Podcast Episode 2: Nishant speaks with Iconic Anu Aga; Ex Chairperson Thermax

Pic: Ms Anu Aga

Nishant Malhotra talks to Ms Anu Aga  for Podcast Episode 2 on The Middle Road. 

The following is an excerpt of my conversation with Anu Aga and not a substitute for the Podcast.. Listen to the Podcast here.

Ms. Anu Aga is an iconic businesswoman, social change enabler whose contributions to the society are a harbinger of goodness and uprightness. A philanthropist and successful businesswomen, Anu led Thermax into a global engineering company focused in energy and environment. She strongly supports initiatives in the social sector, especially in advancing equitable and quality education for less privileged people of the society in India.

Anu is an alum of the well known St. Xavier’s College and the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She is a person of prominence known for her business acumen, philanthropy and sense of humour. She has featured in leading publications including Forbes.


Nishant: Anu, you are an iconic leader not only in business but also in social change. You turned around Thermax when there were very few women entrepreneurs in India. You have also been awarded Padma Shri award, by Government of India for your social work.  Would you like to talk about your journey?

Anu is very modest about her achievements and graciously credits family, friends, and professionals for their support. Anu talks about her family, her education, and her marriage to her loving husband MrRohinton Aga. Rohinton, studied at Cambridge and was sent to Harvard on a four-month programme on a scholarship from IIM-Ahmedabad. He was instrumental in kick-starting Thermax into an innovative business. Thermax, under his leadership, was the first in India to foray into futurists or sustainable industries like information technology, wind turbine, and grain silos. Anu talks about her love for her husband, his excellent qualities and pure grit, his life after his stroke and his untimely death through a subsequent heart attack. Read an excellent, thought provoking article which conceptualizes a framework in sales management by Mr. Rohinton Aga titled “The Death of a Salesman” here.

She further discusses her apprehension of taking over an engineering company, her mentorship under Thermax’s nurturing Human Resources Head Mr. Prasad Kumar, fortuitously meeting a friend from the Boston Consulting Group, a leading global management consulting firm and her ascent as the head of Thermax. She gives a detailed overview of subsequent decision, hurdles, and strategies in turning around Thermax into a worldwide business powerhouse. Anu finally stepped down to hand over the reins to her talented daughter Meher, who has a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the Imperial College London.

Podcast: Nishant talks to Ms Anu Aga  

Anu’s critical insights for successExiting non-core businesses, promoting a performance culture with a crucial emphasis on the bottom line (profitability) rather than topline (order booking).

                                   Poignant and Impactful Anecdote

A letter from a shareholder addressed to her during the time of Thermax woes (Thermax share fell from INR 400 to INR 35) and Anu’s determination and focused attitude in addressing the concern.”

Side pic: Anu with daughter Meher and son in law Pheroz

Q2: Nishant: Thanks for sharing a comprehensive and poignant journey. Anu, you have been a stalwart in social space. You have supported initiatives in promoting equitable and quality education for less privileged people in the society and promoting gender equality.  Take us through your work with Akanksha Foundation, Teach for India wherein you are a co-founder and Thermax Foundation.

Podcast: Nishant talks to Anu. Listen to the Podcast here.

Anu talks about her son Kurush, who nudged her towards altruist endeavour, relationship dynamics within the family and her son’s unfortunate and untimely death in an accident. Kurush’s death propelled Anu to look at accountable and impactful nonprofits, especially The Akanksha Foundation. She teamed with The Akanksha Foundation’s founder Shaheen Mistri to spread quality education among low income members of the society.

Further, Anu helped structure along with Pune municipality a Public-Private Partnership model for Akanksha schools in Pune and Mumbai.

                       Anu Today the Akanksha Foundation has 21 schools in Pune and Mumbai.”

Going forward, Shaheen founded Teach for India, 10 years ago and Anu supported her from day one. TFI is a non-profit in education along the lines of Teach for America. Both educative initiatives are highly effective in churning out well-rounded citizens with qualitative and quantitative skills. Example, Saurabh an IIT alum, a product of Teach for India today heads The Akanksha Foundation.

