an American publishing company, Simon and Schuster," he explained.

Sikh Dharma (affiliated with 3HO, the organization founded by Harbhajan Singh Yogi) -- under its company, Kriya Systems -- in 1980 had launched an educational software called Typing Tutor, which went on to become one of the highest-selling software in the world (1983-1991), with over twenty million users. In 1990, Kriya Systems, using the Typing Tutor, trained young English-speaking, semi-literate Indians in typing and then shipped off-shored data entry work to them from the USA.

(Webmaster's correction: Sikh Dharma is NOT an offshoot of 3HO. Sikh Dharma is a 500 year old spiritual path, fifth largest religion in the world. 3HO is a service organization, which teaches Kundalini Yoga and meditation. Many students of 3HO are Sikhs, but many more 3HO students are unaffiliated with Sikh Dharma. 3HO is open to anyone regardless of religious affiliation. See Sat Kartar.)

In publishing, three persons would work on one book and separate software would detect an error if one of the typists keyed in a different spelling for the same word. Before this, the entire "legacy inventory" was converted into digital files with the help of a character recognition process called Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which was only eighty percent accurate.

OCR included feeding paper to the scanner that, in turn, tried to read the character. The proof-reader had to still go through it and correct it by reading each and every word.

With the new method, the software would indicate any mistake, and highlight it, thus making it simpler for the proof-reader to correct it. Through this technique, 99.9 percent accuracy was achieved and all at a cost of $100 per person per month - a good wage for a simple graduate in 1990 India!

"Off-shoring was the cheapest way to digitalize books," said Gurujot, laughingly.

"You see, software development was already taking place in India in the late eighties, whereas we were only looking at doing business processing."

But then, it did not come without its glitches. India did not have an earth station at that time, so no real-time data transfer could happen. First, the books were shipped to India; data was transferred and then shipped back.

Gurujot, in the meantime, also began a dialogue with the Indian government, highlighting that there were a couple of hundred thousand jobs in the offing if the government brought in new laws and created infrastructure to enable real-time transfer.

Now there are two million jobs, Gurujot said.

And the man who saw the opportunity in the then Indian cabinet was none other than the present Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh (then, the country's Finance Minister), whose policies gave a new lease on life to a beleaguered Indian economy (1991-1996).

Manmohan Singh immediately saw the potential and got infrastructure moving. "It is largely due to his efforts that India is where it is," commented Gurujot Singh.

"We were almost at the same level socially as the top political leaders, including the former President of India Giani Zail Singh and former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Yogiji used to regularly dine with them, so having access to the top leaders was not a problem," informed Gurujot.

"If Harbhajan Singh ji had such proximity to senior politicians, then why didn't Chandigarh and Punjab become the hub of BPO activity?" I asked, interrupting the monologue.

A shocking revelation followed. "We did start our first activity in North India, but the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao from Hyderabad was keen that all new development should take place in southern India. His logic was that Punjab and other north Indian states had already ushered in the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, whereas South India had been deprived of any such revolution.

Hence the first earth station was installed at Bangalore in December 1993, which led to Bangalore becoming the "Silicon Valley" of India.

"We went to Bangalore because we had no option, and HealthScribe became the first commercial subscriber of the earth station which used the satellite for data transfer."

The Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee ("SGPC" - the Sikh governing body that manages gurdwaras) also failed to rise to the occasion after Sikh Dharma approached them as far back as 1991 to set up an earth station in Mohali, Punjab (a satellite city near Chandigarh) at a shared cost of two million dollars.

"The SGPC probably thought its own importance might decrease if people became financially more independent," said a fuming Gurujot Singh. "You set up an earth centre when you want to enable your people and maybe you set up gurdwaras because you want people to come to there and pay obeisance. In my parlance, gurdwara management is a controlling technology.

"The late Gurcharan Singh Tohra seemed to have little vision for Punjab, except religious politics," continued Gurujot, who couldn't have cared less how his candour could raise a storm.

