Saturday 15 November 2008

Chandrayaan and all that


http://business.outlookindia.com/inner.aspx?articleid=2258&subcatgid=999&editionid=60&catgid=9

Outlook Business, 15 Nov 2008

Pie in the sky

Chandrayaan-1 is a statement of sorts: India has space capabilities and is a low-cost player. And now, it’s building an ecosystem for companies

Supriya Kurane


He just can’t conceal his excitement. "We are part of the moon mission," gushes TT Mani. His company, Avasarala Technologies, is responsible for a piece of Chandrayaan-1: heat pipes, a critical component that regulates temperature in spacecraft and satellites, and ensures that electronic components don’t fail in space. When India blasted off its first unmanned mission to the moon last month, it launched million-dollar dreams of space entrepreneurs like Mani with it.

About 40 companies have contributed to Chandrayaan-1. Companies like Tata Advanced Material, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and L&T built the body and solar panel array elements (which power the craft). A clutch of small companies made myriad components like heat pipes, ground fixtures and power packages—critical components that have no scope for error. They are all part of the troupe of about 100 Indian companies in the private sector—big (the Tatas, L&T and Godrej) and small (Walchandnagar Foundry, Venkateshwara Engineering and Shoma Industries)—that have been quietly powering the country’s space ambitions.


No limits in the sky

At the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), it’s take-off time. Following the success of Chandrayaan-1, ISRO is planning more launches. There’s Chandrayaan-2 in 2011, a mission to an asteroid or comet in 2015 and a Mars mission in 2019. ISRO is collaborating with several countries to carry an ultra-violet telescope (which captures images normal satellites cannot) in an Indian satellite within a year. It’s building a tropical weather satellite with France and collaborating with Japan on a project on disaster-management from space. It is building capabilities to launch heavier satellites (which can go 10-15 times further than conventional geo-stationary satellites that rotate along with the Earth) by 2010. The more satellites and crafts ISRO launches, the more business comes the way of Indian companies.


Besides its own launches, ISRO plans to step up commercial satellite launches for other countries and private players. This is a market worth $138 billion, and forms the lion’s share of the total global space opportunity of $251 billion, notes The Space Report 2008 (See table below: The Space Pie). To start with, ISRO wants to increase its commercial launches—which it began in April 2007, with the launch of Italy’s Agile astronomical satellite—from two to five in a year, and earn $70 million a year in the process. The bigger, long-term goal is a 10% market share, leveraging its 60-70% cost advantage over foreign players.

The business opportunity for India exists in three areas. One, building and launching satellites. Two, leasing space on these satellites for applications like direct-to-home (DTH) services, global positioning systems (GPS), education, telecom and weather monitoring, among others. Three, disseminating and processing data and images generated by satellites (for example, fisheries study water and weather patterns, and move their trawlers accordingly). In India, currently, ISRO dominates all three. The private sector, though, is gradually increasing its capabilities in satellite building and data processing. And, as the Indian space ecosystem develops, so will the opportunities for private firms.


Star wars

India’s space programme is largely self-sufficient—partly the unintended outcome of sanctions imposed by the US and Europe following India’s nuclear test in 1974—and aims to soon become completely independent of foreign support. India’s six remote-sensing satellites, the largest such constellation in the world, monitor the country’s land and coastal waters. India’s seven communication satellites, the biggest civilian system in the Asia-Pacific region, provide communication access, television coverage, even remote healthcare services and education to the rural poor.

What ails India’s space programme is weak marketing, which cramps the overseas There are three business opportunities: building and launching satellites, leasing space on these satellites, processing data and images generated by satellites

revenue potential of ISRO and private ancillary industries. The need to market better led to the birth of Antrix Corporation 16 years ago. Antrix, an anglicised spelling for Antriksh (space in Hindi), is the commercial arm of the Department of Space, and does the grunge work of convincing foreign space agencies the cost savings of launching payloads through ISRO.

In 2007-08, Antrix saw a spike in revenues to Rs 940 crore (Rs 660 crore in 2006-07), on the back of two satellite launches for overseas clients. The bread and butter, however, remains the leasing of transponder capacity on ISRO satellites. Even then, it pales before Europe’s Arianespace, which controls almost half of the global commercial launch business. But that’s also the opportunity for ISRO, Antrix and the private sector to aim for—and chip away at. Says Sridhara Murthi, Executive Director, Antrix: "PSLV is a proven vehicle to carry satellites. We are marketing its capabilities to get more business."

In addition, Chandrayaan is a statement to the world that India has top-notch space capabilities. And low cost—Chandrayaan is the cheapest moon mission. Says Murthi: "Opportunities for the private sector are huge because of growing demand for satellites. The challenge for Antrix is to cater to the diverse needs of the global market on the one hand and get the private sector ready on the other."

Still, in a business where geo-political loyalties run deep, because of privacy issues and because volumes aren’t big enough to look beyond, crossing over won’t be easy. In satellite manufacturing, Antrix competes with players like Orbital Sciences and Lockheed Martin of the US, Alcatel Alenia and Loral Space and Communications of Europe, and some Russian manufacturers. In services such as sale of high-resolution images, against SpotImage of France, and GeoEye and DigitalGlobe of the US. "We are competing with seasoned players. Currently, there is no integrated space industry in India that can work collectively," says Murthi.

This apprehension of competing in the global market is palpable across the sector. "Competing in the global market is tough," says B Malla Reddy, CEO, Astra Microwave Products, a Hyderabad-based company that manufactures TR modules (transmit/receive components) for remote-sensing satellites and automated weather stations. In 2007-08, Astra recorded revenues of Rs 25 crore from the space sector, with ISRO its sole buyer. Says Reddy: "Countries prefer sourcing from home. Indian component manufacturers can sell globally only if Antrix acts as a facilitator."

Antrix hasn’t yet started acting as a facilitator in a big way, but ISRO is helping component companies in the global market. Precision-machinery manufacturer Avasarala Technologies began by supplying heat pipes to ISRO. It has about 1,000 heat pipes in space, and recorded revenues of Rs 25 crore last year. This is expected to double next year when it enters the global market, with ISRO’s help. Avasarala will supply heat pipes to ISRO, which will then remake them into thermal panels and supply US satellite maker SS Loral. Says Mani: "Once volumes increase, we will go into the global market on our own. For now, we depend on ISRO, as we don’t have the financial muscle or technical capabilities. Also, future business is not assured."


Shifting priorities

Despite the teething troubles, everything points to greater private participation in space programmes. ISRO has been gradually getting out of the production cycle and has even been transferring technology to private players. Some large international players are also looking at India as an outsourcing centre to manufacture critical components or develop software to interpret data, and are looking to set up captive units in India. An increasing number of ISRO veterans are leaving to join private companies.


The ecosystem is building up and investment is trickling into the private sector. November 2007 saw the first private equity (PE) deal in the defence and nuclear space, with Blackstone picking up 26% in MTAR Technologies, a Hyderabad-based nuclear, defence and space components company, for Rs 260 crore. Shortly before this, AIG, through its AIG Asian Opportunity Fund II, had loaned $20 million to Avasarala Technologies to build a new production unit on the outskirts of Bangalore.

Most of the work being done by private companies is either low-end or marginal. "For the private sector to truly get into the space sector, a policy shift is needed," says Mukund Rao, COO of ESRI India, a GIS (geographic information system) software provider and an ex-ISRO scientist.

Rao says ISRO should take on only R&D and support functions, and pass on satellite manufacturing completely to the private sector, as it is in the US and Europe. Adds Shivanand Kanavi, VP-Special Projects, TCS, and a space industry specialist: "ISRO can only be unshackled through the creation and implementation of forward-looking, business-oriented policies. ISRO should network with private enterprise to pass on its scientific and engineering expertise and products," he says. Indian Inc would like that, and Chandrayaan-1 may just speed up the transition.

Monday 29 September 2008

Sand to Silicon: Book Review, Prasad Govenkar

Prasad Govenkar has reviewed Sand to Silicon in his blog: http://www.prasadgovenkar.com/

The text follows:

Book Review: Sand To Silicon
Book : Sand to Silicon

Author : Shivanand Kanavi

A book scripting down the history of the Semiconductors from the inception till date to the Information technology days. What I liked the most is the due credit given to the people in shaping this industry, mainly in India. I had no clue that so many Indians are actually instrumental in whatever technology we are enjoying today.

The sad part is that we Indians don't appreciate their contributions and they are known more by the people abroad, especially US.

Apart from this, this book is quite technical in nature. Since I am having the background in Electronics and Communication, it wasn't a heavy reading for me. But for those not having any technical background, would find it boring and not comprehensible.

Good book to read for those interested in knowing the Indians who have had global contributions. Histories and contributions of the whose who are given in detail. The Initiatives done by Tata's to that of Sam Pitroda are worth a read.

I did have a good refresh of what I had learnt in my 4 years of engineering and then comparing to what how exactly I am not using it.

Thursday 25 September 2008

Interview Ravindra Bisht: Rigveda & Harappans

(This interview appeared in the Ghadar Jari Hai, Vol II, No 3, July-September 2008. See www.ghadar.in)

Peepul Ke NeecheReconstructing the PastA conversation with Ravindra Singh Bisht
Strangely, one rarely meets a historian and a field archaeologist who is also well versed in Sanskrit. Ravindra Singh Bisht is one of them. We met him at the Red Fort, in the Institute of Archaeology, run by the Archaeological Survey of India. He grew up in the hills of Kumaon and studied ancient Indian history at Nainital and Lucknow and trained as an archaeologist in the very same institute at the Red Fort. He then joined the Department of Archaeology and Museums of the Punjab government. Quite early in his career (1968-71) he was involved in excavations at Sanghol that led to the discovery of a site that extended from the late mature Harappan period to the modern. In 1971 he joined the new state of Haryana where he was involved with the important excavations at Banawali. Later he joined the Archaeological
Survey of India and led the team that excavated at Dholavira, Kutch. He has written a large number of research papers on his findings. He is also one of the prominent archaeologists who dismiss the theory of the Aryan invasion of India and in fact sees Rigvedic Aryans as belonging to the late-mature Harappan period. From his school days Bisht was fascinated by Sanskrit, though no one in his family had any knowledge of it. Today any conversation with him is sprinkled with generous quotations from the vast Sanskrit literature. Shivanand spoke to him about the mystery of Harappan culture, a sophisticated civilisation with no known literature on the one hand, and that of the vast Vedic literature with no archaeological evidence to locate its chronology and evolution.

