Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sarvajnya: A 16th C radical encyclopedic poet

Sarvajnya: A radical encyclopedic

Shivanand Kanavi draws a portrait of Sarvajnya, the radical poet who strode through Karnataka of 16th century, about whose personal life little is known

A group of writers led by Diderot, d’Alembert, Rousseau and Voltaire, created the Encyclopedia in 18th century France and thus came to be known as Encyclopedists. They were all fired with a common purpose: to further knowledge and, by so doing, strike a resounding blow against reactionary forces in the church and state. The underlying philosophy was rationalism and a qualified faith in the progress of the human mind. Their work proved to be far more revolutionary and radical than their contemporaries had envisioned and had an indelible impact on the French Revolution.

Roughly two hundred years prior to the French enlightenment, strode a poet all over Karnataka who also called himself an encyclopedic—a Sarvajnya. Normally in the Indian tradition there is great humility and display of one’s learning is frowned upon. The word Sarvajnya is more often used to ridicule those ignoramuses who act as ‘know-all’s. But Sarvajnya was unabashed and truly used his poetic skills to comment on all sorts of subjects from the daily life of people. His poems talk about agriculture and different professions; about the joys and problems of family life; about the caste system; about hollow religious rituals; about all the four goals in life, dharma, artha, kama and moksha and so on with a great sweep and with profound wisdom.

His tools were biting satire as well as gentle humour. At the same time these aphoristic pearls of wisdom became so popular that one could find manuscripts recording them in ordinary villagers’ homes as well as in royal palaces. In fact over a period of time, they have become substitutes for proverbs. Rev Chennappa Uttangi (1881-1962) did a yeoman service by traveling all over Karnataka for nearly a quarter century from village to village to collect and edit over 2000 of Sarvajnya’s vachanas or poems and published them in 1924. Sarvajnya is spoken of with the same affection and respect, by the ordinary folk and the learned alike as Vemana in Telugu and Tiruvalluvar in Tamil.

Sarvajnya’s poems are marked by high poetic qualities as well. Besides using analogies, allegories, alliteration, puns and double entendres they use simple pure Kannada words. Sarvajnya not only used the folk idiom and language but also a common folk metre called the tripadi—three liner and raised it to great heights. His amazing control over the form of tripadi has led to literary critics comparing him to the mythological Bali who is supposed to have used three foot steps to cover heaven earth and hell.

His influence over later poets is deep and extends up to the present day. He was greatly admired by D R Bendre (1896-1981), who himself was one of the great poets of 20th century. Bendre said of Sarvajnya, “His poems are like an instruction manual to all writers. They are marked by: the most appropriate choice of words; correct analogies and metaphors; the truth in his examples and allegories; breadth of experience and nuanced sensitivity of observations. The morals in his vachanas are not dry preachings; they are filled with the sensuality of subhashita and mixed with subtle humour”.

However other than what we learn of his rational world outlook and honest expression we know very little of this towering itinerant iconoclast who strode Karnataka nearly 500 years ago. Dating him is also rough and is based on the fact that a work written in 1600 CE refers to Sarvajnya. As for the faith or caste he was born into again there have been guesses but no confirmation. His vachanas indicate his leanings towards Veerashaivism. But it would be a sign of extreme narrow mindedness to put this radical in a straight jacket of faith and caste. Some autobiographical poems imply that he was born in Masoor near Dharwad.

A few of his vachanas have been translated below by the author. As is usual in such cases, translation can only give a sense of their content but not the literary and cultural richness.

The Yogi has no caste, the wise one is not stubborn
The sky has no pillar to hold it up, the heaven
Does not have a ghetto for the outcaste, says Sarvajnya.

The world is born out of the unclean
The Brahmin however says “don’t touch me I am clean”
Then where was he born, asks Sarvajnya.

Bones, entrails, nerves, skin, holes, cavities
And fl esh with all kinds of excretion, constitute all beings
Where then is the justifi cation for caste asks Sarvajnya.

We walk on the same earth and drink the same water
We are all burnt by the same fi re, then where does
Caste and gotra come from asks Sarvajnya.

They bring drinking water from the same source and cook
But do not want to sit together and eat
Sarvajnya does not need such people.

The fi ngers count, the tongue multiplies
But if the mind is distracted
Then it is like a street dog says Sarvajnya.

Ganga, Godavari, Tungabhadra and Krishna
You dipped in all of them, but you did not realize the God
within you asks Sarvajnya.

If dipping in holy water the Brahmin jumps straight to
the heaven, then why won't a frog in the same water
Jump up too asks Sarvajnya.

If Sandal wood on the forehead takes you straight to
heaven then why not the stone
On which you make its paste, asks Sarvajnya.

If three holy threads take you to heaven
Then why not someone wearing
An entire rug asks Sarvajnya.

If a thick coat of ashes takes you to the heavens
Then why not a poor
Donkey wallowing in it, asks Sarvajnya.

In a crore of professions agriculture is the highest,
Agriculture leads to textiles too
Else the country itself would be in trouble, says Sarvajnya.

If you tell the truth as you see it they get upset
That is why it is very diffi cult to see people who speak
the truth as they see it, on this earth, says Sarvajnya.

And lastly,

One does not become a Sarvajnya through arrogance
By humbly learning a word from everyone
Sarvajnya became a mountain of knowledge

These are but a few samples. It is difficult to choose from a treasure house of over 2000 of Sarvajnya’s poems where he covers a vast number of topics in everyday life.

It is appropriate that recently the governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu commemorated Tiruvalluvar and Sarvajnya through unveiling their statues in each other’s states. However, a more concerted effort should be made to introduce Indians to the rich diversity of cultures and literature from different regions and languages of India.

Reference: Sarvajnya Vachana Sangraha , Selected Vachanas of Sarvajna, Compiled by M.Mariyappa Bhat, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1996

From: Ghadar Jari Hai, Vol III, Issue 3 & 4, July-Dec 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Girish Karnad's play: Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan’s dreams

Shivanand Kanavi appreciates a play by Girish Karnad

‘Tippuvina Kanasugalu’ (Kannada), Manohar Grantha Mala, Dharwad
Also in English Translation: Two Plays by Girish Karnad - The Dreams of Tipu Sultan/Bali: The Sacrifice, Oxford India Paperbacks, Oxford University Press, 2005

The great warrior king Tipu Sultan, known as the Tiger of Mysore, stood valiantly in the way of wily British colonialism in India. His statecraft was forward looking and was marked not only by burning patriotism but also by administrative efficiency, agricultural development, manufacturing, international and inter-kingdom diplomacy, sericulture, gold mining and refining, pearl culture, toy making, foreign trade, rocketry and development of military technology and manufacturing. However the well known playwright Girish Karnad brings to our notice a little known fact that Tipu was also literally a dreamer. He actually kept a journal where he noted down his nocturnal dreams. Karnad weaves his play around this fact.

It would be great fun to watch a production of the play in appropriate historical surroundings like Delhi’s Purana Kila, but even a reading of the play leads to admiration for the heroic-tragic personality of Tipu as well as the craftsmanship of the playwright.

It is not easy writing historical fiction. There will always be critics looking for historical accuracy. However, if one wanted factual history, one should read a history tome and not fiction. On the other hand there are those who use their characters, historical or otherwise, to mouth the author’s own lemmas and dilemmas. The characters just become cardboard messengers of the author’s ‘message’ and never come alive. If one were to engage in a serious polemic or put forward a thesis then one could write an essay and not dabble in fiction. However we see a large number of authors succumbing to these two extremes. It is only truly good writers who raise their fiction above essays or polemical propaganda. This play proves that Karnad belongs to that select few.

True to the panoramic canvas of nearly twenty years of Tipu’s confrontation with British colonialism, involving three Anglo-Mysore wars, Karnad creates a cornucopia of interesting characters: the serendipitous historian Kirmani; Col Colin Mc-Kenzie who is studying Arthashastra and pushing for a definitive history of Tipu Sultan, typifying Orientalist scholarship when he says “we want to understand our enemy”; the upstart Arthur Wellesley pushed into the limelight by his brother, though he went on later to become famous as the Duke of Wellington after the battle of Waterloo; Richard Wellesley or Lord Mornington, the Governor General, scheming against Cornwallis and pushing his brother Arthur forward with a ‘plum’ position; the ambitious Cornwallis waiting to avenge his humiliation in America; the politically naive Maratha, Haripant, and of course the warrior-dreamer Tipu and his children.

Karnad raises several questions: regarding the clichéd British colonial statecraft of chicanery and divide and rule; the short-sightedness of Maratha tactics; Tipu’s lack of killer instinct and so on, but never imposes his own conclusions. He leaves many tantalizing loose ends so that the reader or the viewer can draw his own. He weaves historical facts regarding Tipu’s progressive statecraft effortlessly into the dialogue.

Many may not know that Karnad’s major as an undergraduate was mathematics. Perhaps as a result one discerns a precision and leanness and balance in his prose. Overall it is an enjoyable play that packs so much in so few pages.

From: Ghadar Jari Hai—The Revolt Continues, Vol III, No. 3&4, July-Dec, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

History and Philosophy of Mathematics: C K Raju

Excerpts of this interview appeared in:
Ghadar Jari Hai—The Revolt Continues, Vol III, No. 3&4, July-Dec, 2009

Peepul ke Neeche

“Indian mathematics is practical whereas the European is metaphysical”

C K Raju has been arguing passionately through several lectures and books about the uniqueness of ancient Indian mathematics and how it influenced the rest of the world. He says what is taught as standard modern mathematics today, is based on theological positions taken by the Church after the Crusades. Shivanand Kanavi conversed with Raju on the results of his research in the history and philosophy of mathematics.

