My Research Journey to Brain

This blog tries to summarize my research journey from Universe to Sun to Moon to Earth to Body to Brain.

In school days

[ This blog tries to summarize my research journey from Universe to Sun to Moon to Earth to Body to Brain. Some of this is covered in a talk I gave at IIASA, Vienna – https://youtu.be/327A01oYqdo ]

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Remembering Charu Khandal

This is story of Charu Khandal, Lead Animator of Shahrukh Khan’s movie Ra-One, who met with a terrible accident. I tried to help her through assistive technology and as she was about to get back to Bollywood, we lost her!

Facebook memory showed up a post of mine from Jan 17, 2017 where I had shared a sad news about shocking demise of Charu Khandal – Ra-One movie animator. I felt compelled to narrate her story as I know it.

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Making and Launching of Technology Vision 2035

It is 5 years since launch of Technology Vision 2035 by PM on Jan 3, 2016. This series of blog is an attempt to remember the activitiees that happened before and after the launch. We plan to form a citizen centric intiative “Foundation 2035” to keep track of India’s progress with respect to TV2035. Contact me, if you are interested.

TIFAC (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council) is an autonomous body of Dept of Science and Technology(DST), Govt of India based in Delhi. It was conceptualized in 1986 as Technology Think Tank of India by the then planning commission(converted to NITI Aayog few years ago). While giving approval to formation of TIFAC, it was moved to DST by cabinet. It started functioning in DST first as a group and in 1988, it became an autonomous body with Dr Y S Rajan as its first executive director(ED), who was also scientist in DST. The group in DST continued to work in TIFAC even after it came into existence as a separate entity. For some time, it operated out of a temporary building in DST premises(which still exists and is called Old TIFAC bldg) then to a hotel next door and moved to a building inside IIT Delhi campus which is shared between TIFAC and IIT Delhi Dept of Management Studies.

Technology Vision 2020

Unlike news circulating in media, first Chairman of TIFAC Governing Council(GC) was not Dr Kalam but Dr V Krishnamurty from 1988-93. Dr Kalam became Chairman of GC from 1993-2001. During tenure of Dr Y S Rajan and Dr Kalam, TIFAC worked on developing Technology Vision 2020 that was released by the then Prime Minister Shri Deve Gowda in 1996. This was a set of around 25 books covering 16-17 sectors of importance to India. Dr Kalam and Dr Rajan also published a book “India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium“, which has been sold in large numbers and continues to be sold through popular outlets. However, set of TIFAC Technology Vision 2020 documents, are not easily available as it is directly sold by TIFAC through a cumbersome process of purchase.

Initiation of Technology Vision 2035

Sometime in 2010, It was decided that TIFAC should work on a new set of Documents called “Technology Vision 2035″(TV2035). Dr Gautam Goswami from TIFAC was given the responsibility to head the activity. Dr Anil Kakodkar was Chairman of TIFAC, GC from 2011-18. Dr Ramasami was Secretary, DST around this time till May of 2014. An Apex committee was formed under Dr Kakodkar to oversee the preparation of document. I joined TIFAC on April 25, 2013 to head the organization as its Executive Director based on a selection committee meeting on Aug 17, 2012. I got chance to interact with TIFAC scientists during the intervening period to get to know the organization better. Work on Technology Vision 2035 work along with other projects was going on. I started to get some information about the work.

TIFAC decided to invite top scientists of the country (like those with various awards at national and international level) and request them to talk about their vision for the country in 2035. Surprisingly (or should I say as expected), all of them only talked about their own work area and nothing about where they wanted to see the country in coming decades. Then TIFAC decided to tap young minds and organized interaction sessions with school and college children in different parts of country. These proved to be much more useful as these young minds wanted to see a better future for themselves and for that country needed to move ahead as well. Based on all these inputs and internal deliberations, TIFAC decided to work on preparing road maps in 12 sectors of importance to country. For each expert committees were formed and were requested to work on road maps in their respective sectors. Each group further subdivided the task among themselves and also co opted other experts to cover all relevant aspects.

In Oct 2012, TIFAC decided to prepare a summary document consisting of important elements from 12 road maps. For this purpose, it was advised to form an author’s group comprising a science communicator, an industry personnel and a social scientist. Selection of right person was very crucial. Dr. Kakodkar suggested to include Dr. Bal Phondke, the former Director, NISCAIR having excellent communication skills (writing, oral and gesture). He was also an actor in Marathi TV serials. Along with him, Prof. Varun Sahni, the then Vice Chancellor, University of Jammu and Dr. Harit Santhanam, Former Vice President (R&D), Mahindra & Mahindra, Chennai were also inducted in this group. First interaction with this group was in Dr Kakodkar’s office in BARC, Mumbai on June 28, 2013.

