It is not the type of indulgence you would expect from a man who advises heads of state on technology and has labels like 'legendary' and 'guru' attached to his name when people talk about India's booming information technology sector. However, Rajendra Pawar has a secret passion. Look at any photo of Mr Pawar and chances are you will catch him with something unusual in his breast pocket. The man who wants to make India a digital superpower uses an old-fashioned fountain pen. 'I wish I could spend more time writing with them,' said Mr Pawar in an interview from his home in Delhi. 'When I want to send something personal to a colleague I still prefer to have a piece of paper and a fountain pen.' Mr Pawar, 49, has a collection of Mont Blanc pens, which require a special nib to accommodate his left-handedness. He says the controlled strokes and ceremonial routine of filling and cleaning the instruments appeals to him as a balance to the computers and software that otherwise fill his world. 'I can use the keyboard, but why should we limit ourselves to one thing in life? It's like the Yin and the Yang, we need balance,' he said. A yearning for old pens is not a stunning admission in the world of vices, but it does reveal a latent Luddite residing somewhere in the recesses of Mr Pawar's technology-focused mind. Then again, he does not necessarily agree with all the superlatives that have been heaped on him. 'Honestly, I find it to be rather embarrassing and I don't take it too seriously,' he said. 'I think when journalists don't have enough data they have to resort to giving me all these names.' Although Mr Pawar modestly dismisses the media's often glowing portrayal of him, his company's Web site fans the flames of adoration, calling him 'a great visionary, and developer of human resource potential' and featuring numerous lengthy interviews. What is not easily dismissed is Mr Pawar's impressive resume. He has the ear of the prime minister on matters of technology, and he is founder and chairman of India's third-largest software company, National Institute of Information Technology, which, among other things, operates a training network of 750 centres in 15 countries, including the mainland and Hong Kong. Mr Pawar had been due to attend Credit Suisse First Boston's technology conference in Hong Kong last week but illness kept him away. He is a member of the National Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development, a group charged with the task of turning India into a technology superpower by 2008. Then there is the Dataquest 'IT Man of the Year' award in 1998, the Ernst & Young 'Master Entrepreneur of the Year' for India last year and the 'Bank of India Award for Excellence in Management'. He co-founded the company in 1981 with friend Vijay Thadani, and was named chairman last year after helping to orchestrate its progress for almost two decades as a senior executive. The firm's meteoric performance and market capitalisation of more than US$2 billion have left commentators expecting nothing less than spectacular results. A 28 per cent rise in net profit during the April-June quarter over the same period last year was described in the media as 'hardly impressive' compared with 115 per cent and 85 per cent growth registered in the preceding two quarters. The company reported revenue of US$206 million last year. So, hyperbole aside, Mr Pawar still looks good on paper. He is charming, thoughtful and articulate, and his salt-and-pepper beard and tendency to wax philosophical on any topic have led some to say he resembles more a friendly university professor than the head of a major corporation in an industry filled with cutthroat competition. Mr Pawar's interest in technology developed when he was growing up in the Kashmir region of northern India. 'My curiosity was huge,' he said. 'Even when I was young I wanted to take everything apart to see how it worked. I may or may not have ever put it back together again, but I always took it apart.' Mr Pawar left home to take a coveted spot at the India Institute of Technology. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in technology, majoring in electronics, and counts getting into the prestigious school as a turning point in his life. 'If there is one thing you want to do in life in India, it's to get into the institute,' he said. However, in the 1960s Mr Pawar knew that he was looking at his nation's future. Many see India's well-educated, English-speaking population as a gold mine for the worker-starved IT industry. This has led to a brain-drain of talent, but has also created a booming domestic industry. Last year, India exported about US$3.3 billion in software, a 51 per cent increase over the previous year. 'I am personally very bullish about the long-term competitive ability of India,' said Mr Pawar, adding that 40 per cent of his company's revenue came from software. 'India has tremendous capability for the future and we need to gear up because country after country is looking to work with us.' He believes that as the Indian software industry becomes more developed, the migration of talent to the United States and other countries will slow. He points out that he has passed up numerous opportunities to move abroad in favour of staying in his homeland. However, moving India's estimated one billion people towards a future in the new economy will not be easy. Much has been written about the digital divide between the rich and poor nations as technology drives the new economy. In India, about 300 million live in poverty, while the software industry is creating millionaires. Mr Pawar says bridging the gap within countries and between countries will be critical in the future. 'This divide is about feeding the mind, not the stomach,' he said. 'There could be big consequences of having mentally starved and mentally overfed.' To cross the divide, Mr Pawar says people need to learn that knowledge is not a finite resource, and that it can be multiplied and shared without lessening wealth. 'I personally have great faith that we are entering an era of great abundance because when you are dealing with information you can multiply the wealth without losing anything,' he said. 'The possibility of solving this divide is greater than solving some of the other divides we've seen in our society.' Mr Pawar predicts that there will be no other technology breakthroughs that will alter people's lives the way personal computers and the Internet have. Rather, he says change will become a fluid, ongoing process. 'It has become such a continuum it's hard to chart the major developments anymore,' he said. 'I don't think we'll see great leaps and bounds again, but something more like water flowing by.' Mr Pawar expects Hong Kong to become the IT hub of Asia in the future, crediting the efforts of the SAR Government. In the meantime, his company has teamed up with TVE International to operate an education and training venture. TVE International is a South China Morning Post subsidiary. 'Singapore led in the first wave, but Hong Kong will be there in the future,' he said. Meanwhile, the fountain pen-toting Mr Pawar has some other surprises in store. Like listening to American grunge rockers Pearl Jam. Although 'semi-classical Indian music' is his official musical preference, he admits to sharing his son's taste for rock. 'My son likes Pearl Jam, and I listen as well,' he said. 'Some people call it noise, but I can listen to noise and enjoy it.' BIOGRAPHY Rajendra Pawar, 49, is chairman and co-founder of NIIT, one of the largest software and education firms in India. He is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and has worked in IT-related jobs throughout his career. Mr Pawar, a member of India's National Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development, heads the quality committees of various Indian IT industry bodies. He lives in New Delhi with his wife and three children and, in his spare time, enjoys rock music and his fountain pen collection.