Shivanand: Dr Raju welcome to peepul ke neeche conversation. Having looked at some of your writings, I see that you have researched deeply into the mathematical tradition of India as well as that of Persia, Arabia and Europe. Could you give us an overview of exchanges between India and West Asia in the field of mathematics?

Raju: As I have stated in the book (Is Science Western in Origin?—C K Raju), the process of exchange with Arabs started with Barmakids (barmak from pramukh, Persian-Buddhists who were wazirs to Abbasid Khalifas--Ed), this was around 8th century CE, after the conquest of Persia by the Arabs. Besides the spread of Islam in Persia, Persian customs spread to the Arabs. There was a tradition in Persia of importing knowledge from all over the world. It was based on a philosophy which regarded knowledge itself as virtue, like the Socratic philosophy. So, to make people virtuous you gather knowledge from all corners of the world. It was begun by Khusrow Noshirvan in the 6th century. At that time Justinian closed all the schools of philosophy in the Roman empire and many philosophers took refuge in the court of Noshirvan. According to the Shahnama [of Firdausi] his wazir came to India and took chess, Panchatantra etc. back to Persia. There was also an astronomical tradition in Jundishapur (Gundeshapur) in Persia. This astronomy also traveled from India. Which is interesting, because Khusrow’s court already had the most knowledgeable people in the Roman empire and if the Almagest (Almagest is the Latin form of the Arabic name al-kitabu-l-mijisti, (The Great Book) of a mathematical and astronomical treatise proposing the complex motions of the stars and planetary paths, originally written in Greek by Ptolemy of Alexandria, Egypt, written in the 2nd century. The Almagest is the most important source of information on ancient Greek astronomy-Ed) or any other advanced astronomical text existed at that time then it would have been similarly collected and translated, but we do not hear about it. On the contrary, the Almagest itself starts off by addressing an unknown “Cyrus”. So it was probably constructed in Persia. Certainly, Greek knowledge was translated into Persian and later into Arabic. But, so far as astronomy is concerned we know that the very fact that first it went [from India] to Persia and then Baghdad shows that Greek knowledge at that point did not compare in any way with the present-day versions of Ptolemy’s Almagest. There was also a strong tradition of neo-Platonism which came through texts in Greek language [though probably it originated in Egypt]. This was called the “theology of Aristotle”, and that was the primary extent of “Greek” knowledge at that time. There was no Greek knowledge available from Byzantium at that time since all the schools of philosophy there had been closed. [We also know that Arabic knowledge travelled in the other direction, to Greek texts.] The proof is that Panchatantra is translated from Sanskrit to Pahlavi (and you find its reference in Firdausi’s Shahnama) and from Pahlavi it was translated into Arabic and then from Arabic to Greek. Among the Arabs it became the basis of a movement –Ikhwan as- Safa (the Brethren of Purity); so we know the route that knowledge took from India to Greek texts, and it also traveled directly [as in Ashoka’s time when Indian texts and medicinal plants went to Alexandria]. The process really took off with Bayt al hikma (The House of Wisdom at Baghdad) which was linked to Islamic rational theology which valued knowledge as a virtue. It was closely related to aql-i-kalaam, which meant Allah has given you aql and one must apply that aql in order to interpret the Koran.

SK: Which were the sources from which knowledge was gathered in Persia?

Raju: India was one of them. I already talked about Panchatantra, medicine. Indian mathematical texts traveled to Baghdad and they were translated by Al Khwarizmi. [Because of this movement to gather knowledge in Baghdad] the demand for books increased so much that paper technology came in from China into Baghdad. We also hear in some accounts that things came from what are called Greeks [but were from Alexandria in the African continent].

SK: Was there any exchange between Persia and Greece and Persia and India during Alexander’s (Sikander) travel through Persia up to India?

Raju: There is an account in the Zoroastrian book of Nativity that Alexander got his books from the Persian emperor and got them translated. The question is: what happened to them? Presumably, some of them [the looted books] went to Aristotle [Alexander’s teacher] and some of them went to the corpus of the library of Alexandria. Aristotle was supposed to be the first person in Greece to have a library so where did his books come from?

SK: That does not sound very different from Elgin’s marbles!

Raju: (Laughs) Yes. People have not talked about the sources of books for the library of Alexandria. It could not have been those small city states in Greece, which did not have the capacity to produce them. If you look at the trial of Socrates, there were supposed to be 600-odd jurors. If you take ten persons in the population for every citizen then there would still be only about 5-6000 people in Athens so how could they produce the books on the scale of the library of Alexandria—half a million books as is normally mentioned? Only a Persia or an Egypt could have done that.
In the case of Alexander, as with other military conquerors, knowledge flows towards them in the case of barbarian incursions.

SK: Such a large collection of books in those days must have been accumulated over a long time and must have preceded Alexander also.

Raju: Exactly! It must have taken a very, very long time. Papyrus was very expensive [so it also took a lot of resources].

SK: I said this because when I was in Deccan College, Pune, I found that they are putting together a Sanskrit dictionary and after eight volumes they are still in ‘a’since they are adding on contextual meaning as a word occurs in different canonical Sanskrit texts. They have chosen 1500 classical Sanskrit works to do so, which include natya shastra, vastu shastra, ayurveda, literary and philosophical texts and so on. If they are considering 1500 as fairly representative of canonical Sanskrit texts then to have hundreds of thousands of works it must have taken many centuries and many civilisational sources.

Raju: Exactly and that is the how the real corpus of books in the Library of Alexandria accumulated. In fact, how many Greek texts can we count? Nowhere in that neighborhood! There is no possibility that those small [Greek] states could have produced that kind of knowledge. So this entire myth making about Greeks has used this library of Alexandria. Possibly there were some texts in it that came from Greece, but nowhere in the range of half a million.

SK: There must have been Mediterranean exchanges..

Raju: The exchanges between Greece and Egypt were already taking place. Greek people like Plato, Herodotus [routinely] used to come to Egypt for higher studies. Greeks were copying Egyptian gods. Each Greek god has a counterpart in Egypt and in fact Herodotus says that explicitly.

SK: After all Egypt was a much older civilization by a couple of millennia. Did this exchange continue after the Baghdad period also?

Raju: Yes this culture of libraries spread in the entire Islamic world even in Cordoba, Spain during the Islamic period. Al Beruni when he came to India made it a point to collect knowledge of all kinds. The Baghdad book bazaar had become prominent, and this [tradition] persisted [in Islam] at least till the 12th -13th century.

SK: Arabs have been depicted as carriers and safe keepers of knowledge rather than creators of knowledge. Can you comments on that.

Raju: There is an enormous amount of evidence to the contrary. [The book mentions the case of Copernicus, where the Arabs were clearly the creators and the Europeans merely the carriers of knowledge. So] it is good to look at the question: how did this story start? (that Arabs were mere safe keepers of Greek knowledge).

SK: In fact they have been depicted as barbaric nomads killing each other, who did not have any culture till the British formed various nation states in Arabia. Thus there were Pharaohs and then there were Bedouins till the Anglo-Saxons came…

Raju: If you look at Arab literature (pre-Islamic) there is a depiction of a freewheeling society living in the desert. Post Islam, they conquered Persia and absorbed a lot of administrative structure of the Persians and then there was this culture of books and libraries. That itself shows that they had to produce books. It is a different matter that in a bazaar to get a higher price one might say not me but somebody more famous wrote this, or it was written a long time back and make it an antique etc. After all, a lot of things happen in a market. It is undeniable that Arabs were creative and made contributions so one should look at when did the story start that Arabs are only safe keepers. It started during the Crusades. They [the Christians of Europe] were fighting a religious war and Europe had a tradition of book burning. In fact, there were many fiats [by Christian emperors] right from 4th century to burn books. The library of Alexandria was burnt down. There was a tradition of burning heretical books which included secular knowledge. Within Christendom, there was not much of a culture of books and when they were fighting the Arabs they realized that they needed secular knowledge which was available in books. They captured Toledo which had a massive library [coming from] the Umayyad khilafat. It took a lot of time [for the church] to arrive at the decision to translate those books [and not burn them]. This needed a justification. That was concocted by saying that this knowledge belongs to Greece and the Greeks were theologically ‘correct’. This was regarding early Greeks mind you, since they were pre-Christian, whereas they [the church] had conflicts with later Greeks like Proclus, Theon etc. The advantage of inventing a person like Euclid was that you can attribute a philosophy to that individual which suits you.

SK: Is there any Church document or correspondence which discusses these things?

Raju: The church does not operate like that. They are not accessible. Even what the Church did in India is not accessible. If I wish to know what happened in India during the Inquisition then I don’t get access to that even if the records exist. It is not an open archive. I would rather not demand documentary evidence. In this entire [church] tradition, so many documents have been cooked up or forged. After all, even in Delhi, periodically fires go on in so many ministries and documents get burnt (laughs). Let us look at common sense and circumstantial evidence.

SK: What do you consider as Greek contributions, you have raised some questions about their arithmetical capabilities…

Raju: It is clear from their system that it was completely inadequate to do quick sums; forget about subtractions and divisions. I don’t know what their contributions were in science. I don’t have any evidence of that. May be in theatre or other things, however there is strong evidence that some ideas including Platonic ideas come from the mystery geometry tradition of Egypt.

SK: What is mystery geometry?