During my interactions with TV2035 team before I joined TIFAC in April 2013, I enquired about comparison of India’s progress with respect to the Technology Vision 2020 document released in 1996. I was told that no such exercise is being carried out. I requested that we carry out such an exercise since without that it is futile to develop such documents. TIFAC team started this “retrospection 2020” work and it became important part of the document.

My meeting with Dr Kalam

In fact after joining, TIFAC, I paid a courtesy visit to Dr Kalam. After initial introductory round, he expressed concern about falling GDP growth rate. He also mentioned that Technology Vision 2020 is “TIFAC Baby” and we have 7 years to achieve that vision and TIFAC should work hard to move country towards that vision.

My exposure to Foresight

In March 2013, TIFAC had organized a Indo-UK foresight workshop. I was expected to join TIFAC around that time so I was also invited to participate in the workshop. At the end of 3 day workshop, we had summarized 30 future technology areas. I found myself having worked on 6 of them! So in some sense, I was already working in many futurstic areas. However what was more important was that it exposed me to various methodlogies used to carry out foresight activities e.g. Horizon Scanning etc. I followed up on these to fill the gaps that I had my understanding.

TIFAC represented India in International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis(IIASA), Vienna. As head of TIFAC, I became member of IIASA Council. It used to have two meetings – one in June and other in November. This gave me bit of international exposure where systems modeling was used to focus on quality of life. I also got invite to participate in a meeting of Govt Foresight Organization Network(GFN) at European Headquarters in Brussels in 2013. I also took this opportunity to visit UK and see at first hand how they carry out foresight work. I also had the opportunity to visit one of the UK defense research organization, where they had good foresight activity. I also offered to host GFN meet in Delhi in 2015. TIFAC team also participated in GFN 2014 meet in Korea. All of this exposure along with sending TIFAC scientists to participate in some of the international workshop boosted our confidence and we became known in International Circle for our work. We also got invite to participate in World Future Society Meet in 2016.

Heading TIFAC as its Executive Director(ED)

After joining TIFAC, finally I got chance to look at the various draft road maps prepared by committees. In the first TV2035 apex committee meeting, I emphasized on the importance of being able to communicate the document among citizens at large and policy makers, in particular. I mentioned multiple means of communication that is relevant today: (1) Print Media (2) Electronic Media (3) Social Media (4) Internet (5) Workshops etc. Each one of these needed their own way of providing information from the document. On Social media, we need to provide information in short capsules and repeat them frequently. A PDF dumped or a long talk does not get much attention on social media. I also emphasized on the content being organized in a language that a common person can understand and visual appeal of the document was equally important. One should feel like holding the document and going through it rather than keeping it away after having a look. We took this as a challenge and contacted various Govt agencies as well as freelancers to help in this process.

Restrospection : Technology Vision 2020

Retrospection 2020 was to only focus on comparing India’s progress with respect to what was visualized in the document. We felt that we would not get into details of who was responsible for what aspect and only focus on status. This would keep document away from any controversies that may arise by trying to fix responsibilities. I remember original work ran into about 10 pages or so and we felt that we need to convert this into info graphics form for easier communication. Finally TIFAC team with the help of designers prepared a nice info graphics, which has been a popular slide at the beginning of all my talks on TV2035 that I have delivered across India and outside. Here is the copy of that info graphics, where we compare India’s progress with respect to TV2020 and use horse’s movement to make it understandable.

Author’s Group for TV2035

Author’s group formed to summarize the documents took up task to write out different aspects of the planned summary and then meet for 2-3 days at a stretch perodically to synchronize the various writings into a smooth flowing document. We used to have periodic Apex committee meetings at TIFAC where some of these aspects were dicussed too. One meeting was planned in Chennai during April 12-14, 2014 which only had Author’s group along with me and Dr Goswami. We all had planned to stay in a hotel in meeting venue was planned to be a meeting room in Central Lather Research Institute(CLRI), Chennai. I asked Dr Goswami about the time schedule of meeting and he said we would be meeting during normal working hours till about 5:30 PM or so. I felt that it would be appropriate if we booked hotel meeting room and worked as long as we felt like working. This would provide flexibility in terms of time, attire, food and an informal environment. This is very important for creative engagements and many think tanks have special rooms designed for such purposes. Fortunately everyone agreeed to this proposal and we worked till late night. This became a game changer and all our meetings were patterned in this fashion. Prof Sahni used to be the one who would control the laptop where all writings/modfications were done and it used to be connected to projector for all of us to see. This was very important as it made sure that writings were in language that was easily understandable. This became one of the important USP of the document that came out of this exercise.

