VANCHI BHOOMI

Through a landmark judgement , the Supreme Court of India yesterday restored the “Shebaitship” [ rights to manage the financial affairs ] of the richest temple in the world – Sri Padmanabha Swami Temple at Thiruvananthapuram to the Royal family of erstwhile Travancore State. After the demise of the last Maharaja His Highness Bala Rama Varma in 1991, there was an attempt by the Kerala Govt to take over the assets of the temple especially after the sensational findings of the hidden riches of the temple. The younger brother of the Maharaja , Marthanda Varma III had filed a case in the Supreme Court to prevent such a take over and after his demise in 2013 , the judgement has now come out vindicating his stand based on ancient tradition prevailing for centuries. The erstwhile King of Travancore , Marthanda Varma I who ruled the kingdom during the 18th century had pledged the temple with all its riches to the deity to invoke the Lord’s blessings and ruled the kingdom as ” Padmanabha dasa ” – servant of the God. This tradition continued till date and the Royal Family never touched any of the wealth of the temple ! A few rationalists today argue if the temple’s vast treasures valued at around 90,000 Crores [USD 22 billion] should be kept in tact with the titular monarchy in safe custody or utilized for the development of the Kerala state .

I was born in 1942 at a place named Mavelikara in central Travancore and our primary school had the tradition of singing the state’s song every morning during the assembly. The Song beginning with the line “Vanchi Bhoomi pathe chiram ” was basically invoking the king’s name and wishing him and the kingdom long life and prosperity . Vanchi Bhoomi was another name of Travancore . After Independence in 1947, the king became the ” Raja Pramukh ” and the tradition continued till 1950 when India became a Republic. We used to get a holiday for the Maharaja’s birthday also. Cochin princely state joined Travancore in 1949 and remained as a joint entity called Travancore-Cochin state till 1st Nov 1956 when Kerala state was born after the State Re-organisation scheme based on a study by Sardar K M Panicker .

Mavelikara had a direct connection with the Travancore Royal family . When there was a crisis of succession to the throne , two young girls namely Sethu Lakshmi Bayi and Sethu Parvathi Bayi from Mavelikara Palace were adopted by the ruling King to his royal family . They were the grand daughters of world famous artist Raja Ravi Varma. Raja Ravi Varma’s son Rama Varma was also a renowned artist in his own right and lived at Mavelikara in our neighborhood. We as children used to visit his studio often. He started the Ravi Varma Painting school adjacent to his palace. Many well known artists in Kerala today were trained in this school. I remember meeting Malayalam movie director Hariharan there often during my school days.This school , I learn, has now grown to a national stature with various allied disciplines added to its offerings. My uncle’s elder brother Mr K P Padmanabhan Thampi from Trivandrum was a well known Art Critic at that time and he had a fabulous collection of paintings from all over the world in his house . He had a few Ravi Varma paintings and I also recollect a famous painting by Nicholas Roerich , a Russian Artist depicting a Peacock. He also worked as a Curator at the Government’s Art Museum at Trivandrum and used to visit Artist Rama Varma frequently . I used to accompany him to the studio. I also remember a very senior Ayurvedic Physician Sri Rama Varma Thampuran at the Mavelikara palace where he ran his clinic. We used to go to him for consultation and medicines. He was the uncle of the Maharaja of Travancore and made occasional visits to Trivandrum .

Sethu Lashmi Bayi later ruled Travancore as Regent from 1924 to 1931 to bridge the gap between the demise of Maharaja Sri Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma and the adulthood of the young prince Bala Rama Varma who was only 12 when the Maharaja passed away. Many books and other notes on her life and time are available in print and on line . Two notable books either for their contents or some controversial views are ” The Ivory Throne ” by Manu S Pillai , hailing from Mavelikara and ” At the Turn of the Tide ” penned by the Regent Queen’s grand daughter Laksmi Raghunandan Raghunandan incidentally is from Cochin Royal family and also my class mate at the Engineering College.Palakkad..