"Clubbed with the agriculture revolution, if anybody had the brains, Punjab would have been the IT capital of India. But then, in Punjab, the politicians don't even seem to know how to use a telephone - they ask their P.A. (personal assistant) to make a phone call for them.

"So, such an attitude was expected," said Gurujot, revealing the inside story of Punjab's missed opportunity and how Punjab's bureaucracy and political leaders proved to be as technology savvy as stones.

I listened to the entire saga dumbfounded, till I remembered the joke I had once heard in the corridors of the Indian agriculture ministry. The only time a Punjab politician or bureaucrat opens his mouth is when he yawns.

And, as if just to rub salt in the wounds, Gurujot told me about the whole new BPO activity, including voice and data transfer, that is mushrooming across the Wagah border, a mere twenty miles inside Pakistan in West Punjab's capital city, Lahore. And how General Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan, was personally taking a keen interest in the project.

"Anyway," said Gurujot, continuing with his story, "HealthScribe Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of HealthScribe Inc. in the U.S., was the first BPO company in India, connected to the earth station, from where we could do direct medical transcription that meant digitizing reports for forty of the biggest hospitals in the U.S., their billing and coding for insurance purposes."
Gurujot Singh became its first CEO and, later, its Chairman.

"One of the unique things about HealthScribe Inc. was that the company was initially funded by Indians. We approached very successful Indian doctors in the U.S. who wanted to help India."

Even though this was a difficult concept to explain one and a half decades earlier (1993), the doctors still contributed $2.5 million, the first outside investment in the company after it was set up with an initial investment of $200,000.

Twelve people from Sikh Dharma, including Gurujot's brother, Sri Daya, his daughter - who now owns a new age music production and distribution company - and son-in-law, were involved in setting up the business.

"We approached the Indian doctors for four reasons: a) they had money, that's obvious; b) they understood India because they were Indians; c) they understood the business, but most importantly; d) they held high-ranking positions in the hospital managements. They knew exactly where the medical transcription, billing and coding was done for their hospitals. They ultimately became customers and a web was cast that made us successful."

But, in the entire scheme of things that became an all-Indian affair, Gurujot was simply fulfilling a self-inflicted mandate - to be a catalyst to empower youth. It was Harbhajan Singh Yogi, an Indian by birth, who had initiated the idea. The Indian diaspora was financing the project and it was ultimately the Indian youth and Indian economy that was benefitting from the entire exercise.

Perfect. That first outsourcing venture became typical of how Gurujot Singh set up businesses, made them successful and moved out of business by selling his majority shares, to a start a new venture.

HealthScribe soon became a successful medical transcription business model and there was a huge inflow of corporate visitors to see the HealthScribe model.

Sitting quietly until now, Sri Daya Singh suddenly shot out his comment: "At one point, I thought we were running a tour company for the executives," at which we all laughed heartily and broke for a round of coffee.

The company was sold after five years - from a mere four hundred employees, it had grown to having a staff of twenty thousand, with a $200 million dollar revenue. HealthScribe, now Spheris - after it was bought by the same company in 2003 - is presently the second largest medical transcription company in the world.

1998. Fibre Optic cables had been laid in Bangalore. It was time for a second revolution.
First Ring Inc. was set up in the U.S. and its own subsidiary, under First Ring Pvt. Limited, showed up at Bangalore. Its focus: to generate wealth and employment in India. If HealthScribe was the first back office business company doing data transfer, then First Ring became the first company to do voice transfer.

"We were doing call centre work for financial service companies in America that included Fortune 500 companies like Providian Financial Services, American Express, MCI, and Morgan Stanley."

For example, if you have an American Express card and you called a toll-free number for assistance, all calls would be diverted to India. The call would be taken by an executive who would assist you with your bank balance queries or guide you to pay your bills through the phone or any other question you might have.

The profile also included making calls for the purpose of marketing various products to Americans, like insurance policies, new credit cards, and so on and so forth.