One of the aspects that bothered me was the fact that group had gender imbalance with no women members. I wanted to make sure that we make up for this deficiency. Towards this goal, I started to search for document that would present women’s view towards life. I came across a document that was released by World Economic Forum(WEF) “The Global Gender Gap Report – 2013”.

I also came across a document “World Happiness Reporrt 2013”. In July 2011 the UN General Assembly passed a historic resolution. It invited member countries to measure the happiness of their people and
to use this to help guide their public policies. This was followed in April 2012 by the first UN
high-level meeting on happiness and well-being, chaired by the Prime Minister of Bhutan. At the
same time the first World happiness Report was
published, followed some months later by the OECD Guidelines setting an International standard for the measurement of well-being.

Once in a while I also had discussion with my elder brother Shri Vijoy Prakash, Principal Secretary, Planning and Development, Bihar. One disucssion was regarding a “entitlement based model of development”.

Focus on Quality of Life of Indians

These and other documents had profound influence on our thinking. Our document instead of becoming an executive summary of road maps, started to become a stand alone document in its own right and focused on quality of life of Indians. We started to define what is meant by quality of life and various paramters to measure this. We also had long discusssions about what should these parameters be called etc. We eventually settled on “Prerogative”. After arranging and rearranging, we finalized 12 prerogatives – top ones were important for each individual and botrom ones were important as collective, as shown in the image below.

We also made a conscious choice to not compare ourselves with other countries and remain focused on India. We only talk about other countries/regions in a chapter towards the end on “Technology : National Comprehensive Power”.

Capacity Building of TIFAC Scientists

In parallel to this work, I started to go through various draft roadmap documents. What struck me was that most of the document could not visualize the kind of technologies that may be available by 2035. Most documents had focused on near term future. I expressed my concern to the committees. Most of them mentioned that they did not have the expertise to visualize future technologies. Then I intiated an internal exercise to do internal training of TIFAC scientists by forming vaious groups and training each other. Most of them responded positively and a few had to be pursuaded to join in the effort.

While we were doing this, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd(IOCL), a large PSU contacted us for learning to do technology forecast in Aug 2013. I took this as an opportunity to not only train them but train ourselves too since teaching is the best way of learning. We planned a 2 day workshop for this and had internal and external speakers as part of this. For internal speakers, we went through rehearsal to improve our quality of presentations. At the begining of workshop, I used the term “foresight” instead of “forecast”. One participant vehemently opposed this and said that they had come to learn about “forecast”. I requested him to go through the sessions first. At the end of session, he opined that we have opened their eyes and all were very happy. We also felt satisfied and more confident.

TIFAC scientists started to contribute to all the documents by visualizing various technoligies that were likely to come and how they may impact India.This started to boost the quality of documents and most of them made their way into main vision document – the document that was supposed to be summary document.

Technology Table for Prerogatives

For each of the 12 prerogatives, we set some broad targets for the country and some focused targets with very quantitative expectations that took about one to one and half pages. Each of them were also accompanied by a technoogy table that had technologies that woudl be useful in fulfilling that particular prerogative. Of course many of them would cut across a few of them. We also decided to indicate readyness levels of these technologies with respect to the prerogatives. Instead of using TR1,TR2 etc, we used four terms – “Readily Deployable”, “From Lab to Field”, “Needs Targetted Research” and “In Imagination”. We also had in depth discussion on what kind of tabular format would be most suitable for these. An example is shown below.

“Readily deployable” were those that could more or less be used off the shelf or with slight adaptation but were not being used much in India. “From Lab to Field” were still in lab stage and needed to be scaled up and economized to be used commercially – an area where India lags too much. “Requiring targeted research” were those areas where we needed to focus like a mission mode work. India has delivered in areas like Space, Atomic Energy and Missiles due to this but most of the other areas, we do not have focused and synchronized effort. NITI Aayog has picked up a large number of these to support in mission mode. The last one “in the imagination” were the ones that we felt were very uncertain and may happen in 20-30 years or may not happen at all but were going to be very disruptive if they happened. What was very interesting that a few of these started to show rapid progress even before the document was formally launched.