Dr Bisht, welcome to Peepul ke
Neeche. We are conversing in
the midst of this awe-inspiring
structure of the Red Fort and
I hope we will discuss many
mysteries of ancient Indian history.

Thank you. I am pleased to participate
in this discussion. As for
Red Fort, I am an alumnus of this
very School of Archaeology where I
learnt the elements of my trade in
the sixties.

Tell us briefly about Harappan
civilisation.

The history of this region starts
from excavations in Mehrgarh,
Baluchistan which have given us
a continuous chronology of events
of the last 9500 years. The Harappan
sites which today number more
than a thousand lie in a large area:
starting from the Makran coast of
Baluchistan, in the West, Haryana
in the East, Manda (Akhnoor)
in J&K to the North to Lothal in
Gujarat in the South. This area
encompasses Sindh, both Punjabs,
North Rajasthan, Haryana, Kutch,
Saurashtra. Thus it extends into
upper Ganga-Yamuna doab, the
Tapti valley and the upper Godavari
valley as well. The Harappans
crossed the Hindu Kush and established
trading posts at Shor Taghai
in north Afghanistan as well. This
is a vast area, which covers more
than twice the size of the ancient
civilisations of Egypt or Mesopotamia.
Based on its level of development,
this culture can be classified
as Early Harappan (3200-2500
BCE), Mature Harappan (2500-
1900 BCE) and late Harappan
(1900-1500 BCE). Mature Harappan
is the most advanced and one
can see town planning, elegant architecture
and seals. We also see
a number of Harappan items in
Central Asia, Mesopotamia, Iran,
Oman, the Gulf and Afghanistan,
indicating that mature Harappan
culture had extensive contacts
and trade with surrounding areas.
Clearly they had overland and maritime
trade. In the late Harappan
culture you see the absence of cities
and more village like settlements,
indicating a retrogression.

The great mystery in Indian
history is the existence on the
one hand of Harappan civilisation
with no philosophy and decipherable
literature, leaving
aside seals with a few characters,
which are yet to be read,
and on the other hand this vast
Vedic literature which does not
seem to have any archaeology
associated with it, if you accept
the dating (1200 BCE) of the Rig
Veda, arrived at by scholars
like Max Muller and some historians.
What is your view?


Max Muller was not an archaeologist
and gave an ad hoc dating of
1200 BCE-600 BCE for Vedic literature
based on some linguistic considerations.
However that seemed
to have stuck as a dogma even
though he himself tried to disown it!
My own estimation is that Rig Veda
belongs to mature Harappan period
2500-1900 BCE. The geography described
in Rig Veda does belong to
the Saraswati-Indus valley. There
are strong reasons to believe that the
lost Saraswati is the Ghaggar-Hakra
system, which presently flows from
Himachal into Rajasthan and then
disappears in the sands of Cholistan
in Pakistan without joining the Arabian
Sea. Satellite imagery has confirmed
that this river system used
to merge with the Arabian Sea. Tectonic
movements resulting in earthquakes
and the onset of a long phase
of aridity sometime after 2000 BCE
in addition to some anthropogenic
factors might have led to change in
hydrography and finally the river
getting lost in Rajasthan. This could
have happened sometime after 2000
BCE. Many Harappan sites of the
later periods have been found in the
dried up Saraswati valley. To call Rig
Vedic Aryans as pastoral herdsmen
is a total misinterpretation. In fact
there are many verses in Rig Veda
describing agriculture and trade including
maritime trade. There are
detailed descriptions of three masted
sailing ships; there are descriptions
of fortified cities with three
different parts which can be called
the citadel, middle town and lower
town, (also found in Dholavira).
There are hints of city life with its
virtues and vices in the text. There
are many linguistic and conceptual
connections between Rig Veda and
Ahura Mazda of Zarathushtra of
Persia, the former however having
chronological priority.

Harappan civilisation, with its
uniformity in weights and common
architectural and town
planning features, indicates the
existence of an ancient empire
of some sorts. Whereas Rig Veda
still talks of sabhas and samitis
and an elected Raja. How do
you reconcile the two?

It appears to me that Harappa
would have been a socio-economic
empire at best held together by a
strong social ethos, economic order
and community pride. Even if we
think of a political entity, we know
that in Indian history no empire
could survive for more than 150-
200 years. Thus even if it came under
one ruler, it would have been
for a very short period of time. In
fact all empires in India have not
lasted more than that. Look at the
Mauryas, Guptas, Mughals etc.
That is, centrifugal tendancies
take over after some time. But we
still see so many features of culture
and arts and economy which
are geographically widespread in
India. So it is not necessary to be
in a single political empire for certain
common features to exist. As
for the Rig Vedic political system,
the sabha was perhaps a house of
elders, whereas the samiti had artisans,
farmers and the elite, that is
different classes and professions, in
it. Thus stratification had already
come into being. It would be romantic
to call it republican and democratic.
At best it was an oligarchy
assisted by a set of diverse group of
professionals in a samiti. However,
Rig Veda remembers a lot of things
from the past and retains some of
the forms whereas the actual state
of affairs had moved on.
There is no single mode of disposal
of the dead in Rig Veda and
that corresponds to what we see
in Harappan culture as well. The
weights system of dividing everything
into sixteen parts is common
to both. But after that the decimals
take over so we have dasha (ten),
shata (hundred), sahasra (thousand),
ayuta (lakh), niyuta (crore)
and so on taking over.
In the Rig Veda we find various
types of settlements as well as individual
structures, both hinting at
the existence of a kind of a plurality
of types of settlements as well
as a hierarchical order as we expect
in an urban system to exist. In architecture
there is mention of constructions
having six pillars, hundred
or thousand pillars, similarly
hundred doors and thousand doors
etc. So is the fort with seven gates,
three divisions and three defences.

One of the problems discussed
in the literature is the “Horse” not
being Indian and an import from
the steppes, whereas Vedic literature
mentions the horse.


Significantly there are references
in Rig Veda to the fact that Indra
fought successful wars even without
the horse, anashvan or anarvan, and
broke many forts asunder. Is it not
pointing to a stage when there were
no horses in the early Rig Vedic life?
Moreover, the Harappans like the
Mesopotamians of the third millennium
BCE, had harnessed onagers
(wild asses) into chariots. Rig Veda
was composed after the horse came
to India. Moreover there were different
types of wild asses in India.
Rhinos and elephants, were there
and they have also been described
in Vedic literature and picturised
in seals. Similarly there are questions
raised about rath-chariot. But
we have found terracotta toy wheels
bearing spokes painted in black or
white pigment or by way of embossing.
Thus both Harappans and early
Aryans had spoked wheels.

The Saraswati seems to have
flowed strongly, roughly from 8000
BCE to 3000 BCE, when a large
part of Asia was experiencing a very
strong monsoonal regime. Around
3000 BCE, the monsoon stabilised to
the phenomenon we see at present
and therefore the Saraswati was
still flowing. It was only after 2000
BCE that it might have come under
progressive desiccation-a phenomenon
noticed by the people of the later
Vedic period. It was an important
river and hence revered in Rig Veda.
Hence in Yajurveda and Atharvaveda
and the later compositions, Saraswati
had already been deified as a
goddess, while its riverine aspect is
only rarely indicated.

What led to the downfall and
disappearance of Harappans?
Was it an Aryan invasion as
mentioned in history texts?

Aridity seems to have led to retrogression
and later migration of
Harappans. There is no evidence
of any invasion. In fact, the Aryan
invasion theory is pretty untenable
today. There are basically two periods
which are significant archeologically:
the Neolithic culture of Mehrgarh
that is 8th millennium BCE,
and the chalcolithic (copper age)
period in the fifth millennium BCE,
when a new socio-economic order
emerged in the North-Western part
of the subcontinent. Continuity in
change may be seen all throughout
the Harappan and post-Harappan
periods. Only a few people trickled
in from Central Asia in the second
millennium BCE. They remained
localised in the Gandhara region or
the Kachi plain and some valleys
in Baluchistan. They then disappeared
without bringing about any
social, economic, religious or cultural
change in India.

It is possible that some people
migrated in small numbers over a
long period, but then by and large
they remained marginal all through.
Cultures of Gandhar and Pirak
which represent alien influences
are therefore from a later period but
they were highly localised and did
not influence any course of Indian
history. There are many commonalities
in the area of Central Asia,
Iran and India before the Iron Age.
Why not look for Aryans during the
Copper-Bronze Age!

Dr Bisht, you have given us a
fascinating view of ancient India
and that too one contrary
to what most of us learnt in
schools. It has been a pleasure
talking to you.

It is my pleasure. One could
talk endlessly about reconstructing
ancient India. Unfortunately the
atmosphere in India has been vitiated
by charges that anyone who
disputes the Aryan invasion theory
is a communalist, right reactionary
or a chauvinist. And similarly the
charges from the other side that all
those who stick to theories of Max
Muller, of an imported Vedic culture
through invading Aryans, are
Eurocentrics and ‘Macaulay’s children’.
This precludes any dispassionate
discussion. I do not think
that there would be dispassionate
reconsideration at least in my life
time! 

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Essay: Modernising Modernity

Modernising Modernity

Shivanand Kanavi

(This article appeared in Ghadar Jari Hai, Vol II, No 3, July-September 2008. See www.ghadar.in )

Modernity has connoted in the minds of people many socially progressive things. However, what we have today is an Indian version of European capitalism and the Westminster style parliamentary system, both of which stand greatly discredited. So where do we look next to solve Indian problems, asks Shivanand Kanavi.