Anu ” Way before CSR was made compulsory in India, Thermax gave 3% of profits to charity.”

Q3: Nishant: Here, I ask if the CSR rule in India would be a game-changer.

Nishant Malhotra chats with Ms. Anu Aga. Listen to the Podcast here.

Anu has a very holistic rule on social good. She is not in favour of compulsory CSR because she values emotive aspects of giving.  But now since CSR is mandatory, she would like to focus on how it can be most effective. We chatted about her daughter’s involvement in various social causes, especially Pune City Connect. My previous Podcast was with Ms. Ruchi Mathur, CEO of Pune City Connect.

Podcast: Nishant talks to Anu. Listen to the Podcast here.

Q4: Nishant: My next question is on Thermax’s inclusive Sakhi initiative, women rights and empowerment in India and enablers.

Anu’s insight is remarkable on women rights and needs utmost respect and pro-activeness for bringing a measurable change. She specifically mentions Vishakha guidelines, a framework of guidelines for pursuing sexual harassment in India.

Anu” The critical enabler for women empowerment is education.”

Anu enunciates about India Philanthropic Initiative a key enabler for driving philanthropy among high net worth individuals kick-started in India by Azim Premji along with prominent names including Rohini Nilekani. The idea is inspired by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet tireless work in promoting philanthropy globally among the rich and famous. Further Anu discusses essential qualities for her success, her experience with Vipassana meditation and mindfulness, her family values, and love for her daughter Meher. Anu genuinely believes that quality of education can make a huge impact in helping the poor come out of poverty.

Anu is a speaker par excellence; she articulately details key qualities, experiences, and alterations in her life with equanimity. Eloquent, modest with an elegant charm, she guides the conversation cementing her stature as a wholesome role model for scores of people out there. It is an honor and privilege to chat with Anu and will cherish it for a long time.


Suggested Readings



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Sujjest: Social Innovation for Everyday Group Decisions

Guest feature kickstarts here with this post. I had met Jeff Cole, CEO Sujjest at a networking event in Seattle and came to know about his venture with his friends. Finally, I bring you the first guest article here, and this is the beginning of numerous reports by guest writers here.

# Sujjest: Turn friends’ ideas into a clear plan 

Technology in recent years is working as a double-edged sword, enabling increased connection in some social circles and communities while at the same time leading to divisions and antisocial tendencies between and within others. Although social media enables a broad association across demographics and geographies, it can also remove the much needed personal human touch, especially among teenagers and youth. Remembering human touch, let’s listen to the breakout touching classic song by the fabulous Bruce Springsteen.

Further, social media can also lead to confusion and misinformation, with anonymous accounts or bots who could be bad actors playing a role in creating conflict. Social divisions exacerbated through unhealthy online behavioral practices can negatively impact well-being, an essential component of Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations defines social division as a driving factor leading to disparities of outcome, decreasing equitable opportunities among disadvantaged people based on age, sex, disability, ethnicity, etc. in developing and low-income countries. Although the context and market to be addressed here may appear tangential to these UN objectives, nevertheless, in its larger implications, it’s a tool that may ultimately have the potential to ripple out and make a positive social impact both locally and globally.


# Midwest to West Coast: Introducing Social Innovation and Sujjest 

Three friends, Jeff Cole (Seattle), Kjell Hansen and Sol DeLeon (Minnesota) from the US are creating an innovation in how groups make decisions together through positive disruptive use of technology. Enter Sujjest,  an app for planning collaborative activities together. While the primary goal is to bring friends and connections together in real life, the creators also hope that Sujjest provides an outlet to new experiences. “We see Sujjest as a tool of social innovation says CEO Jeff Cole. “So much of online social interaction has become toxic. The purpose of Sujjest is not to be an exhibitionist or a voyeur, but to use technology to connect individuals and make decisions for online activities.”

