Tuesday, November 16, 2010


`                                                                    CHAPTER 15
                                                              LIFE IN RANCHI (BIHAR)
                                                                        1967 – 1972
On the 12th of June 1967 my wife gave birth to our second daughter at the Plant Hospital of the Heavy Engineering Corporation.  By that time my mother had joined us at Ranchi.  It was she who suggested the name Nalini for her grand daughter.  But during the naming ceremony she was given the name Narayani, the name of her maternal grandmother.  We continued to call her Nalini and her name at school was also Nalini.    Every one doted on her,  she had come after a long gap of seven years. She was always a happy child with a smile on her face.  Also, she generally woke up from her sleep with a smile.
There was a large number of employees from the South speaking Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada or Telugu.  We had, therefore, a Tamil Sangam, Malayalee Association, Telugu and Kannada Samajams  et al.   Cultural programmes and cinema shows during the week-ends, arranged by the different associations, were a regular feature of colony life.  These provided opportunities for men and women to socialise and keep in touch with others in the community.    Children spoke their mother tongue at home but could not read or write in their language.  To remedy this,  classes were organised for children to read and write in their mother tongues like Tamil,  Malayalam or Telugu
There was a Vaidika Samajam which maintained two priests for the purpose of facilitating  the religious rites of the Hindus.   They were paid a retention money out of subscriptions collected from members.  Their services were used for performing Amavasya Tarpan, shraadha ceremony, funeral rites, marriages, upanayanam, Upaakarma and other samskaras.  Festivals like Rama Navami, Krishnaashtami, Sankara Jayanti, Pongal, Onam et al  were celebrated under the auspices of the Samajam.  Once during the Sankara Jayanti celebrations I was asked to give a short speech in Tamil on the life of Sankara.   I had read up on Sankara during my  forays into Sanskrit literature  and I had enough material on him.  But giving a speech in Tamil was an altogether different thing.  However, I managed to speak for about 15 minutes covering the main events in the life of Sankara.  I had been elected as Treasurer of the Samajam for two terms and as Secretary for one term. 
One of those days the Sankaracharya of Sringeri was visiting Ranchi.  The organisers gave me the job of  writing a welcome speech in Hindi to be presented to the Acharya.  It was quite a surprise to me that I,  from the State of Kerala with my mother tongue Tamil,  should be chosen for this task in the heart of the Hindi region.  Of course, I had passed the Prabhakar (Honours in Hindi literature) examination from Punjab University and Sanskrit was a language to which I seemed to have a natural inclination.  I used my knowledge of  both Hindi and Sanskrit to advantage in writing  a welcome address befitting the great Acharya.  It was read out by one of the organisers at the reception to his Holiness. I felt good and was elated.
My second son who had grew up in Bombay until he was twelve years of age joined us at Ranchi in 1970 and was admitted to the 7th standard in the English Medium School run by  Heavy Engineering Corporation Ltd.
In 1970 we performed the Upanayanam of our two sons at Ranchi.  My in-laws had come for the function.  My mother was also present. I gave  the Gayatri mantra (Brahmopadesam) to my elder son.  This rite was performed by my father-in-law for my  younger son.  We had invited all our close friends and relatives for the function. There was also a party in the evening for those who could not attend in the morning.   We used the neighbour’s flat also to accommodate the guests.  We were told that this was the first time some one from the South had performed Upanayanam for their sons at Ranchi.
Sometime after the Upanayanam, I took my mother on a pilgrimage to Banaras and Prayag.  At Banaras we went to the Kerala Mutt at Hanuman ghat where there were priests from Kerala.  They took us to the various ghats on a raft and arranged for a ritual bathing  in the Ganga.  We visited the famous temple of Viswanath and Visalakshi and offered our prayers there.  From Banaras we went to Allahabad by a night train. It was pitch dark in the compartment and we could not see even the face of the person sitting next to us.  We alighted at Daragunj and went to a Mutt in the early hours of the morning.  We bathed in the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna.  Then we returned to Ranchi.  Soon after, my mother  returned to our village where she was more at home. We continued to send her some money every month until she joined my youngest brother’s family at Madras. 