What does being modern mean, or what is modernity, is a question worth investigating, because the word ‘modern’ is used very often to characterise the political, social and economic system we have today.  Here we are not looking into the esoteric and often contradictory sense in which the word 'modern' is used in literary, artistic and architectural contexts. In these areas it is difficult to find a reasonably coherent, agreed upon definition of the term ‘modern’. In this essay we are concerned with the way the term ‘modern’ is used in social, political and economic fields.
First of all, we see that ‘modern’ is not used in a purely chronological  sense. In almost all cases ‘modern’ is used as a value judgement; something ‘modern’ is to be aspired for and even fought for. It is mostly used to signify something that would be more socially progressive, less hierarchical, less discriminatory, more democratic, more equitable, something that would reduce human drudgery so that the mind and body can be free to pursue more intellectually and physically satisfying pursuits than merely the struggle for roti, kapada and makaan.

Soon after independence, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called for ushering India into the modern era. He called the large industrial complexes, dams and other technological complexes as ‘temples of modern India’. The underlying sentiment was that the traditional temples of India were places where faith was primary. However, in these new temples of modern India, rationality, science and technology would be primary. Heavy industry, IITs, IIMs, space and nuclear programmes, state funded industrial research laboratories, were all started. We are seeing the results in this century.

Nehru and his colleagues in the Congress led the new elite into going along with the installation of Westminster style parliamentary democracy in India by British colonialism. To some it appeared promising compared to the quality of governance under crony Maharajas under British rule. After the transfer of power in 1947, the Indian elite developed the present-day Indian multi-party democracy with a new republican constitution and elections based on universal adult franchise, which is repeatedly hailed as the world’s largest, modern, vibrant democracy.

In India, we may not have reached the heights and speeds of Chinese construction, but we have created the Indian big businessman. He is becoming known all over the world for his appetite to build global corporations through mergers and acquisitions, cut mega financial deals in global stock markets and grow in personal wealth.

The Nehruvian project of ‘modernisation’ in the socio-economic and political sense thus seems to have succeeded. Then one may ask, why is there a need to redefine modernity?

In satellite remote sensing technology, one gets an image of the earth from the skies but before one interprets the picture based on certain assumptions, one needs to go to the areas photographed by the satellite and check the condition on the ground. In space technology jargon this is called finding the “ground truth”. Thus as we come down from the macro picture of GDP growth, and shining examples of technology and industry to the ground truth, we are struck by the fact that nearly 66 percent of people in India, that is 70 crores have the capacity to spend less than Rs 20 a day. At the same time, according to the Financial Express, the total wealth of India’s billionaires stands at $334.6 billion (Rs 14,38,780 crore).

India is planning to send a rocket to the moon next year. Named Chandrayaan-1, it is a great achievement by our space scientists, who work with shoe string budgets. At the same time, a large number of India’s children are malnourished and have no decent education. Millions of our people cannot afford good health care even though Indian doctors are dazzling the world with their brilliance in dealing with stem cells, genetics and so on.

These facts are known to grounded Indians and do not need belabouring.
In short, the progress and modernisation achieved in India during the 20th century and especially after independence, have been significant but highly iniquitous. One could argue that not only have they fallen far short of expectations and promises but have actually created an unprecedented gulf and polarisation. They have been achieved by a small section that has cornered both the natural resources and the treasury of the government.

This necessitates a re-examination of the paradigm of modernity.

The concept of modernity adopted by India’s elite is European in origin. There were many attempts in Europe to make a radical departure from the clutches of the dark Middle Ages. The Europe of those days was characterised by religious wars, religious persecution, persecution of dissenters, inquisition, witch hunts, oppression of the mass of peasants and artisans by feudal lords, the church and the monarchy and so on. The rise of Humanism, the Protestant Reformation, the counter reformation within Catholics, Deism, demands for the separation of church and state, the rise of national churches instead of an imperial Papacy, the demand for religious freedom, agnosticism, mechanistic views of the universe, the rise of modern French materialism, the empirical and experimental approach to science and so on, were different aspects of this struggle.

This represented the ‘new’, the renaissance (rebirth), the modern. This entire course of events took several centuries to develop.  At the end of this tortuous process, full of twists and turns, one saw the emergence of capitalism and colonialism as preponderant symbiotic systems. The foundations of capitalism and colonialism were the new property relations which held private ownership rights of individuals as sacrosanct and envisaged a society based on social contract between individuals and the state.  The state itself was a ruthless defender of capitalist private property and at the same time a mediator and mitigator of conflict between the owners of these property rights. This was also termed the “civil society” and the “rule of law”.

The 17th and 18th century also saw the increasing use of machinery and technology in production along with division of labour and purely wage based relationships between owners and workers. The great land grab in the Americas and Australia, along with the straight forward loot and plunder of riches from India and other places, not to forget the slave trade from Africa, funded the European industrialisation. It was also accompanied by evictions and pauperisation of millions of peasants and artisans in Europe. They were left to fend for themselves. Later, legends were fabricated on how thrift, merit and hard work led various families to become great property owners, so that the dispossessed would emulate their example instead of taking to rebellion.
This is how capitalism took birth and slowly came to dominate the economy and society.

In India, the British administrators saw that clear private property rights did not exist. The king had the right to collect taxes, while the village communities and adivasi communities managed a portion of the lands and forests. The British conqueror proceeded to claim ‘the power of eminent domain’, which did not have a precedent in India, and established colonial ownership of land and forests. They also privatised cultivated land and extracted exorbitant revenues through Zamindari and other systems. Cornwallis and his colleagues claimed that the introduction of private ownership would ‘modernise’ and stimulate the Indian economy.

The situation was summed up very well by Titumir and Dudu Mian of East Bengal in the first half of the 19th century. They organised a large peasant rebellion against the East India Company and its Zamindars.  They claimed, “the land belongs to God, we peasants are all children of God. It is our privilege to enjoy its fruits and it is our duty to look after it. Who are the Firangis and these Zamindars to appear on the scene now and claim ownership of the same?”
It is said by some that Capitalism with its individualism brought in the concept of individual ‘rights’. However, what is forgotten is a small detail that capitalism is founded on private property rights and hence treats all those without property as outlaws or at least outcastes. If you are a landless peasant in a village or a landless villager who migrates to the city in search of livelihood and builds a jhuggi to protect his family from the elements, only to be treated as an illegal encroacher of land, then you would understand the place of the propertyless in this ‘civil society’ governed by ‘the rule of law’. The only right that is given as a palliative to cover up the rule of the oligarchs is the highly circumscribed right to vote. The rest of the rights are not within your reach unless you become at least a petty proprietor. The petty proprietor himself sees the real limit of his rights whenever he raises any ‘lawful’ or just demand that might slightly inconvenience the oligarchs.

All this is done within very rational and noble frameworks of ‘fundamental rights’, and ‘natural law’, which then rub salt in the wound by declaring that all human beings are born equal. A society claiming to give universal rights has no obligation to enable its members to live and work as human beings. Each one is supposed to fend for himself. If a dispossessed person finds others like himself and forms a brotherhood to claim his share of the social product, then attempts are made to suppress them or, if that fails, to co-opt a few ‘representatives’ of the dispossessed into the establishment.

Of course the use of division of labour and machinery leads to greater mass production for the market place. All are welcome to partake of these products, provided they pay the price set by the market. They are also told that now they have a ‘choice’! If at any time the profits of the oligarchs are under a squeeze, then the state wakes up to its primary duty. It comes to the oligarchy’s rescue, at the cost of further misery to the millions.

Science, technology and reason are all harnessed to maximise the profits of the oligarchs. Thus, you end up with 53 billionaires in India owning Rs 14,38,780 crore while 70 crore Indians cannot spend more than Rs 20 a day. This is where modernity based on capitalism, imposed on India through British colonialism and further developed by Indian oligarchs, has led us.

How can this be accepted as social progress?  And if it is not, can it be called modern?

The same Europe which gave birth to capitalism, and which tried to establish private property all over the globe through colonialism, also gave rise to its negation in the form of socialism. It took the most powerful concrete shape in Russia as Bolshevism. After October 1917, a new experiment began which brought forth a new alternative to capitalist modernity. It built a society based on abolition of private property and the development of collective property and societal property. It also built a political system which was based on recognising rights on the basis of one’s contribution to social labour, with “no room here for the shirk!”  Egalitarianism, equal opportunity for all, education, health care and jobs for all, reduction of drudgery using technology, mass participation in cultural and sports activities and all other attributes that are associated with the word ‘modernity’ were achieved in this socialist society. This new socialist modernity inspired many a struggle all over the world.

After about two decades of this ‘dictatorship of the disenfranchised’, it was realised that the time had come to rise above a class based definition of democracy. There were attempts to remove one-sidedness by introducing equal political rights for all, through a new constitution in 1936 that gave a greater role to the people directly in making public policy decisions, instead of the communist party arrogating to itself this right as its prerogative.

However, before these innovations could take deep root,  a retrogression set in both in the internal and external policies of the Soviet Union. Eventually the system collapsed and the new elite embraced the old capitalist modernity. This was visible in its most naked form when the ‘new oligarchs’ grabbed huge chunks of Russia’s state-owned industry and natural resources, with the rise of Yeltsin.

Today, Russia is home to 7 of the 25 richest people in the world, and 12 of the 25 richest in Europe. There are more billionaires living in Moscow, than in any other city in the world, with an average wealth of $5.9 billion (Rs 25,370 crore each). Russia ranks second in the world in number of billionaires, with 87, behind America’s 469, according to Forbes magazine.

At the end of the Cold War, the US, Western Europe and Gorbachev’s USSR along with several other countries of Eastern Europe got together in Paris in November, 1990 and redefined modernity, which they described as a simple admixture of market economics and multi-party democracy. Signatories of the Paris Charter soon made their belligerence known to anyone who did not fully fall into line with this and who tried to experiment with their own sui generis systems!