The Travancore monarchs after Marthanda Varma led a very austere life and devoted their tenure to the development of the state . Most of the major infrastructure projects you see in Kerala even today bear their stamp . It was only after the Gulf boom that Kerala started various new initiatives . The temple entry proclamation by the Maharaja in 1936 was very revolutionary and abolished the ban on the so called “low cast people ” from entering Hindu temples in the princely state of Travancore.. The annual “Arattu” [ritual bath of the deity in the Arabian sea 6 km away] processionfrom the Padmanabha temple passes cutting the international airport runway near the sea and even today ,the airport is closed for 5 to 6 hours in the afternoon on that day to facilitate this !. This gesture amply illustrate the love and affection of the people for the monarchy and the reverence to the temple rituals.

Saroj Khan and her Legacy

The popular dance Choreographer of Indian film industry Saroj Khan passed away on 3 July 2020 at Mumbai . She has left behind a void very difficult to fill in . For more than 2 decades , she redefined the Hindi Movie dance sequences and created a niche for herself endearing to her numerous fans. For the first time, a woman choreographer broke the glass ceiling and crashed into the misogynist Hindi film industry and composed dance sequences for some super – hit and heroine centered movies like Mr India , Devdas and Kalank . Many actresses like the late Sridevi,Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai owe their career successes to Saroj Khan.

Saroj Khan was a protege of B Sohan Lal who was the undisputed king of Indian film choreography. She married Sohan Lal later at a very young age and subsequently divorced him. Saroj Khan had a career spanning more than 40 years and has produce more than 2000 dance numbers for Indian movies, mostly in Hindi language .

In the beginning of motion picture industry , both the hero and the heroine performed dances themselves . Soon , the need for a professional dance choreographer arose and mainly male dancers filled this role . The new crop of heroes and heroines required their help extensively and rehearsed repeatedly with many takes and retakes till acceptance by the main director of the movie.

The importance of the dance director will be evident from the following episode which I witnessed during a film shooting at the popular Malampuzha dam gardens near Palakkad , Kerala way back in the early sixties . I was an Engineering student then at a private college at Palakkad and some of us went to witness the shooting of a dance sequence at the Malampuzha gardens. Sunil Dutt and Vyjayantimala were shooting for the Hindi movie “Jhoola ” , a remake of the Tamil movie” Kairasi ” produced by Vasu Menon , a local producer from Palakkad settled at Chennai .

We saw a rehearsal where Sohan Lal , the dance director was enacting the role of the hero Sunil Dutt with Vyjayantimala who was a well known dancer and actress. Sunil Dutt was watching the steps which he had to perform during the actual take under the camera. The recorded song was being played to them. A difficult but hilarious scene ensued. Some of my friends from the college shouted and objected to a middle aged Sohan Lal dancing with Vyjayantimala . We wanted Sunil Dutt only to touch her and dance with her . The shouting went on for some time and finally Sunil Dutt came to us with folded hands and appealed to us to let Sohan Lal do his job . He said he is not a dancer and need coaching . Time is money in such situations and he wanted all of us to help the team achieve the desired results . Somehow his appeal had the desired effect and the rehearsal continued. We clapped for Sunil Dutt . Vyjayantimala was rather shy and remained quiet throughout the episode.

Vidyarambham – The Initiation to Literacy – A great Tradition in Kerala , my home State

Today , is auspicious to begin anything , as per a tradition and belief from ancient times , especially  to initiate a child to literacy . As we are all children in many forms and life long learners, my parents taught me to do a ritual on every Vijaya Dashami day with the blessings of Saraswati , the Vidya Devi . I still follow this tradition at home and my wife Malathi also do the same . After the morning bath and Puja [prayer] , we write the following –

Aum , Hari Sree ,Ganapataye Namah , Avighnamastu , Sriguruve Namah [ It means in English – Aum , O Lords , Hari, Sri and Ganapathi , We bow to you , Please remove all the obstacles in our life , We bow to our Guru[s] . Thereafter , we open a sacred text like Ramayana or Gita and read a few lines .