Raju: I have written a new book on Euclid and the mystery geometry of Egypt. If you see how Plato looks at geometry. He says it should be taught to students in his Republic, which is an ideal state. He has written about how its citizens should be trained—he particularly talks about two subjects viz music and mathematics—in order for their souls to be virtuous. The very word mathematics comes from mathesis, which means learning. What is learning? Socrates demonstrates it by calling a slave boy and asking him questions, thereby showing that the slave boy has an intrinsic knowledge of geometry. He says this is possible because the boy has a soul and the soul is recollecting the knowledge from the previous birth. In fact, the Platonic doctrine is that “all learning is recollection”. Mathematical truths are eternal, and since the soul is eternal, by sympathetic magic they [the eternal truths] arouse the soul. Thus the function of mathematics is to arouse the soul through introspection, by taking you away from the external world. This is the idea of mystery geometry. The practical applications are of no concern to us says Plato, the moral applications are more important.

SK: There are these well known names of Pythagoras and later Archimedes..

Raju: Pythagoras is a school which indulged in mystery mathematics of numbers etc. There is an exoteric part which is told to outsiders and there an esoteric part which is told to initiates. What is the evidence of Pythagoras and the proof of his theorem? [Deductive] proof is a concept post-12th century. At that time [in Pythagoras’ time] it [geometry] was only for arousing the soul. In the mystery tradition the soul knows what truth is and that [intrinsic knowledge of the soul] is the ultimate standard [of truth]. That belief about the soul came into violent conflict with [post-Nicene] Christianity, even though that notion of soul was very much part of early Christianity of Origen. From his notes the present day Bible is derived. He was declared a heretic. The doctrine of love was entirely a mystery tradition. But, after the Church and State came together in the 4th century you could not say that everyone would be saved. There had to be some advantage in becoming a Christian. It is like the state saying I am going to treat my citizens above those of other states. It brings in a boundary: this is ours and that is theirs. That is why Proclus was declared a heretic. Because he said mathematics deals with eternal truths, since the soul is eternal, therefore the cosmos should also be eternal. That goes against the [church] doctrine: for then there will be no creation and no apocalypse, so he was declared a heretic. So was the case of Hypatia and her father Theon (both prominent mathematicians from Alexandria—Ed). Clearly Christianity was uncomfortable with this interpretation of Elements and looked at it as heretical. Then Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) reinterpreted Elements and used it as a weapon against Islam. Basically at that point in time Christendom had realized that it was not possible to spread beyond Spain by force alone. Moreover Europe was still very poor compared to the Arabs and they still coveted that money [the Arabs had]. Even though it [the Crusades] was called a religious war, it was motivated by material concerns. Like the Iraq war, which is not based on moral concerns, but on the oil wealth in the region.
Since it could not be done by warfare the church realized that it also had to adopt the method of argumentation and discourse. Quoting the [Christian] scriptures would not work with the Arabs. Thus, a third ground had to be found. That was found in the neo-Platonism that had already fascinated Islam in the form of aql-i-kalaam or falsafaa. Therefore, Aquinas realized that reason was needed to influence the Arabs. Thus, after Augustine, there was a second period of change in the Christian theological doctrine in the post-Crusade era. It was called Christian rational theology and was an adaptation of Islamic rational theology. This tried to establish universal principles of ‘proof’ [to persuade the Islamic Arabs]. That is where Elements came in.

SK: But did this not create a dichotomy within Christianity, how do you reconcile faith with reason?

Raju: It did indeed. Initially a whole lot of books ascribed to Aristotle, were banned and placed on the Index, since they were thought to be contrary to the doctrines of the Church. But then there was a whole army of people working on it who were trying to reconcile these contradictory beliefs. So it took time for “Aristotle” to be accepted into the [Christian] system. There was a process of absorption via reinterpretation. Thus Elements was reinterpreted from the tradition of mystery geometry to something which gives you a universal ‘proof’.

SK: It is like Vedanta, which says everyone is a part of the Brahman, at the same time it coexisted with the caste system…

Raju: Yes, for example there is this famous story of Shankaracharya and the chandaal, where he prostrates himself in front of the chandaal, but later it is reinterpreted. It is said that chandaal was actually a reincarnation of Shiva etc..

SK: One of the important theses put forward by you is that mathematics has cultural foundations. Can you say that there is an Indian way of doing mathematics if so what are its features?

Raju: There are some clear cut features. In India there was just one notion of proof of praman which was applied everywhere: be it philosophy, mathematics or physics. The first praman was pratyaksh. Empirical means were accepted as proof. This you find in sulbasutras, in Aryabhata, and right down to Yuktibhasha. For example the so called ‘Pythagorean theorem’ could be proved by drawing the triangle on a palm leaf, and it could be shown that the square on the ‘diagonal’ was equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. This could be shown by cutting, rotating etc. Whereas the European tradition would disagree and say that mathematics is purely metaphysical and by bringing in motion you are bringing in physics and it violates the basic idea of geometry as concerned with immovable space. That is one major source of tension. [Secondly], today the notion of proof is seen in a very rigid manner in a completely metaphysical way. How do you carry out deduction? on what logical basis? This is unclear in the Indian tradition. After all there are different systems of logic which are prevalent. There is the Jain system of syadvad and saptabhangi, there is Buddhist logic of chatuskoti and so on. In fact, in the debates between Naiyayikas and Buddhists over a thousand year period you find that they are not addressing each other’s issues because of differing concepts of anumaan [or deduction]. But Europeans declare their logic as universal, when it is not. There is a third aspect which I have called zeroism, which has to do with what is mathematics good for. In the neo-Platonic view it is good for the soul. The European view is that mathematics is good for providing proof. But in India, the aim of mathematics was not to provide praman but to do something vyavaharik, something practical, which is removed from soul etc. If I am doing something vyavaharik, I don’t mind making approximations. If I am computing, then the computer is going to make so many approximations. Many things are discarded or zeroed, and that is acceptable. However European mathematics demands perfection where you cannot discard the smallest entity. The belief in perfection comes from a religious view of mathematics. It then gets into theology that God made the world and he wrote the laws in the language of mathematics [which must hence be perfect]. In India it is calculations.

SK: The word for mathematics in India is ganit that is counting..

Raju: Yes it is numerical calculation. There are proofs and they can be empirical and one particular logic is not considered universal. [So proofs are not the focal concern.]

SK: When pratyaksh praman is not available you bring in inference etc. Clearly mathematics was considered something physical. Can you explain the concept of universalism that is prevalent in mathematics.

Raju: Universality is factually incorrect. The way mathematics was done in India was different from Europe. So the Indian place value system and algorithms or calculus took such a long time to be absorbed by the Europeans. Metaphysics is never universal. The moment mathematical proof becomes metaphysical it ceases to be universal. In fact it can become ‘universal’ only to the extent that it is demonstrable empirically (pratyaksh). Universality is just a European prejudice as they are ill informed about other cultures, so they declare universality from a parochial point of view.

SK: The crude way in which universality is put forward is by saying that 2+2=4, no matter where you are in Greece or Arabia, India or China…

Raju: It is not true, and I have argued it at great length in my paper presented in Hawaii. Let us say we are using a computer to add. 2+2 is a complicated case, so let us take 1+1, The answer could be 1 or even 0 depending on what kind of logic gate one is using. So, I have to specify and say I am using integers. But what are integers? If I do arithmetic with integers on computers say using a C program on a 16 bit machine it will not give 2 as the answer but something else unless I do rounding off. In order to specify what are integers I need infinite time and infinite memory. In a commercial transaction we get into an agreement saying Rs 2 plus Rs 2 would be Rs 4. But that is an agreement. It is not a universal truth. If I have two stones and if I take up two more stones then I get four stones but if I break one of them into two then I get five stone pieces. So I have to be careful about them as universal truths. At a practical level there is no problem. Even if there is no formal agreement or legal frame work, I would simply say you broke the stone. An agreement is not a universal truth or ultimate truth etc.

SK: The statement that numbers are metaphysical transcendental, entities is itself a metaphysical statement.

Raju: That is exactly the point. So long as you are in the domain of convenience it is fine. If you look at Indian texts they will have numbers with 18 digits. What will you do if you need more? you go to 20, 30 or 40 places for a particular purpose. Normally you don’t need more than 18 places. Yajurved goes only till 12 places. Aryabhat goes to 18 places. It is a matter of convenience, but you never go to an infinity of places. That is also how computer arithmetic is done. You round off after some time, and that is perfectly fine but then don’t talk about universal truth.
There is an example given in ethno-mathematics. Suppose I have borrowed two fish from you and I have returned two fish. It won’t do if I have borrowed two big fish and then returned two tiny fish. There is a sense of exchange and fairness involved, not universal truth.

SK: What is the European view on standard of proof etc.

Raju: There is the Platonic deprecation of the empirical. Then there is the clerical elevation of metaphysics over the empirical. The clergy said the metaphysical is a higher truth than the empirical truth. That is fallacious. Metaphysics is decided by a coterie.
What Hilbert did is that he analysed the Elements from this perspective: for example, the proposition 1.4 [of the Elements] or the SAS [Side-Angle-Side] theorem involves physical movement in space, like the Yuktibhasha proof of the “Pythagorean Theorem”. They said the empirical has got into mathematics, which [empirical] is perishable, not eternal, it involves motion hence physics, whereas geometry should be concerned only with properties of immovable space and so on.
So Hilbert said if this theorem is made a postulate then everything becomes metaphysical. Thus he removed the last vestiges of empirical elements in the ‘Elements’. Or at least he thought he did. But actually he could not because he had this notion of congruence which fails after proposition 1.35, the one which is used to derive the area of a triangle. There [in 1.35] congruence is not in the sense of being of the same shape but same area. Earlier propositions are about congruent triangles where you [may] just transfer attention from one shape to the other without moving them. Now [in 1.35] they are incongruent but they are equal in area. The word used in Elements is not “congruent” but “equal”. Equal again is related to equality of the soul as in say Advaita Vedanta which is also a political statement of equality of all people who might look dissimilar. The esoteric meaning is equality of dissimilar things. The way out taken by Hilbert is to define area. But how do you define area without defining length? But if you do define length then the entire Elements becomes trivial as Birkhoff showed with the metric. Thus by throwing out the empirical you start introducing peculiar and artificial things [like defining area without allowing length to be defined] Thus, Hilbert made mathematics completely metaphysical through his ‘axiomatic’ approach.
Now a lot of proofs in mathematics are based on reductio ad absurdum, which depends on two valued logic which would not be acceptable in the Indian tradition at all. So how are these proofs universal?
It is all based on and tightly tied to the [historical] perception that Aristotle the Greek did some logic etc. Of course, one does not even consider that what is called “Aristotelian logic” [might] actually have come from Naiyaikas, through the Arabs. It is a misnomer to call it “Aristotelian”. In my article on Logic for the Springer Encyclopedia of Non-Western Science, Technology, and Medicine, I have made this point that the Aristotelian syllogism is [historically] not to be found anywhere [in Greece]! There is a Stoic syllogism [in Alexandria], but then these things [Aristotelian syllogism] suddenly appear in Toledo and that is problematic.

