Monday, December 24, 2012

Destination Chennai: Part One - Marina Beach, St George Fort, T-Nagar and more

Boat at the beach

Chennai - aka Madras - is the capital of Southern Indian state - Tamil Nadu. Located on Coromandel Coast, facing the eternal friend ‘Bay of Bengal’ in the east, this metropolis is a major commercial, cultural, economic and educational centre in South India. Home to Tamil movie industry, this industrial hub is also tagged as the 'Detroit of India', because of the presence of major car manufactures in the city.


Great Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar spend years here, so as the Christian apostle St. Thomas. Eihu Yale - benefactor of ‘the Collegiate School of Connecticut’ (now famous Yale University) - was one of the Governors of Madras under Company rule.

Bay of Bengal
On the eventful day of August 22, 1639 (aka Madras Day) British East India Company, under Francis Day, bought tree mile stretch of land in this part of Coromandel cost. In the very next year, they started building the now famous St. George fort in the land. However, Madras was not an easy task even for the mighty British. French under the command of General La Bourdonnai, then Governor of Mauritius, captured the fort in 1746. It took three years for the British to regain the control that also through the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1749.

French again siege Madras in 1759; ten years later Mysore under Hyder Ali also Siege the city during the climax of first Anglo-Mysore war which resulted in the Treaty of Madras. In the later decades, British conquered most of present day Tamilnadu, parts of Andra Pradesh, Karnataka and northern Kerala establishing Madras Presidency with Madras as capital.

Madras also holds the distinction of the only Indian city attacked by ‘Central powers’ during WWI. On 22 September 1914, German light cruiser ‘HMS Emden’ shelled an Oil depot in Madras and also caused disruption to shipping. Parts of shells then fell in to the Madras are on display at St. George Fort Museum.

Home to Theosophical Society movement, this city also hosted seven Indian National Congress (INC) sessions (1887, 1894, 1898, 1903, 1908, 1914 and 1927) in first 50 years of the party.

Bangalore to Chennai

Bay of Bengal
After considering various options for travel, I finally settled for the comfort of Indian Railway's (IR) sleeper class. As usual, in that Friday evening, walking was faster than our bus’s Volvo engine. After three and quarter hours, going through a slow motion journey, cursing the traffic in every other minute, I finally reached Yeshwantpur railway station.

From one end of the station you can see the rays from electronic display forming the line - 'World Trade Centre - Brigade Gateway'.

From the platform over bridge, lengthy Chennai express was like a blue snake. Another 30 minutes to go to start the journey. As nothing else to do, I started walking through the platform. On left side, a group of college students, along with one of their teachers were enjoying their dinner with Macdonald's products.

I walked further, there was a book stall selling Swami Vivekananda books. One old man, probably in late sixties was curiously reading. By seeing me, he raised his heads, looked for some 10 seconds and then went back to his book. Everywhere people were either sitting in groups, or taking a small nap in the hard surface of granite benches.

Finally its 10.45 in the night, time to start my first ever journey to Chennai. I quickly settled to my seat and fell in to the dream – Chennai, Marina, Fort St. George, Egmore museum...

Flag over St George 
At Chennai in the morning

Ting, ting, and ting...I slowly woke up and turned off the alarm. It’s five, train was about to reach Chennai central railway station (MAS). What surprised me was – we are running 10 minutes ahead of the schedule. Even in my last trip to Hubli, train reached before time. Looks like Indian Railway finally learned the lessons. After moving through the crowd, I finally reached a hotel.

My first plan was to reach Marina before sunrise.

Just like Mumbai, Chennai also have a sub-urban railway system connecting various points in the city. As told by a friend, I decided to go to Park Town - opposite to central - and buy a ticket to Beach Junction. However, reaching Park town was not so easy for a first timer. Note that, in Chennai reservation counters are located in the ground floor of a building close to it.

Sub-Urban Railway (Chennai Mass Rapid Transit System)

For Beach junction tickets, I had to cross the road and reach the other side. Here stands the local station called Park Town. Beach town is the last station for trains going from Park Town in that direction. Train came exactly at 6 am and I got in. Boggy looked like an old home, built using the scraps available from Indian Railway. It was almost empty, and nobody cared about locking the door while train is in motion. Anyway, after spending some minutes in that empty boggy I finally reached Beach junction.