First Ring soon moved to the International Technology Park, Bangalore. By now, GE had also initiated to offshore its back office processing on its own. "Hang on," I said. "Can you clear the off-shoring and outsourcing ka fund to me?"

He looked at me, probably thinking - "sari Ramayana padh ke, ab poochte ho Sita kaun thi" ("after reading the whole Ramayana epic, you now ask me who Sita is!").

"Let me explain the whole concept, though these are terms that came in much later. We were just interested in creating jobs," said Gurujot, clearing his throat. "What we were initially selling was outsourcing and off-shoring, and India as a destination came later, after Harbhajan Singh Yogi asked us to go. Originally, we had planned to outsource work to Native Indian American reservations and since we had the model ready, we implemented it in India."

"Outsourcing means giving work to a vendor, and that could be within the country. For example, American Express could have outsourced work in the state of Iowa at a much lower cost than New York City. So companies could save up to ten percent within America due to a different taxation plan. For example, if the total cost is $100,000, the company, by outsourcing within America, would only pay $90,000. But if they off-shored it, they could save $35,000.

"There are three kinds of off-shoring: a) companies set up their own off-shoring like GE Capital did in 1998 in India; or b) 'Outsourcing-Off-shoring', i.e., vendors offshore their work; or c) simply both, which is a very strategic process.

"For example, what companies do presently is: set up a primary outsourced-off-shored vendor; have two other vendors besides having their own off-shore operation which they treat as parallel with the other off-shoring operations. Every week, the companies then take out a progress report listing cost and quality, comparing all the four separate operations.

"At the end of each quarter, for example, American Express would say that we have five hundred people more we want to offshore and whoever has scored the best gets fifty percent of the chunk, the second, thirty percent and the third, twenty percent. The fourth guy gets nothing. This, from the company's point of view, is the best way to ensure low prices and best quality.

"First Ring was later sold and is now First Source with $200 million in revenues."
ICICI group has a holding of a little less than fifty percent in the BPO.

It must have been seven o'clock in the evening when we broke for another cup of coffee. "Can we call it a day and start afresh in the morning?" I asked, exhausted by the hectic travelling.

The concern of whether my luggage had reached the hotel was also bothering me as it carried my cameras, and other electrical equipment, important to proceed further with my work.

But there was no luggage waiting for me at the reception of Marriot Suites. A hot water bath was on top of my priority list, after which I had planned to venture out to the adjoining mall for dinner.

TGIF attracted my attention, though I still don't know why, as the mall was lined with other authentic cuisines. Nevertheless, I soon found myself in TGIF and lost in thinking about the evening's conversation.

I remembered how Gurujot had explained the whole social change Bangalore had undergone after they had started the off-shoring activity, also referred to as the Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) in India.

How labour laws in the state of Karnataka, of which Banglore is the capital city, forbade women from working after six in the evening and how, due to the time difference between India and the US, medical transcription or call centre work would only start by 9.30 in the evening.

Of how tough it was to fire inefficient people, due to the stringent labour laws.

"Businesses don't work with such laws," he had remarked. "When you hire somebody, you don't know whether he or she is going to be good. After two months of training, if the guy ain't good, you have to be able to let them go."

Of how difficult it was for women to open bank accounts, as public sector banks would insist on an account in the father's name or ask the girl to be accompanied by a male family member. In other words, despite earning independently, because of banking regulations, the women remained financially shackled to the men in the house.

That's not what Gurujot had come to India for.

Gurujot and his team worked towards getting these laws and regulations changed and HealthScribe, which started with a five percent female workforce, was ultimately working with sixty-five percent women employees when it was sold.

I was reminded of how Gurujot felt that his goal had been achieved and his presence in India was not required anymore and there were other underdeveloped countries of the world that needed him to repeat the same phenomenon.

Moreover, there were plenty of Indians doing similar work and all companies by now knew how to reach India.

According to him, there are three parameters that are important for off-shoring to take place: a) two-way optic fibre technology, b) ten million strong, low-cost English speaking human resources, and c) political stability. Only three countries meet this criterion in the world besides India: the Philippines, South Africa and Pakistan.

