By Anand Parthasarathy
June 5 2015: Hemant Sonavala doyen of the Indian electronics industry, a pioneering entrepreneur in indigenous information technology systems and former President of the Computer Society of India, passed away on May 30 at the age of 78.
Hemant did his BE Electrical Engineering in Valabh Vidyanagar before proceeding to the US in 1959 to do his MSEE at the University of Washington, Seattle. He did a brief research stint with Boeing, returned to India to work at IIT Bombay and HAL Bangalore before he went back for a career-changing four years with Tektronix.
The contacts he made there, helped him land the US-based global leader in Test and Measurement as the first anchor partner when he founded Hinditron-- India's first private enterprise sharply focussed on electronics and instrumentation -- in Mumbai in 1966.
Other partnerships followed which made Sonawala a pioneer in computer assembly and manufacture in India, the first company to translate sales partnerships into local assembly and manufacturing joint ventures for a string of respected American tech brands from Tektronix to Digital Equipment, from Fluke to Data General.-- and finally an enabler for Indian enterprises to enter the supercomputing arena with Cray.
He told me last year during an extended interview for a book that Prof S.Sadagopan Director of the IIIT Bangalore and I are doing on India's IT Icons: "My inspiration to start our own electronics business, was a talk by Dr Homi Bhabha at the TIFR where he said if India has to be a truly independent nation, it had to have its own technology. But Indians have brains, but no products, so let's bring in technology through products. Let us learn to use these products, let us teach our customers to use these products to solve their problems .. and let us also learn how to maintain the products ".
"I remember Bhabha's golden words: 'If you learn how to fix it, you learn how to make it'. I made it my mantra at Hinditron with one rule of my own: I would never send a product back to the US for repairs. We would do it ourselves.
Dr S Ramani, another icon of Indian IT and an Internet pioneer,
pays tribute to Sonavala in a blog entitled: Hemant Sonawala,
Pioneering Entrepreneur in Computing
On the walls of his small office near Breach Candy, Mumbai, which he has occupied for over 40 years( see photo above) , I could see the awards and accolades that Hemant Sonawala was accorded over a lifetime of service to the industry : the Golden Alumni Award of Washington University, the Lifetime Achievement Award of CSI and of Dataquest magazine, the Millennium Award of IEEE... jostling for space are photos and mementoes recalling the "alumni" of Hinditron who went on to head prestigious tech organizations of their own: Som Mittal ( Digital and HP) Pravin Gandhi ( Schiller Healthcare), Harsh Mehta ( Onward Technologies) Bhaskar Pramanik ( Sun Microsystems).... the list goes on. They cut their professional teeth alongside Sonawala at Hinditron and ended up as a generation of Indian IT leaders. He was a proud man that day.