Here I met one railway official, who advised me to go Velachery for seeing the shores. After confirming the same with another police officer, I bought a ticket to Velachery - seven rupees. This train was good – felt like I suddenly came out of ancient Stone Age to modern era. We retraced all the way back to Park Station and continued our journey.

Bad smell were coming from near-by open drains, this accompanied me for most of the remaining train journey. Slums were located close to the tracks; water in black colour was flowing close to them. I don't know whose idea it was, to design open drainage so close to the slums and railway lines. I crossed Chepauk, sea is very close to tracks in this area; thought of even getting down there for a moment. Slowly but steadily tracks were taking a right turn, this effectively means - moving away from shores. Sun already came out of eastern sea and moving fast towards western seas in his chariot – missed the sunrise.

Railway guard informed me that, sea is close at Triplicane. I didn't understand this name; even touch screens placed at railway stations didn’t mention this place. However, when I told the same name at counter, he gave me a ticket to Chepauk.

Person watering the plants under noon sun
By the way an interesting thing happened in my journey to Velacherry. A well dressed young lady in her late twenties approached me and asked something. As I was looking outside, didn't fully understand what she was asking. Somehow I assumed that she is a ticket checker. I searched for the ticket, and showed it to her. She stood still for a moment and then asked - 'give something to this sister'!!! I heard the laughing sound from behind, but didn't turn back!!!

Finally Chepauk came; I got down from the train and walked towards the beach.

Marina Beach

Beach starts from Fort St. George in the north to Besant Nagar in the south. With a length of 13 km, this beach is considered as the longest urban beach in the country. Filled with plastic covers, bottles, paper pieces etc this beach is not known for neatness.

In one side, a group of fishermen were trying to push their boat - small but beautifully painted one with a Honda engine at one end - to sea. After trying for some 5-6 times, against the powerful currents coming towards the shores, they accepted defeat. I started walking the direction of Madras port. On the way, two friends were trying to master somersaulting in air; in another place a group of friends were enjoying the waves. Some hundred meters ahead, one guy was pushing his wife towards water. The problem was husband didn’t share his wife’s fear in moving more towards the sea. It’s almost 9am, time to say good bye to the beach.

Triumph of Labour statue
I tuned left and walked towards beach road. Here, on the road side, stands 'Triumph of Labour statue' - a group of workers trying to push a stone. After a brief conversation with the Policeman, I walked towards St. George Fort - the house of executive. Roads were wide and clean, on one side there were many memorials. After crossing the bride and walking for some more time, I reached in front of Victory War Memorial.

Victory War memorial

This memorial was constructed in the memory of British Indian soldiers who fought and died in various campaigns of World War I and WWII. Located in the middle of the road, this circular structure with a lengthy post in the middle is kept neat and clean. For a moment the never ending discussion of building a war memorial for Post Independence Indian Army came to my mind. Indeed, many of our war memorials - Including the famous India Gate at New Delhi - are built by British in memory of soldiers fought under Union Jack. When will we finally resolve in building a national memorial for soldiers fought under tricolour?

Opposite to ‘Victory War Memorial’ stands the Gate of ‘Port of Chennai’. I continued my journey towards the fort, around 100m ahead, in the background of blue sky, tricolour was flying high in the flag post - at the same position, once occupied by Union Jack.

For going inside the secretariat, one has to sign and give details at the gate. Next step is strict physical security check. Finishing all formalities, I reached Fort Museum.  Museum entry fee for Indian citizens is 5 INR, inside the museum photography is not allowed.

A Junction in Chennai
St George Fort and Museum

This fort was constructed by British in the later part of 17th century. Currently this complex (which includes a museum and a church as well) houses executive wing of Government of Tamilnadu. Impressive statue of Lord Cornwallis, carved by Thomas Banks in 1800 AD depicting the scene of surrender of two sons of Tipu, will welcome you.

1. Ground Floor

Arms gallery is located on ground floor. In this section you can see Rifles, Motors, Cannons, Cannon shots, fragments of shell fired in to Madras city during WW1, medals issues by British India, Regimental uniforms and other symbols, model of Kiser-e-hind gold medal etc.