SK: But syllogism is a very prominent part of Nyaya..

Raju: Yes that is the point, and we also know that Nyaya went to Baghdad. Anyway, the standard approach in mathematics is not universal but has been universalized. First there was the ignorance of Europeans and this ignorance has been universalized through the process of colonization. On the one side [in Americas] people are just killed off, and on the other side they are given Western education where they were given a fabricated history which made them feel inferior. The Indian elite in the 19th century swallowed this and found the solution in aping the west. This has persisted even after independence. My demand is Swaraj in science and in science education.

SK: The creative process is not deductive, otherwise rule-based machines could have done it. But post-facto deduction may be used to teach. However if again our students at the frontiers of research are not going to use the deductive approach then what is the use of even teaching this method?

Raju: Why is mathematics difficult? My answer to that is that math per se is not difficult. But if you look at the text of NCERT for 12th standard, and particularly in Hindi, you find terms like continuity, differentiability, formal real numbers, set theory etc. All this is extremely difficult to follow [in Hindi] even though I have studied all that. It is so terribly convoluted. Where are their primary axioms? They are in set theory, which enables me to axiomatically perform infinite processes, which I cannot ever hope to perform. With the axiom of choice I can have a choice function, I can claim its “existence” etc. It is only through such metaphysical and imaginary infinite processes that one can preserve the perfection of mathematics required by Western theology.
Apart from all these theological principles that have come in, you cannot teach set theory for 10th standard students, so you cannot teach the axiomatic deductive process today. I can do that only at the MSc level and very few people come to that level. The vast majority hence cannot be taught mathematics. You have to tell them a set is a collection of objects! A student has to be taught what is a ring and a field. What utter nonsense! It is very bad pedagogy.

SK: I see a great danger in this. The common perception is that Indians are good in mathematics and good with numbers. That comes from a different tradition than this abstract set theoretic one. By adopting this in our schools we are subverting ourselves!

Raju: That is right and that is the point I have made to the Knowledge Commission. Our culture has some good points and by dropping them we are subverting ourselves.

SK: A very senior executive the chairman of a large bank in Japan told me “We Japanese cannot do software because it is abstract we can do manufacturing very well. We can make things cheaper, faster, smaller etc but not deal with abstractions. Whereas Indian can do it well because they have a philosophic tradition which we lack.” I ventured to say “but you have Zen” and he just brushed it aside.

Raju: That is interesting. I hope it is true. But we are actually adopting counter cultural traditions. There is no discussion of all these things in the public space. I would like to build a quantum computer based on Buddhist logic of chatuskoti, but where is the space to discuss this?
We need to discuss what we need to teach. Somebody just sits behind closed doors and decides what should be taught and that is not correct. There is no reason. Just that we should continue to ape the west. This is how things are made ‘universal’ by a class which is educated in the western tradition and are treated as experts. If experts cannot engage in critical thinking then how do you expect the students to do it?
It is not possible to do computer arithmetic without discarding some part of a number. As soon as we start looking at what a floating point number is, we find that it is not part of a ring or a field or anything! The basic so called associative law is not obeyed. By the way, whose law? why “law”? These are all theological concepts, that the numbers must obey the law etc. All the standard algebraic structures are useless [for computer arithmetic].
In reality, there is a practical way of doing things which is embodied in the way these data types like floating point numbers are used, which is different from theoretical computer science. This encompasses a different philosophy which is closer to what I am talking about. I am talking about practical computation, where we can discard these things. But on what logic? not based on perfection or universalism! You tell me how many decimal places you need and I can procure them. That is where shoonyavad or zeroism comes in. Based on this zeroism I am conducting a course on “Calculus without Limits” in Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath. I am demonstrating it to show how much simpler life can be without universalism or set theory etc.
If we say we are a secular state why should we bring in theology in mathematics, after all if I use Buddhist logic many of the theorems in mathematics will fail! We should teach secular and practical mathematics. We are doing it because the universities in the west are doing it. But those universities were erected for theological purposes. According to [Isaac] Barrow, Cambridge University was established to breed clerics!

SK: I think seeing the pragmatism embedded in western societies today I think if you build a quantum computer using Buddhist logic that can threaten the encryption involved US financial system then you would have proved your point and billions of dollars will be spent on research on alternative logic.

Raju: That is accepted. We do need to find applications, but for me the very fact that people will be able to understand much of mathematics using this new system itself would be a worth it. I don’t care if the west wants to do it or not. My son should be able to do calculations easily which he could not do earlier.

SK: I will give an example to illustrate what I was saying. Fuzzy Logic was invented by Lotfi Zadeh, a Iranian professor at University of Berkeley. There were people who called it cocaine of mathematics implying that he was high on drugs and invented this since it did not follow the normal Aristotelian binary logic. The Japanese picked it up and used it in all appliances like washing machines, TV etc. The Americans picked it up only in the 80s because they had launched an armed commando raid on Tehran in 78-79 during the hostage crisis. But the control systems of their military helicopters carrying the commandos could not stand the heat and dust of the desert. They crashed and the mission was a failure. Then they realized they needed fuzzy logic based adaptive control systems and they brought them in. In that sense they are not theological.

Raju: My concern is not to convert the west. My concern is if these theological concepts have crept into mathematics then that mathematics should NOT be taught in this country. We should teach secular mathematics. After all it is being used to condition people, inculcate inferiority in them through fake history etc.

SK: It is definitely driving people away from mathematics.

Raju: And these kids keep looking at pictures of a fake Euclid and a fake Pythagoras as white Caucasians which we see in text books, and grow up in awe of the west and say the solution to any problem is to ape the west. If we can break out of those things that itself would be an achievement.

SK: One last comment. Many have objections to the way the Indian mathematical results are written in the form of a sutra without explaining how they arrived at it or what is the justification for it. Is there any insight into how they achieved these results? Secondly, one person who wrote many results filling up many note books without giving proof is Srinivasan Ramanujan though it was in the field of analysis in the western tradition.

Raju: I am not arguing for an absence of process. To deny the value of deductive proof is one thing, and to say that there should be complete absence of process is another thing. I would assert that though there was the sutra tradition there were also Yuktibhasa, Yukti Deepika etc where they explain the process, perhaps due to Jesuit pressure! They were written after the arrival of Europeans in Cochin. A sutra has to be terse to make it easy to remember. It is a cultural matter [in the oral tradition] that here we are dealing with minds of human beings and hence the communication should be from one mind to another and not filtered through a derivation on a dead parchment where it is liable to be misunderstood. Right or wrong that seemed to have been the cultural tradition and an oral tradition. After all even Vedas are not written down. That is not a critical issue dealing with validity but a pedagogical matter.
Certainly a process has to be there and a justification [praman] has to be there. In my book [Cultural Foundations of Mathematics] I have shown [in Chapter 3] that there is complete praman for the infinite series in India, but the derivation is on different philosophical principles. I don’t say that first I should have set theory which allows me to do some infinite processes and then I should have an infinite set of numbers and then prove convergence and so on. That is the rigmarole of Western mathematics.
I want to sum the series and the stated criterion is that the sum should remain constant when I add two consecutive terms. How does it remain constant? Up to the level of accuracy and the decimal (or sexagesimal) places I need. This is similar to epsilon-delta [and the “Cauchy” criterion] but deals with a finite number of terms [and does not involve a infinite metaphysical process]. That is a perfectly good criterion.

SK: That is what physicists do when they sum any series like Raleigh-Schroedinger perturbation series. You calculate to the second order of approximation and if there is serious problem you go to the next order.

Raju: That is how all computer algorithms are done. It only ceases to be valid if you demand perfection! That is a perfectly practical attitude. It is not that process and proof are missing. It is just proof from a different philosophical position.
The first text book on philosophy that I picked up from my father said, there is no philosophical tradition in India but only poetry! For philosophy you have to read the Greeks! So now I can say that there is no mathematical tradition in Europe and it is all theology which was imported here through colonialism!
What happened with Elements is that it had come to India through Islam but it was not translated into Sanskrit till very late at the time of Sawai Jai Singh in 1723, long after the arrival of Jesuits in Jehangir’s court. There were two parallel distinct traditions. Akbar’s courtier (Abul Fazl) who wrote the Ain-e-Akbari talks about learning from the Elements. It was there in Arabic and Persian traditions but was not considered valuable by Indian mathematicians. It was considered something religious. Also, practically Pythagoras theorem comes at the end of the Elements where as Yuktibhasa starts with it, with a different way of proving it without the forty odd earlier results.
So I would say it is a religious belief which is being universalized and I find it highly objectionable. I would say, in fact, our principles are universal since they are empirical and physical. I would characterize present-day mathematics as European ethno-mathematics tainted by theology.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Physics Nobel 2009

India’s Nobel no-list longer


New Delhi, Oct. 16: An India-born American has joined a century-old league of legendary physicists from India overlooked by Nobel prize selection panels while others were awarded for similar or derived research, some physicists said.