Grand Challenges

We also decided that we would throw certain grand challenges for the country that we must face and overcome. List of these 10 challenges include “Guaranteeing Nutritional Security and Eliminating Female and Child Anaemia”. Fortunately Govt of India launched two major schemes based on these – “Nutrition India” and “Anaemia Mukt Bharat”. Similarly Govt has taken up “Taking the Railway to Leh and Tawang”.

We had few more chapters added to complete the document but now it was no longer a summary document of the roadmaps in different sectors as was visualized early on but it became a “Vision Document” in its own right. Then I suggested that we align the various roadmaps in a way that it flows from this Vision Dcoument and provided a roadmap to achiveve the vision.

Handing over document to PMO

As we were almost finalizing the document, we had elections in May 2014 and new Govt took over with a change in political party on May 26. On June 13-14, 2014 we had a meeting with Dr Kakodkar in BARC, Mumbai to review the status. We discussed that new govt was in hurry and was looking for new ideas before it moved ahead on action front. We did not have time to wait now and needed to finish it quickly. One more issue was to get attention of Govt to this document. TV2020 was launched by PM in 1996. I suggested that we not only requeest PM to launch the document but also to write foreword to the document. Ideally we wanted to launch all the documents together – Vision Document with 12 roadmaps. But it would have taken time to carry out the final touches needed for the roadmaps as well as to align them to the vision document. So we decided to go ahead with submitting the vision document separately and launch each of the roadmaps in different cities of India to give it an all India image. At that time Dr Vijayraghavan was given additional charge as Secretary, DST. We briefed him about our plan and he readily agreed to take up the request for both foreword and launch with PMO. He also wanted to see the draft version of document so that he was familiar with the content. Suddenly on June 27, 2014 we received a request through DST for a copy of Vision 2035 from Secretary, Earth Sciences. After enquiring, we found out that PMO had desired a copy even before we sent any formal request as mentioned was made in one of the meetings. We sent the draft version of the document but without the graphics and layout etc being done fully.

Look and Feel of the Document

Matter automatically assumed super urgency now. TIFAC team members spent day/night/weekends to work with designer to give the finishing touches to the document with visual elements and layout done. We reviewed the first layout in a meeting with Dr Kakodkar. He did not seem happy to see it neither was Dr Goswami. They felt it would not look like a serious document and may not have the impact. I suggested that we make some suggestions to the designer to make sure that color/fonts etc are appropriate to the document. Next round of improvement made everyone happy and we finalized the look and feel of the document. While printing we also ensured that proper paper quality is used. In fact the document became well known in Central Govt circle for breaking away from the boring looks and we got many inquires about it from organizations like NITI Aayog etc.Some time in Sept 2014, we handed over the document to PMO with a request to write foreword and launch it as well. We had many questions from PMO. One of them was about who had asked us to prepare this document. Another one was to show a documentary evidence of Technology Vision 2020 being launched by then PM etc. We also sent a draft foreword and then later another one after some weeks. Around Nov 2014, we were told that it would take about 3 months and we may have to make a short presentation to PM etc. However we did not hear about it and queries did not do much help either. In summer of 2015, TIFAC was requested to provide technology related input to India’s climate change commitments in preparation for COP21@Paris later in the year. Shri Sushil Kumar, my Netarhat School Senior, was Addl Secretary, MoEFCC and was in charge of COP21 related activities. After one of the meetings, I showed him a copy of TV2035. He liked it and asked for a copy. He suggested that he would want PM to release this document in Paris during COP21. My response was that this is a document that was meant for country and it would be out of context to release it in Paris specially since this was not a document specific to climate issues. He said he would talk to PMO.

Interaction at PMO

Some time after this, around Aug 27, 2015, we received notification from PMO about a meeting on TV2035 on Sept 8, 2015 with Dr Kakodkar and Secretaries of DST, DBT, DSIR, MoES, ICMR to be present. We tried to inquire from DST if myself and Dr Goswami could be present. They said only those mentioned in the letter can attend! We made a special request and finally on the day of presentation, we got go ahead to be present in the meeting. During presentation , Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secy to PMO, mentioned to Dr Kakodkar – “Dr Kakodkar, you are the last word in Science for this country. We should have released this document yesterday when PM was in a conference of Scientists.” That gave us a hint that they would go ahead with our plan of letting PM write foreword as well as launch it.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, DG, ICMR told me that she would like to work on the grand challenge no 1 – “Guaranteeing Nutritional Security and Eliminating Female and Child Anaemia” with us. I agreed and decided to plan this out later with her. There was also discussion about how to take the agenda forward after preparation and launch of the document. We mentioned certain action points that TIFAC plans to do.