"How do you justify Pakistan as a politically stable country?" I had countered Gurujot.

"There are issues everywhere," he had replied. 'When we started in India, people in America didn't have the slightest idea of what India was like. For them, India was a crazy country where rioting, train crashes and floods were the order of the day. Don't these things happen in the U.S.?

The L.A. riots, or for that matter, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and its aftermath, are only two examples.

"Lahore in Pakistan is a great destination for off-shoring. If you were to blindfold me in Delhi and remove it in Lahore, I wouldn't be able to make out the difference, except that traffic is more orderly in Lahore and there are no cows on the roads. Musharraf is great. I simply love Manmohan and Pervez, for they are interested in empowering their youth, though the latter has supposedly changed his rhetoric post 9/11."

By now, I had started feeling drowsy and wanted to head back to the suite. Taking out my notebook at the restaurant, I hurriedly made notes of the questions I proposed to ask Gurujot the next day. What kind of work was he doing in Pakistan's Punjab that the Indian Punjab had missed? Almost regretting the missed opportunity, even though Punjab today is wooing IT investments, I soon lost my thoughts to deep sleep.

I woke up fresh and checked with the reception for my luggage. "No, sir," said a man's voice on the telephone. My enthusiasm was immediately reduced to half as I cursed the airline, yet again.

Dressed in the same clothes - not that the Americans minded it, for they love the scruffy look - I ordered breakfast and waited for Gurujot to pick me up. He was supposed to go to the gurdwara in the morning for a congregation and sadhna before coming to the hotel.

"Before you ask me more questions and since you are writing on my life, I must apprise you of an incident," said Gurujot as we pulled out chairs on reaching his office. I could not guess what to expect, but I think it takes great courage to be frank and share the horrific moments in one's life, especially when it pertains to drugs.

"Shoot," I replied. Infuriated with Gurujot Singh for having transferred white jobs to brown people in India, the white supremacists uploaded an incident of 1987 on the web where Gurujot was falsely implicated in a case for conspiring to peddle drugs.

"You see, many people from different spheres visit our ashram. A man had moved into our ashram and raised his family as Sikhs, but five years before, he had been involved in marijuana peddling, whereby he used to import the drug into the U.S., though he did not do it after moving into the ashram. The police had nabbed some of his past associates, who had turned into informers, as that drastically reduced the jail term - drug peddling being one of the most heinous crimes to commit in America.

"The informants moved into the ashram, pretending that they wanted to be weaned away from drugs and soon became friends with this guy. After becoming friendly, they suggested that he do one last marijuana operation, make a lot of money and then lead a pious life in the ashram. The guy refused and said that he was "out of it." But just because they were talking about it, what they were trying to do was show him as part of a conspiracy to import marijuana.

"And since he was talking about it, they were recording the conversation. The informers shared the same thought with me, and I snubbed them and told them not to even mention it. "Talk about drugs, we are even against use of caffeine," I had replied sternly.

"Soon, the guys became yoga students and handed a letter to me to give to this guy." And when the police arrested the 'guy', Gurujot was also arrested. Luckily for Gurujot, the judge saw the ridiculousness of the charges and Gurujot was let off with a fifty-dollar fine.

"So, when the white supremacists and anti-cult people (twenty-five million Sikhs is a cult?) wanted to get back at me for the whole off-shoring phenomenon, they got hold of this case. For a long time, whenever we approached big corporations, they would e-mail or post this history of mine. Imagine something like this landing on the table of American Express's CEO or the head of Goldman Sachs, whom you are trying to woo as an investor.

"As it is, for many investors, I was a peculiar man, who stayed in an ashram, dressed differently and was talking about a new concept in a faraway country. I had to do a lot of convincing, carrying court orders, taking my lawyers to tell people - look, I'm not guilty.

Somehow, everybody understood. But imagine the due diligence one is put through. And now, since I'm working in South Africa, which virtually means that first I transferred white jobs to brown India and now it's to the blacks, the season is on me."