Narinder Singh Kapany, who pioneered the science of transmitting light through glass fibres, is in a league established in 1909 when Guglielmo Marconi received the Nobel prize for work on wireless telegraphy that relied on an invention by India’s Jagadish Chandra Bose.

The Royal Swedish Academy last week announced the 2009 Nobel physics prize for Shanghai-born Charles Kao for his work on transmission of light in fibres for optical communication and two others for their invention of an imaging semiconductor.

The groundbreaking work by Kao in 1966 led to the development of long-distance optical communications. But Kapany had constructed optical fibres and demonstrated the transmission of light across optical fibres of short lengths 12 years earlier.

The Academy itself has acknowledged Kapany’s contribution to fibre optics, citing his paper published in the journal Nature in 1954.

Science historians and sections of physicists believe the Nobel Committee appears to have distinguished between Kapany’s work involving short-distance transmission and Kao’s subsequent feat, which opened doors for long-distance transmission.

“The work on long-distance transmission was a logical extension of the earlier work,” said Kapany, who was born in Moga (Punjab).

“The (Nobel) Committee has its own methodology — but I’m fine with it. I fully accept this situation. Let’s leave it at that,” Kapany told The Telegraph, chuckling over the phone from Palo Alto (California).

A senior scholar of the history of physics at the University of Oldenburg, Germany, who has studied trends in Nobel prizes for many years, said he was not surprised at Kapany’s omission.
“There are cases where the first scientists who established something novel did not get the prize,” Falk Riess said.

“There are at least three other instances over the past century where contributions of Indian physicists appear to have been ignored by Nobel committees,” said Shivanand Kanavi, a physicist-turned-author who had documented Kapany’s contributions to fibre optics in a book Sand to Silicon, published five years ago.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Telegraph: Kapany -Missed Nobel
Hat-trick of Nobel misses


New Delhi, Oct. 16: In at least three instances over the past century, Nobel committees appear to have ignored the contributions of Indians while picking physics prize-winners, according to Shivanand Kanavi, a physicist-turned-author. The three scientists are E.C. George Sudarshan, Meghnad Saha and Satyen Bose.

Narinder Singh Kapany, who pioneered the science of transmitting light through glass fibres but was overlooked by the Royal Swedish Academy when it chose to award Shanghai-born Charles Kao this year, is an addition to the list.

In 2005, several physicists argued that Indian-born US physicist Sudarshan should have shared the prize with Roy Glauber for his own contributions to quantum optics.

“The prize-winners are chosen by the Royal Academy, but no one has the right to take my discoveries and formulations and ascribe them to someone else,” Sudarshan had written in a communication to the academy.

In 1999, Falk Riess, of the University of Oldenburg, Germany, and his colleague Rajinder Singh used decades-old documents translated from the Swedish to describe how Meghnad Saha had not received the Nobel Prize despite outstanding research in astrophysics for which he had received two Nobel nominations in 1930.

Satyen Bose, who in the early 1920s helped develop Bose-Einstein statistics that explains the behaviour of some atoms when they are cooled to temperatures just a whisker above minus 273.15 degrees Celsius — the lowest possible temperature — also didn’t get the prize.

Kanavi, who has documented Kapany’s contributions to fibre optics in a book Sand to Silicon published five years ago, said that over the decades, three Nobel Prizes in physics have gone to research derived from Bose-Einstein statistics: superconductivity, superfluidity, and Bose-Einstein condensate.

Einstein had won the Nobel in 1921 for other work.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Narinder Singh Kapany: Missed Nobel for Fibre Optics

Nobel question mark
Dinesh C. Sharma
New Delhi, October 15, 2009

Most Indians may have never heard the name of Dr Narinder Singh Kapany.
However, it is due to his path-breaking invention of fibre optics made more than half a century ago that the world today enjoys high speed communication and medical procedures such as endoscopy and laser surgeries.

That's why when this year's Nobel Prize in physics was announced for transmission of light through fibre glass, Nobel watchers were surprised at the omission of Dr Kapany's name.
In its announcement, the Nobel committee noted that the award winning scientist, Charles K. Kao, had made a discovery in 1966 that led to a breakthrough in fibre optics. He calculated how to transmit light over long distances via optical glass fibres and his work led to the fabrication of the first ultrapure fibre in 1970.

But it was Kapany who had first demonstrated in 1954 at the Department of Physics, Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, that light can travel in bent glass fibres and even coined the word - fibre optics. His research paper entitled "a flexible fiberscope, using static scanning" appeared in scientific journal Nature in its January 2, 1954 issue. It was co-authored by his professor, Harold Hopkins. Kapany later coined the word 'fibre optics' in an article he published in Scientific American in 1960. His work led to development of medical devices such as gastroscope, endoscope and bronchoscope. All this work preceded the work of Kao, who has been awarded the Nobel this year.

It is for this pioneering work that Kapany has been widely regarded as the "father of fibre optics". The Wall of Inventions at the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology lists Kapany as the inventor of fibre optics and he was hailed by Fortune magazine in 1999 as one of the seven unsung heroes who have changed the face of the 20th century.

"Well, that's what the world says (that I am the father of fibre optics), but the Nobel committee has its own decision", Kapany said in a telephonic interview with Mail Today from his home in San Francisco.

Asked to comment on being ignored by the Nobel committee, Kapany said: "What can you say about this. It is known that Prof Kao started work in this field many years after me. He faced competition too… I don't think there should be any controversy about it. It is up to the Swedish Academy to decide. Whatever criteria they wanted to use, they have used."

Shivanand Kanavi - a physicist-turned author who documented Kapany's contribution in his book Sand to Silicon - said "in any discovery or invention, many people play a role and it would be wrong to say only one person did all the work. However, some people play a crucial role and show the way for further research. In the case of fibre optics, Kapany played such a critical role. There were others who had realised that glass cylinders or fibres could be used to transmit light, but Kapany was more successful than anybody else in solving the problems involved and scientifically demonstrating the same". Between 1955 and 1965, Kapany was the lead researcher in the subject and he published several papers.

In 1966, Charles Kao put forward the idea that glass fibres could be used for telecom and tirelessly evangelised it. "Kao richly deserves a share of the prize but it was based on the earlier pioneering work done by Kapany. So it is in the fitness of things that both Kao and Kapany share the prize," Kanavi said.

Kapany, who was born in Moga in Punjab, had his schooling in Dehradun - where seeds of his future work in fibre optics were sown. Kapany's teacher once told him that light always travelled in a straight line. This made the young boy think and he set out to prove his teacher wrong. He graduated from Agra University, worked for a brief while in an ordnance factory and then moved on to the Imperial College for doctorate in optics. In London, he worked for sometime at the Glasgow Optics Company.

He subsequently moved to the University of Rochester and then to the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he continued his research and invented a string of technologies and devices in fibre-optics communication, lasers, biomedical instrumentation and solar energy. He has over a 100 patents to his credit.

At 82, Kapany continues to invent. "I keep working. Only last week I had applied for a patent related to solar energy systems," he said.
Courtesy: Mail Today

Friday, September 25, 2009

Indian IT: From Artisans to Global Industry


Indian Software: From Artisans to Global Industry

Shivanand Kanavi
Vice President (Special Projects), Tata Consultancy Services, 4th and 5th Floor, P.T.I. Building, No. 4, Sansad Marg, New Delhi - 110 001, India. Email:

It is a great pleasure to contribute to this Festschrift in honour of Dr. Keki H. Gharda. He is a pioneer who innovated in process industries. India’s current global position in agrochemicals and generic drugs owes a lot to technocrats like him who used innovative process routes to produce high quality specialty chemicals. I am fascinated by him since I first met him in 1994 while researching for a cover story in Business India titled “India’s Technology Leaders” [1].

Today, India has achieved an undisputable leading position in the global software services. Most outsiders think that this has been primarily achieved due to labour arbitrage or availabilityof low cost computer programmers in India as compared to the US and Europe. However, that is only one of the contributing factors. The primary factor has not been noticed yet by many business historians. In fact, software development used to be an essentially artisan like activity about four decades ago. This paper argues that innovative industrialisation of such an individualistic activity to large-scale industrial activity by Indian firms has led to the current pole position of India in the field. To illustrate this thesis, the author will use the example and experience of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) because he is familiar with it and also because being the oldest Indian software company it has also been an innovative pioneer.

Snake Charmers and Software

In 1968, when TCS came into being, there was no Microsoft, Apple, SAP, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Dell and many others. Hewlett Packard (HP) was known for its oscilloscopes, signal generators, handheld calculators and not computers. EDS and Cap Gemini had just come into being as data processing companies.

Clearly, it was an audacious startup from India.

TCS had a couple of IBM machines of 1401 vintage and an ICL machine as well. They were providing bureau services, better known today as business process outsourcing (BPO), services for Indian telephone companies, power utilities, universities and so on. At the same time TCS also started scouting around for any work it could get abroad.

In those days India had gone through a severe financial crisis, the Rupee had been devalued by 57.5%. The US Dollars required for importing large and expensive mainframe computers were definitely in short supply. Besides, there was also a perception amongst the public and the politicians that computers would take away jobs and, hence, were best avoided. However, TCS leadership was convinced that computers could play a major role in not only making Indian businesses and banks more efficient but also in helping much of Indian society leap frog from the 19th to the 21st century. Surely, many people thought that the dream was incredible, but they kept chipping at the walls relentlessly. How TCS has been able to contribute to nation building in India through these efforts is a story to be told another time.