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the debate on modernity has taken a new form. Now it is claimed that if you talk of socialism and collective property you are a fossil, but if you believe in neo-liberal market economics and say puerile things like ‘the business of the government is to not be in business’ and so on, then you are a ‘modern’ individual.

What we are seeing in India after the Paris Charter is an Indian version of the same recipe of multi-party democracy and market economics in full bloom. In fact, on July 21 and 22 this year, the Indian parliament once again demonstrated on 24x7 TV, that market economics operates inside a multi-party parliament as well!

How do we get out of this cul-de-sac and truly modernise India?

I would argue that one needs to dispassionately study the experience of socialism and why it collapsed, in order to modernise the theory underlying a superior democracy and economic order.  Here I do not at all mean ‘socialist market economics’ as some are proposing, since I think that would not be very different from neo-liberal market economics in the final analysis. What needs to be done is to study why socialism got alienated from the people whom it was supposed to belong to.  How to unleash the human factor in governance and economic management, and in all aspects of life? How to harmonise the individual, collective and societal interests?  How do we achieve this in the present rancorous and highly polarised, sectarian atmosphere? Here it is worth examining our own traditions and learning from the rest of the world.

The traditional Indian ethos, according to some, did not talk about rights explicitly.  Nevertheless, it integrated individual rights and duties and societal rights and duties in the concept of dharma, which is often narrowly and wrongly translated as religion. Moreover, the right to conscience and a mechanism to harmonise different viewpoints through anekantavada was upheld long ago, through beautiful philosophical and methodological constructs.

The right to conscience was upheld as the right to find one’s own salvation through a self chosen belief system and a way of life that goes with it. This was not confined to spiritual matters, as expressed splendidly by the Bhakti movement, but included temporal matters as well. For example, a reading of the Svetashvatara Upanishad shows that in those days there were many theories about the origin of the universe: 1) kala (time), 2) svabhava (inherent nature), 3) niyati (fate), 4) ydrachha (accident), 5) bhoota (elements of matter), 6) prakruti (female principle, primeval matter), 7) purusa (male principle, spirit). The author is in favour of the seventh theory but he does not condemn or ridicule the other six. Similarly, Kautilya in Arthashastra states in the very beginning the views of Manu’s followers, Brihaspati’s followers and then enunciates his own. There is respect for tradition but there is also assertion of his individuality.

The Indian method of discourse too was highly respectful of the ‘other’ view. A proponent would first put forward in the strongest possible terms the opponent’s case, (purva paksha) and then go on to posit his views, (siddhanta) without rancour, ridicule and demagogy.

Liberal tolerance in the ‘modern civil society’ of the “other” is not even a shadow of the Indian approach. Tolerance hides animosity and condescension just below the surface and too often erupts in majority-minority polarisation. At best, it signifies a temporary co-existence due to circumstances, without mutual respect and necessarily without the basis for long term harmony.
The Indian ethos was steeped in humility and respect. Indians posited that truth reveals itself to the seeker and no seeker can claim to have a complete grasp of the truth. Thus, there would be many points of view which need to be integrated to get a total understanding of a phenomenon. The blind men and the elephant is an oft quoted parable in the Indian ‘marga’ (high brow) as well as ‘desi’ (folk) traditions. This was articulated in anekantavada and shyadvada. That is, truth has many facets and no one can claim a monopoly over it.
Anekantavada goes against absolutism and Aristotlean certainty and yes/no binary logic. Divisions like ‘them and us’, ‘with us or against us’, right or left, belong to capitalist modernity and the Cold War. Clearly the Indian approach leads to harmony,  leads to an inclusive society and absorbs cultural and philosophical influences. It leads to a possibility of coming up with non partisan solutions to today’s complex problems.

The state’s dharma was to look after education, health care, tank and canal irrigation etc. In short, the Rajadharma was to provide sukh (prosperity) and suraksha (security from internal and external destabilisers). Even in the architecture of Harappan excavations, one sees that as early as 3000 BC, Indians thought of individuals as born to society and not in a vacuum. That is expressed in well planned sanitation, grain storage silos, storm water drains etc – in short a societal level planning and execution and that too in all parts of the town, in elite quarters as well as the quarters of the commoners.

The right to conscience, in traditional India, thus becomes a natural reflection of reality, which can be viewed in many ways, unlike in Europe where it became a privilege granted by a sovereign. In the Indian approach to the right to conscience, the state has no role to play. Right to conscience is not a part of political balancing act but is a reflection of multifaceted nature of truth itself.
In modern India, a product of the colonial legacy, we have forgotten all this. The state grants the right to conscience through the Constitution and takes it away when it deems fit. Not only are anti-conversion laws passed in various states, but thousands have been incarcerated in the North East and Kashmir because they question the involuntary union of India or because they are considered fundamentalists in the ongoing ‘War against Terror’. Has this led to harmony and less strife?

Modern India has followed capitalist footsteps and increasingly believes in ‘each one for himself’ and ‘markets will decide’. It thereby abdicates societal dharma that an individual is born to society and society has an obligation to look after the individual and provide him opportunities to contribute productively.

The caste system was a negation of the right to conscience and the right to knowledge, as well as of the duty of the state to provide sukh and suraksha to all. That is why the caste system constantly provoked rebellion against itself from the very beginning. When it predominated, society stagnated and when the caste system was shaken up and overthrown, even if temporarily or locally, the society was rejuvenated.
l
Along with the summing up of the experience of socialism in the former Soviet Union, Indians would greatly benefit by also getting rid of Macaulayan Eurocentric prejudices and studying our own tradition. This is not to say that pre-British and pre-capitalist India is where we should be heading in the future. But we need to develop an alternative paradigm of modernity that not only promises an equitable, just, non hierarchical and caring society, but that also harmonises the relationship between mankind and the rest of nature as well as the individual, collective and the societal interests. In one word, there is a burning need to build a truly modern alternative to the highly unsatisfactory present, instead of being bound by various versions of capitalist modernity.                                              


Friday 19 September 2008

Manipal University: Interview



Recently I gave two invited lectures to the students and faculty at Manipal University on "Indian contribution to digital technology" and on "India's Nuclear Programme 1943-2008". At that time I was interviewed by a student of Manipal Institue of Communications. The text published at : http://www.themanipaljournal.com/News/N03208.html follows....

Shivanand KanaviPhoto By: Shaz Mohd

Interview: Shivanand Kanavi
Ajinkya Deshmukh TMJ

Shivanand Kanavi is an intellectual extraordinaire. A theoretical physicist from IIT Kanpur, he pursued higher studies and research from Northeastern University, Boston and IIT Bombay. Till June 2004, he was the Executive Editor of Business India magazine. The same year he received the Madhu Valluri Award for IT Journalism. He is now the Vice President, Special Projects at Tata Consultancy Services. He occasionally writes for Business India and has authored the book ‘Sand to Silicon: the amazing story of digital technology’. He was in Manipal as a guest lecturer on ‘India’s contribution to technology’ and ‘India’s Nuclear Programme’.


Q: In your book and the lectures you gave, you underscored India’s contribution to the IT industry. Do you think India’s role is downplayed in the mainstream media?


A: India’s success story in the IT business on shores and in the Silicon Valley is well known and receives ample coverage. It is India’s technical and research contribution to IT that is undermined. In fact, ‘Sand to Silicon’ was the first book to document this momentous contribution, prior to which there was no credible literature on the subject.


Q: But, we see most research papers coming out of the West, where universities have lab establishments that encourage ingenious research. The Indian education system is not very research oriented; neither do we have high percentage of budgetary allocations for R&D.


A: Even in the West, students write very few research papers. It is usually seasoned specialists in the field, young graduates or post-doctoral research scholars who produce papers. Also, unless one requires specialized equipment for experimental work in IT, I don’t think there is a problem of money. For example, in 2002 there was groundbreaking research in IIT Kanpur by Chair Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Manindra Agarwal and two undergrad students. They cracked a problem that had evaded solution for over 300 years! IT and communication research is very mathematical.


Q: The infamous red tape in India in not conducive to business houses. The Tata-Singur row and LN Mittal preferring foreign shores prove…


A: Traditional businesses – yes. Business in India is a challenge. But, it has done well nevertheless; overcoming all odds and being profitable. The Indian business environment gives some of the best returns in the world. Further, in modern businesses in the knowledge economy there aren’t many obstacles. The main hurdle in services like IT and telecom applications is capital and India has its breed of venture capitalists ready to invest in sensible business ideas. The number of entrepreneurs in India is its chief strength when compared with a China or an America.


Q: Coming to the biggest deal today: if nuclear energy is crucial to India’s energy security, what do you say about the US getting cold feet just as the NSG stage of negotiations came – a strategic U-turn?


A: The US and other big powers made certain calculations by which they had to include India in the global system of N-trade sans any restrictions. However, the US has its way of taking along many countries in its strategic flow and then taking a complete 180 ̊ turn, leaving many countries stranded. The NSG operates by consensus, not voting. Domestic political situations in countries like Austria and New Zealand (upcoming elections) compel them to oppose the waiver lest they be termed US puppets. Otherwise, India is garnering worldwide support with all the big powers. Things will straighten out in a while. The NSG was always going to be a problem.


Q: You span theoretical physics, nuclear geopolitics, economics, journalism, IT and are also involved with the publication Ghadar Jari Hai… How does this come about?


A: I have a natural curiosity to understand the society around me – economy, philosophy, science, history. And then comes the need to communicate this understanding to others. It is only out of intellectual curiosity and I never started out to make a career in these fields, but the opportunities today are vast. Educational qualifications don’t matter much as long as one makes an honest effort at tackling the challenge at hand.Ghadar is a quarterly magazine published from Delhi, an attempt by intellectual activists to view our pre-colonial and colonial history with a fresh set of eyes and attitudes. The colonial era left us with an inferiority complex because the British painted all of our pre-colonial history black. As a people we have to face this outlook tainted by Euro centrism. It calls for a movement to assess each of our contemporary problems on its own merit, and harmonise diverse faiths, opinions and political ideologies – something our 5,000 year old civilization has long since been capable of.