Porcelain gallery stands on the other side. Porcelain items used by Company officers - which also bear the insignia - are displayed here. On one end you can see the structure of Fort at the time of British India. One interesting item in this part of museum is – giant lock and keys of Fort. Model of a letter, describing the Firman granted to Mr. Day, giving privileges in Madrasapatanam was hanging on the wall.

2. First Floor

Using staircase, close to the giant marble statue of Lord Cornwallis, I reached first floor. After having some water from the cooler, I went to the room on left side. Here you can see the pictures of interesting places from different countries - German and French forts, Ethiopia, Finland, Georgia, Gambia, Gabon etc.

Victory Memorial
Next room contains the portraits of many British officers and Navabs. On the left side first photo was that of Sir Arthur Havelock, as museum in charge Karthik explained to me, wherever you go Havelock's eyes will follow you. Opposite to the door stands the majestic photo of Queen Victoria, painted by George Heytler. Next to next stands Edward VII painted by Luke Filder. This room also contains the full portraits of George V, Queen Mary, coronation of Nawab Gulam Muhammed Ghaur by Elphinstine in 1642 AD, Nawab's photos by Thomas Day, Painting of Major Stinger Lawrence with Nawab Walajah etc and a couple of marble statues as well.

Third room on this floor describes the introduction and history of coinage and various acts related to currency in India. Here you can see some old but interesting coins.

St Mary's Church

After exiting form the museum, thinking about Company era, I started walking towards St Mary's church. This church, opened for service in 1680 AD, is the oldest Masonry building inside the fort complex. Interestingly this church has a bomb proof vaulted roof. After removing sandals, I went inside. Chairs were very old; at one corner one lady was cleaning and rubbing the water off from candle stand and other items. Opposite to me, on the third column two old lady's were reading bible. A young couple and another guy were standing in a corner taking photos. Walls were decorated with tablets.

One beautiful tablet, close to me, was erected there in the memory of 63rd Palamcottach Light Infantry, 73rd Carnatic Infantry and 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry.

After spending another 20 minutes there, I came out. A police woman was standing outside, after checking with her on how to reach T-Nagar, I left the church premises. It’s almost one in the afternoon. After having lunch from secretariat, I went outside to get a bus to T-Nagar. It took some time for the T-Nagar bus to come. Crossing many crowded areas and flyovers bus reached T-Nagar.


“T-Nagar”. Well, I got up from the seat and started moving towards the front door. From that crowded bus I came to one of the most crowded areas in Chennai.

Victory War Memorial and Chennai Port
Constructed in between 1923-25 Theagaraya Nagar, aka T-Nagar, is one of the popular shopping areas in Chennai. This town is named after the leader of ‘Justice Party’ - Sir P. Theagaraya Chetty.

Here you don’t have to waste your energy for walking. Just stand at one place, overwhelming crowd will take you along with them. Packed with jewellery shops, utensils, apparel stores etc, this place is also filled with street vendors and their inventory. Here service roads are out of bound for vehicles. I spend close to one hour here, watching the sea of human beings moving here and there, girls bargaining with street vendors for new dresses, street vendors taking a nap for having late lunch – turn back, open lunch packet brought from home, have it as fast as possible, again turn back to resume the business.

After walking here and there for some more time, I finally reached T-Nagar bus stand. From here, got another bus heading towards Express Avenue.

Express Avenue

Express Avenue
Located in Royapettah, this mall is considered as one of the biggest in South India. After taking a brief sleep in the bus, I reached Royapettah in the afternoon. Plenty of people were there, most of mall’s automatic escalators were always occupied by people. If you want to spend sometime, then this is definitely a nice place.


PS: Day pass for MTC bus is 50 Rs (this pass is valid in all MTC busses).

NOTE: Visit again for reading the second part of this journey.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Google and Freebies - Is the company reaching a full circle?

Finally, Google is also completing a full circle. According to a recent press release from the company, Google stopped offering Google Apps - its web based product suite - free of charge to groups of 10 or fewer users.

Relevant sections from their press release
"... For Businesses, instead of two versions, there will be one. Companies of all sizes will sign up for our premium version...Pricing is still $50 per user, per year..."
"...change has no impact on our existing customers, including those using the free version... will be available as a free service for schools and universities... we’ll continue to offer Google Apps for Government for $50 per user, per year..."