In spite of all the varied experiences and cultural transitions in our life , we have been able to do this ritual every year and also initiated our children and grand children to this during a ” Vidyarambham –  Initiation to Literacy ” ceremony

While my father initiated me to this when I was may be two and a half years old , I went through the rest of the learning process with many Teachers , Mentors and Gurus in my life span of 75 years with a work life spanning 52 years . In the beginning , my first teacher Sanku Asan , taught me Malayalam alphabets writing on sand . Later , we used what is called ‘Thaliyola ” in Malayalam which means palm leaves using a ” Narayam ” – metal pin to engrave letters and words . By the time ,I went to school at the age of 5 , we had note books and printed text books  supplemented by charts to teach Science and Geography .

We never had electronic aids during our times. Most of the learning was  through repetitive memorizing and retrieval during tests . Mechanical instruments , Log tables ,Laboratory equipment  and slide rules were used during my Engineering Classes. I started using electronic calculators , main frame computers etc during the 80’s and Laptops during the 90’s . Mobile devices came to my help only during the late 90’s when I was working with the IT Industry.

I used e-learning extensively to supplement my class room teachings during the later years and became reasonably literate in those areas also.Besides, during my long Army Service spanning 31 years ,I have used battle field simulation both during training and later during teaching.  But , notwithstanding all these stages of learning , I never forgot my roots and the first initiation process of “Vidyarambham ” . An image of what me and my wife wrote on a piece of paper today is given below.


Blue Monday – 15 Jan 2018

I read an interesting article in the Times of India – Times Life pages yesterday . It talks about the Blue Monday on 15th Jan ,this year ,or for that matter , every year , when you are at your melancholic best ! –  when you realize that most of your New Year resolutions have gone for a six ,out of your window.

According to Dr Cliff Arnall , a psychologist , the third Monday of January is typically ” the most depressing day of the year ” . His formula uses factors in weather conditions,debt level ,time since Christmas , time since failing our New Year’s resolutions , low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action, which all eventually add to stress levels and push us towards the ” Panic Button ” .

The depressed mood is often exacerbated by perceiving a gap between how someone wants things to be and how they actually are. This real vs ideal discrepancies highlights in January because the ‘low’ followed by the festival season ‘high’ affects everyone and the stark contrast makes us feel inadequate. [ Prof Ed Watkins from the Mood Disorders Centre -MDC ] .

We all face this ‘January Jitters ‘ – in different levels and severity . Take my case. I retired from active work life after 52 years as on 30 June 2017. I traveled to the US with my wife to spend quality time with our children from July to November and afterwards spent a month in Kerala visiting our relations. We came back by end December and resolved to take many actions which will regulate our new-found and well-earned ” freedom ”  beginning 1st January 2018 ! . One of my promise was to write a post every day and the other to go for a 40 mins walk twice a day [ it was once a day last year] . We also decided to check our income – expenditure status going forward and look for new avenues for savings/investments.

I wrote three blog posts during the first three days but could not sustain the momentum afterwards till today. Missed many of the walks due to many reasons , the other plans are still a ‘work in progress ” . The list goes on —. Is this a case of over confidence ? ambitious plans ? or failure to do a “Reality Check” side by side ” ? May be all of it . Because of these, I liked the idea given out in the box of the article under reference, which I reproduce below –

  1. Let there be light – Go outdoors in the sunshine.
  2. A choice of physical posture at work – it energizes and mentally stimulates you.
  3. Find a quiet zone – seek your quiet zone at work ,focus on your thoughts to increase your well-being.
  4. Use colour to set the tone- Choose colours wisely -Blue stimulates clarity,Yellow boosts creativity and lifts spirits  and Green creates a sense of calming balance.
  5. Bring a bit of nature – into your workplace and home.

While most of the above are ” Stress Busters” for the work place, I believe we can applied intelligently for a retired life as well and for housewives . Above all , remember that there are 12 months in a year and you do not have to meet everything by 15 January !!! Let us have action plans with milestones throughout the year and alerts regularly to warn you against any attempt to Procrastinate.

