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We as a society must start celebrating real heroes

In the past and present, I have found myself puzzling for the fact that why thousands of people lined up in front/below to Mr Bachan’s house or SRK’s house. These are just the outliers examples; I believe every single second spent behind any movie start or any start is a waste of resources - time and money. At this point, I am certain, we as a society give so much importance to these hypocritical movie stars who promote products that have been the root causes of communicable and non-communicable diseases. If we ever do the math on the impact of their activities, these stars would be the highest net negative creators in Indian societies. Hence I don’t follow any of them, and I have no fear in writing and saying that in front of their face and in my essay. I think if we as a society want to realize our true potential, we must stop running behind and wasting our single second. We can’t give our attention to someone who gives zero fuck about our well-being or creates a net negative to our society - this is a time we must be rational.

None of them are real heroes, and it is not the case that our society lacks real heroes. But somehow, we ignore those real heroes. The fact, everything that we have around us is the vision and imagination of someone. And they have contributed massively to the progress of our societies, imagined an inclusive society, worked to improve the lives of billions of informal/invisible Indians, and created net positives with their work and wealth. And it seems we don’t even bother to know about them. I think there is no way we can be the world’s largest economy and improve the lives of billions of Indians if we are not being rational and start celebrating our real heroes.

The unfortunate part of our society is that we celebrate these real heroes after their death by writing books, creating movies and web series etc. And I am sure our current real heroes as well get celebrated in the future. There will be books, movies, and web series. But could that be justice for their hard work and imagination? Just to clear the air for everyone, I know for a fact that non of these real heroes do all this work for being celebrated or famous. They do because they consider these just as another problem and dream of a prosperous India. Our real heroes should get celebrated in their living phase, not once they are not in this world. Being in the History books is great but there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the real impact of our hard work with the conscious mind.

I dream of India where people lined up to get selfies with our real heroes rather than wasting their time on sudo heroes.

Even though I thought of writing this essay after reading a brilliant book but this is going to be super personal. Frankly, I cried multiple times while thinking and writing about their work and its impact on billion of invisible Indians. And thanks to him, today I have unlimited conviction, never-ending confidence, and infinite energy to dream of building and solving for invisible billions. In this essay, I have mentioned one of those real heroes. If you read this essay till the end, you will realise - how his work changed the lives of billions of people like my parents. And we will always be grateful to him for taking chances on the invisible us.

And we will start with a story. If you don’t want to read this story, you can skip it; but the story will give you the magnitude and understanding of the progress that we have made as a society (on the scale of billions, please keep this in your mind) and why it is important to think of an inclusive India - 1.4 billion, not just the top 10% of the population.

Let’s get started…

The year was 2011, and a boy was in his 11th standard; due to the lack of available resources in his village, he had to move to Darbhanga (40 km from his village) for his +2 education. In the winter, that boy got a call from his family to visit his village, so he could not miss enrolling for Aadhar. According to his family, it was mandatory for everyone to get registered. And since the enrollment camp was in the village, missing means that the boy had to travel to Block (12 km from the village) to get enrolled under Aadhar. That boy cached a bus for his village on the same day and reached his village around 7:00 PM.

Because villagers wanted to avoid travelling 12 km for the enrollment, there used to be a massive line. He got advised to visit the enrolment centre in the evening to avoid the rush, however, to his surprise: the queue was even longer. That boy wanted to get back to Darbhanga so he could attend his three high-paying private tuitions hence lined up for around 2 hours to get registered. But unfortunately, before his turn, there were some network issues - in his village, today also, it is being termed as server failure (Server fail ho gaya he). Because he wanted to save the double travelling cost, he stayed in his village one more day just to get enrolled under the Aadhar. The next day, he again waited for 1 hour in the queue, and when his turn came, he could see a Computer, lots of wires, and biometric hardware - a camera, iris scanner, and fingerprint scanner. The boy was less curious in those days, but seeing all those systems in one place must have amassed him.