From the 1st of  July 1970 I was promoted as Accounts Officer, Budget & Disbursement (Hqrs).  When I was working in this capacity, the Management of HEC decided to install the IBM 1401 Computer for processing data.  Engineers, Chartered Accountants or Cost Accountants could take the Aptitude Test conducted by IBM.  As I had qualified as a Cost Accountant I was allowed to take the test. I qualified in the Aptitude Test.  There was an interview in which I was asked to compare the human brain and the computer.  I said the human brain is capable of storing information and retrieving it when required. Computer systems  can also store information and make the information available when needed.  We had to be trained to program the IBM 1401 system for processing data and generating information required by the Management.
IBM 1401 was a second generation computer.  It  was housed in a big hall where temperature and humidity were to be kept within specified limits.  Any variation in these values would  affect the working of the system and it would give out erroneous results.  Input to the computer (both programs and data) were through the medium of punched cards.  The system had a memory of 16K (16000) bytes only.   Large volume external storage was provided by tapes  from which data could be accessed only sequentially. Random access removable disks were also available but their capacity was limited to 2 million bytes ( a group of eight binary digits). The computer centre worked 24 hours and a Customer Engineer was available at call twenty four hours.  Those days IBM used to hire out these systems, there was no outright sale.
There were nine of us for the training.  Five of them were engineers.  I was the only one from Finance and I was the oldest of the lot at 41.  Our theoretical training was by IBM systems engineers.  Apart from the fundamentals of computers, we were taught Autocoder, the assembly level programming language used to program the IBM 1401.  We  then had practical training at the IBM’s Data centre in Calcutta.  Apart from the programming language we had to learn the elements of system design which included flowcharting, decision trees and tables, file structures etc. Our days were packed with interactive lecture sessions, tests, assignments and  case studies.  Eight of us made the grade. Only one could not make it.  After completion of the training I was designated Junior Executive (Systems) and posted to the Systems Department.  Developing Financial and Costing Systems was my responsibility since I was the only one with Finance background  in the group.
Since my posting as Junior Executive (systems)  I had been engaged in designing and writing programs for financial accounting applications to run on the IBM 1401 system.   Each one assigned to a functional area was to  analyse, design, develop, test and implement the applications. That meant each of us was an analyst, designer, developer, tester and implementer rolled into one.    We had to have domain knowledge of the functions for  which we were developing applications.
We  used Autocoder to program the IBM 1401.  This was an assembly level language each instruction in which was converted into machine code executable by the computer during the process of compilation.  Programs were punched into cards and read into the machine.  Data for processing were  also input into the system by means of cards.  The computer centre worked 24 hours, 7 days a week unless the Customer Engineer who was at call wanted to take the system for preventive maintenance.  If  errors were found while running the program a core dump was taken to examine the locations in the  memory of the computer where the error occurred.  Those  locations were loaded with modified instructions by means of patch cards placed before the ‘End’ card of the object deck (the card pack containing the program).   
Programs to be run during the night were written in a log book indicating the program name, the tapes to be mounted, the data to be fed and other instructions.  Any process errors occurring during the execution were reported to the programmer concerned by calling him up on the telephone.  The programmer could give instructions or ask the operator to take a core dump for him to examine the next day.  I used to be disturbed on many nights and it was a normal feature of computer operations.  Many times it used to be the mistake of the operator who had loaded the wrong tapes or input the wrong pack of cards.    During those days I also underwent a course in Fortran programming though I never used it in developing business applications. 
On one occasion I was asked to give a lecture on computer applications at the Training Department of HEC.  The audience was drawn from all departments of the Company.  That was the first time in my life I was asked to address a large gathering.  I prepared my lecture, typed it out and read through it several times to fix the flow of thoughts in my mind.  I was nervous to start with but I composed myself quickly and delivered the lecture to the best of my ability and answered  a few questions raised by the participants.


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  2. Sir

    Your blog refreshed my childhood memory. My father used to work in hmbp and I remember different sanghas and weekend trip to mecon for watching movies. I remember the navy blue HEC bus that used to pick us up from Sector 2. I have few glimpses since its been such a long time but I cherish whatever is remaining in my memory.

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