The idea of the tool arose, looking at vast limitations among the existing application in promoting curated and informed social get-togethers. The existing tools don’t support collaborative decision-making,” says Sol DeLeon. “Either tool are entirely unstructured, like email and text messages, which results in a lot of back and forth discussion. On the ip side, tools like calendar invite or Doodle force one person to do all the planning.”

“Sujjest is leveraging technology to drive social innovation”

In addition to wanting a tool that allows groups to make better decisions, the team also wants to create a technology that brings people together in real life. The aim is to enhance the quality of socializing, making it more interactive in personal life. By applying innovative development techniques with web sockets and service workers, the team created an elegant interface that allows users to brainstorm and vote in a game-like fashion. Sujjest, as the name implies, intends to be both fun to use (hence the “jest”) and to allow participants to provide suggestions for fun activities or decisions.


# The Flavors and Methods of Sujjest 

Sujjest and Social Innovation go hand in hand. There are currently two flavors of Sujjest, one for general purpose use and one focused on lunch decisions. The mechanism for the two flavors is the same. First, an initiator starts a group-decision with a prompt and invites others to respond by suggesting options and approving options added by other participants. Rather than discuss various possibilities back and forth, users enter their ideas as options onto a racetrack. The goal is to get an opportunity past the finish line at the end of the racetrack, at which point it becomes the group’s decision.

Unlike a run-off election, users can vote for as many options as they like known approval voting. It allows users to indicate all the options that they’d be happy to implement. Users tap on an option to approve it, and the option moves forward. Ideally, the group will reach a consensus decision, but if that is not possible, all participants can tap the finish line closer to lower the number of votes it takes an option to win by a majority, thus speeding up the decision process.

In the general-purpose form of Sujjest, users can add multiple related prompts to make multifaceted decisions, such as to determine what movie to see, on what date and at which theater. The tool works as a web app, and natively on Android and iOS, and only the initiator needs an account—others invited can participate by clicking a confirmation link in their email. However, the creators of Sujjest want to create an even more straightforward invitation process. Sujjest Lunch is a lightweight version of the tool that focuses on one particular common question: Where for lunch? Anyone can start a session just by going to sujjest.com/Lunch, grabbing a unique link, and sharing it with anyone they want to participate, through any messaging service.

Once someone clicks on the link, they enter a session where they enter their name and suggest new options, vote on existing options, move the finish line and comment. Sujjest Lunch was released just three weeks ago and is already showing a lot of promise with hundreds of individuals coming to create links or interact with them. So far, users have primarily used Sujjest Lunch to decide on casual restaurant locations.


# Next Steps 

In the future, the creators of Sujjest see the power of providing curated recommendations and promotions for nearby restaurants based on a user’s past behavior. Not only would this further facilitate group decision- making, but inform the user about opportunities outside of their usual routines. The team is hopeful that Sujjest becomes a widely used and influential app. Currently, the team is looking for feedback on the ease of using and sharing Sujjest or Sujjest Lunch and if it solves the common issues around decision-making.

You can reach the Sujjest team directly at admin@sujjest.com or follow them on Twitter @sujjestion


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Elementary Particles: Building Blocks of Our Universe

“Electrical charge can neither be created or destroyed. Energy is neither created nor destroyed.”

This article has been elaborated and reworded to my previous article here. The article shares a brief overview of the quantum world of elementary particles the building blocks of our Universe. The report further discusses Bose-Einstein Statistics, Markov theorem, Brownian movement, and its application in pricing options in finance.

There are four fundamental forces in nature i.e. in our Universe: Gravity, Electromagnetism, The Strong Force, and The Weak Force.  Electromagnetic Force makes our television and mobiles work while Strong and Weak Forces are prevalent over subatomic distances. Strong Force, the most potent force in nature, binds nuclei together while the Weak Force is primarily responsible for radioactive decay and neutrino interactions over subatomic distances. Gravitational Force, on the contrary to popular opinion, is not a strong force. The fact that one can jump in the air with Earth exerting its pull exemplifies this point of view.