Q: Finally, what is next in store for you?


A: Career wise, I do not know. But, I am writing a book on the history of TCS and another one on Indian role in atomic physics. A more ambitious project would be a book that I am planning to write on the Bhakti Movement in India. The 800 years of history will take another four or five years of research to turn into a book.I’ve also wanted to write a book on the philosophy behind quantum physics for the past 25-30 years. Let’s see when I can get time for that.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Indian Nuclear Industry, 1993

Business India, December 6-19, 1993

The nuclear fallout

With the nuclear power programme facing a serious resource crunch, industries will have to explore new options for using their nuclear-related skills

Shivanand Kanavi

When we talk of nuclear power we talk about its economic viability, environmental hazards, fears of radiation leakage, waste disposal, or even problems regarding closing down the reactor after its useful life. But the other spin-offs to our economy - in terms of scientific-technical manpower, engineering skills and capacities, not to talk about the bottom lines and business turnovers - have not been studied in any detail.

These spin-offs have been varied. Since the 1960s, when India started generating electricity using nuclear power, a host of industries have sprung up in heavy engineering, fabrication, and construction. All these owe their entire development of skills, quality consciousness, confidence to tackle bigger and bigger problems (in size as well as in technological levels), to their participation in the indigenous nuclear power programme.
Anyone who does not know the abysmal condition of our laboratories and universities in the 1940s, and even our engineering industry in the 1960s and early 1970s, cannot easily appreciate the spin offs that have occurred due to the nuclear programme. M.S. Krishnamurthy, joint general manager, of the engineering giant, Larsen and Toubro, who has been associated with the nuclear program for over 25 years, says, "Without the push given by the nuclear power programme we would not be able to do what we are capable of doing today. In the pre-nuclear era, we used to make some equipment for dairies and small cement plants, that weighed a couple of tones. Today, we have moved into the third generation of heavier precision engineering at Hazira that can fabricate components weighing up to 450 tonnes."

This technological advantage works out in other areas as well. For P.J. Bhounsule, sales development manager, L&T (an IIT graduate who has worked on nuclear projects for nearly two decades), the engineering challenges they encountered while catering to their nuclear commitment were of the toughest variety. "One of the toughest assignments we faced was the welding of the two halves of the half-a-metre thick steel disk, that was the deck plate of the Dhruva reactor," says Bhounsule. "The weld had to be so perfect that even the tiny atoms of helium couldn't leak through. Simple heating of the two lips in the joint, led to unequal expansion along the diameter and circumference of the half disks, leading to gaps between the lips of the joint. We had not calculated the different heat sink characteristics. This led us to use computer simulation for the first time."

An analysis of the results revealed that the problem could be solved if the disks were thermally insulated and heat provided at twenty-five distributed points all over. "Finally, we machined channels into the lips so that they could lock into each other and after careful deep welding from both sides of the disk, we got the defect-free weld," claims Bhounsule proudly.

This precision and problem-solving capacity that they have acquired is what all the industries associated with nuclear technology praise. T.S. Sakethan, general manager.
special products division, Walchandnagar Industries (WIL), proudly shows his hi-¬tech dust-free shop floor, ingeniously assembled right in the midst of the cranes and fork lifts. He points out a welder meticulously welding the tubes to a tube sheet in a heavy water heat exchanger. The Welds have to be totally defect free," he says. "Normal methods of non-destructive testing (NDT) like sonography, radiography, dye penetration, and magnetic particle patterns cannot be used here, so we do statistical quality analysis. The welder has to be trained in the technique for months together and pass all sorts of tests."
But even this is not enough. The welder's skill is constantly checked out, since there is little or no room for error. "Every day before he starts work, he has to weld a few samples, which are then physically sawed off and tested for defects," says Sakethan. "Only when the samples show zero defect is he allowed to touch the job that day." This may sound unnecessarily time consuming but with the risks of nuclear leaks taking precedence over all else, it's a necessary precaution.

One corollary to this kind of nit-pickety precision is that customers of nuclear manufacturers are positive that they will get quality that's of the best kind. P.J. Bhounsule of L&T says, "The philosophy of quality control had to be changed from post manufacture checks to planned quality assurance, systematic definition of manufacturing procedures and documentation. All these have helped us obtain authorisation to use various quality stamps of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the ISO 9001 certification. "

M.L. Mitra, director, environment and public awareness, Nuclear Power Corporation, who was deeply involved in the handholding operations in the early years, recalls, "We had to convince many in the industry that quality does not mean higher cost but lower project cost."

As the confidence in their technical abilities and quality grew, the industries were able to take on more challenging tasks. Currently, nuclear manufacture involves the standardised design of the 235 MW reactor, the consolidation of infrastructure and manufacture using the convoy system, cutting project time, the design and manufacture of 500 MW reactors for Tarapur III and IV and Rajasthan III and IV. The industries have also built components for the heavy water projects and the Fast Breeder Test Reactor. Now, the pool-type Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor to generate 500 MW, using liquid sodium, has been designed and the industry will participate in its fabrication as well.

Perhaps the best spin-offs to these nuclear-affiliated industries have been in terms of turnover. L&T alone has done Rs.312 crore of nuclear work. Bharat Heavy Electricals, which has gained the maximum benefit, has made over Rs.800 crore. Most of the business is pure profit as the industry has to pay only for labour costs, as the raw materials are provided by the DAE and the NPC.

Besides its contribution to corporate bottom-lines (see table for select data), what have been the spin-offs in terms of new business? "With our expertise, if not on a turnkey basis, at least as critical component manufacturers, we can get contracts from multinationals who want to set up industries in India," says T.V. Rudrappa, general manager, quality assurance, WIL.

Earnings from the Nuclear Programme


1975-80 1980-87 1987-95 Total in Rs crore
BHEL 15 154 640 804
HEC - 42 128 170
ECIL - 70 160 230
L&T 5 35 272 312
KSB - 7 112 119
Mukand 2.5 10.5 24 37
BHPV - - 27 27
BPCL - 3.5 24 27.5
WIL - - 20 20
Mather & Platt - - 20 2020


R.D. Hariani, technical director, GR Engineering, concurs, "Association with the Nuclear Power Corporation has helped us indirectly in getting jobs in other sectors as the quality has been upgraded in an overall sense." Krishan Kumar, general manager of the public sector giant, Bharat Heavy Electricals, is equally upbeat regarding spin-offs, "BHEL has gained considerably technologically through its association with nuclear power. Now, we are in a position to execute the conventional side of the nuclear power plant on a turnkey basis." After the recent fire in the generator in Narora I the turbine generator that was based on GE design is also being redesigned for Indian conditions by BHEL and NPC.



With these design modifications Indian Nuclear-related industries have finally come into their own. They have moved from their total dependence on foreign designs, to making design changes, to finally conceptualising and manufacturing their own designs. K.R. Balakrishnan, general manager, control panels, GEC Alsthom India. Ltd, who have supplied' over Rs.15 crore worth of control protection equipment and switch gear to all the reactors, says unequivocally that association with NPC projects has helped them acquire experience in designing and manufacturing equipment suitable for an earthquake-prone environment. K.K. Sinha, chairman and managing director, Mishra Dhatu Nigam (Midhani), a PSU set up to develop super alloys, is proud that hundreds of tonnes of very special steel called grade 403 (which is a medium carbon steel but whose composition is controlled within a very narrow range) were produced by Midhani. Similarly, another copper niobium special steel, called 17-4 PH grade, was also developed and produced by Midhani for the nuclear reactor components using electro slag refining and vacuum arc furnaces. Not many countries in the world have these capabilities, says Sinha proudly.

Where to, from here? With the resource crunch threatening India's own nuclear programme options, the logical next step would have been to export the technology. But the government has given very little thought to going into the global nuclear business, although Japan and South Korea are feverishly building nuclear power stations. Besides this, there may be a number of developing countries that will go in for the smaller 235 MW PHWR if the fuel supply can be arranged. Indian expertise in building research reactors had been sought world wide. but India did not pursue it.

The real test of our nuclear industry will come in delivering systems and components on schedule for international clients. And in the ultimate analysis, the industry will be able to use the skills it has acquired in other fields. For although the nuclear industry is facing a serious resource crunch, the resourceful among them will turn this adversity into opportunity.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Column: Sikh Pogrom

Silence over a pogrom
Shivanand Kanavi
Business & Political Observer- November 12,1992

The hanging of Sukha and Jinda, the two convicted for assassinating the Army chief General A S Vaidya in his retirement in Pune, was generally welcomed by people and the press, but some sections of society, however, opposed it. On the face of it, it looked bizarre that anybody in his right senses could oppose the hanging of convicted assassins but various groups in Punjab, including various Akali factions, called a bandh in protest. An even more bizarre sounding news was the bhog ceremony held in the Golden Temple complex for these two. Here the issue is not the success or failure of the bandh or how many attended the bhog ceremony. The government and the organisers will obviously have vastly differing estimates, but the rationale for such views. Or was there no rationale but only fear of terrorists' guns that make people express their opposition to the hanging? I have come to the conclusion that there is a rationale though the Akalis might appear as a caricature of such a rationale.