This may be a part of latest evolutions in web. Freebies may be limited in the future. Just like news papers are erecting pay walls, companies may also start assembling the same. Individuals may get free options for a longer time, but wind of change may hit these doors as well. Be prepared for the same...



1. Google.

Recommendations of Sam Pitroda Commission, decisions of Telecom Commission and the patient in death bed - BSNL

BSNL - Connecting India

I am not sure, how many of you have pleasant memories about BSNL. At present, this telecom behemoth is struggling for profits more importantly for its own survival. From the position of an essential company, economic liberalisation made it just like any other company - in other words ‘dispensable’.  Opening the market in early 90s, rewrote the destinies of two business segments in India - Telecom and Insurance. (Of course there were many other areas which enjoyed the fruits of liberalisation).

Both in Insurance and Telecom, we had a couple of government companies which were considered as ‘too big to fail’. LIC in Insurance and BSNL/VSNL/MTNL trio in telecom. LIC successfully withstood the competition (of course the tag 'An Indian Government Undertaking' helped her a lot). In the telecom sector, VSNL went to private hands; MTNL is struggling with its operations in metros. I am not going to those details, as these issues were already covered in many earlier articles.

Current development in this sphere is related to the implementation of Sam Pitroda committee's recommendations on BSNL. This Committee was set up earlier, to review the functioning of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).

Important recommendations of Sam Pitroda committee

1. Focus on selection of the best professionals from the market at market rates.
2. Appoint an eminent person from the private sector as the Chairman.
3. Separate the post of the Managing Director/ CEO (from CMD).
4. Change the Board composition to seven directors {one internal (MD/CEO), one non-executive chairman, two government nominee and three external directors}.
5. Provide three year contracts with specific targets for all key management team members.
6. Establish four independent business units for Fixed access, Mobility, Enterprise and New businesses.
7. Complete ITS (Indian Telecom Service) absorption process.
8. Induct significant young talent in Technology, IT, marketing, sales, etc.
9. Retire or transfer around 100K employees through processes like VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme).
10. Change procurement processes and procedures substantially using tools such as e-Procurement, vendor rating, rate running contracts, schedules, etc.
11. Disinvest 30% through Indian strategic investor and at Initial Public Offering (IPO) to return 10% to the government and use 20% for employee VRS, expansion and operation.
12. Provide 30 million new high speed broadband connections in the next three years.
13. Unbundle local loop for public and private companies.
14. Proactively offer sharing of active and passive infrastructure to other operators.
15. Enhance rural communication facilities by connecting 250,000 panchayats.
16. Create a separate subsidiary company for tower related infrastructure.
17. Create a separate subsidiary to hold land bank and other real estate assets.
18. Establish a BSNL venture fund to invest and/ or acquire small appropriate technology companies.

My conclusions about committee's recommendations

1. Take a look at the first two recommendations. It’s based on the concept that, BSNL doesn't have good professionals to lead it. I agree that, good CEOs can change the fate of a company. But the problems in BSNL are not only about the leadership only, hence a cosmetic solution like absorbing best minds from the industry won’t solve it. What is the use, if you have Jack Welsh as CEO but both his hands are tied? It’s not only about the person but also about the freedom ha may have. If this basic framework is not there, then it doesn't matter if you take 10 people from the market or 1000 people from the market.

2. Third and forth recommendations looks more like doing a cosmetic surgery for skin cancer.

3. Fourth point is important, until and unless there is time dependant contract for improving the performance most things won't change. Gave three years to them - but with enough powers.

4. Sixth, sixteenth and seventeenth recommendations are also important. It will help BSNL to concentrate on where it is making the profit, and fix the issues in remaining verticals.

5. Seventh, eighth and ninth points are related to the handling of human resources. It is important to have best people in sales and after sales services. Currently, you have to struggle for each and every service from the company - no matter whether it is applying for a new connection, or relocating an existing connection. What is the use of best economical (call/ broadband) plans if it’s not supported?

6. Tenth recommendation is vital for the company. Cost of equipments should not be the sole criteria for selection - there should be something called quality as well. Company needs to improve its selection rules. Currently, if BSNL select one vendor then the other one will go to court; someone else will accuse the management of bribery. Just take a look at Airtel - if they want to create some infrastructure, they will make sure that the best is in place.