Nature of our Universe: Elementary Particles 

About 96% of the human body is made up of Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Nitrogen. Hydrogen and Helium are the elements which build the atomic mass of our Universe. Hydrogen and Helium atoms make up 99.8 % of all the atoms and 98% of all atomic mass in the Universe. An atom has protons and neutrons in its nucleus with electrons orbiting around it. Protons and neutrons have the same weight, but weigh much more than that of electrons. The number of protons decides the elementary characteristics of the elements on the periodic table.

Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen atoms play a fundamental role in burning fat. “The chemical equation of human fat C55H104O6 decomposes into Carbon and Oxygen. Check out the video here. 

Mass of electrons is negligible compared to the mass of protons and neutrons. Mass, measured by mass of atoms in the body, equals the mass of protons and neutrons combined. Mass is constant while weight changes according to the gravitation pull of the planet.

                                                    “Gravity is the effect of curvature in our Universe”

The movies Interstellar and The Martian are good examples of how weights can vary in different planets. The scene below from the movie Interstellar depicts the concept of time dilation (discussed below) and the effect of gravity on time and weight. One hour on Miller planet represents 7 hours on Earth.

From Fission to Fusion

Atoms are not elementary particles since elementary particles are subatomic particles which have no particle inside and cannot be further broken down. Electrons are elementary particles while quarks (elementary particles) make up proton and neutrons. Atoms are usually neutrally charged, but atoms with different protons and electrons are known as ions. Lighter atoms i.e., atoms with lighter nuclei protons are equal to neutrons while for more significant nuclei number of protons differ from those of neutrons.

For example, Uranium has 146 neutrons and 92 protons, which makes it very unstable, an elementary quality used for nuclear fission. Fission occurs for very heavy nuclei with mass numbers higher than 250 and produces particles of uneven mass. Nuclear Fission is very different from Nuclear Fusion, which is fusing hydrogen atoms to form Helium.

The Sun burns up half a billion tons of Hydrogen per second to blend into Helium. Helium gets its origin from the word Helios, a Greek word for the Sun.  Fusion combines two atoms of Hydrogen to form an atom of Helium. In the process, energy is released with wholesome byproducts like carbon, oxygen, etc. which are present in stars, planets. Fusion works at very high temperature; Sun has 5726° C. Apart from the high temperature for synthesizing fusion, Strong Force works for the process of fusion. Today, science is working on effectively harnessing fusion for energy and will become a game-changer going forward in the energy space.

Elementary Particles

Elementary Particles, he building blocks of our Universe, are considered the smallest particles in nature which cannot be broken down further. Fermions and Boson. Fermions are the building blocks of matter (Quarks, Leptons) while Bosons are forces mediating interaction among forces (Fermions). Bosons are also known as force particles, and maybe the Force is with you. Anti-Matter, another elementary particle, are opposites in characteristics to their partner particle but have the same mass.

Fermions consist of a set of twelve particles which includes six quarks and six leptons. Quarks take part in Strong Force while leptons do not. The six quarks are up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom. I swear these are not exercises, and I have no intention to charm my readers, but their names sound a bit strange. Six types of leptons are electrons, muon, tau all having a negative charge: -1 while neutrinos have no electric charge. The force between any pair of particle arises because they exchange another type of particle called a Boson. Bosons are gauge bosons, gluons, photons, W+, W-, Z^0, and HIGGS Boson.  Gluons are the forces mediating strong forces, and all electromagnetic waves are photons: bundles of energy while W+, W-, Z^0 mediate weak forces.

Comparative Chart of Force and Strength

This chart compares the four forces, elementary particles in our Universe and Nature. The Weak Force is equated to 1; the rest are approximate weights relative to Weak Force.