Wish you all a very Happy , Stress Free , Healthy and above all Productive and Fulfilling 2018 !

[ Inspired by the article ‘Don’t be a January Monster ” by Nona.Walla@timesgroup.com dated 14 January 2018 ]

Blockchain 2.0 – The Technology of 2018 for a new economic and social infrastructure.

When Stuart Haber and Scott Stornetta initiated work in 1991 on a secured digital chain of blocks , they would not have envisaged the wider usage of this technology across industries and services . Their research found wider expression ,when in 2008 Satoshi Nakamoto , leading an anonymous group propounded the technology behind decentralized and distributed digital ledgers . Unfortunately , this technology found its use with Bitcoins , the crypto  currency to begin with and this guilt by association delayed its acceptance by others until 2016 . Till then,it remained controversial because of its ability to run on the blind side of the regulatory framework .

Today as we usher in 2018 , Blockchain has become the ‘hot ‘  technology of the year and has permeated the financial , petroleum and government business in a significant way . The huge potential of this technology is yet to be assessed and everyone across industries and services are analyzing its impact through seminars,workshops and pilot projects . Dubai has announced that it will aim to be world’s first Blockchain Powered Government. The Indian enterprises have started testing the technology in a variety of applications and the government and Niti Aayog is aware of its advantage to create a secured and seamless digital business framework and government operations. Niti Aayog is already talking about a possible ”  IndiaChain ” ,India’s own Blockchain network , with linkage to the existing Aadhaar framework to cut fraud, and to increase transparency and enforcement .  Continue reading ‘Blockchain 2.0 – The Technology of 2018 for a new economic and social infrastructure.’

A New Train Station at North Brunswick , New Jersey ,USA – A Case Study in Decentralized Execution

The US Railroads are in the firing line ! – The recent Amtrak train accident brought to focus the crying need for modernization of the aging rail system . In the US , railroads were never a priority in comparison to the vast road network which is always the preferred mode of transport both for people and freight.

My daughter used to live at North Brunswick till last year and during my visit to them in 2011 , I learned about the new rail station coming up at North Brunswick  off US Route 1 , near my daughter’s residence. We were happy as instead of going by road to New Brunswick to board a train to New York on the NJT [ New Jersey Transit] , we could walk across to the new train station. When we visited them again in 2013 , there was no visible progress in the construction of the station. We were there in July this year [ my daughter has moved to a locality near Princeton now] and was happy to see some construction happening at last!. Hopefully , the station will come up sometime in 2019!

Unlike in India , there is no state level funding for such infrastructure projects in the US . The railroad company also will expect the local city government to raise funds for any such venture as their own resources are stretched . As a result ,if the public wants a facility like the new rail station, they have to raise funds from the local civic establishment . While going through the net for details on this new rail station, I came across a news item where more funds have been granted by the City Mayor’s office for parking facilities at the new station coming up . Thus, there is very visible participation by the public in infrastructure development which affects their day-to-day comforts . Truly a federal structure with distributed ownership at all levels .

Do we have a good case study for Indian railways here? We keep complaining about various shortcomings in the Indian Railways but it is seldom that the state or local city establishments come forward with any helping hand to remedy the situation. May be we need to own up such problems and find local solutions .

Defense Services – Industry Partnership – Sharing the Brainware

I wrote a post in 2011 titled ” Day of the Generals ” in this site , [copied below] referring to an Initiative by the CII [ Confederation of Indian Industry ] in organizing the very first Army- Industry Partnership Seminar in New Delhi in 1996. I had the privilege of reading a paper titled ‘ Share Our Brain Ware ” in this seminar. The focus of my paper was to brief the Industry representatives about the basket of skills available with Defense Service Officers which can be gainfully used by the Civil Industry , providing an opportunity to the service officers who retire at a relatively younger age [ in comparison to their civilian counterpart in the government] with a second career option,if otherwise qualified. During the interactions at the seminar, it was felt that the services HQ could arrange some management orientation programs under the Resettlement Directorate to ease such transition to the Industry Jobs.