7. Eleventh recommendation dealing with divesting will help BSNL; after all, it will force them to concern about market's reaction. They will no longer be able to post the loss and keep quiet, answerable to shareholders and subject to critical evaluations from market will definitely improve them.

8. Twelfth and fifteenth recommendations are related to improving infrastructure and providing quality service economically in the rural areas. Considering the benefits company is getting from government, we can safely assume that, they are in such a position to execute these projects. BSNL got 3G spectrum much before than any other company.

9. Company can decide on Thirteenth recommendation based in its own commercial views.

10. Offering the infrastructure, e.g. towers and land, for other operators will help BSNL to generate revenue without much additional investment. Creating a separate company for its mobile towers can be a starting step in this direction.

11. Eighteenth is an important suggestion. If BSNL want to achieve any significant breakthroughs in technology then this will help them. Otherwise they may have to satisfy with buying/ renting foreign technology and equipments forever.

Decisions of 'Telecom Commission' on the recommendations

a. Taking 30-50 professional from market at market rates changing Board Constitution or separating Chairman and MD posts may not be feasible in only one Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) as it may trigger protest from BSNL and demand for similar treatment by other PSUs.
b. This is not the opportune time for listing & disinvestment of BSNL, as company is on downward performance path & disinvestment may not realize true value of the company.  In absence of listing, option of giving stocks as incentive, to key management is not available for the present.
c. VRS across the board may not be required; BSNL could examine option of VRS for select categories, examining financial burden and cost/benefit of the company.
d. On adopting Managed capacity or managed services model - Internal Committee view that the Board of BSNL may take a view is endorsed.
e. Unbundling of the local loop is a commercial decision, which shall be decided by BSNL Board after critically examining the issue.
f. All other issues are operational and commercial issues of BNSL for which the Board is competent to take decisions.
g. The Commission also observed that some of the above issues including items (ii), (iii) and (v) could be revisited if the need arose in the context of any major policy decisions involving restructuring and repositioning of BSNL.

My Take on the decisions of 'Telecom Commission'

a. Well, they agreed with my observation, but provided a pathetic reason for the same. Commission has to understand that, BSNL is the terminally ill patient not NTPC, OIL or other PSUs.

b. Well I agree with this point; but government don’t have to sell 50% even 5% will work. Let BSNL fear about market's reaction after they post the profits.

c. I agree that VRS will create an enormous financial burden on company’s balance sheet. But instead of Telecom Commission taking a decision on their own it will be better to consider the view of international consultants.

d. BSNL Board spend a long number of years before Sam Pitroda recommendations came in to existence - I didn’t hear anything from them about restructuring. If we are not forcing the board to do something then restructuring may remain as non-starter.

e. Agreeing with the view of commission.

f and g. If we leave everything to the discretion of board then many recommendations may never see the light of the day. Sometimes ministry won't agree, if ministry agrees then board may not agree, if both agree then union may not agree etc.


BSNL is neither monopoly nor indispensable. What more, now a day’s its decisions has a little weightage on market. The faster BSNL absorbs this hard reality the better. If they are still unable to digest, then take look at the financial conditions of her big brother – Air India.



1. Government of India

Photo Courtesy: Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Indian sports - it’s the time for cleaning

Indian Olympic Association
Sports is not an area where we can claim much global triumphs, except in a couple of events like Cricket, Chess etc. 1.2bn+ people are still starving for medals in international events like Olympics, FIFA World cup, Athletic meets etc.

Number of medals we got in Olympics’ may be an indication of where we are standing in international sports. India started participating in this sporting extravaganza right from the second games - Paris - in 1900; 27 years before the so called 'Indian Olympic Association' came into existence. In Paris, we won two silver medals - Norman Gilbert Pritchard (British descent) become the first person to win an Olympic medal representing India (first for an Asian nation as well). Over 112 years we got just 28 medals.