Force Force particle                                            Mass Comparative Strength of Force Weak=1
Strong Gluon 0 10,000
Electromagnetic Photon 0 100
Weak Guage Bosons 8697 1
Gravity Graviton 0 7*10^-34

Source: The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene & Einstein For Everyone By Robert Piccioni

The Strong Force as discussed before, holds the quarks and nucleus together. Electromagnetic Force contains atoms, molecules, and bodies together while Weak Force pertains to radioactive decay. The weakest force, among all, is the Gravitational Force since it mediates at infinite distances. Gravity plays a pivotal role in the Einstein theory of relativity and for understanding the concept of time dilation. Refer to the video shared here on my Twitter. Gravity holds the planets, defines the elliptical path of orbits, etc. and holds everyone to Earth while it spins on its axis and around Sun. In a nutshell, Gravity is the effect of curvature in our Universe. Check out Cosmos documentary.

An interesting feature of the particles is their chaotic, unpredictable nature of transiting discrete energy states. To understand the nature of the particles better, it’s imperative we look at Bose-Einstein Statistics and the Markov Theory.


Do not be Fooled by Randomness. 

Bosons, named after the great Indian scientist Satyanarendra Bose, along with Einstein proposed Bose-Einstein statistics. The theory suggests how a group of identical but non-interacting particles may occupy different energy states without following Pauli’s exclusion principle. The uncertainty and unpredictability of laws of physics at the quantum level unlike gravitational theories baffled Einstein till his death.

To understand the discrete nature of particles and chaos at the quantum level, let’s refer to Einstein’s ground-breaking paper on Brownian motion. Investigations on The Theory of the Brownian Movement delves into the movement of pollen grains and the molecular kinetic theory of heat. The theory forms the foundation of random walk theory used in valuing options in finance. Brownian motion forms the basis of stochastic processes, which is also the underlying assumption behind the option pricing in the Black Scholes Merton model. A variable (not to be confused with the particle in quantum mechanics), whose value changes over time in an uncertain way both continuous or discretely follows a stochastic process.

The Markov Theory

Markov theory proposes predicting future pricing trends or outcomes. The theory emphasizes that the probabilistic result of the price in the future is independent of any path taken in the past for pricing. The transition from one state to another would form a Markov chain which would look like a matrix of outcomes with a probabilistic result for each state of change. Time-series statistical data of stocks are taken to understand this principle to normalize it on a bell curve.

Normalization Simplified

For normalizing any data, the data must be independent and identically distributed (i.i.d). The data must have more than 40 observations, with equal probability of random selection, and the sample constitutes less than 10 percent of the population. The little brief on the stochastic process is an analogy on impermanence governing both our lives and processes at a subatomic level.

Impermanence at Quantum Level Exemplified: Sting Theory and Theory of Everything

String Theory mathematically proves that the smallest subatomic elementary particles are strings. These strings move as sources of energies which continuously vibrate as strings. M Theory, also known as Super String Theory, encapsulated many string theories to come out with 11 dimensions in this Universe. String theory is known as Theory of Everything, encapsulates laws of physics at both macro and quantum level. Theory of Everything builds on Grand Unified Theory, which unifies the three gauge interactions: electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces at high energy levels into a single force. Theory of Everything unifies even gravity along with the other forces into an only force. The equations in the proposed Theory of Everything will describe all-natural laws governing our Universe i.e., laws of physics, chemistry, biochemistry you name it.

Strings due to their infinitesimally small size have yet to be observed although experimental work through bombarding elementary particles at large Large Hadron Collider. Remember discovery of Higgs Boson, an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics which caused a sensation worldwide.



Theory of Everything, which builds on String Theory, is a landmark achievement in Theoretical Physics of the late. Scientists esp. theoretical physicists struggled to define a theory which would combine laws of physics to give a semblance. It’s a significant theory in theoretical physics and for details refer to Brian Greene (TED talks) and articles. One day, hopefully not far from now we will be able to experimentally observe the elementary particles, and how they govern laws of nature within our Universe.





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