Today,Colonel Rajesh Gopal who is doing a certificate program at IIM Indore called on me to ask my help in arranging guest speakers for their program using my contacts with the Industry. I was very happy to note that a lot of ground has since been covered from 1996 in facilitating the Defense – Industry transition which we discussed way back in the CII seminar. I learned from Col Gopal that 59 officers from the three services are undergoing a six months rigorous training at IIM Indore ,arranged by the Defense HQ and funded by them with part contribution by the participants [25 % ] for the benefit of those officers who have taken premature/regular retirement from the services. This program has gone on for some time and recognized widely by the Industry as is clear from the record of placements made so far after the training. This is really encouraging news. I promised Col Gopal that I will do my best in forwarding the profiles of the participants to Industry leaders whom I know at Hyderabad based on my interactions with them during the last twenty years.

Day of the Generals

A Humble Tribute to Late M Balamuralikrishna – Reflections on his first concert in Kerala

22 November 2017 is the first death anniversary of Padma Vibhushan Late M Balamuralikrishna, Carnatic Vocalist, Musician, Multi-instrumentalist, Playback Singer and Composer – one of the greatest gems of Indian Music with a record of 25,000 concerts worldwide.

This blog is a brief story of his very first concert in Kerala – based on my memory after 60 plus years of the event. To begin with, I need to fill in some background information to set a context to the event. I was born at a small town Mavelikara in the southern part of Kerala. In our town, there is a famous Krishna temple and every year during March, there was a 10 day long festival. As the town has a long tradition of developing and nurturing Carnatic Music talent, be it vocalists or percussion instrumentalists, the temple committee used to have one musical concert per day in the evening after the pooja and other rituals from the 4th day of the festival to the 10th day. While the concerts on Day 4 to Day 8 were offered to local talents, the 9th and 10th Day were reserved for eminent artists of the region. On the 10th Day, we used to have music concerts by famous vocalists like G N Balasubramaniam, Madurai Mani Iyer, Alathur Brothers, Semmangudi, Ariakkudi etc accompanied by violinists like TN Krishnan, Chowdaiah or Lalgudi Jayaraman and percussionists like Palghat Mani Iyer, Muruga Bhupathi or Palani Subramaniam Pillai.

My father, Late P Krishnan Nair, an advocate, was the President of the Temple Festival Committee during 1955 to 1960 and the other Committee members were drawn from among the eminent citizens of the town. Even as a school student of 13 or 14, I used to work with my father in co-ordinating his activities connected with the festival. I remember it was either during 1956 or 57 temple festival that one of the committee member Mr Gopala Pillai informed the committee that he heard from his brother Mr Sakhtidharan Nair who was Station Director for the Vijayawada station of AIR [All India Radio] about one Balamuralikrishna, a very young Carnatic music vocalist, a child prodigy, who started singing classical music from the age of six and gave a public concert at the age of eight at Vijayawada. This boy in his late 20’s is already a sensation in Andhra and Madras and no less than the best of vocalists at that time in Carnatic music. Mr Nair said he can get him to perform at our temple festival, if the committee wishes to do so. Mr Nair also suggested that we get the violinist and percussionist at our end for the concert. The committee made some reference checks with experts at Chennai and decided to experiment with Balamuralikrishna for the 10th Day music concert that year. Shri Chalakudi Narayana Swamy and Mavelikara Krishnan Kutty Nair were selected to be the violinist and percussionist on mridangam respectively for the concert. Both of them were very famous in Kerala already and performed for major vocalists earlier. In the printed program for the festival, the new vocalist was announced as “Ganasudhakara Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna” from Vijayawada, performing for the first time in Kerala State.