Two events have had a devastating effect in Punjab in the recent past. One was the army attack on Golden Temple and the other was the pogrom carried out against the Sikhs in 1984 after Mrs Gandhi's assassination. The attack and the damage to Akal Takht enraged many who were in no sense Khalistani terrorists and many youth in Punjab took it upon themselves to avenge it. The method of conspiracies and terrorism to oppose a government's policy, however abhorrent the policy may be, is questionable in principle and has had no practical benefit for the Sikhs. In fact, the escalating violence between the state and the militants, each justifying the other, has led to the hen and the egg syndrome, while the ordinary people of Punjab have suffered enormously in the crossfire. But if Udham Singh, who took great pains to search General Dyer out in imperial Britain and killed him as retribution for Jalianwalabagh, or Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad who killed British officials and looted treasury, or Maharashtra's Vasudev Balwant Phadke and Chaphekar brothers who killed members of colonial administration or tried to raise armed rebellion among the tribal Ramoshis, could be national heroes for us, then will not avengers of injustices be Shahids for those who accuse the central government of oppressive, unjust and near-colonial attitude in dealing with the Sikhs or with Punjab? It is a disturbing question even if you don't agree with the militants in Punjab.

To them the argument given by the court that the General was just doing his duty does not hold much attraction since they say the same justification was oft repeated in the Nuremberg trial of Nazis for war crimes. Viewed thus, the bhog ceremony does not appear all that bizarre.

The issue of the hurried hanging of Sukha and Jinda too appears suspect not in itself but viewed in the background of the machinery of justice that has ground to a halt as far as the '84 pogrom of the Sikhs in Delhi and other places is concerned. Two thousand seven hundred and thirty three Sikhs were killed in cold blood (according to official figures) in 72 hours. That is roughly one person stabbed to death or burnt alive every one and a half minute in the national capital. The orgy went on for three days. What happened to our trigger-happy paramilitary and armed forces or the police? No one could claim that the place (Delhi) was remote and law enforcement agencies could not reach there in time. In fact, Delhi those days -much before these events- resembled an army camp with check posts and carbined troops at each corner - a shocking scene for a Bombayite like me. What has happened to the perpetrators of these crimes? Well, a lot. The then commissioner of police started a departmental enquiry a day after the pogrom: It was abandoned three weeks later. The Ved Marwah committee was set up instead. It too was abandoned when some of the accused police officers moved the court. Then came the Justice Ranganath Mishra commission which made a mockery of justice, by rejecting, without giving any reasons, 2,800 affidavits of victims and accepting only 128. Its proceedings were held in camera and the press was forbidden. The report submitted by the commission in 1986 even had a section on affidavits against the victims of the riots! Committees followed commissions, 11 in all - Ahooja committee, Jain Banerjee commission, Kusum Lata Mittal commission, Justice Potti and Rosha committee, etc. The net result has been zero.

Either thousands of people who witnessed the massacre or were victims of it and gave coherent accounts of it have committed a mass conspiracy to lie, or some very important people should be standing trial for mass murder.

In the midst of all this has a come a most damaging leak by one of the police officers accused of participating in the riots. Chandra Prakash, who was later promoted as Deputy Inspector General in Arunachal Pradesh, has said in a leaked memorandum to the home ministry that the decision not to quell the rioting by imposing curfew or calling the army was taken at a secret meeting at the Prime Minister's residence. This has damned two prime ministers. The late Mr Rajiv Gandhi and the present one. Mr P. V. Naraslmha Rao was then the home minister and according to the memo attended the said meeting.

The septugenarian Mr Rao, the darling of the press as manager of contradictions par excellence, the one who saved India from chaos and economic bankruptcy, the one who tamed the BJP, the one whose pravachanas er .. speeches over-flow with ancient wisdom, the one who speaks endlessly on human rights, etc, was party to the blot on the conscience of all Indians! So far there has been no refutation from the home ministry or the PMO about the leak.

With all this muck and confusion and literally skeletons up the closets of the VIPs, it does not appear so mindless after all, that some people consider Satwant Singh and Beant Singh and Sukha and Jinda as martyrs.

I don't. No doubt they are assassins.

But amidst the extremities, where is the silent majority? And why is it silent?

Friday 25 July 2008

Interview: Vijay Times-Sand to Silicon, Dec 2003

‘Even practitioners cannot explain the fundamentals’
Interview: Vijay Times, Dec 2003


Even as the country learns more about ‘India Shining’, Shivanand Kanavi’s book, Sand to Silicon, traces the Evolution of digital technology in India in a global context. Better known as the Executive Editor of Business India, the Mumbai-based graduate of IIT-Kanpur spoke to Vijay Times, Bangalore earlier this week:

Isn’t it apt that the release of Sand to Silicon Coincides with the Central Government’s ‘India Shining’ campaign?

Obviously, it is just a coincidence. The work for the book began two years ago in terms of research. If you ask me, the Government should also be publicising issues backed by solid research rather than mere sentiments.

How Accurate is the ‘India Shining” campaign? Are there really areas in the economy to feel good about?
‘Feel good’ is a relative term. It is often used when things haven’t been good over a period of time. Indians tend to look for something to celebrate- be it a cricket match or the economy.
There are still large sections of the economy that have not been touched. Analysts are cautioning the Government against this, especially when it comes to the rural and sub-urban parts of the country. The campaign must correspond with reality.

Is Sand to Silicon aimed at the reader who is a specialist, engineer or the layman?
Electrical engineering isn’t my subject. When I tried to understand it by talking to experts, I could see that even practitioners were unable to explain the fundamentals.
I have tried to address a broad segment- anybody conversant in technology or who is interested in knowing more about it. I had to study the fundamentals, interview many people. The historical work: to gather the names of Indians who have done seminal work in technology..

So, between the graduate from Kanpur and the journalist in you, who was more dominant while working on the book?
(Laughs) My worry was always my reader. My publisher and acknowledged mentor, Ashok Advani, always said, ‘you should write in such a way that even your mother-in-law understands it’. After I collected the material, it had to be translated to common man’s terms. So perhaps, the journalist was more dominant.

Interview Lal Singh

Peepul ke Neeche - Conversations

Communism and India's heritage


It is rare that a political party in India takes a serious attitude towards investigating Indian history, philosophy, culture and statecraft. Empty posturing, demagogy and rousing passions for narrow vote-bank politics is more the order of the day. Then there are those who flaunt their modernity by championing cosmopolitanism, Eurocentrism and labeling any serious attitude towards India’s heritage of thought material as revivalism and even communalism. However, CGPI is one political party that has consistently taken a serious investigative attitude towards all these questions for over a quarter century. We are pleased to bring to you a conversation between Shivanand Kanavi, a writer and Com Lal Singh, General Secretary of Communist Ghadar Party of India, in this section of Peepul ke Neeche.