Games Medals
1900 - Paris Norman Pritchard (Athletics - 2 Silver)
1928 - Amsterdam National team - Hockey (Gold)
1932 - LosAngeles National team - Hockey (Gold)
1936 - Berlin National team - Hockey (Gold)
1948 - London National team - Hockey (Gold)
1952 - Helsinki National team - Hockey (Gold),
Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav  (Wrestling - Bronze)
1956 - Melbourne National team - Hockey (Gold)
1960 - Rome National team - Hockey (Gold)
1964 - Tokyo National team - Hockey (Gold)
1968 - Mexico National team - Hockey (Bronze)
1972 - Munich National team - Hockey (Bronze)
1980 - Moscow National team - Hockey (Gold)
1996 - Atlanta Leander Paes - Tennis (Bronze)
2000 - Sydney Karnam Malleswari - Weightlifting (Bronze)
2004 - Athens Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore - Shooting (Silver)
2008 - Beijing Abhinav Bindra - Shooting (Gold), Vijender Singh - Boxing (Bronze),
Sushil Kumar  - Wrestling (Bronze)
2012 - London Gagan Narang - Shooting (Bronze), Vijay Kumar - Shooting (Silver),
Saina Nehwal - Badminton (Bronze), Mary Kom  - Boxing (Bronze), Yogeshwar Dutt - Wrestling (Bronze), Sushil Kumar - Wrestling (Silver)

It is ironic that, Indian hockey team, which once dominated the world of Hockey, is not even sure of an Asian medal in these days.

However, fall from grace didn't improve the attitude of both national and state Hockey Federations. This problem is not limited to Hockey; almost all other sporting federations came down to such a level that nothing less than critical surgeries will help.

Banning ‘Indian Olympic Association (IOA)’ and suspending Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF)

Adding to the humiliation, "At a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland on Tuesday, the IOC banned the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and said a vote to elect its secretary-general on Wednesday would be "null and void"" It didn't stop there, "Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) has been suspended by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) for "possible manipulation" of its elections". 

If we wait for some more time, they will suspend some other association as well!!! After all how many of them are really interested in working for the improvement of sports in India?

The irony is, in both cases reason for suspension was elections. Why, India, which conducts world biggest election exercise once in every five years, was unable to conduct proper elections to these small sporting bodies? Why we have people coming right form the jail heading these organizations? Why we have people who may never played any sports other than political horse-trading are heading these organizations?

The problem is not that, politicians are heading these governing bodies, but its the detachment of these numerous associations, federations with sports!!!


Government should bring in sweeping changes in the governance of these bodies. It’s time for the wind of change to open the closed doors. In India, government is the primary source of income for these sporting bodies - except probably for cricket. In other words, money is coming from public exchequer – which again paid by you and me.

So government has every right and obligation to install proper bodies to govern and improve sports in India. No matter whether IOC cry foul or not, no matter whether they ban some other federations or not; government should take this ban from IOC as an excuse to act decisively and throw out all unwanted elements from sport councils.



1. Athletes hope IOC ban could bring change - Reuters
2. International Olympic Association (IOA)
3. Indian boxing federation suspended in wake of IOC ban - Irish Indepenent

Thursday, December 6, 2012

‘Direct Cash Transfer scheme and some entangled questions

While judging about government's cash transfer scheme, many queries are coming to my mind,

1. Will people use the money transferred to their account, by government, for purchasing food? Or will they divert it to some other needs?
2. What about the consequence of inflation on subsidy amounts?
3. Will our banking system be able to deal with the weight?
4. In many commercial (both government and public) banks minimum balance, required to maintain a savings bank account, is very high; will the banks happily alter the rules and serve rural poor with a smile?
5. Will rural poor be able to get better service from banks?
6. Once Cash transfer scheme become operational, subsidies for PDS supplies may go. Won't it swell the cost of food in general market?

For most of these questions I often reach an answer which kills my passion in otherwise supposed to be effective Aadhar based cash transfer scheme.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Legson Kayira and his inspiring long walk

Legson Kayira

"I learned I was not, as most Africans believed, the victim of my circumstances but the master of them." - Legson Kayira

We have hundred of stories about, how people with firm determination changed not only the course of their life but the course of an age as well. Each story is unique in its own aspects, no matter whether it is Lincoln’s determination or Edison's persistence.

Legson Kayira, born in a remote African country - Malawi – would have been slip in to the unknown pages of history, if he decided to live a normal life. But, he didn’t submit himself to the fate, his firm determination to find a new life and sustained struggle for the same elevated him to the next level. Here is the story of Kayira from his autobiography – ‘I Will Try’.

