A life of an ordinary Indian - An exercise in self-importance

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Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute - Biography & Autobiography

This is an autobiography of Anil K Rajvanshi. Dr. Rajvanshi is a graduate of IIT Kanpur and a US trained engineer who left a lucrative career in US in early 1980s to come back and work in rural Maharashtra. He runs a small NGO called Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, which works in the areas of agriculture, renewable energy, animal husbandry, and rural and sustainable development. He believes that technologies for rural areas should be developed by the use of high technology. Besides his technology work, he also writes regularly on issues of spirituality and technology and believes that the mantra of India’s development should be “spirituality with high technology”. He believes in simple living and high thinking and tries to live a sustainable life in rural setting. In essence, he is a spiritual engineer.

This book is an attempt to tell his story on what forces shaped him during his journey from childhood to being a spiritual engineer. 


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"I feel that I have a story to tell, no matter how ordinary it might be, and do feel that it may inspire some youngsters to follow the path that I have trodden." So says Dr. Anil Rajvanshi, Director of the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), a non-governmental organization at Phaltan, Maharashtra, in the introduction to his autobiography "A life of an ordinary Indian – an exercise in self-importance." Rajvanshi, the man on a mission to change the face of rural India, is in fact is too modest because the story he is telling through his e-book is actually extraordinary and it may inspire not some but an army of engineers and trained youths to follow his path.
An engineer, researcher, philosopher, a spiritual guru, and a writer -- all rolled into one -- Rajvanshi is a man who gave up a profitable career in the United States at an young age and decided to direct his scientific talents for improving the life of rural population in his home state of Maharashtra in India. His autobiography begins with his early days in Lucknow, his undergraduate education at IIT Kanpur, his journey to the United States (where he obtained his PhD from University of Florida) and his work in renewable energy at NARI since his return from the U.S. in 1981.
The book gives readers a glimpse of the pioneering work by this team at NARI leading to innovative technologies for cooking and lighting with renewable energy; power generation from agricultural residues; electric cycle rickshaws for transport; a biomass gassifier to convert fallen tree leaves into energy; and a solar system for treating waste water besides others.. NARI pioneered development of improved variety of sweet sorghum -- a multipurpose crop that villagers can grow for grain and use as cattle fodder -- and "Lanstove" that acts simultaneously as a stove for cooking food and as a 100-Watt lamp for lighting the room. He has set up a Centre for Sustainable Development at NARI campus to sensitize the corporate world to the plight of rural poor so that they can become active players in rural uplift. Rajvanshi's autobiography also throws light on his phenomenal interest in spirituality and his emphasis that science and technology along with spiritual progress is necessary for holistic development of mind and body.

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It is an interesting book written by Anil Rajvanshi. He has written in a dry manner about his life. The juicy details have been left out. Nevertheless it makes a compelling and interesting reading about his early years and his efforts in doing some meaningful work in rural India.
Rajvanshi is no ordinary Indian. He left a lucrative career in US to come back to rural India. That should be an example to lots of youngsters who want to emigrate abroad.
I recommend this book to young and old alike.

About the author

Dr. Anil Rajvanshi’s pioneering rural development work for the last three decades has spanned a whole spectrum of areas affecting the lives of rural population: renewable energy based cooking and lighting; power generation from agricultural residues; renewable fuel production from agriculture; electric cycle rickshaws; water purification and effluent treatment through the use of renewable energy. In this, he was the first person to promote the use of high technology for rural development – an idea that is in vogue nowadays.

Born and raised in Lucknow, Dr. Rajvanshi went to the United States to pursue higher studies at the University of Florida following his bachelor and master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering from I.I.T. Kanpur.  After getting his PhD in 1979 he taught at the University of Florida for two and half years and then did something that young men of his age and education rarely did those days. He came back to India in 1981 to apply his training for developing rural India. Dr. Rajvanshi established the energy and sustainable development work at Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) at Phaltan, Maharashtra. 

His main achievements are:

1.       He is the principal author (1996) of national policy on energy self-sufficient Taluka which is being managed by MNRE. This is the precursor of National Biomass power plant program and was probably the inspiration behind PURA program.

2.      Dr. Rajvanshi pioneered the development of electric rickshaws in 1990s.  He was the first person to initiate a program of e-rickshaws in the country-which are in vogue nowadays.      

3.      He pioneered the whole program of improving cooking and lighting technology for rural areas. Consequently his group developed the multi-fuel Noorie lantern, multi-fuel Lanstove and the whole issue of rural lighting and cooking technology strategy for the country.

4.      He pioneered in late 1990s the concept of using ethanol as cooking and lighting fuel for rural areas.  This strategy has been copied and promoted all over the world by institutes like World Bank and cooking stove Alliance of UN.

5.      He set up at NARI in early 1990s the world’s largest program on production of ethanol from sweet sorghum.  Their sweet sorghum varieties have been tested in about a dozen countries. This work helped start the national program on sweet sorghum managed by ICAR, Government of India and being carried out in 5-6 universities.

6.      He and his group pioneered the development of loose biomass gasification system.  NARI was the first Institute in the world to develop 500 kW (thermal) sugarcane leaves gasifier in 1995.  This development help spawn such development efforts all over India.

7.      His group has pioneered development of low cost solar-based water purifiers and concept of rural restaurants.

8.      His efforts have shown how a small rural S&T Institute working on shoestring budget can pioneer technologies for rural India; and has inspired similar efforts in India and the world.

Awards, publications, etc.:

In 2001, Dr. Rajvanshi received the prestigious Jamnalal Bajaj Award for the use of science and technology in rural India from Dr. Manmohan Singh.  In 1998 he was inducted in the U.S.-based Solar Hall of Fame. His efforts led to NARI getting FICCI Platinum Jubilee Award in 2002 from Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee. His work on ethanol lanstove was given the 2009 Globe Forum Award for sustainability research in Stockholm from HRH Crown Princess Victoria. In 2014 he became the first Indian to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award of University of Florida, USA. He has delivered prestigious endowed lectures and his achievements have been covered in mass media both nationally and internationally.

He has served on many committees like Planning Commission, Advisory Board on Energy, MNRE, MERC, etc. He has more than 160 publications, some of them in prestigious national and international journals, seven patents, four books, and various chapters in books. Dr. Rajvanshi has lectured and given keynote addresses at many universities in U.S.A. and India. He regularly gives inspirational lectures to a large number of students of prestigious institutes like IITs, NITs, IIMs, etc.  Recently he has written a human-interest story of his work on renewable energy at NARI and has made this book freely available in the hope of inspiring youngsters to work on rural development.

Besides the technology work, Dr. Rajvanshi has great interest in spirituality and holistic development as evidenced by his book on the subject and his various writings which appear  frequently in Speaking Tree (Times of India) and Huffington Post. Dr. Rajvanshi believes that spirituality with high technology should be the mantra of India’s development and practices what he preaches. Thus he lives a simple life in rural Maharashtra while developing high technologies for rural India. In essence he is a spiritual engineer!


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