Normally, the music concert used to begin at about 9 PM and go on for about 3 hours most. As we had many knowledgeable people in the audience who were well versed with the nuances of Carnatic music, there used to be a separate enclosure for them, marked as such in front of the stage. The purpose was to encourage the artists with meaningful gestures, following the raga, thana and pallavi throughout the concert. This arrangement used to work well and about 100 people used to fill these seats voluntarily, out of a mass of about 1000 plus audience attending the event. On the scheduled day, Mr Balamuralikrishna arrived an hour early and was introduced to his other two accompanying artists. None of them had met earlier. The program started at 9 pm sharp and within a few minutes, the audience was mesmerized by the melodious voice of the vocalist. He initially spoke in English, introduced himself and talked about his interest in research on the Carnatic ragas and offered to share some of it during the concert. After an hour or so singing traditional ragas, he introduced a raga named Rohini to the audience and went on to sing the raga, thana and pallavi in that raga [Maamava Gana Lola] with the violinist and mridangam artist accompanying his rendering in a very spirited manner. The audience, needless to say sat transfixed enjoying the treat throughout the program. As per requests from the audience, Balamuralikrishna continued with the concert for more than four hours and ended the program at about 1.30 AM with great applause from everyone. Many organizers from other temples in Kerala were present during this program, having heard about this new artist and I understand Mr Balamuralikrishna got many bookings on that night itself. I also remember our Committee paid only the airfare from Chennai to Cochin, the taxi fare and overnight stay at Mavelikara along with a token amount to the singer for his maiden concert in Kerala.

I never got a chance to listen to Balamuralikrishna in person again but have enjoyed listening to his discs, cassettes and now YouTube programs, whether as a vocalist in Carnatic music or a jugalbandi with the likes of Pandit Bhim Sen Joshi or playing violin solo or playing other musical instruments with elan. His contribution to the Annamacharya Kirtanas and Rabindra Sangeet will always be remembered by all the music lovers across India and abroad. He has created 18 new ragas and has composed in all the 72 Melakarta Ragas of Carnatic music. His penchant for experimentation and creativity leaves a rich legacy difficult to emulate. Long Live the Memory of this Great Thespian of Carnatic Music!

Disclaimer: The above story is purely based on my memory and association with the event at Mavelikara 60 years ago. It is prone to minor inaccuracies which are not intentional. I do not remember if the concert was in 1956 or 57 and therefore it is possible that the artist’s maiden performance was in the erstwhile Travancore-Cochin State if the concert was before 1st November 1956 when the Kerala state was formed.

A Century of Communism – Some reflections and a few direct experiences

Today on November 7th , Communism completes 100 years of existence in the world. The 25 October 1917 date when the Bolsheviks under Lenin uprooted the Czarist Regime in Russia by staging a coup is now corrected as 7 November in the reformed Russian Calendar. During these 100 years , the ideology of Karl Marx devoted to abolishing markets and private property left a long and bloody trail of destruction in Russia, China , Cambodia , Vietnam and Indonesia – eliminating dissent of all forms through mass killings, state sponsored terror, deportations, forced labor camps and genocide.

Communism ushered in to the world as an alternative ideology, condemning capitalism , promising a better world for peasants and workers through state ownership of property , enterprise and welfare measures. Depending on local conditions , it took different forms in Russia [ which became USSR till it got disintegrated again thanks to Gorbachev ] ,China , Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, North Korea and Cuba. But after a century of communism in power – with hold outs even now in Cuba, North Korea and China , Communism as an ideology has failed to meet the goals for which it started at the first instance. While under Vladimir Putin [ A photograph of Putin riding a Harley Davidson Bike made in USA fascinated me ]in  Russia is moving towards an autocracy while embracing  market economy to a great extent , the Chinese after Mao Zedong beginning with Deng and now Xi Jinping follows a mixed economy under the one party rule !.