Collaborate and Flourish

In the mid-1970s, TCS decided that it would be good to get into an alliance with a computer maker. The one they chose was Burroughs Corp. Though Burroughs was not the biggest name in computer industry their technology was impressive. The deal was that TCS would sell Burroughs computers in India and support them. This helped TCS engineers gain first hand expertise in operating their systems and troubleshooting. TCS also bought a system for their computer centre to provide Burroughs based services to their clients. Burroughs soon realised that they had hit a gold mine of engineering talent and started outsourcing software work to TCS. Burroughs’ clients in Europe, US etc., who were switching their systems from some other manufacturer to Burroughs, would need their already running software to run on the new Burroughs machines. In those days each machine had its own dialect of COBOL and, hence, unless one carefully mapped the old programs onto the new Burroughs-understandable instructions, they would not work. TCS executed some interesting and challenging migration assignments in this mold.

TCS set up a strong Systems Group, which took the lead in assimilating technology as well as developing new ones. This Group came up with a tool called Data Dictionary, which helped automate software migration considerably. Burroughs was impressed. It tried its best to convince the Tata Group for a buyout, but the latter decided against selling out TCS and instead agreed to form a new joint venture, Tata Burroughs Limited. Interestingly, IBM, which was a competitor of Burroughs, was also impressed with TCS tools. TCS continued to execute migration and development work for Burroughs and at the same time look for other clients. Later, TCS decided to invest in IBM’s technology and started the most sophisticated IBM based computing centre in Asia of that time at Chennai. It was risky and expensive, moreover TCS had to convince the Department of Commerce, US Administration in Washington, D.C. that it was not going to use IBM computers to develop nuclear bombs, but in fact help US businesses become more efficient!

Henry Ford and Toyota

An important achievement of TCS has been the successful industrialisation and globalisation of software services. It has many similarities and a few dissimilarities with what Henry Ford and Toyota did to manufacturing. This has enabled TCS to execute large projects successfully. Year after year TCS has been delivering software solutions in targeted time and budget with a greatamount of certainty.

TCS did not have a model to follow, it had to invent one. Forty years ago computer programming was practiced by a few exceptional individuals. Each programmer had her/his own way of doing things, many of them brilliant but hardly replicable. It was difficult to debug or improve a program written by someone else. Naturally, it was almost never a product of teamwork. Obviously, it could not be scaled up. The situation was very similar to that faced by the auto industry when Henry Ford and his peers were developing quadricycles in their workshops in the 1890s. These workshops could not scale up and serve a mass market. That is why Ford’s assembly line, for Model-T, was pioneering and revolutionary in 1913. It was a product of meticulous planning and hard work in the background and it changed manufacturing forever [2].

Today TCS has achieved the depth and breadth to follow the same processes and achieve the same high quality and deliver them from any of our centres, be they in Hangzhou, Budapest, Sao Paolo, New Jersey, Toronto, Tokyo, Melbourne or in different parts of India. In Clayton Christensen’s terminology it would no doubt qualify as a “disruptive business model” [3].

Innovation Engine

Like any grand narrative it would be presumptuous to say that four decades ago TCS saw clearly its goal of industrialising software services, then charted the strategy, the path and, eventually, planned and executed to reach where it stands today. Like all big things, TCS started small with powerful ideas like Data Dictionary, a migration tool. TCS was involved in the software engineering standards and quality movement with IEEE from the very beginning. It also had to set up appropriate training of recruits, when there were hardly any colleges teaching computer science in India. TCS had to develop and set up processes to test and debug software.

In the late 1980s, TCS executed a large challenging project to set up the clearing and settlement system for banks in Switzerland. It was won against competition from established companies, purely on the basis of TCS’s innovative design. The project helped TCS “push the envelope” in all directions and also helped hone its software design and architecture skills as well as develop a core group of software architects. TCS also developed the systems required to integrate its client site work with the work done by teams of developers in India, known as ‘off-shoring’ and so on.

In 1981, TCS set up its R&D centre, Tata Research Design and Development Centre (TRDDC)in Pune [4]. A strong group in software engineering took shape at TRDDC in the mid-1980s. The group started articulating and evangelising concepts of software engineering, some of which were already in practice within TCS. This group was able to develop a highly successful suite of Computer Assisted Software Engineering (CASE) tools and carried forward the work initiated by TCS Systems Group in a methodical way. At another level, TCS also internally evangelised theSystem Engineering approach to software problems.

The agenda now involved identifying reusable components, knowledge repositories, creating a software tool foundry, developing highly sophisticated reverse engineering tools for software maintenance. The jigsaw pieces of industrialisation of software development started falling intoplace. One of the byproducts of this industrialising process was the development of the highly acclaimed MasterCraft™ – a suite for automatic code generation once the business logic is fed into it [4].

Setting Standards

On the front of standards TCS intensified its earlier work with IEEE and brought in SEI’s CMM philosophy into the organisation quickly. TCS is the world’s first organisation to achieve an enterprise-wide Maturity Level 5 on CMMI® and P-CMM® based on the most rigorous assessment methodology.

TCS has now combined its own vast store of home-grown processes with the best aspects of global standards, such as the SCMM, the PCMM, Six Sigma, ISO 9001 and the Tata Business Excellence Model, to develop its own proprietary quality model, the Integrated Quality Management System (iQMS™). TCS hopes that this archetype will soon become an industry standard.

The iQMS™ is central to project management at TCS; it comprises a major chunk of its DNA. This system provides guidelines for the conduct of every project and the means for monitoring it. Together with the various software development methodologies laid out by TCS’s software engineering process groups, iQMS™ lays out a comprehensive roadmap for each project. TCS has ensured that all its development centres, be they in China, Hungary, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay,US, Canada, UK, Singapore, India, Australia, Japan etc., follow the same processes and achievethe same high quality.

Learning from Manufacturing

TCS could not have set up the software equivalent of Henry Ford’s assembly line, if it did not build an efficient supply chain. In the 1960s and 1970s TCS started working in close collaboration with the newly set up Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Kanpur, Bombay and Madras and later expanded the company’s academic interaction to over 200 engineering colleges in India and several universities abroad. Today, TCS’s Academic Interaction Programme covers a whole spectrum of activities from faculty development; curriculum development in some colleges; scholarship and financial aid to deserving graduate programmes as well as sponsored research and collaborative development of Intellectual Property.

In India, this programme has contributed to raising the standards of computer science and software engineering education. As a result, TCS could recruit over 100,000 high quality engineers in the last four years and move them through its strong internal training programme that covers everything from software engineering to soft skills. The spade work and internal systems have helped to absorb this large human resource into the organisation quickly and deploy them into large projects.

To make TCS operations more efficient it setup a system meant for a global services company,very similar in concept to ERP in manufacturing. This system covers ‘everything’ – project billing, employee services, leave, pay roll and other HR services, internal communication, branding, online appraisal processes, knowledge management etc. Youngsters in TCS (incidentally, the average age in TCS is 26 yrs) thought that such an ultimate tool should be named Ultimatix, a la René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo.

Truly Global Networked Delivery

In global manufacturing, it is well recognised that Toyota has taken the assembly line revolution of Henry Ford to the next level by introducing distributed manufacturing, Just in Time manufacturing, Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) etc., which collectively have come to be known as the Toyota Model [5].

Similarly, TCS had to take its software factory approach to the next level. As its client list and diversity grew across continents, the company could not remain an India-based software developer serving global clients. About a decade ago TCS realised that it needed to further globalise its software development system, which became possible due to the global telecom revolution. The solutions and products offered by TCS are in bits and bytes and not in steel or aluminum. Hence, in some ways, TCS could venture into uncharted territory where a brick and mortar manufacturer like Toyota could not physically go.

Initially, TCS created the hub-and-spoke system in global delivery where India was the huband other centres were feeders. Today, however, TCS has gone further ahead to an entirely news ystem where any of its major global development centres could act as a hub or an anchor for a global collaborative effort. This leads to reduction of time zone issues for clients; facilitates services in a variety of languages and cultures; allows real time collaboration and parallel development with teams sitting in distributed development centres and so on. It also brings out optimum utilisation of in-house expert resources. TCS clients also enjoy de-risking greatly from putting all the eggs into the basket of one centre. Incidentally, TCS already has over 10,000 non-Indianemployees.

The TCS Global Network Delivery Model™ is the business equivalent of what Paul Baran proposed in his work entitled Introduction to Distributed Communications Networks for Rand Corporation, in 1964. It later became the conceptual framework for packet switched networks with no single centre, and no single path, like Arpanet and, ultimately, the Internet [6].

The pioneering conceptual and systemic work done by TCS percolated to other Indian IT companies in the last 10-15 yrs and lo and behold, India now has a vibrant, highly competitive, and high quality software services industry! The author has been asked many times about an order of magnitude difference in size between software companies in India and China. Even IBM, Accenture and HP have very large development centres in India with tens of thousands of Indian engineers. Are the engineering human resources in China any less in quantity than in India? The answer, as we all know, is no. However, Chinese software companies lack scale and the largest among them have less than 5,000 engineers. The reason is simple: they have yet to master the industrialisation of software development.

Many observers have pointed out the role played by English education, mathematical and analytical abilities among Indian students, propensity of Indian youth towards science and engineering as careers, labour arbitrage etc., as the determining factors in the rise of Indian IT industry. No doubt all these factors have played a role.