We laughed heartily, diffusing the serious atmosphere that had suddenly engulfed the empty office space of Worldbridge.

However, Gurujot was not finished yet. The informants had also got the alleged marijuana dealer talking of dealing in arms, which meant larger accusations. Since Gurujot was part of Akal Security, a Sikh Dharma-owned company, the anti-cult people tried to insinuate that Sikh Dharma Sikhs were trying to smuggle in weapons through airports, as Akal provided security to major airports.

"I mean, it's crazy," he said. "In this day and age, airport security is one of the most critical issues of the world. Only fools can think of doing such a thing and making such statements. I don't know how much you know about U.S. security."

"I respect it, as I'm a peace-loving citizen of the world," I replied.

"These miniscule anti-cult/white supremacists that form just a fraction of the population, fail to understand the benefits off-shoring has for the American economy. When that graduate sitting in India earns, the first thing he wants to do is imitate a Yankee. Levis jeans and Nike shoes."

Sure, check out my Levis tag. Which reminded me to call the airline about my luggage again. "Yes, Mr. Singh, your bag has arrived." What a relief it was to get back into fresh clothes, after Gurujot drove me to the airport to collect the luggage.

Going back a few more years, Gurujot claimed to have been to jail over forty times in earlier days, due to his involvement with the Civil Rights movement and anti-Vietnam War protests in America.

When South Africans learn that he had been to jail for the Civil Rights movement, they actually applaud and welcome him.

Another round of laughter, that allowed us to switch gears and presented me with the opportunity to ask the questions that I had scribbled the previous night.

"So how did you reach South Africa?" I asked.

"We are simply driven by the formula that private enterprise plays a pivotal role in eradicating poverty and unemployment. It also saves exploitation of the environment, as people get empowered."

Highly impressed with Nelson Mandela, Gurujot wanted to help him by contributing his bit.

Soon, the World Bank, after conducting a feasibility report, approached Gurujot for South Africa.

"Though we went there, work in South Africa is slow, because of the transformation that is taking place in that country. The power has already been transferred to the blacks, but ninety-five percent of the money is still with the whites; slowly but surely, there is a transfer of wealth taking place, where we fitted in perfectly. The process is happening in a regulated manner, unlike in Zimbabwe.

"However, with this process going on, it became difficult for us to find funding, as everything and anything requires funding in South Africa. As a result of which, the capital that we were looking for was not available. All the capital is being used for real asset wealth, whereas we were talking about venture funds. For example, the capital is being spent in transferring diamond mines from white ownership to black.

"We told the World Bank that things were not working in South Africa, at least for the time being, after which the World Bank suggested Pakistan."

Gurujot and Co. were introduced to one Adeel Shah in Washington D.C., who was head of the Pakistan-U.S. business council, who took them to Pakistan, where they held a meeting with UBL Bank, the leading investment bank.

"Between UBL ($2 million), Rupali Group ($2 million), and two smaller banks ($500,000), World Bridge Connect raised investments worth five million US dollars. A facility with a four hundred seating capacity was set up in Lahore and Fortune 500 Company Dish Network became the first company to off-shore forty revenue seats in Lahore.

"Women form a big part of our workforce, even though Pakistan is more conservative than India. Similar to Bangalore, we started plying company buses to pick and drop our employees. The buses have the company name in bold fonts so that people know where the women are going. Pakistan is what India was ten years ago.

"But let me tell you," Gurujot warns, "if India does not take stock of the situation - serious issues like handling its attrition rate and quality - there could be tough times ahead. See, the perception about India ten years ago is what it is in Pakistan. But today, nobody thinks about perceptions, the concern is of quality, as you can hardly get good work in India.

"And companies today want to diversify their location risk. Today, companies are sending seventy percent of their work to India, but they do not want to put too much risk in a single location. They might as well have multiple countries. And, mind you, experimenting in another country is no big deal. Just give twenty seats for starters.