While the Communist Party started in India soon after the Russian Revolution,  It was after Independence that it gathered political steam. During the 50’s , they were a weak political force in India while advocating labor reforms except in West Bengal , Telangana region and in the erstwhile state of Travancore and Cochin where they were very active among the working class . While Nehru was toying with the idea of Socialism thanks to his visit to the Soviet Union in June 1955 and as a result of the much publicized return visit of Bulganin and Khruschev to India in November 1955 , he never liked Communists . His ambition along with Nasser of Egypt , Sukarno of Indonesia and Joseph Tito of Yugoslavia to carve out a Non – Aligned Block in the world worked against both the Communist Nations and the Capitalist Nations like the US and UK. The annexation of Tibet by China in 1959 in spite of the “Panch Sheel ” agreement signed by Nehru with Zhou Enlai in the mid fifties followed by the India-China war of 1962 also alienated Nehru with China. The Russians used this opportunity to build bridges with India and followed up with a long era of friendship and co-operation and military assistance in times of crisis . This to some extent pleased the Indian Communists. Shastri and Indira Gandhi after Nehru also followed this policy which helped the country during the 1965 and 1971 war with Pakistan.After the 1964 split of the Communist party in India , today it is CPM and not the CPI who enjoy a sizeable  following in some parts of India.

Now , some personal experiences  – I became aware of Communism at the age of 10 in 1952 , when they were banned by the Government of Travancore and Cochin, my home state , in 1952 because of their radical activities in the state.  I remember it was probably in 1953 or 54 when I almost witnessed the murder of a Police Officer  Bhasi by one Thampi from the underground Communist Party by stabbing in public view near our school after a football match. I believe both Bhasi and Thampi were close friends and Bhasi spotted Thampi in disguise watching the football match. Bhasi accosted him with friendly overtures and tried to take him to the police station nearby . Thampi detecting the ruse stabbed him on the way . Thampi was captured with the help of some enterprising on lookers and handed over to the Police. I also remember the Hindi – Chini Bhai Bhai slogans and the Panchsheel agreement between Nehru and Zhou Enlai in 1954 and the visit of Bulganin and Khruschev to India in 1955 . The landmark victory of the Communist Party in 1957 in Kerala in the State Elections surprised the world – the only time the party came to power on its own through the ballot box. Soon, sweeping land reforms were introduced in Kerala and I remember my father , a lawyer , talking about it many times. He himself had to surrender some of his property assets to those who lived there as our contract workers.

I happened to visit USSR in 1977 as part of a three member team from the Army for a period of 45 days for training and knowledge transfer of some military equipment we were acquiring from USSR. For the first time, I saw Communism in action in Moscow during our first briefing – the tight security , spartan living conditions but friendly public and above all , the scars left by war everywhere. We moved to Daugavpils in Latvia [ now an independent country aligned with NATO ] for our training. We had an interpreter [ we were told by the Indian Embassy in Moscow to watch out as he could be from the dreaded KGB] always staying with us in the same hotel. Here ,we could see poverty everywhere and the life of the public including marriage functions, entertainment , holidaying all regulated and controlled by the state apparatus. People used to drink heavily to forget their woes. No one was permitted to talk to us without our interpreter present with us , even if they could converse in English!. Stocks of grocery including milk and bread was over by Friday evening everywhere! Priority was given to Heavy Industry and defense over  other sectors !.A political Commisar in Army Uniform addressed us and spoke highly about the Communist Party in Soviet Union and how they look after the welfare of the working class. Our Interpreter told us that every Army Unit or Establishment has the Number 2 place occupied by party leaders!

Fast forward to 2007 , I visited Chengdu in China to attend the Chinasoft Seminar as a delegate representing the IT Industry at Hyderabad where I took up a job after my Army Career. Alibaba of Jack Ma was present in the Expo .I found in Chengdu a vibrant society , still under State Control thanks to the effects of a mixed economy . People were tech savvy and very friendly . China has made great strides in economic progress by then compared to India. Infrastructure development was visible everywhere , be it the giant IT parks, highways or the airport.

Communism is no longer relevant in its traditional form – but some of the offshoots like Naxalites are a threat to the civic society in many parts of India . In West Bengal , CPM is no longer in power and in Kerala they are in power as a coalition of parties with different ideology. Globally , the Communist regimes with single party rule are more of autocracy with leaders like Putin,  Xi Jinping or Kim Jong-un almost enjoying positions for life . With the advent of technology breaking geographical barriers , the age-old class distinction which was the breeding ground for Communism has ceased to exist except in some pockets. But the violent memories and the legacy remains!

