By Sanjay Pinto


Globetrotting to seventy five countries across all the seven continents may be just up the alley for a hotshot Silicon Valley head honcho. Building earth imaging satellites for a living, Satish Chetty’s wanderlust is not confined to mere picturesque landscapes and exhilarating adventures. The 47 year old doting dad who never skips his dad-daughter or father-son journeys, has more than happy memories, albums, videos and travelogues to plaster on the social media. What clicks is not just his camera. Heart strings are also tugged at. And there lies a tale.

(Pic: Satish Chetty, Vice President – Hera Systems, U.S.A)

Two years ago, Satish and his son travelled to a remote school in the Himalayas, Nepal. It was an arduous trip by any stretch – two nights and two days to reach Lalu Village in Kalikot district from Delhi. It took an exhausting sixteen hour drive through a mountainous terrain, followed immediately by a five hour hike. The English medium school with a strength of about three hundred day scholars and thirty residential students who lost their parents, is run by a former Southern California graduate student Prakash Bista who hails from this village that was once torn apart by civil unrest. In their twenties, Prakash and his wife Shomi can jolly well settle comfortably in the United States but have chosen to serve this community and are on a mission to build schools in such places. Situated in what Satish believes is “one of the world’s poorest regions”, there are no roads, electricity, water, sewage, a clinic, or public infrastructure here. If there was one thing that there was no dearth of, it was “compassion.”

“While hanging out at the school, I had an informal quiz with the resident kids. I asked them to name the capitals of countries.” To a question on the capital of Pakistan, a kid answered “Sri Lanka”! When Satish asked for a globe, they didn’t have one. “I also realised that the kid had never been outside her village. The nearest library was at least a day’s travel away. There are no roads to this school. Students have to trudge a couple of hours to reach the school from the neighbouring villages.”

Etched in his memory, the incident and their plight ignited a call to action. As the child’s answer and their struggle to get educated kept playing in his mind, over and over again, Satish hit upon the idea of setting up a library in the school and confided in his school mates through the Don Bosco, Egmore 1991 batch WhatsApp group. “Within a week, they pledged more $10,000. This was enough to acquire land, permits, and begin constructing a library and community centre that would serve the entire ward of about 10,000 people.” There was another spin off – employment for those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. “I am super grateful and happy that my school friends, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in decades, came forward to help a cause.” There was a cascading effect with a school in San Jose pitching in with laptops. “We still need more money for solar lighting, furniture, more books and computers.”

The DB 91 group is sent periodic updates on the progress of the work. Recently,The founder sent a video with the kids shouting ‘thank you’ from the rooftop.  “For our part, my son and I helped maintain the solar power system, (tried to) fix the computer lab, planned for local WiFi deployment.”

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While the total cost of the project is $20,000 for the construction of a 4-room building and $2,000 for the land, Satish has managed to raise more than half the target –  about $12,000. We will have around 1500 books initially. The auditorium in the upper floor will have a projector to screen educational presentations for the children and local parents.” If all the funds are in, the library may be ready by this year end.

Did I refer to Satish’s expeditions as wanderlust? Truth be told, it’s a wonder not lost – of a traveller doing his bit to rewrite the destiny of a village. And of a school alumni WhatsApp group going beyond nostalgia, reunions and forwarded jokes to supplement a cause with vitamin M.

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(Sanjay Pinto is a practising Advocate & Arbitrator at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)



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