"For example, the companies have hundreds of millions of dollars in India and if something were to go wrong, where can they take it? Only to America - and that would cost them twice as much. So to mitigate the location risk, they have to spread themselves across countries."

China is out, for they don't speak English and, according to Gurujot, it will take the Chinese at least twenty-five years to become accent-neutral.

"The best accent-free English in India is spoken in north India, though we faced huge challenges and made enormous investments in training accents. We hired speech pathologists specializing in this area, which is a science. There are eight diphthongs or sounds made by your articulators: the tongue, lips, teeth and the palate. These four interact in a particular way, to form your or my accent.

"Indians made certain diphthongs which Americans never made. When we trained people in western accents, the idea was not to hide the fact that they were from another country, but to train them to diphthongs that the Americans could understand. We were looking for more global accents, not American, or anything that would make the dialogue comfortable.

"It's a very simple process and takes about forty hours to train someone. But, one of the other problems was that Indians speak very fast, whereas Americans speak slowly in syllables."

Time was running out, for I had an evening flight to catch to New York. "India has to be very careful because it's getting trapped in a vicious cycle. Companies are not training executives because attrition rate is high and global companies are not giving work because quality is sub-standard," Gurujot continued, after a business call interrupted our conversation.

"By the way, what time is your flight?" asked Gurujot. "In three hours time," I said.

"Let's hurry then. We'll have dinner and I'll drop you."

"The next big focus is on stem cell research. And India seems to be the right destination to off-shore research. America is just caught up in an unnecessary debate of morality," he added as we chatted over dinner at an Italian restaurant.

"People only think that you are a genius when they look back at your work, but what you are actually doing at that point of time is simply using common sense," he said.


In a significant development, World Bridge has shut its Lahore operations since May 2006. U.S. clients shied away from Pakistan, after a U.S. consular officer was killed in Karachi on 1 March 2006, in a suicide bomb attack. Moreover, owing to the growing political uncertainty, there are few takers for Pakistan.

World Bridge is looking to start afresh in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007.

[Sikhs Unlimited is published by Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2007. 254 pages. ISBN 978-81-291-1207-1. It is available at www.EthnicIsland.com]

1: Jagdeep Singh (London, England), August 22, 2007, 7:48 PM.

What an utterly infuriating and frustrating story regarding the SGPC and Punjab government's incompetence regarding these investments. Is this not emblematic of so much that is wrong with the Sikh establishment? They would rather have their selfish fiefdoms than really usher in modernity because the status quo is to their gain, and they fear intellectual and social liberation of the Sikh people. What a shame that such far-sighted people, the Sikhs, are being held back by small-time narrow-minded clique with no vision or real concern. And Gurujot Singh is an authentic Sikh hero of the 21st Century. As long as there are men and women like him, we will succeed and break barriers despite all those amongst us who hold us back and fear modernity. You cannot keep this spirit in shackles.

2: Inder (U.S.A.), August 23, 2007, 3:58 AM.

I completely agree, Jagdeep. Leave it up to the buffoons supposedly representing the Panth to wreck us from the inside. These are the same people, like the heads of some Gurdwara committees, who decide who is a Sikh and who isn't, and yet blindly follow rituals. All the while, the youth in Punjab are lost in drugs, forgetting their roots; farmers are losing their land; and female feticide is rampant. If only we held our own destiny in our hands ... I pray that one day we will. How can it be any other way? We must invest in our own people, through education, science, social and economic infrastructure.

3: Sukhpreet Singh (Kingston-Upon-Thames, England), August 23, 2007, 8:49 AM.

