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Journeying through dreams to reality

Just Aspire — an inspiring memoir penned by HCL co-founder Ajai Chowdhry — presents the milestones of his life coinciding with the illuminating saga of the origins of India’s knowledge economy through the PC revolution and the subsequent explosion in mobile telephony

The founders of Infosys — the software firm identified with India’s IT boom — Narayan Murthy and Nandan Nilekani wrote ‘Better India, Better World’ and ‘Imagining India’ respectively to discuss the trajectory of their lives, as well as their dilemmas, hopes, and expectations from India. Their spouses have been equally good at penmanship if not better: Sudha Murthy is an award-winning author of inspirational books for young adults and kids, and Rohini Nilekani has written a treatise on Samaaj, Sarkar, and Bazaar – a template for partnership among civil society, government, and markets. However, the story of India’s finest hardware firm — Hindustan Computers Limited — was waiting for a muse, and who could do a better job than one of its own co-founders, Ajai Chowdhry. His book ‘Just Aspire: Notes on Technology, Entrepreneurship and the Future’ fills an important gap in India’s business history, tracing the origins of India’s knowledge economy through the PC revolution and the subsequent explosion in mobile telephony. In fact, it is important to place on record that both Infosys and HCL were founded by young engineers from non-business families.

Now for the offering itself: ‘Just Aspire’ is the memoir of the HCL co-founder who dons many hats — entrepreneur, sportsman, salesman, engineer, educationist, jazz aficionado, patron of classical music, Devanand fan, angel investor, and a passionate advocate for the Right to Repair, all with equal ease. Growing up in the sleepy but picturesque town of Jabalpur in a family that had migrated from Abbottabad in the throes of Partition, his parents, like all of India’s middle class, wanted their prodigal son to take the IAS exam and follow his father’s footsteps for the stable, secure, and well-respected life of a powerful mandarin. But that was not to be, and even though his father was initially disappointed by his son’s decision to opt for a career outside of government, in retrospect, it is clear that this was indeed the road he was meant to travel.

The sixteen chapters in the book talk about the milestones in his life – and I do not wish to make a precis of the narrative, for the purpose of a review is to edge the reader to buy and read the book in the original. Together with his band of techno dreamers: Shiv Nadar, Arjun Malhotra, Yogesh Vaidya, Subhash Arora, and DS Puri, he went on to establish one of the most valuable computer enterprises in the country Hindustan Computers Limited (HCL). With limited financial resources, it was actually driven by the passions and commitments of these techno dreamers, who left their secure jobs to dream and aspire beyond the known horizons.

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