Veteran Indian technopreneur, Hemant Sonavala passes away

05th June 2015
Veteran Indian technopreneur, Hemant Sonavala   passes away
Hemant Sonavala 1937-2015 in his Mumbai office, 2014 ( Photo: Anand Parthasarathy/ IndiaTechOnline)

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.