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The Citizen

Student Spotlight: Gaurav Keerthi

215_527484804063_114_n*what did you do before came to the Kennedy School?

I am a pilot with the Republic of Singapore Air Force. Just before coming here, I was the commander of a helicopter squadron that assisted in search & rescue and humanitarian aid & disaster relief missions for the region.
I also hosted and co-developed a few television shows, the most recent one being “Bridging Asia: The Singapore Debates.” We brought in thought leaders from the region to debate contentious topics in a balanced and respectful manner on live TV.

*what did you do and whom did you tell first when you got accepted to HKS?

It seems so long ago now; it›s all a bit of a blur. I remember calling my wife very excitedly as soon as I got the email. I told my family shortly after that. I think the celebrations with friends and family lasted a few weeks – dinners, drinks, and general merriment.

*cats or dogs?

Cats. My family adopted a stray cat from the SPCA, and he was with us for 20 years. He was a wonderful pet, very loving and unusually intelligent. I suspect he was the secret founder of the LOLCat movement, because he was always sitting around my laptop when I got home from school.

*what’s the best thing about Cambridge?

The vibe. I love the energy in Harvard Square. There are always people walking around, buskers (very talented ones), and lots of little bars and cafes to seek refuge in. It also feels quite small and cosy, and it›s easy to bump into a friend at every corner.

*what do you miss most about Singapore?

I miss my daily breakfast routine, which consists of kopi (Singaporean-style coffee made with condensed milk) and kaya toast (a coconut-based jam). I also miss my friends and colleagues – but thanks to the miracle of modern technology, I can stay in touch with them quite easily. It›s much harder to email a kopi and kaya toast unfortunately; I›m still waiting for some Harvard whiz-kid to invent that.

*what are your 3 proudest achievements (other than being interviewed here of course)?

I was among the first batch of rescue pilots to be deployed to Phuket and subsequently Aceh after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. It was a life-changing experience, and I›m proud to have been able to make a small difference in the relief efforts.

In 2007, a high-school debate TV show I helped to co-develop (and judge) was nominated for an Emmy Award. Not only was this the first time a Singaporean show had been nominated, it was also my first foray into television. I am still a bit confused how that happened.

And in 2011 I got married to my amazing wife in a wild celebration that lasted a week, involved dancing in costumes in public, stand-up comedy, and a huge gathering of loved ones all just having a great time. I wish I could re-live that week again and again.

*Bieber or GAGA?

Actually either is fine, as long as it is an indie acoustic cover or a dubstep remix. I›m not a big fan of their brand of pop, but I love listening to creative interpretations of any musical genre. I once went to a Lady Gaga concert in Singapore, which I can only describe as some sort of over-dramatised auditory hallucination. I have never been to a Bieber concert. I imagine that must be what torture feels like.

*in your experience, are public figures more fascinating in real life? Can you give an example?

I was once fortunate enough to accompany the Prime Minister of Singapore on an overseas trip. During that trip, he had a short chat with Eric Schmidt (of Google). I was impressed with the level of conversation – but I was astounded when the Prime Minister suddenly discussed the formulae behind Google›s search algorithm. I later discovered that the Prime Minister was a gifted mathematician in his younger days – and most Singaporeans did not know that about him. You should ask Prof Zeckhauser for more details, because he once taught him here!

* what one item is essential to your everyday life and why?

I know this sounds old fashioned, but I keep a small notebook (the paper kind) in my bag all the time. I doodle, write, plan, and generally capture the random tangents of my brain in there. I›ve been doing that since I was a kid, so it›s just a habit now.

*what are you hoping to do once you graduate?

I will be going back to the Air Force to try and help shape the future of security in our small region. I also want to continue my work as a debate advocate, because I›m quite keen to move away from the disrespectful and divisive debate that I am seeing online these days (all over the world), and to move towards more respectful, responsible, and rational discourse. If all that fails, I might open up a bar and keep my friends happy.