Vishwas, I remember you from the early days when the Internet first reached Goa and you used to be the first person sending out news to cybernetters at that time. Tell us something about those days?
I joined the National Institute of Oceanography as the Information Officer in 1991. As a young graduate I was very much excited and attracted to technology, as I am even now. In 1994, when the Internet was making inroads into the Indian S&T arena, the NIO then under the leadership of Dr Elhrich Desa decided to get connected to cyberspace.
I was assigned the task of establishing a campus-wide network and also establishing the first-ever internet server in Goa. During this period, I came into contact with some GoaNetters. One of the problems expressed then was that overseas Goans or expatriate Goans do not receive information or news from Goa. I was asked if I could do something.
So, I would type in headlines from the newspapers in an email and send it to the GoaNet list server. We used to dial up the Internet or a mail server in Mumbai. I remember coming to office at midnight just to save on long-distance phone costs [Goa was yet to get its local Internet nodes].
When I started doing it, I did not think what the impact would be. But soon it became one of the most popular services, and many expatriate Goans appreciated this. As a result, I also came across some very fine Goan friends both residing in Goa and elsewhere.
Since then, I know you have traversed many institutions. How has your journey been? What role has Goa played?
Goa has contributed a lot to my career and my present state. When I joined the NIO, I was a young university graduate, wanting to do something. NIO not only shaped me as a professional researcher, but Goa also offered me a chance to interact and integrate with its society, its culture.
It was an amazing experience. I may be the only non-IT guy with the distinction of establishing an Internet server (www.nio.org), planning and implementing a campus-wide Internet server, and actually holding workships on using and establishing the Internet.
While I was engaged in such IT activities, I was consciously working on biodiversity informatics. It is my good fortune that I got the chance to commission the Indian National Oceanographic Internet Server. I developed databases on marine flora and fauna, and worked on a computer-aided taxonomic identification system for marine biota.
In 1998, I shifted to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, as a key person in its bioinformatics centre. In 1999, I was awarded a Fulbright Professional Fellowship in Information Science & Technology. Around the same time, the National Chemical Laboratory based in Pune offered me a position of a senior scientist and to start a research group in biodiversity informatics.
Armed with this experience at NCL, my team developed IndFauna, an electronic catalogue of known Indian fauna. This and other activities of our group in biodiversity informatics were appreciated both nationally and internationally.
Together with colleagues at NIO, Goa I had the fortune to be a regional lead on an international program called Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). Its aim was to understand the known, unknown and unknowable about marine biodiversity. My stay at NCL was one of the most challenging yet productive periods.
In 2007, I was selected as the Senior Programme Officer by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. The GBIF aims to facilitate free and open access to the world biodiversity data. It currently facilitates access to over 327 million records contributed by over 300 data publishers across the globe. My focus at the GBIF has been to evolve a conducive data publishing framework so that technical, infrastructural, political, cultural and social barriers are taken care of, and scientists and naturalists are encouraged enough to share the biodiversity data.
And, by the way, in addition to my professional career, I like writing poems and other creative work. My first book VishwaSutras enlists 50 sutras essential for success. Each sutra has been unfolded to me by life and its experiences.
As for working out of Goa, what did you like and dislike?
The advantages here are (a) societal bonding - this is an increasingly missing factor outside of Goa, so we should be proud about our cultural heritage, traditions, family and social fabric and need to preserve it, (b) natural resources - I missed long beaches, thick forests, mines, ocean, fishes and much more. Goa has this in abundance. As I am deprived of it, I realise how we abuse such natural resources, and (c) Goan music and dance which I miss too.
On the not so positive side we lack (a) a sense of competitiveness and the survival instinct -- in Goa I think we often tend to take our resources, mainly time, for granted, (b) enhancing social skills: outside of Goa you need to adapt to other cultures, and (c) expanding windows of opportunity.
From your intense involvement with cyberspace (starting with Goa) what were your most important lessons learnt?
After over 25 years in IT, I can say that we need to be adaptable all the time. Technology is changing so fast that even before you buy a gadget it is out of date, even before you learn one language, it is outdated. So one must have a quest to learn all the time, and to adapt to changing environments. In the age of information technology, the more you share, the more you gain. Both visibility and credibility. I realised that collaboration is the key in this new age of technology. The more you collaborate, the more successful you can be!
What is your advice to youngsters from Goa who might want to take on bigger challenges?
Be daring and challenging. Before challenging others, challenge yourself.
As a scientist I am always unsatisfied, this keeps the quest of learning, thinking and searching alive. The day you feel you have got the answer, the scientist in you vapours out. Be proud of your roots and state or country that has contributed in shaping you. Don’t forget your social responsibility.
Do you have any second-thoughts for volunteering in cyberspace in its early days (around 1994)?
I feel fortunate that I got chance to volunteer for furthering cyberspace in Goa primarily through my activities at the NIO. My life has changed for better. I got new friends, I learned something I would have ignored otherwise. I couldn’t have been at GBIF, if I would not have got the opportunity then!