However, all such deterministic analysis ‘forgets’ the human factor of leadership. It is similar to saying that if a country has steel, gasoline and machinists then they will have a vibrant auto industry! Without the genius and hard work of Henry Ford and Toyota, the global auto industry could not have reached the scale and sophistication that it has today. Similarly, without the development and adoption of software engineering methodology in TCS and other Indian companies, global software services would not be a vibrant large scale industry that it is today.

1. Business India, July 4-17 (1994),
2. Ford, H. and Crowther, S., My Life and Work, Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., New York, USA (1922),
3. Christensen, C.M., The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Harvard Business School Press, (1997).
4. Kanavi, S. (Ed.), Research by Design: Innovation and TCS, Rupa & Co. (2007).
5. Liker, J.K., The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer, McGraw-Hill Professional (2004).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

State Bank of India: Story of its tranformation

Quaternion, September 15, 2005

A Colossus transforms

State Bank of India is a great story of transformation in the making. The implementation of TCS’s centralized banking solution in nearly 14,000 branches of the group will play a major role in it, reports Shivanand Kanavi.

If you ask Arun Kumar Purwar, Chairman, State Bank Group, about Operation Vijay, ("Operation Victory"), you will not get much in return other than a question shot back, "Where did you hear about it? That is still under wraps." But when strategy is being discussed with branch managers, who number in five figures, it would be difficult to keep it a secret. Apparently, it is a plan to transform the banking colossus in a tangible, quantifiable way. "It would be tall talk now. When we are close to achieving the targets, we will talk about it," says he.

Simply put, while the bank's position in Indian banking is unassailable, it wants to be number one in other financial services as well, be it credit cards, mutual funds or investment banking. "We have the fourth largest life insurance company of our country, the third largest merchant bank, the seventh largest mutual fund, the fourth largest credit card company, and the third largest factoring company. We have strategic interests in the credit information business and in an asset reconstruction company. We also run, within the group, 40-plus regional rural banks. Thus, State Bank's presence in the economy - in the financial sector - is very strong," adds Purwar.

Operation Vijay wants to take it to the next level. When stock market analysts call State Bank of India (National Stock Exchange: SBIN) as a 'play' on the Indian economy, in their own frenetic lingo, they are reflecting what SBI stands for. The bank, with its massive network of nearly 14,000 branches, is rivaled by none for its reach,
except a couple of Chinese banks. However the numbers cited by the Chinese are a little suspect because they list points of sales, including extension counters, as branches.

SBI controls an enviable 25% of the entire banking business in the country and services a whopping 100 million accounts. The bank has a wide network of 5,400 automatic teller machines (ATMs) in nearly 1,800 centers, and another 1,000 are being added this year. It includes an ATM at the highest altitude, at over 12,000 ft above sea level, in Leh, Ladakh, south of Tibet. At the other extreme SBI has an ATM on a river boat in Kerala. "Mind you, it is not a cash dispensing machine, but a fully networked ATM," assures Purwar. In January 2004, the total number of transactions from the ATMs was 6 million, and the total money drawn, between $138 million and $149.5 million (Rs 6 billion and Rs 6.5 billion). ATM usage is growing at 12% to 15% per month, according to Purwar. In fact, by Jan 2005, the total number of transactions on ATMs increased to 270 million, and money drawn amounted to over $ 644 million (Rs28 billion).

The largest competing network has less than 2,000 ATMs. Thus market analysts are justified in calling it a proxy for the Indian economy. That is, if the bank is doing well, then the Indian economy is doing well and vice-versa. (See box: The Bank)

The Bank
It is said that three organizations touch vast majority of the people of India: India Post, the Indian Railways and the State Bank of India.
The State Bank of India (established in 1806) is one of the oldest banks in the world and predates many well known names in the banking world: Citibank (established in 1812), Chemical Bank (established in 1823), ANZ (established in 1830), Standard Chartered (established in 1853), HSBC (established in 1865}, and the Bank of America (established in 1874).
Today, the State Bank of India, along with its nine associate banks form the State Bank Group, which does over 25% of all banking business in India through a network of 13,767 branches in India and 54 overseas, and over 5,400 ATMs in India's metros, and urban and rural areas. The group serves over 100 million accounts and, in the last four years, deposits have grown with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12% from $72.01 billion (Rs3,514 billion) in 2001 to $115.72 billion (Rs5,061 billion) in 2005. It was the only Indian bank to be listed among the top 100 banks of the world by The Banker in July 2005.
The shares of the banks are listed in the Indian stock exchanges and its global depository receipts are listed in Europe. SBI has a market capitalization of about $10 billion (Rs.441 Billion) on the Indian bourses (as of September 7, 2008). The Government of Indian owns 59.73% of the shares, through the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India. It is the only bank in Asia, other than the Bank of Japan, to have a rating, from international agencies, above the sovereign.
The State Bank is a financial powerhouse with its arms in Insurance, mutual funds, investment banking, etc, and owns:
• SBI Capital Markets Ltd.
• SBI Mutual Fund (a trust)
• SBI Factors and Commercial Services Ltd.
• SBI Cards and Payment Services Pvt. Ltd.
• SBI Life Insurance Co Ltd – Banc assurance (Life Insurance)
• SBI Funds Management Pvt. Ltd.

The bank came under pressure in the late 1990s, with the opening up of the economy and competition from private banks. These new banks have no legacy issues, are lean and mean and could build themselves on hitech platforms and thus provide highly competitive services to both corporate and individual customers. But they lack reach and have largely confined themselves to the metros and large cities.

A Bicentennial
This year, SBI began celebrating it 200 years of existence. It traces its origin to the Bank of Calcutta, started in 1806 with the active participation of the British East India Company as a joint stock company. From it founding until 1936, the Bank acted as a central bank and currency issuing authority. In 1809, the bank received it charter and was re-designed as the Bank of Bengal. The Bank of Bombay (founded on April 18, 1840) and the Bank of Madras (founded on July 1, 1843) followed the Bank of Bengal. These three banks remained at the apex of modern banking in India. They came into existence as a result of the compulsions of imperial finance and the felt needs of local European commerce. They were amalgamated as the Imperial Bank of India on January 27, 1921.
When India attained freedom in 1947, the Imperial Bank had deposit of $ 63.273 million (Rs2.751 Billion), a network of 172 branches, and more than 200 sub-offices all over the country.

The commercial banks of the country, including the Imperial Bank of India had, till then, confined their operations to the urban sector and were not equipped to respond to the emergent needs of the rural areas, in order to serve the economy, in general, and the rural sector, in particular, the State Bank of India was created by taking over the Imperial Bank of India and integrating with it the former state-owned or state-associated banks. An Act was passed in Parliament in May 1955, and the State Bank of India was constituted on July1, 1955.
The Bank’s museum in Kolkata is a treasure house for economic historians, with detailed balance sheets and minutes of board meeting dating back two centuries.

"It was clear to us that either we transformed, or perished," says Purwar. But transforming is easier said than done. After all, it had 300,000 employees, systems that were not standardized, and some practices that are peculiarly Indian. The advantages of introducing advanced IT solutions with centralized databases, good networks, 'anytime, anywhere' banking through ATMs and so on, were clear to the leadership. "New technology would lower our transaction costs by 15%-25%," says Purwar. The bank's service level would rise with core banking. Its ability to monitor funds would dramatically improve with management information systems and daily reports. The available funds could thereby be deployed better in the money market, and the NPAs (short for non-performing assets, or bad accounts) could also be tracked in time, and action taken. New financial product-could be developed with what-if analyses, test marketing and deployment in record time. Technology would also enable the bank to enter new businesses and fee based services as the economy entered a low interest rate regime, with decreasing spreads for banks.

When old habits resist change, it takes leadership to drive change. The story is far from over but the signs of change are visible and indicate the potential this institution has. Today, over 4,800 branches are networked in a dedicated network called SBI Connect. Besides data communication, the network has vastly reduced the bank's telecom bills, as all these branches are using Voice Over IP phones for inter-branch communication. Over 5,400 fully networked ATMs in nearly 1,800 centers are bringing modern banking to even small towns and rural areas. Over 5100 branches of the SBI Group have gone live on core banking (a centralized database system). "In Belapur, we have our core banking systems, where over 800 officers are working hard to meet deadlines for the rollout," says Purwar. "A village may not have regular electricity and proper telecommunications, but our branch there will be computerized and connected to core banking," adds he.

And all this has been achieved with no downsizing! The number of branches on core banking in October 2004 was hardly 250. If the number today stands at 4,300, it works out to roughly 400 branches going live per month!

That is a truly amazing number by any standards. No wonder The Banker magazine, in London, honored SBI with its Technology Awards 2005, for the core banking project, and as the Best Outsourcing Project of the Year.

The project was outsourced to TCS as the prime system integrator. TCS developed a customized solution for SBI's needs. The implemented solution includes B@NCS from Financial Network Solutions (FNS), and Eximbills from China Systems interfacing with each other and the existing legacy system.

The building in Belapur, which houses the core banking servers in the data center and training facilities for the bank's staff, also has 300 TCS engineers working day and night.

That is where Krishnan Ramanujam, of TCS, who is the Director of the Core Banking project, sits. The blackboard outside his office tells it all. The numbers scrawled on it seem to change every time you visit him. If you did not know better, you would think he was running an illegal numbers racket out of his office. On closer inspection, however, they look more like the production figures of a shopfloor foreman. In fact, the latter would not be too far from the truth. He runs a virtual factory that is customizing the solution, testing code, fixing bugs, and training. He sits in meetings with SBI officers to set standard operating procedures and suggest any changes, if necessary. After a year and a half of hard toil, he is smiling today. "I have been in several large projects in 14 years at TCS but this has been the most challenging one," he says. What started as a trickle is now a roaring river, with dozens of branches going live every day.

