My father and progress in the seventies...

November 12, 2009

My father…I’ve never written about him, for some reason. Like all caring and resposible fathers…an amazing guy. Born to easy affluence as the son of someone who was the Financial Advisor to the Government of India, and who earned an OBE, or Order of the British Empire, he really enjoyed a princely lifestyle, shuttling between Delhi and Shimla,going to the best schools..and he decided to study Electrical Engineering at the

Benaras Hindu University

(Just take a look at that link to see the eminent Vice-Chancellors they had!)

But...when he was 18...his world crashed around his ears. His father died, his mother had to cope with the upbringing of 4 children of her own and her brother's orphaned son. He begged and borrowed books to complete his studies; there was often no money to come back home for the holidays and he would go and stay with friends, who were very dear to him all his life. After finishing his Engineering, in newly independent India, he took up a job in what was then the Kumbakonam Electric Supply Company...but soon joined as an Assistant Engineer at CESC and from this lowly position, rose to be its first Indian Managing Director, in 1972....a company that had a turnover of Rs.100 crores in 1972 is nothing to be sneezed at! Here's a write up about him in some Rotary magazine: rotary writeup about Appa 111009 On his own merit, he came back to the same princely lifestyle that he had enjoyed as a young man....a fleet of cars, enormous power and clout...but he never gave these any importance. He travelled the world (ah, I wish I could travel first class on all flights the way my parents did!) and home, we led fairly simple lives. He was one of the first to buy a Kodak camera, and a cine camera....started learning the Western classical violin and vocal Carnatic music in his forties..had a fantastic sense of humour, laughed at everyone and everything.... and I have never heard him speak evil of anyone, even in his worst days...and there were many, because of the political nature of his job. He voluntarily cut down his salary and perks (the previous MD had one car just to take his 7 dogs for walks on the Strand on the banks of the Hooghly!) and took on the challenge of an increasingly difficult situation with the leftist United Front Government and their socialist hypocrisies. The power situation in West Bengal deepened; I remember power cuts for several hours each day in the sweltering Calcutta, our home was not excluded. Dirty politics and the politicians' greed for the huge amount of money that a World Bank loan would bring in, brought an end to his career; unable to stand the betrayal of his own colleagues, he quit in 1978. Through much of his last years at work, he was mired in the Burman Commission, and was tense and worried.

I just went through some old newspapers yesterday, and found a very telling illustration of the troubles he must have faced….

Here’s a cutting from the Amrita Bazar Patrika of April 21,1976:

no computers! 170476 statesman

From another cutting, I learnt that a computer to help with billing and systems had been earlier installed in 1969, and then removed because of pressure from the staff and the United Front Government…this cutting asks the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, to “take steps to prevent the installation of a computer” as it would take away jobs, and since the “existing tabulators and calculators are under-utilized”, it is “not understood why a high-powered computer should be brought in”.

There is also a request “not to allow a new power project by securing external assistance.”

Oh, the progressive outlook of our politicians…and what an ironic situation in a country that would become the spearhead of the software revolution!

Appa…I love you and appreciate you more as I grow older…