Punjab has to move into the new competitive information economy of the 21st Century that India is at the cutting edge of. Sikh leaders and Punjabi politicians need to get out of the way if they cannot facilitate this. As long as people treat politics, office and influence as feudal roles, nothing will be done to challenge Punjab to step up to the plate and compete, channel the natural entrepreneurial spirit of Sikhs, and plug into the new global economy rather than just complacently relying on providing food for the rest of India as the mainstay and base of the state's wealth. And Punjab will continue to fall behind the rest of India, never mind the rest of the globalizing world. I also believe that it is these "leaders" and politicians who stoke up religious feelings in a quite wicked and cynical way in order to cover up their failings and lack of vision or concern for the modern world, and their narrow-minded mentalities. When a great entrepreneur like Gurujot Singh is frustrated by them, we know that something is deeply wrong with those who are supposedly our leaders at a religious, institutional and/or political level in Punjab.

4: Amrit Kaur (U.S.A.), August 23, 2007, 10:21 AM.

We all know how the S.G.P.C. functions - that is, certainly not for the benefit of the Sikh community, but instead, to secure their own place and boost their own ego. Can these wrongs be redressed now? Can Punjab be made a kind of satellite of Bangalore's Silicon Valley by the Sikh-American entrepreneur at this late stage? Maybe, the Punjab Government has learnt its lessons. Is it too late?

5: Mahanbir Singh Grewal (Adelaide, South Australia), August 23, 2007, 5:59 PM.

Excellent story. We in the diaspora should back Gurujot's vision and have him guide the community worldwide. We should divide up the community into "missals" and proceed with developing it, step by step.

6: Charan Singh (Toronto, Canada), August 24, 2007, 8:53 AM.

Those who really want to help, do it despite any challenges. That is the Sikh way. Punjab remains distressed, the youth remain alienated, there aren't enough jobs, the politicians remain uneducated ... Help can only come from God! Men who bring change don't regret difficulties or get distracted by failures, or gossip or write mere stories of the wrongs done by others: they actually help! That is the Sikh way. Dear S. Gurujot Singh ji: you can still do so much. You have overcome so many other hurdles. The ones you face in Punjab are but mere challenges, waiting to be overcome.

7: H.S. (New York, U.S.A.), August 24, 2007, 11:22 AM.

Investment, money, prosperity and growth can still be seen in Punjab, if the successive governments keep the interest of Punjab over petty politics & political vendetta. Both Chief Ministers Badal (SAD) & Amrinder Singh (Cong) have or had the will to change things and a desire to do so, but were so engrossed in politics that they missed golden opportunities ... and did nothing meaningful. In fact, during most of their time in power, their energies were wasted in undoing some of the good projects of the previous governments. We Sikhs and Punjabis, wherever we live, whether we like any of these politicians and their parties or not, MUST start rethinking about our Punjab. We can't let it suffer in the hands of any shortsighted politician/person. The priority should be to make Punjab prosper ... I'm sure each one of us can help. Gurujot Singh and other wealthy entrepreneurs like him will pour in, the moment they are sure their investment in Punjab will not be subject to the whims and vagaries of petty politics. We need to remember: Punjab is much more than a land of five rivers; it is where every Punjabi's heart resides. Like the tough times of the past, these too will pass!

8: Tejwant (U.S.A.), August 24, 2007, 12:29 PM.

What one can gather from the above great article is, that we may be good parrots as far as chanting Gurbani is concerned, but we refuse to learn the tools from the same Gurbani about how to put Gurmat values into practice. If we had learned that then, Punjab would have become the web of mini Silicon Valleys rather than the place where desperation is rampant and suicide is the only way out for many. If our honchos of the Panth and the Sikh politicos of Punjab follow Miri- Piri concept, rather than the meri-meri one, then there may be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and it would not be the train coming towards us, loaded with Punjabi moonshine.

9: D.J. Singh (U.S.A.), August 25, 2007, 5:02 AM.

Gurujot Singh (U.S.A.) is a businessman practicing the Sikh faith. A story was recently reported in the press that a certain Bal Singh (U.K.) is prepared to change the religion of his four-year old daughter to enable her to join a Roman Catholic school. This will enable the child to stay with her friends and also progress in life. Sikhism respects all religions. It will be interesting to have a successful entrepreneur like Sardar Gurujot Singh shed light on his views on religion and its place in society, particularly in this context. --


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