The Professor who doesn't let you get lost.

Khuswant Singh

Dr. Mohinder Grewal

The GPS Man


Early Life

The headline above perfectly encapsulates the exact thought that came to my mind when someone asked me if I had heard about Professor Mohinder Grewal – one of the most important men who steered navigation to where it stands today. Truthfully, I could have never imagined that there would be such a pioneer among the natives from Punjab in this field. However, my hours of conversation with the genteel-looking eighty-three-year-old, (currently distinguished Professor Emeritus Mohinder Grewal of California State University Fullerton), introduced me to one of the most fascinating stories of how the Global Positioning System (GPS) developed into this mosaic of perfection.


Of how a Patiala-born Sikh became instrumental in ensuring that missiles reached their desired destinations, ships anchored accurately, airplanes never lost their way mid-air, and that all of us reached our intended addresses accurately. The conversation clearly revealed that why GPS World magazine named Dr. Grewal one of the “50+ Leaders to Watch” in May 2007.


We met over a Zoom call, a travesty, for meeting such an icon personally would have been a pilgrimage. With a backdrop image of a ranch, Prof. Mohinder Grewal bared open his life from his home in Anaheim, Orange County, California.

Orange County California Engineering Council Distinguished Educator Award (2009)

Born on 1st January 1940, to Sardar Sahib Sardar Karam Singh Grewal, a British Police Officer posted as the Superintendent of Police in the royal city of Patiala, Mohinder had a more privileged early life compared to the average Indian child in the British Raj. This privilege, however, was not without its challenges, as he had five other brothers sharing the same status. Being the fifth among the nine siblings, it wasn’t easy for him to make his voice heard. Perhaps this is where education comes into play, as it handholds you to unleash your potential.


For Mohinder, it all began at the Government School Sheranwala Gate, Patiala, where he completed his early schooling. He pursued his Fine Arts (FA) degree at Patiala’s prestigious Mohindra College, a building of grandeur and elegance, whose foundation was laid in 1875 during Maharaja Mohindra Singh’s reign (1852-1876) as the Maharaja of Patiala. However, during the course of his study, his father was transferred to Rohtak (now in the state of Haryana; earlier part of greater Punjab) where he completed his FA in 1957, the year that his father also was Inspector General of the Punjab Police.


By now, India was a decade into independence from the British and was slowly building itself towards self-reliance. So, were its young!


In 1957, at the age of seventeen, Mohinder was a young boy with many aspirations, but there were hardly any educational counselors to lend an ear to what the teenager wanted to pursue. The patriarch, who by now had retired from service and decided to live in Ludhiana, stepped in and suggested seeking admission to Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College (GNEC), Ludhiana, which had been established just a year ago. Set as a minority institute under the aegis of Nankana Sahib Education Trust (Nankana Sahib being the birthplace of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak), its motto was to remove economic backwardness through technology. Affiliated with the prestigious Punjab University, it offered high-class education, with the story of Mohinder Grewal being a classic example of its contribution.


Khushwant Singh