The operator asked him to centre his eye on the iris software, and after that placed all ten fingers on the fingerprint software by his amazement, he could see the image of his fingerprints on the computer screen. After the biometric process completion, the operator asked him to look towards the camera because it was around 6:00 PM a dark image of his face appeared on the computer screen. After taking the demographics details, the operator told him - aap ka ho gaya, Aadhard Card post office ke dwara address pe aa jaye ga (It is done, your Aadharcard will be delivered to your address by post office). And that boy happily come back to his house, informed his father. And the next day, the sharp, morning caught a bus and returned to Darbhanga so he could attend his tuition. No one told him the use cases of Aadhar, or why he simply shared his personally identifiable details such as biometrics and demographic with someone he never met. We will come back to this story in a while (please remember this :)), for now, let's move to examples of a few real heroes - who created net +ve in our society.

Thanks to the OTT, in the past, we have come across some amazing content that has highlighted the work of our true heroes. Web series such as Rocktboys educated us on the contribution of Dr Homi J. Bhabha, Dr Vikram Sarabhai, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Azad etc. On one hand, Dr Bhabha brought us into the categories of nations with nuclear power another hand, Dr Sarabhai brought the world into the living rooms of Indians through satellite. Similarly, M.S. Swaminathan was the prime force behind the Green Revolution - we achieved food independence as a nation. There are uncountable names of those real heroes even I can recall just three. I promise I will read more about our real heroes and keep listing for the benefit of all of us.

Since we started this essay with a story that involved Aadhar, we have to go through a few stats to understand its impact on Indian society. In fact, we all can agree on one point - the recent progress of our society (potential to impact billion, not just the top 5 or 10% of India's population, reminding you so you keep in your mind) is directly or indirectly linked to Aadhar. And without Aadhar, the dream of an inclusive society would have been impossible. Today, not only do we have hope - I am certain that we could probably be the world's biggest economy in our lifetime. The way composition of a single cell gives the shape of a complex human structure or any other living species. I think Aadhar is the fundamental cell that has shaped an inclusive society. And hence we as a society must celebrate that person as a hero! Because I am yet to come up with even a single person in our ecosystem who has been thinking about solving the problems for the bottom 90%. Let's face it, unlike the invisible 90%, you might not have benefited directly due to Aadhar, but your business must have benefited due to Aadhar.

I can’t help if Aadhar has not made a life-changing impact in your life. But thanks to Aadhar and its related innovation, my parents, sisters, and a billion people experienced a life-changing paradigm shift. The stats that I am going to write, you may have some sense, will give you the picture of a paradigm life shift among billions of invisible Indians.

  • As of 2023, 99% of Indians are Aadhar holders (1.3 billion precisely)

The only way we can understand the impact of this is if we display this in the form of some math.

Before Aadhar, paper-based KYC used to cost INR 150 to 200 and that was mandatory to open a Bank account because India was a member of FATF (The Financial Action Task Force). The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-government organization set up to develop policies against money laundering and terrorist financial gain after 9/11 in the USA. And this mandatory KYC was a major hurdle for Banks to offer Banking services to 95% of Indians because economics was not making sense to them. And apart from cost, it used to take one day to seven days to complete the KYC.

Aadhar brought that cost down to just INR 3 per eKYC and under a minute. In fact, KYC was also mandatory for other financial and non-financial activities. And in the past two years, there have been 2.36 billion eKYC using Aadhar. Apart from removing the biggest obstacle for Banks to offer banking services to 95% of Indians, it included billion of Indians in the formal economy.

Now, take a second and process these massive optimizations of resources - time and money. Can you think of the progress of our society without Aadhar?

Similarly, we can do the math of each progress that we have made thanks to Aadhar. And if I do the math of each, this essay would be in 10K+ words. And hence let me just list a few examples

  • Aadhar made our society cashless.

  • Thanks to Aadhar-linked Bank accounts, millions of people like my dad receive his LPG subsidies without oiling the contractors directly into the Bank account.

  • Aadhar Linked MicroATM allowed billions of people like my father to withdraw money in his village without travelling 5 to 40 km. (It used to take half or full working days plus food and travel costs. If you do simple math - you will be amazed by the impact)

  • Thanks to Aadhar-linked bank accounts millions of Indians are receiving their full amount of subsidies directly in their bank account without oiling anyone. And it has already eliminated billions of dollars of subsidies leakage yearly.

  • Thanks to Aadhar migrants workers still have a valid id.