Barefoot to America

--- This story originally published in University of Kent, UK republished here with permission.

"My mother did not know where America was. I said to her, "Mother, I want to go to America to go to college. Will you give me your permission?" "Very well," she said. "You may go. When will you leave?" I did not want to give her time to discover how far away America was, for fear that she would change her mind. "Tomorrow," I said. "1 will prepare some maize for you to eat along the way," she said. Next day I left my home in Nyasaland, East Africa. I had only the clothes I wore, a khaki shirt and shorts. I carried the two treasures I owned: a Bible and a copy of Pilgrim's Progress. I carried, too, the maize my mother had given me, wrapped in banana leaves

My goal was a continent and an ocean away, but I did not doubt that I would reach it. I had no idea how old I was. Such things mean little in a land where time is always the same. I suppose I was 16 or 18. My father died when I was very young. From missionaries I learned I was not the victim of circumstances but the master of them. I learned that I had an obligation to use whatever talents I had to make life better for others. And to do that I would need education. I learned about America. I read the life of Abraham Lincoln and grew to love this man who suffered so much to help the enslaved in his country. I read, too, the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, himself born in slavery in America, and who had risen in dignity and honour to become a benefactor of his people and his country. I gradually realized that in America I could receive the training and opportunities to prepare myself to emulate these men in my own land, to be, like them, a leader, perhaps even the president of my country.

My intention was to make my way to Cairo, where I hoped to get passage on a ship to America. Cairo was over 3,000 miles away, a distance I could not comprehend, and I foolishly thought I could walk it in four or five days. But in four or five days I was about 25 miles from home, my food was gone, I had no money, and I did not know what to do, except that I must keep going. I developed a pattern of travel that became my life for more than a year. Villages were usually five or six miles apart, on forest paths. I would arrive at one in the afternoon and ask if I could work to earn food, water and a place to sleep. When this was possible, 1 would spend the night there, then move on to the next village in the morning. I was actually defenceless against the forest animals I dreaded, but although I heard them at night none of them approached me. Malaria mosquitoes, however, were constant companions, and I often was sick.

By the end of a year 1 had walked 1,000 miles and had arrived in Uganda, where a family took me in and I found a job making bricks. I remained there six months and sent most of my earnings to my mother. In Kampala, I unexpectedly came upon a directory of American colleges. Opening it at random, I saw the name of Skagit Valley College, Mount Vernon, Washington. I had heard that American colleges sometimes give scholarships to deserving young people, so I wrote and applied for one. I realized that I might be refused but was not discouraged; I would write to one school after another in the directory until I found one that would help me.

Three weeks later I was granted a scholarship and assured that the school would help me find a job. Overjoyed, I went to the United States authorities, only to be told that this was not enough. I would need a passport and the round-trip fare in order to obtain a visa. I wrote to my government for a passport but it was refused because I could not tell them when I was born. I then wrote to the missionaries who had taught me in my childhood, and through their efforts was granted a passport. But I still could not get the visa because I did not have the fare. Still determined, I resumed my journey. So strong was my faith that I used my last money to buy my first pair of shoes; I knew I could not walk into college in my bare feet. I carried the shoes to save them.

Across Uganda and into the Sudan I walked. The villages were farther apart and the people were less friendly. Sometimes I had to walk 20 or 30 miles in a day to find a place to sleep or to work to earn some food. At last I reached Khartoum, where I learned that there was a United States consulate. Once again I heard about the US entrance requirements, but this time the Consul was interested enough to write to the college about my plight. Back came a cable. The students, hearing about me and my problems, had raised the fare of $1,700 through benefit parties. I was thrilled and deeply grateful, - overjoyed that I had judged Americans correctly for their friendship and brotherhood. News that I had walked for over two years and 2,500 miles circulated in Khartoum.

After many, many months, carrying my two books and wearing my first suit, I arrived at Skagit Valley College. In my speech of gratitude to the student body I disclosed my desire to become prime minister or president of my country, and I noticed some smiles. I wondered if I had said something naive. I do not think so. When God has put an impossible dream in your heart, He means to help you fulfil it. I believed this to be true when as an African bush boy, I felt compelled to become an American college graduate. And my dream of becoming president of my country can also become true."



1.       University of Kent, UK.

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