‘Kashmiris must regain their pride’
Seymour (Sy) Joffe (82) is a man with a vision for Kashmir. As someone who has been part of the development of the world’s first FAX machine and the earliest commercial computers, Seymour has some 60 years of experience in creating, managing, and developing international companies in computing technology, finance, and biotechnology. The latest to catch Seymour’s imagination is Kashmir – making him to work on drafting an economic vision for it focused on agronomics, tourism, technology and bio-technology. Even at 82 he is energetic and quite passionate about helping bring a positive change to Kashmir. Currently on a visit to the Valley, Seymour spoke to Greater Kashmir’s Contributing Editor Arjimand Hussain Talib about his economic vision and a host of other issues related to Kashmir. Excerpts:
AHT: A pleasure speaking to you. Let us begin with your education and professional and creative experiences.
SJ: I grew up in not so prosperous conditions in my native land in the United States. I graduated from the Brooklyn College in 1951 and got my BA Philosophy. In 1952 I attended New York University and studied Economic Theory. Thereafter in 1953 I attended the US Naval Officer School and Graduated as an Officer. I served the US navy during the Korean War and left as a Navy Lieutenant after serving on the USS Tripoli Aircraft Carrier. On leaving the US Navy after the Korean War I joined Univac and was considered a founder of the first commercial computer Univac One. I then shifted to a range of other creative endeavours, particularly in the fields of technology and finance and medical areas. In 1999, I started a Master’s Degree program at the Brooklyn College in Thanatology.
But that doesn’t seem to cover the other facets of your long career. Tell us more about your work.
I have been Vice President at Sound View Financial, Connecticut, which is an investment bank focused on technology. I also was Founder and Director of JMI Seed Venture, London. At the same time I was Founding Director of the United Bank of Kuwait’s Venture Capital Fund in the UK. Besides that I remained President and Director of Porta Systems, which sold central office telecommunications products to telephone companies internationally.
I have also read something very interesting about you. That you were also involved in managing the Univac Computers at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston Texas for Gemini and pre-Apollo space programs.
Yes that is right.
So let us talk about your economic vision document for Kashmir. What strikes me that you have drafted this economic vision document even before your current visit to Kashmir. How could you imagine so much with such clarity? Now, I suppose, you are enriching your document further on your current visit here.
Well I have been interacting with people like Dr Mubeen Shah, who has been so kind to provide me with rich sources of information and references that I required for drafting this document. I studied a lot of literature for six months before starting my own writing. And to tell you something, whenever I am connected to a place and its people spiritually my imagination somehow takes me close to its realities. So you can say it is a report which consists of dreams. But I still believe I need to refine it further and make it more in line with the realities of this place.
Besides dealing with areas of agro-based industries and tourism, I see you have also laid emphasis on the use of technology in venture capital initiatives, quality higher education and a centre of excellence in Kashmir. Tell us something about that.
Yes, of course. You see nano-technology, bio-technology, and stem cell technology and so on are all going to change so many things around us in the next few decades. Your state must embrace a technology vision as well to keep pace with the changing trends in this stiffly competitive world. I am going to deal with that aspect in detail in my report.
That sounds very exciting. Now tell me about your this visit to Kashmir. Were there any concerns about coming to this place?
Yes, as I was planning my trip to Kashmir many people told me it was dangerous to visit this place. I somehow overlooked all that and wasn’t sure what to expect when I would actually arrive here. Once you land at Srinagar you have to go through this little unusual practice of registering as a foreigner at the airport. And while coming out of the terminal building at the time of my arrival, some security guy came running towards me asking for some further information he had missed to collect earlier. That was little uncomfortable. And I admit I was a little bit nervous when our vehicle started moving and I saw a lot of security presence all around.
So what are your impressions now once you are here - meeting people, visiting places
To begin with, I feel people outside Kashmir don’t have an idea about what Kashmir and also Muslims are all about. Most of the people in the western world think all Muslims have a gun in their hands. Many people are afraid of that impression. But I see the people here really warm and hospitable. They have a special spirit though I also see a bit of aggression. What disturbs me is that people seem to have lost their pride. But I also see a lot of hope. I met a lot of people here, including the chief minister Omar Abdullah. I think everybody wants to do something about improving Kashmir’s lot.
And how do you see the physical environment -the infrastructure and the natural beauty here?
The infrastructure of Kashmir to me is shocking. It is at least 50 years old. There is a lack of cleanliness of the physical spaces. Roads are narrow and unorganised. I find it crazy that many roads have these manholes rising above the road surface. In these circumstances I think it will be very difficult for you guys to get additional large scale tourism from developed countries who will spend considerable amounts on all aspects of Kashmir.However the incredible beauty of Kashmir with its glorious mountains, its mystical lakes and other natural features far supersede even my imagination.
So in these circumstances what kind of tourism do you envision for Kashmir?
I don’t envision a Las Vegas, Singapore or Macau kind of tourism in this place. I think the strengths of this place lie in its spiritual and adventure tourism. This place is special in that it gives a visitor a feeling of spiritual solace, which is beyond its natural beauty. Its food is fabulous. It has those basic ingredients of being a unique tourist destination provided its infrastructure is fixed.
What makes you such an optimist about a place which is barely out of a bloody conflict? Many people believe we are still not in a transition phase.
I see a special spirit among the people of Kashmir. Look, most people in this world are not happy. I can tell you many people look for a place like this to visit. Moreover, looking from a larger perspective, I think even India, Pakistan and China can benefit economically from Kashmir provided these countries recognise that this place could offer them economic dividends in case they invest here. I also believe if people of Kashmir somehow get Kashmir enlisted as a UNESCO Heritage site, for all the cultural, religious and natural wealth it possesses, it would attract people from far and wide.
And wouldn’t that sound a little far-fetched in the present circumstances?
Well, I think that is indeed possible if people who make policies in these countries open their minds to possibilities that will usher in a new era of economic cooperation and prosperity.
So how are you engaged at the moment in proposing an economic vision for Kashmir and promoting business and international tourism here?
I am currently working closely with Dr.Mubeen Shah in developing this economic vision. But for an economic vision to translate into some tangible change I think you will have to address the infrastructural inadequacies first. A lot of economic activity will follow and Kashmir can get a lot of well spending tourists – even from advanced countries like the United States.
But can we overlook social development for overall wellbeing in our pursuit of a vision which singularly addresses economic development?
No we can’t overlook that. I have been reading about these tragic deaths of infants in a city hospital. To me it is not a case of individuals failing to deliver. I see people very smart here. I have met some medical doctors who know their jobs quite well. I think it is more of a failure of systems. The public delivery systems will have to improve for social development to keep in line with economic development.
If I ask you what two pressing things you think Kashmir needs to fix now on priority for an economic revival and improvement in people’s quality of living, what would be those two things?
First I would say cleanliness. This place deserves to be cleaner and for that its citizens are as much responsible as much the government systems. Secondly, people must regain their sense of pride and social consciousness. In the absence of that pride and consciousness about who they are, there is a sense of pessimism and aggression to some extent. People need more humour. And they need to be more optimistic.
Lastupdate on : Fri, 1 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 1 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 2 Jun 2012 00:00:00 IST
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