Shivanand: Welcome to Peepul ke Neeche. I am impressed by the range of issues regarding Indian philosophy, political theory and history that have been raised by you in several publications of CGPI and would like to discuss some of them today.
Lal Singh: It is my pleasure to participate in this conversation. I have also been reading the magazine and appreciate this effort in trying to build a platform for serious discussion in a non partisan way, keeping out all prejudice and labeling.
Shivanand: The very name of your organization is intriguing. What is the connection between Ghadar and communism?
Lal Singh: The Great Ghadar of 1857, besides being the biggest war of the 19th century world, also represented all that was best in India’s anti-colonial and revolutionary struggles. Long past those tumultuous years, it continued to inspire patriots and revolutionaries in India. In fact, the founding fathers of Hindustani Ghadar Party, formed in 1913 in North America, which played an important role in India’s struggle against British Colonialism explicitly drew inspiration from the Ghadar of 1857. I believe that it is important for a communist party to takes the best revolutionary traditions of its own people and from the people of rest of the world and integrate them with the struggle to establish the rule of workers and peasants.
Shivanand: Frequently in your literature, I have seen an estimation of Bhakti movement as a radical democratic movement. Can you explain that? As far as I know no other communist group has done a serious analysis of Bhakti movement, much less characterizing it as revolutionary.
Lal Singh: Bhakti Lehar was very broad and deep. We see it coming up repeatedly for almost 800 years in different parts of the country at different times. It started around the 11th century in Tamil Nadu and spread to Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kashmir, the Gangetic plain, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bengal, Assam, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and other places. It captured the imagination of millions of people in literally the whole of India.
No doubt, it had a religious shell. After all, the stated goal of Bhaktas was direct communion with a personal deity without any intermediaries. Through this they posited a spiritual democracy. They recognized no divisions among humanity based on caste, profession, social status or gender. This immediately came into conflict with the Brahmanical system, the caste hierarchy and the priests.
The struggle was tortuous and many of them suffered at the hands of orthodoxy and even the state. But they stood their ground with great courage of conviction and became the voice of working people. They propounded their views in simple songs in people’s bhasha be it Tamil, Kannada, Kashmiri, Marathi, Awadhi, Punjabi, Bengali, Oriya, or Telugu. Till then all serious philosophical discussion was carried out in Sanskrit, Pali or Prakrit, with which very few people were conversant. The Bhakti Lehar led to the flourishing of literature in these bhashas. In fact, it played a major role in the development of various nationalities in India.
Bhaktas upheld the dignity of labour. Prominent activists of this movement came from all castes, creeds and professions. There were weavers, dhobis, cobblers, farmers, blacksmiths, gold smiths, traders, oilers, gardeners, accountants, Brahmins, and even some from the ruling circles. Moreover, a large number of Bhakti poets were women, who found liberation in this peer group after being considered second-class citizens and a source of “pollution” in the Brahmanical system. Here they shared their experiences with other bhaktas on an equal and honourable footing. The performing arts like music and dance too flourished as they were considered spiritual offerings.
According to the orthodox priests, the caste and gender divisions were ordained by a divine power. However, Bhaktas believed in a sensual and experiential philosophy and did not recognize any authority of the scriptures over the experiential. In fact, they said ‘the scriptures, which divide the people, are man made and have nothing to do with God.’ At one stroke, the foundation of a divinely ordained caste system and discrimination based on that was questioned seriously. In short, they played a profoundly revolutionary democratic role and were a part of the great secularization movement in India.
Shivanand: What about the Sufis?
Lal Singh: Sufis too brought similar values and since both the trends represented a spiritual quest and revolt against the rigidly divided social system, they were able to learn a lot from each other. In fact identifying them as Hindu and Muslim would be false because they recognized no such identities. For them everyone was a seeker. Thus, the two trends influenced each other in several places like Punjab, Kashmir and Karnataka. For example, Guru Nanak went to Kashi to converse with knowledgeable pundits and to Baghdad to discuss with the Sufis. He acknowledged the wisdom of Namdev from Maharashtra and Baba Farid from Afghanistan.
The point is not to look at everything in Indian philosophy and tradition with categories of idealism and materialism in a mechanical way. Bhaktas and Sufis did not just understand the world but actually strived to change it for the better.
Shivanand: You have time and again stressed the need to develop Indian theory, can you explain that?
Lal Singh: First, let us look at the system that we have inherited from British colonialism. It has further evolved post independence. Politically we have a system that is parliamentary, multi party democracy with election of representatives held every few years. This system was brought in by the British and embraced by the Indian ruling classes to act as a superstructure in the form of a highly centralized and repressive state machinery. The representative form of democracy lets a few chosen parties who support this system to enter the electoral arena and then get some among them elected through a process that reduces ordinary working people to a marginal role. Once elected these representatives are not accountable to anyone except their party high command. Their groupings then vie to be the best managers of the status quo as ruling and opposition parties or coalitions. Despite its total failure to empower the people through enabling direct democracy, many political parties have not only proudly become a part of the process but have also given periodic calls that people should defend this system at all costs! Why should we defend a disempowering system developed in Westminster, based on political theories of English monarchs and later the English bourgeoisie? Our civilization claims a heritage of thousands of years. Has it not produced any political theory that needs to be studied in order to deal with the problem of empowering the people today?
Similarly, capitalism transplanted by colonial administrators is being taken to new heights in the last sixty years, despite the proven fact that it enriches a tiny minority at the cost of impoverishing hundreds of millions. In terms of economic theory, Indian rulers parrot the Nehruvian mixed economy or the trickle down theory or European social democratic slogans like ‘capitalism with a human face’ or ‘inclusive growth’, which are all different versions of the same system that has not served the aspirations of Indian people. Has Indian civilization not produced any economic theory, which can be provided with modern content to serve the people? Unless, as Marx said, in the preface to the Critique of Political Economy, “we settle accounts with our erstwhile philosophical conscience”, how can we move forward to elaborate a modern theory that serves the aspirations of Indian people? These are cardinal questions facing Indian communists and all those seeking solutions to the problems facing our people today. However, in this endeavour to examine our heritage of Indian thought material, we face the other legacy of colonialism, viz. Eurocentrism, as a major obstacle.
Shivanand: Yes, I was going to ask that next. You have been repeatedly writing against the influence of Orientalism and the effect of Eurocentrism on Indian intelligentsia. Isn’t that strange for a party that professes Marxism and Leninism, which are both European in origin?
Lal Singh: Let me take up the second part of your question first. The philosophy of Marxism-Leninism is dialectical materialism. There is nothing European about that. You will find it profoundly well articulated in various ways in Indian darshan as well. It is reflected in the way the relations between man and nature and between man and man have been dealt with in Indian philosophy. Take the word darshan itself, which relates to things and phenomena revealing themselves to the seeker. Darshan posits the objectivity of nature and its phenomena. Or, take for example the concept of awagaman, which is a profound statement of matter in motion, of things and phenomena constantly coming into being and passing away and not being static. Further, take the concept of zero. Besides its application in number theory and mathematics, it represents a sandhi, where opposites coexist and cancel each other, much like the twilight zone where light and darkness coexist and cancel each other. In fact at sandhi you cannot say which way situation will turn, towards darkness or light. Unfortunately darshan has been reduced by Eurocentrics to religious spiritualism and divine revelation.
Macaulay and a host of Indologists and Orientalists, who acted as the ideological spearhead of colonialism, did not understand or want to understand the content or context of Indian darshan. They had the agenda of proving to the ‘natives’ that their salvation lies in embracing English liberalism, Calvinism, agnosticism, Utilitarianism and consider being ruled by the British as a privilege. This required breaking the moral and ideological fibre of the Indians. Hence they depicted every aspect of Indian culture and philosophy as otherworldly at best, and as crass superstition and “mumbo jumbo” at worst. They also painted pre-British Indian society in colours that could only be abhorred by a modern man. They implemented this systematically through their commentaries, even translations and of course the education system. Generations of Indian intellectuals became victims of this agenda. We can understand the strategy and tactics of colonial marauders, but sixty years on, do we see serious questioning of Eurocentrism? A majority of political parties are busy glorifying and defending the colonial legacy in the form of the Indian state, parliamentary representative democracy, capitalism and a myriad of divisions based on caste and faith, which were institutionalized by the colonial state. Thus, we cannot settle accounts with our ancient heritage without settling accounts with the colonial legacy.
Shivanand: There are several people, who are speaking against Eurocentrism with dubious intentions.
Lal Singh: Rediscovery of Indian philosophy and theory by Indian minds, and its elaboration in forms suitable to the present day needs, would be widely welcomed by masses of Indian people. It will help in taking the struggle of workers and peasants forward, to establish their own rule. In such a popular endeavour there would be elements who might flaunt the banner of struggle against Eurocentrism to preserve the status quo, or to arouse sectarian passions or justify the emergence of India as a big power. But isn’t that the fate of everything which can mobilize the spirit of people for change? Take banners of socialism, revolution, and people’s rule. Have they not been used for all kinds of dubious activities against the interests of people? So I do not think we should be worried if some people have dubious intentions in this struggle against Eurocentrism. The main thing is to examine our own history, philosophy, literature, culture, aesthetics, criticism, traditions and practices with fresh eyes. Eyes which are not Eurocentric. We might understand many things, we might approve of some of them and find them useful for solving today’s problems. We might disapprove of some. It will involve rejection of Macaulayan prejudices towards everything Indian and looking towards Europe for all enlightenment. The scope of this project is vast. While our party has made its intentions clear and is doing its bit, the project needs the energies of a vast number of people with varied expertise. On top of it there is the added factor of India having a strong oral tradition. The knowledge and wisdom contained in our people’s oral traditions are not to be found in any library or erudite tome but in the field of the mass movement.
This project of developing Indian theory will necessarily involve scholars with a fresh set of eyes and millions of ordinary people and activists summing up their historical experience objectively in the mass movement. Though it appears daunting, it is an exciting project and that too in an exciting period where the capitalist system has totally failed and the alternative is waiting to be elaborated after summing up the experiences of socialism in the 20th century.
Shivanand: You have made a difference in some of your literature between secularism and the movement for secularization. You do not seem to find secularism a virtue of Indian state at all. Secularism has become a label that every progressive loves to sport, but you see problems with it. Can you explain?
Lal Singh: The movement for secularization in Europe was revolutionary and it helped the European bourgeoisie in establishing their rule by overthrowing the feudal system, of which the Church was a big part. But soon they found that the working masses, whose support they needed to carry out the revolutions, were getting too radicalized. The European bourgeoisie then dropped the revolutionary content of the movement for secularization. They converted it into formal secularism on the one hand and pacts with religious clergy on the other. An example of this formal secularism is what the French are discussing today, about turbans and head scarves, or the agnosticism of English bourgeoisie, and their idea of “not taking sides”
In India the Bhakti lehar was part of the movement for secularization. It not only called for the liberation of the masses of people from the clutches of cunning priests and meaningless rituals but also from discrimination based on caste, community and gender. Indian tradition has always upheld the right to conscience as inviolable.
The Indian bourgeoisie has followed in the footsteps of the British colonialists. The communal foundations of the State have been retained, based on defining India as consisting of a Hindu majority and a Muslim and other religious minorities. The notion has been perpetuated that Indian people are communal while the State is an instrument to maintain communal harmony. This is the opposite of the truth. It is understandable that the major parties of the Indian bourgeoisie, such as the BJP and the Congress Party, continue to follow the colonial methods and the colonial outlook. What is not understandable and not at all acceptable is that some who call themselves communists and Marxists should also be following the agenda set by the British colonial bourgeoisie!
In our opinion the notion that the Indian State has ‘secular foundations’ acts as a roadblock to the struggle of the working class and oppressed masses to end communalism and all forms of medievalism, including the caste system. It fosters the harmful illusion that we can rely on the present day Indian State for achieving these objectives.
Shivanand: It has been a highly thought provoking conversation. We will continue this in the future as well. Thank you.
(This interview appeared in the Ghadar Jari Hai -- The Revolt Continues, Vol II, No. 2 April-June 2008)

Saturday 14 June 2008

Financial Express: Sand to Silicon

Intel’s India Plans Got Shot Down Once

Sunday , February 15, 2004
http://www.financialexpress.com/news/Intels-India-Plans-Got-Shot-Down-Once/99360/0
Chitra Phadnis, Financial Express
In today’s world, all of us are users of high technology. Most of us are familiar with the jargon and perhaps some of us even flaunt it without a proper understanding of what all of it is really about. For someone, who would like to know how the World Wide Web came into being, or what a chip really does, Mr Shivanand Kanavi’s maiden book, Sand To Silicon has all the answers.

Mr Kanavi, now executive editor of Business India, is a “theoretical physicist” from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, who writes frequently on business and technology. He has in the past, also been a lecturer and a development consul- tant. He attempts a ‘‘pop’’ history of digital technology — the pop part of it surprisingly easy to understand, considering the complexity of the subject. The book may not be everyone’s idea of bed-time reading, but it does explain the evolution of computing, communication and convergence, the history of micro electronics, starting with the semicondutor and how the chip came into being, followed by the computer and the PC (personal computer) and finally networking, telecommunications and the Internet, as we know them.

Mr Kanavi simplifies technology for the common man, using ordinary, if unusual, metaphors. The chip manufacturing process, for instance, is likened to stencil printing, writing on a grain of rice and layering a cake. The easy writing obviously comes from Mr Kanavi’s understanding of the subject, the enormous research and work that has gone into the book, and the fact that he has been a technology journalist for the last ten years.

A couple of things do strike the reader about his style.

