Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Watching India race to the top

CYBER AGE From The Statesman
India’s strength and ingenuity

India is becoming an integral part of the globalised economy and is clearly thriving on the synergy between multinational corporations and its indigenous strengths, which come from a high quality of education from its top universities, democratic institutions that create transparency, and the ingenuity of its people for innovative solutions to complex problems.

A few years ago, I was paired to play golf with a South Korean businessman, let’s call him Tom Chung, who was visiting the USA for business and to meet his children studying in New England. He was keenly interested in India, where he had established a manufacturing facility for an ancillary product in collaboration with a local industrialist in western India. At the fifth hole my curiosity got the better of me and I asked Chung: How do you compare Indian and Chinese workers? He smiled thoughtfully and said, “Chinese workers are hardworking but they need clear instructions, a blueprint to follow, to complete the work. Indian workers are probably not as self-disciplined and hardworking as the Chinese, but they are resourceful and ingenious. If there is a problem, they won’t sit down and wait for someone to come and help them. They would find creative ways to solve the problem. If something were broken or missing, they would improvise a substitute and fix it.”

Being familiar with American pop culture, Chung called it “the MacGyver positive”: Don’t just sit down. Do something and get out of the trouble. MacGyver was the protagonist of a 1980s TV series in which he showed his uncanny ingenuity at making complicated machines out of ordinary things. In the pilot episode, for example, MacGyver used his remarkable ingenuity by using an unusual tool, chocolate, in sealing a dangerous leak from an underground lab and rescued the trapped scientists. Indian workers, even those who don’t have much education, Chung said, display the same aptitude for innovativeness.

Call it junkyard ingenuity, but it is so widespread in India that it is almost a national trait. Today, India and the USA, for example, talk of strategic partnership, peaceful nuclear technology transfer, and energy cooperation, but there was a time when the USA treated India as a pariah.

In 1991, for example, the US state department banned the sale of computers to India that could do more than 900 million operations per second. How did India respond? In no time, the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing developed a powerful series, Param-1000, which at that time was one of the most powerful computers of its kind, capable of diversity of applications in fields such as engineering, business, industry, space and nuclear technology.

Indian ingenuity served the supercomputing needs of the Indian scientific community and made possible the development and enhancement of India’s nuclear weapons programme, however controversial. The USA’s ubiquitous eye in the sky, the orbiting American satellites, could not detect the preparation of Pokhran because the Indian space scientists had precisely calculated the orbits of the satellites and worked around them to escape notice. But this high-end technological ingenuity grew up on the foundation laid by some of the brightest Indians of the 20th century, men like CV Raman, S Chandrashekhar, Har Gobind Khurana, SN Bose, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, and not the least, Jawaharlal Nehru, whose rational and scientific outlook on life guided him to establish some of the finest science laboratories and institutions of higher learning.

Indian ingenuity is written all over the Silicon Valley from the co-founding of Sun Microsystems to the development of Pentium, PowerPoint, Hotmail, streaming video, digital satellite television, MPEG audio compression standard, and much more, as wonderfully told by Shivanand Kanavi in his book, Sand to Silicon: The Amazing Story of Digital Technology. But Kanavi forgot to discuss the contribution of one of the most brilliant innovative minds in India today, Faqir Chand Kohli, the doyen of Indian software development and outsourcing and the chairman emeritus of Tata Consultancy Services.

Speaking with Manjeet Kriplani of Business Week last year, Kohli echoed what the South Korean businessman Chung had told me at the golf links: “Big companies are geared up for incremental innovation. For us in India, the cost of doing innovative technology is very low.
The capability of India is its people. We can assemble more good and intelligent people than anywhere in the world. I admire China, but our people are better.India has ingenuity. If an ordinary car mechanic is aided by computers and simulation, his productivity leaps.”

At 80 plus, Kohli has given himself a new mission: To harness digital technology for spreading mass education, especially in India’s more than a half million villages.

Ingenuity is another name for what systems experts call as “equifinality,” which means transcending a system’s limitations by finding an alternative route to reach the same goal. A creative and ingenious mind becomes restless when he hits a wall and asserts, there has to be another way; and he improvises by transferring intelligence from one application to another.

But individual entrepreneurial ingenuity has its limitations. Bangalore could transcend the limitations of its poor infrastructure, power and transportation, for example, by building captive power plants and satellite communications to reach its outsourcing clients in the USA and elsewhere. But the shining city on the hill has left rest of the country far behind. Now the question is whether Indian ingenuity and its “swarming intelligence”, to borrow a term from the science of emergence, can be applied to collective action to build 24/7 reliable highways, ports, railroads, power plants and airports to compete with a super-competitive China.


  1. http://top500.org/lists/plists.php?Y=2004&M=11

    Sounds like you like to compare China and India.

    Here is the latest list of the top 500 super computers in the world.

    Pay attention to who are using them and who built them.

    Dawning, Lenovo are Chinese companies.

    You need some common knowledge before you write something.

    India's corruption is among the worst. Worse than China.

    Democracy does not work well in India. Women's rights? caste system? Development? infrastructure? education? technology? industry? farming? Military? All of the above China is far ahead of India.

  2. Never say people of one nationality are better than another. Hitler said it. He was wrong.

    If Indian people are so wonderful. Why India lag behind of China so much? Don't forget India's economy was much better than China in late 40s.

    BTW, many colledge kids can calculate the satelliet orbits. That's just their hobbies. Don't take it so serious.


    This is what I posted on a Pakistani forum. I did omparison of India with China. From those data you will know how far`behind India is after China.

  3. I have nothing against India, in fact I think Indian people are great and the Indian civilization was one of the main pillars of humanity. However, I have to use facts and observations to deduce the Indian progress and how realistic it is for India to surpass China as the article proposed.
    I am not about to highlight the infrastructure and living standards as those had been discussed many times before.

    India gained her independence from the British earlier than most and like most colonies primed for independence, India was stocked with enough educated leaders and bureaucrats, the economic reserve was ensured to be adequate, the major infrastructures whether it was financial, judiciary, political, transportation or communcation, were in place and in an English speaking world, Indians are the most English literate of all non-aligned countries.

    In addition, after WWII, India was not devastated by the war and was poised to be one of the main suppliers of resources (human or otherwise) to help rebuild nations devastated by the war. That's how the US managed to enjoy the best economic growth ever duirng the 50s and 60s.

    After 60 years, what happened? Just because of the latest freeing of financial contraints which led to natural economic growth does not mean that India is ready to be the top economic dog.

    Another way to gauge if India is as real as advertized is to look at similar Indian originated nations around the area(Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka,...) like China originated nations such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and ethnic relatives such as Korea and Japan. This will give us a general trend where India is headed and where China is headed.

    No doubt India will continue to grow and I am quite sure that in the future India will be an economic force with teeth but to consistently blast China and utilizing baseless comparisons will only lessen India's credibility because so far it is only India that had been propagating 'India better than China' propoganda that was based on wishful thinking and non-existent benchmarks.

    So far, the see-sawing of Sino Indo relationships has been based on the whims of the reactionary Indian leaders. I still have not forgotten Fernandez's unwarranted "China is India's No. 1 enemy" comment. It was only when the BJP lost its majority in the parliament that relations with China began to thaw. Now it is the neo-cons of the west who is trying to incite what the BJP was doing in order to divide the two most populous nations in the world for its own gain.

    I for one would like the Indians to see through all these and work towards the growth of their country without trying to drag China into their own insecurity and lack of national focus which were the main reasons for the stagnation of the last 60 years.

    This was copied from a Chinese reply to the similar Indian propaganda. It worth reading

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