Core banking gives tremendous power to the bank’s leadership to be nimble in the market but it also imposes a lot rigor on the employees. For example, how do you open an account? What information do you need to input? And who double checks each step and signs off? All this seems cumbersome initially, but the people who have used the system for three months and longer are getting the hang of it and enjoying the benefits.

“We are only training the trainers but State Bank’s HR is doing a wonderful job of evangelizing and letting the knowledge percolate through the bank, despite difficult condition,” says Ramanujam. When you are short staffed, it puts tremendous pressure on others if you have to send 25% of the employees for training by turns. But the staff has risen to occasion, and the benefits have ripple effect.

Despite an environment that was not friendly to computerization in the banking sector for three decades (1960s-80s), SBI has had a tradition of experimenting with new technology. According to Uday Shankar Roy, currently Chief General Manager of SBI, Kolkata who, till recently, headed the core banking project, SBI was one of the first banks globally to use the IBM 1401 mainframe for interoffice transactions an reconciliation, back in the early 1960s. "In the '70s, as load increased, we brought in brand new Burroughs machine, which was cutting edge at the time. Branch computerization started in the ‘80s and '90s, and a clear cut IT strategy was put in place in the late '90s. It started with local area network and branch automation, along with a massive interbranch networking project to connect over 4,000 branches. This laid the ground for taking up core banking two year ago," adds Roy.

Though the B@NCS solution chosen has been implemented elsewhere, the State Bank project involved a scale that was an order of magnitude larger and which demanded a high performance solution. "After all, the largest core banking project implemented in the world so far involves three different systems in different countries and a total of 2,400 branches. Here, it was 9,000 branches of SBI and 5,000 branches of its associate banks, all on one system. Scalability was a prime issue. It was only because we demonstrated it that TCS won, despite tough competition," says Jagdish Bhandari, head of the financial services practice at TCS.

Did they have to change the code significantly to customize it for State Bank's needs? “Of course. It is almost a new package now. The original package had about 3 million lines of code. Now it has 6 million!" says Ramanujam.

Why was such drastic change needed? What were the challenges? The original product, in its basic form, was a simple online transaction processing system, which was scalable. But, in this case, the customer made demands that created conflicts in the system. Basically, scalability depends on the product doing only one or two things in an efficient manner. Secondly, it has to adhere to some basic principles of databases. Scalability and maintainability require that all the information required should be stored at only one place. However if the system is expected to generate reports that involve data from different tables, this pulls down performance of the system. High performance requires normalized databases and puritan view of database design. But that would not meet branch requirements in SBI because such a system would not generate reports in the required format.

An online transaction processing system typically does not have a database designed to suit report generation. However, the branches felt that, unless reports were easily generated, their daily operations would not be complete. Yet even if the system did generate reports, it could still not handle 100 million accounts!

“We had a monumentally difficult time doing the correct tradeoffs,” says Ramanujam.

N chandrasekharan, EVP at TCS and Head, Global Operations adds, “The key to our success were the right design for the database and the program. It was a combination of and in depth knowledge of technology and banking business. We have demonstrated our competence to build large scale high performance systems.”

But at what cost? “Oh, we are building probably the lowest cost system in the world. In China the cost per branch for this technology is $25,000. In other developed countries, it has been $50,000-plus. But, in India, we spent only $11,000-$12,000 per branch. This is a very big advantage to us,” says Purwar.

How was that achieved? It is said that TCS reduced SBI's costs by not going for a mainframe based system. But Ramanujam disagrees. "Cost is not a function of just the hardware or infrastructure that you put in. The total cost involves hardware cost, software cost, maintenance and modification cost, and so on," says he.

"Just like a car. If it costs $11,500 but 'breaks down every 10 days, then we end up spending a lot more. We might as well buy a better car that costs more up front but needs less maintenance. Similarly, if software is poorly designed and cannot make the modifications required in a dynamic business environment, then it will prove expensive. For example, the Finance Minister may declare a new Cash Withdrawal Tax. But if the code cannot quickly absorb it, then it is poorly designed. Moreover, new product introductions should be very quick. In fact, recently, State Bank came up with four new product ideas in record time. One of them was rated as the quickest product that the bank had brought into the market ever.

Subramaniam Ramadorai, CEO & Managing Director, TS says, “The challenges in the implementation of a solution in a large banding group are manifold. It is due to great teamwork and hard work form the SBI and TCS teams that we have, to say, reached a stage of aggressive solution rollout across branches. SBI is truly a ‘bank that the nation banks on.’ We are privileged that it is banking on us for this unique project, which will tremendously impact the operations of the entire SBI group.”

All who doubted the capacity of this giant to change are now watching it transform itself rapidly. When complete, it would make for a great case study in change management for global managers. Clearly, in five years, India will have a new financial powerhouse.

Our aim is to provide ‘Class Banking for the Masses’, proclaims Purwar. That would indeed revolutionize banking in India as never before.
We say Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dr Keki Gharda: A profile

Eccentric Entrepreneur, a Genius—Dr Keki Gharda

We reproduce Dr Gharda's profile on the occasion of his 80th birthday, which is being celebrated by friends, colleagues and well wishers in the Indian chemical industry on 26th September, 2009

Excerpted from, “India's Technology Leaders” by Shivanand Kanavi, Business India, July 4-17, 1994

Perhaps, the incident that, best sums up Dr Keki Gharda, the leader of Gharda Chemicals, is a story that has become part of Indian chemical industry folklore. In the early 1980s, Dr Gharda was invited to an Monopolies and Restricted Trade Practices Commission’s hearing, which revolved around a multinational's application for a licence to produce isoproturon. Some Indian companies objected to the application for fear that they would not be able to compete. But Dr Gharda, alone, was of the opinion that there was nothing superior about the multinational's technology. To prove his point, he declared that his company would introduce a new, more efficient process within 18 months and compete with the multinational.

Most of the people who comprised the stunned audience that day would not have imagined that Gharda would be able to pull it off. But he did. True to his words, Gharda realised the danger of using the highly toxic isocyanate route in making pesticides, and came out with a process to produce isoproturon, using urea. Today, he is the second largest producer of isoproturon in the world with large exports to Europe, US and the Far East. The superiority of Gharda's process, which is today internationally known as the ‘Indian process’, made even Rhone Poulenc, the European giant which had a monopoly in isoproturon, sweat.

Since then, Gharda Chemicals has become the leading Indian company in technical grade agrochemicals. Cypermethrin - a popular insecticide; cypermethric acid chloride - an intermediate for cypermethrin; anilophos - a herbicide used, for rice, originally discovered by Hoechst though it now uses Gharda's process; chlorpyrifos- a new generation insecticide; and napropamide -- another herbicide, have all made Gharda a power to reckon with in the global agrochemical scene. In the last three years, a number of international agrochemical magazines have written about Gharda and even put him on their cover.

Gharda Chemcals started as a three-men-in- a-garage operation in the late 1960s, in Santacruz, a suburb of Bombay. Dr. Keki Gharda who had returned from the US after a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, joined the faculty of University Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT), Bombay. However, he could not get a permanent teaching position and he turned instead to entrepreurship.

His first success, in the field of dyestuffs, came fast. He synthesized pthalogen blue, a dye that was very popular in the textile industry but had to be imported from Germany. Later azo-dyes provided the bread and butter. However, with the tremendous proliferation of process technology in the small-scale sector, dyestuff manufacturing was no longer attractive, so Gharda changed course midstream into agro-chemicals.

This time it was not as easy. The early 1980s, the years of transition, were difficult. As a plant engineer in Gharda’s Lote factory remarked, “In those days we were literally living hand to mouth. But unlike other industrialists, Dr. Gharda did not retrench any of the R&D staff. The later years vindicated his visionary faith in in-house R&D”.

That vision has helped him to move with the times. When quality and purity were absolutely essential to gain entry into export markets of Europe, Gharda welcomed the challenge. Today, his analytical lab is not only top class but has made a number of original contributions: half a dozen of them (in Fourier Transform Infra Red spectroscopy and in High Pressure Liquid Chromatography) have become part of international standards.

Today, Gharda is going through another round of diversification into bulk drugs and engineering plastics. But why get into bulk drugs when there are so many players already? “While the Indian' bulk drug industry is strong in organic synthesis, they are not so strong in chemical engineering,” answers Gharda. “With our strength in both, we will be more efficient.” In their typical style, Gharda Chemicals are building plants for products that are yet to come out of their R&D.

But this confidence has got him his fair share of detractors. “He is an eccentric,” says an indignant major player in bulk drug manufacture. “He wants to spoil the bulk drug market by driving down the prices.” His anger is partly fuelled by the not-so-polite letter he received from Dr. Gharda, which categorically stated that since Gharda Chemicals is going to enter the bulk drugs market in fluroquinolones at a lower price, the existing competitors might as well quit!

Therein lies the essence of the man. Variously described in the industry as a missionary, a Gandhian, an eccentric, and a spoilsport, he has nevertheless always approached the market in his own unique manner. His strategy is to come out with new products at prices that are at least 20-30 per cent lower than the prevailing ones and hold them at that level for years. Aside from driving the competition out of the market, it even makes giant multinationals wary of him, perhaps one of the reasons why some of them are queuing up to tie up with him.

And he lives by his own rules. For examples, though he has received many awards for novel processes, he has not patented any. He believes that the superiority of technology should be decided in the marketplace rather than in court rooms. He also shies away from breaking up the manufacturing process into a number of stages and carrying these out in different plants to guard his trade secrets, as most of his competitors do. “This will lead to the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. And you would lose the team spirit where you troubleshoot together and learn from each other” he says. “The name of the game is to come up with newer and better processes and products through R&D and always stay a step ahead of the competition.”