This is not just a technology expert writing a smart book, targeted at an international readership. Mr Kanavi seems to be proud to be an Indian. His book is international enough to be about technology in general, but he takes care to underscore the Indian contribution to global advances in technology.

The book is very Indian in experience too, as Mr Kanavi writes of the tremendous strides in telecommunications the country has made. He manages to draw out a smile too sometimes, with for instance, his description of the classic “trunk call” of 20 years ago. Remember how people booked calls, waited to be connected through an operator, shouted conversations into the telephone, and then wasted precious time asking the guy at the other end if they could be heard? That story also drives home the huge leaps that have taken place in technology since.

There are other tidbits of information, like how the Indian government rejected a proposal from Intel to set up a chip company in the 1960s. (Ironically, today it is wooing the company for more investments.) Attitudes such as this created the dichotomy between Indians and India, he says, pointing out that while individuals have always done well in technology when they went abroad, their growth had been stunted within the country, by various restrictions.

The book has been sponsored by The Tata Group, which “supported the author financially during the research and writing of the book”. The foreword by the sponsors describes it as a “commemorative tribute” to Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, “the visionary who laid the foundation of modern Indian industry” and Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, “who reached out to new frontiers in industry and technology”. The book does indeed look at the evolution of digital technology from the beginning of the 20th Century.

In the preface, Mr Kanavi says that he proposes to use an ‘‘informal walk about style’’ and ‘‘chat’’ about technology — a promise that he delivers on.

Financial Express: Book Review Sand to Silicon

Intel’s India Plans Got Shot Down Once

Sunday , February 15, 2004
Chitra Phadnis, Financial Express

In today’s world, all of us are users of high technology. Most of us are familiar with the jargon and perhaps some of us even flaunt it without a proper understanding of what all of it is really about. For someone, who would like to know how the World Wide Web came into being, or what a chip really does, Mr Shivanand Kanavi’s maiden book, Sand To Silicon has all the answers.

Mr Kanavi, now executive editor of Business India, is a “theoretical physicist” from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, who writes frequently on business and technology. He has in the past, also been a lecturer and a development consul- tant. He attempts a ‘‘pop’’ history of digital technology — the pop part of it surprisingly easy to understand, considering the complexity of the subject. The book may not be everyone’s idea of bed-time reading, but it does explain the evolution of computing, communication and convergence, the history of micro electronics, starting with the semicondutor and how the chip came into being, followed by the computer and the PC (personal computer) and finally networking, telecommunications and the Internet, as we know them.

Mr Kanavi simplifies technology for the common man, using ordinary, if unusual, metaphors. The chip manufacturing process, for instance, is likened to stencil printing, writing on a grain of rice and layering a cake. The easy writing obviously comes from Mr Kanavi’s understanding of the subject, the enormous research and work that has gone into the book, and the fact that he has been a technology journalist for the last ten years.

A couple of things do strike the reader about his style.

This is not just a technology expert writing a smart book, targeted at an international readership. Mr Kanavi seems to be proud to be an Indian. His book is international enough to be about technology in general, but he takes care to underscore the Indian contribution to global advances in technology.

The book is very Indian in experience too, as Mr Kanavi writes of the tremendous strides in telecommunications the country has made. He manages to draw out a smile too sometimes, with for instance, his description of the classic “trunk call” of 20 years ago. Remember how people booked calls, waited to be connected through an operator, shouted conversations into the telephone, and then wasted precious time asking the guy at the other end if they could be heard? That story also drives home the huge leaps that have taken place in technology since.

There are other tidbits of information, like how the Indian government rejected a proposal from Intel to set up a chip company in the 1960s. (Ironically, today it is wooing the company for more investments.) Attitudes such as this created the dichotomy between Indians and India, he says, pointing out that while individuals have always done well in technology when they went abroad, their growth had been stunted within the country, by various restrictions.

The book has been sponsored by The Tata Group, which “supported the author financially during the research and writing of the book”. The foreword by the sponsors describes it as a “commemorative tribute” to Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, “the visionary who laid the foundation of modern Indian industry” and Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, “who reached out to new frontiers in industry and technology”. The book does indeed look at the evolution of digital technology from the beginning of the 20th Century.

In the preface, Mr Kanavi says that he proposes to use an ‘‘informal walk about style’’ and ‘‘chat’’ about technology — a promise that he delivers on.

The Hindu, Sand to Silicon

India shining? IT's there, everywhere!

http://www.hindu.com/seta/2003/12/25/stories/2003122500241600.htm

These are strange times, when the global media speaks of `India rising' and discusses the `threat' posed by Indian technology to the West. In this year end appraisal, Anand Parthasarathy finds Indian ingenuity all across the IT spectrum .

BIHAR'S MOST colourful politician is credited with the memorable question: `Yeh IT, YT kya hai? Will it bring rain to the drought stricken?' Clearly, it cannot, but thirty years into the computer revolution, we are fairly confident that it can help us manage our drought relief programmes better. That is because, late starter though India was, it has carved out its own special space in the Information Technology (IT) arena and Indian expertise and talent drives key sectors of the computers-and-communication business worldwide.

A new book, out last week, chronicles possibly for the first time — the story from a `desi' perspective and weaves Indian achievers and achievements into the very fabric of IT and its brief international history. Sand to Silicon: The Amazing Story of Digital Technology is the work of technology journalist Shivanand Kanavi, currently Executive Editor of Business India magazine. It is published by Tata McGraw-Hill (www.tatamcgrawhill.com), costs Rs. 295, and reading it, will make every Indian proud.

While tracing key developments in semiconductor and computer technology, Mr Kanavi repeatedly reminds readers of Indian contributions that tend to get overlooked: Jagdish Chandra Bose created a semiconductor microwave detector using iron and mercury in his lab in Kolkata in 1897, the year Marconi used a version in his wireless radio receiver.

When Neville Mott received the Nobel Prize in 1977 for his work in solid-state electronics, he remarked "Bose was at least 60 years ahead of his time." In the 1980s, while the first microprocessors went under the hoods of the first personal computers, Pallab Chatterjee at Texas Instruments was honing the technology to pack more transistors on to a slab of silicon and Tom Kailath at Stanford University developed the signal processing to compensate for the effect of `masking' during chip production.

Kanavi reminds us of the work of Indians behind key milestones in computer history: Vinod Khosla co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982, a company that created the PC workstation. Vinod Dham at Intel, created that company's most successful chip ever — the Pentium. The book pays tribute to pioneers of mainframe computer programming in India — R. Narasimhan at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR); H. Kesavan and V. Rajaraman of IIT Kanpur... a tradition that continued into the 21st century when in August 2002, Manindra Agrawal of the same IIT, with two students, won global recognition for solving the centuries-old problem of how to test for prime numbers.

The foray into Indian language computing aids was led by Mohan Tambe at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) while it is rarely appreciated that a significant part in the development of that industry-standard presentation software, Powerpoint, was played by Vijay Vashee at Microsoft. The birth of the Internet spawned a new generation of Indian technologists like Sabeer Bhatia who created the Web's first free email service, Hotmail; Arun Netravali, now Chief Scientist at Lucent Technologies, who provided key building blocks for video streaming and digital satellite TV, and N. Jayant of Bell Labs who helped create the MPEG standard for audio compression.

One could go on and on, digging such fascinating facts from Kanavi's Indian `take' on global technology. Rather than lifting large chunks from his work, let me share with readers a few bits of `thaja khabar' emanating from India's silicon city, Bangalore in recent days. These days, every other announcement of a new IT development seems to involve Indian ingenuity somewhere in the process... often in the unlikeliest corners.
Consider:
* In Mumbai, recently during the Intel Developer Forum, I bumped into Krishna Srinivasan, Executive Vice President of Sandhill Systems, an Indian IT company based in San Jose, California (U.S.). His core work is an example of e-governance osmosis in reverse. Sandhill has created E-Forms and a complimentary server, `SubmitIT' that key US federal departments are using for the electronic capture and transmission of a variety of citizen forms.

* When P.V. Kannan, founder CEO of the California- based 24/7 Customer, voice and email-based support services player told me last week that his company boasted 20 master Black Belts, I wondered when Karate had became a qualification in the call centre. I soon realized he was taking of the Six Sigma Black Belt given for quality of service, not kicks. The company is the first Indian contact centre ever, to receive the ISO 9002 certification.

* Another US Silicon Valley-based company, SiNett Semiconductors, will soon unveil the world's first multi gigabit System on a Chip (SoC) for wireless networking applications... with 150 million transistors on board. Last week co founder and CEO Shiri Kadambi was in Bangalore to help set up an R&D centre here.

* Two graduate students from the Karnataka Regional Engineering College Aravind Melligeri and Ajit Prabhu founded QuEST in Schenectady, New York. Today, the company provides critical solutions in aerospace, automotive and power generation industry leaders. Their crash analysis work is used by leading manufacturers in Detroit to build better cars. Their testing and analysis of aero engine turbines, bolsters new designs that roll out from GE, Pratt and Whitney and other globally respected brand names that go into the Boeing and other passenger aircraft. And 80 per cent of their engineering muscle is located at Whitefield, Bangalore.

* When Hewlett Packard decided to participate at the Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) expo at the UN- sponsored World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva earlier this month, they decided to project some of the exciting initiatives in their `e-inclusion' programme .. to take IT to the rural heartland of the world's developing nations. So what was the key exhibit? Scriptmail, a handy device on which one can scribble a message in Kannada or Hindi or Telugu and see it converted into machine readable format and then emailed so that it can then be received and seen exactly the way it was entered. The product was developed at HP Labs, Bangalore, by Indian engineers.

As the Net becomes all pervasive, so seemingly is the inventive reach of Indian ingenuity. And on the global IT road map, each of these developments is one more meaningful signpost for a nation whose earthy goals were elegantly expressed by her most fervent techno-evangelist, the late Dewang Mehta: ` Roti, kapda, makaan, bijlee aur bandwidth.'