What To Do , When Machines Do Everything – Book Review

The 4th Industrial Revolution is around for the last couple of years – fueled by Data in place of Oil – and Artificial Intelligence [ AI ]. AI has become the all-pervasive driving force affecting the various institutions that drive the global economy and our lives in general. AI has moved out from the preserves of sci-fi movies and ‘futurism’ to our daily chores  whether in the form of Internet of Things [ IoT ] , smart phones, assisted driving, e-commerce or even in our preferences , choices or mood swings. The serious apprehension of jobs disappearing fast and efforts to re-design them are real . This has affected the corporate business models in all industry verticals -defense,  finance , stock trading, travel, logistics, space missions, communications, infrastructure , health care , medical diagnostics,and education.

It is very timely that three senior executives of Cognizant [www.cognizant.com] , No 17 in Fortune Future List , competing in the digital landscape as a global leader in business and technology [ Revenue at $ 13.49 billion per 2016 annual report] , have come out with a book titled ” What To Do , When Machines Do Everything – a very valuable  field guide for practitioners all over the world. The authors , Malcolm Frank , Executive Vice President , Strategy and Marketing , Paul Roehrig , Vice President -Strategy and Marketing in Cognizant’s Digital Business and founder of the Cognizant Center for the future of work and Ben Pring who leads the Center for the future of work , three thought leaders collectively bring to the table vast practical knowledge of many years of relevant experience in this field.

The book proposes an action plan to industry leaders at all levels , providing  valuable rules of thumb, insights and guidelines to thrive in the new era of intelligent machines.

The 12 Chapters deal with the impact of Machine Learning and AI in today’s job design and Corporate Strategy and Business Models and propose a 5 part business model with the acronym AHEAD – Automate – Halo- Enhance- Abundance – Discovery . AUTOMATE denotes the need to outsource all rote and computational work to machines, HALO talks about the need to instrument products and people and leverage the data exhaust they create – the Code Halos , ENHANCE works to treat the computer as a colleague that can increase your job, productivity and satisfaction , ABUNDANCE covers the opportunity to open new markets as a result of the man-machine collaboration , and DISCOVERY tell us how to leverage AI to conceive new products, services and new industry through Innovation at the velocity and scale of AI combined with R&D .

Chapter 1 introduces the topic and the proposed business model AHEAD treating AI as Systems of Intelligence , Chapter 2 explains how we can turn about the feared ‘Stall ‘ scenario to one of Growth by understanding the new machine and situating it in the right business models , Chapter 3 tell us how to get AHEAD with the new model at the time of ‘Churn’  in the existing business , Chapter 4 explains the new machine  in detail terming the Systems of Intelligence as a Software that learns with a massive hardware processing power coupled intelligently with huge amounts of data and human inputs.

Chapter 5 talks about the new raw material – Data [ Data is the new Oil ] and how we can leverage business analytics to turn the data into meaning . Chapter 6 to 11  explains the business model AHEAD in detail cautioning how to avoid the various traps on the way, to treat Automation as a means to an end, to instrument everything and change the game when dealing with Code Halos , treat winning with Data as the No 1 competitive game in nearly every business , how to amplify human performance with the new machine  and  double down on being more human to allow us to focus on what we do well [ empathy , relationship building and making sense of complex situations] , and find 10x opportunities with the new machine. Chapter 11 advocates for fresh ideas through a process of Discovery to manage Innovation for the Digital Economy. Chapter 12 summarizes the key learning and calls for Action at all levels.

There are three prevalent views on AI , the Dystopian – we should fear our pending robot overlords , the Utopian – everything is awesome and technology will be the answer , and the Pragmatists – the future can be good if we make smart ,practical decisions. The authors side with the Pragmatists and tell us to go out and invent the future,and not predicting it , hand in hand with the new machines.

The book is well researched and eminently readable with a number of live  case studies from many industry verticals and fills in a need for a practitioner’s field guide on AI .

Pages 235 , Published by John Wiley and Sons,New Jersey , Price $28 in USA , Copyright 2017 by Cognizant Technology Solutions U.S Corporation.