I can go on and on, but the fact is its real impact is yet to reflect in our society. And all these changes are the vision and imagination of just one person. Who has no direct incentive in dreaming of an inclusive society - he is a celebrated successful entrepreneur. And he could have chosen to live outside India without thinking about billion of invisible Indians who were not in direct or indirect relations. He could have also said that 95% of the bottom of India has no disposable income, and there is no point in thinking about them. And if he had not imagined a foundation like Aadhar, I don’t think, the lives of billions of people like my father could have been improved drastically.

While writing this I was also feeling super emotional. I somehow controlled my emotion. But let me write why I feel emotional when I write and think about all these.

In the last few months, I realised my parent has started living their life for themself. You won’t believe it, but for the initial 40 years, my parents have just worked for us (all three brothers) - so we could have a better life. However, their desire to live is probably the highest right now. My dad is on a roll, he is going all in - he has recently completed a single-floor house (his own). And he wants to make two more floors on the top with all the amenities inside. He recently started a new LIC at the age of around 48 and learnt to drive a bike. Now he wants to travel to every part of India.

This is surprising because I have always seen him work, work and work. Today, he wants to live - he has lost weight, exercise daily, and stopped smoking.

And for the large part of the system, I know for sure - his desire to live a better life must have come from seeing everything around him. This is also surprising because most people of his age in my village consider themselves old and have no desire to have adventures in their lives. On the other side, it seems my dad is just getting started… He found a new life!

Now, I know for sure his desire to live a better life is also thanks to his trust in Banking because he thinks his money is safe, and he can withdraw using Aadhar at any point in time. There was a time when he used to receive a percentage of LPG subsidies after oiling to someone, today he is receiving directly in his bank account etc. I am certain this new life adventure has a direct connection with Aadhar and related benefits. And there are billions of beneficiaries like my dad, all thanks to Aadhar and its direct and indirect innovations.

There are a few books that educate you, a few books give you the power to visualize the future, and then there are some books that remind you of the long path that you have travelled. The book: Rebooting India - realizing a billion aspirations coauthored by Nandan Nilekani should be in the last category. I was in tears and going through massive emotions while reading this book. Because I got flashbacks of my childhood, age 15 - till the time I was in my village. Since my name and my family members' name were in the BPL (Below Poverty Line), I have been on the KOTA (the place where we purchased subsidized food items, rice and grains). The same is true for every other subsidy offered by the government including the Kirosine oil. I was not aware of the fact that the Government also subsidized fertilizers and hence affordable for farmers like my father and millions of others. Frankly, I had forgotten, these memories, long back because it's been a decade. But Mr Nandan’s book brought all my childhood memories.

I am going to break the 4th wall and write directly to Nandan Nilekani: Mr Nandan: I started this essay with the story of a boy standing in a queue for the Aadhar enrolment - I am that boy. In 2011, he had no idea, and no one told him the purpose of enrolment into Aadhar. But here he is writing to you with a firm understanding of the nuts and bolts of the entire system and with unlimited courage and confidence that I am going to solve whatever problem I want for our people. If today, I can understand the impact of your imagination and work - I can also solve problems in our society that will improve the lives of our people just a bit. So, first a big Thank You <3.

And for me and billions like my parents, you are the real hero. Of course, they lack the magnitude and understanding of your work. But that will be the job of my generation to make sure people know our real heroes. They should run behind heroes like you, not behind hypocritical movie stars. I also know you never did all this to be famous or get celebrated. But I am going to use the last paragraph from your book that I read four times and absolutely loved it. I am writing the same paragraph:

We are much better off dreaming, taking risks, and trying to realize a billion aspirations; at best we risk failing flat on our faces. Far more egregious, and most dangerous to our country, is going about ‘business as usual’, leaving a billion voices unheard and a billion frustrations unresolved.

And simply taking the above paragraph as a reference, the irrational celebration of reel heroes is most dangerous to our country.

Before I wrap up this essay, Mr Nandan: me, my parents, and billions like us would like to thank you for taking chances on the invisible US… You are a real hero to me and my generation and will be for every coming generation...

This book gave me: unlimited conviction, never-ending confidence, and infinite energy to dream of building and solving for invisible billions

If you are reading this line, thanks for reading till the end. If you find this insightful, you can share this with your network. Especially, if you know Mr Nandan personally - please forward this essay!

I will see you all the next week :)

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