After this again there was no communication regarding launch of the document. We were planning a grand launch with demonstration of latest technologies in launch program for which we needed some time to work out. We had discussed with few companies and planned out the event but were not sure how it would be launched and when.

Launch Date Announced!

Later part of 2015 was very busy time for me and TIFAC as we were involved in a number of events in sequence. We were hosting VIth Annual International Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction during 28th-30th October, 2015 in partnership with  International Society for Integrated Disaster Risk Management (IDIRM), Japan and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria. It was a mega event with large number of international participants and 6 parallel sessions. From Nov 25-27, we were hosting Govt Foresight Network Organization(GFN) meet consisting of participants from different countries. Right after this, we had to take on the responsibility of hosting the first India International Science Festival from Dec 3-8, 2015. This was again a mega event with lakhs of participants and venue was IIT Delhi. From Dec 9-12, 2015 we had to be in Paris to participate in COP21. on Dec 8, we left for Paris after successfully conducting IISF in partnership with Vijnana Bharati. On Dec 13, I returned to Delhi and while on the way home from airport, I got a call from DST that PM would be launching TV2035 on Jan 3, 2016 at 103rd Indian Science Congress in Mysore. Suddenly we had to get into high gear to get things done for launch!

LifeScape and TechnoScape

While we were waiting for more than one year to hear back from PMO, we discussed ways to improve the document further without changing the main body that was already handed over to PM. Most of the people after hearing “Technology Vision 2035” thought it was a “vision for technology”. We wanted to break this notion since it actually had become vision for India based on aspirations and desires of young minds of India. We prepared a info graphics to depict some aspects of this aspiration and termed it as “Life in 2035” or LifeScape. This was put in the front cover as spread out and is shown below:

LifeScape : Life in 2035

I also realized that we needed to convey to the readers that this Vision document is part of a set of documents including road maps in 12 sectors. In my write up to the document, I very prominently mentioned this but in addition to this we made a little booklet “TechnoScape” that had a one page summary of each of the road maps. This was added in a pocket at the back cover page. It is shown below:

TechnoScape : Snapshot of Technology Roadmaps

Printing of Document

We asked DST about foreword from PM so that we could include it in final print. They said he has signed and we should have received it. We searched and searched and no where it was to be found. Then DST scientist also did searching in his office and found that he had kept it nicely in his drawer but had put it upside down and was missing it out every time he searched the drawer! Finally we put together everything and wanted to get bulk printing done so that not only it could be launched but also distributed. Dr Kakodkar informed that he would not be available for the launch. Dr Goswami had also planned year end outing with his family. Min of S&T was also having a exhibtion stall and we agreed to be part of it to showcase the document. We had no idea about in what way, launch of document would be there. DST could not give much idea about it. I had a 2 minute meeting with Minister of S&T, Dr Harsh Vardhan to brief him about it. He was very happy and wanted a number of copies. He also took personal interest in grand challenge 1 on Anaemia and shared some facts about it.

I along with team of TIFAC members reached mysore but were in total dark about how the document would be launched. I personally carried about 60-70 Kg weight due to more than 100 copies with me in flight. Rest 100 we distributed among others. Printer had made a mistake while printing lifescape and last night he corrected it and I got copies minutes before I was to leave for Airport!

Chaos at Launch

Mysore was full of participants and all hotels were full and it was difficult to find accomodation for all. On Jan 2, 2016 (one day before launch) also we had very little information about launch process. Copies of documents were with me and there was chaos all over. Finally around 7 PM, we got information that we need to reach venue as fast as possible before the area is sealed and hand over the documents. We tried to put documents in gift wrap and were not sure it fit would be acceptable by security officials. Eventually we reached the venue of launch with tight security. They were very upset saying that they seal the venue 24 hours before the arrival of PM and it was barely 10-12 hours remaining. One senior security officer, who was supervising was bit more sympathetic and took the copies. I asked him, if I needed to hand over the document to PM for which I needed to be in the enclosure. He said my security pass for this purspoe was not made. I told him may be Secretary, DST can hand over etc. He told me that in the morning, I can be out side the inner enclosure and inform him (no mobiles were allowed) about my seating place. He would let me know if I needed to hand over the copies directly. By this time it was midnight.

Actual Launch by PM

We all returned to hotel and went to the venue early morning. There was Chaos at the place with Security Tag reader not working properly. They were not letting me and TIFAC team enter. Fortunately one senior Govt official recognized us and some how managed to let us in. I could manage to alert Security officer about my seating place, which was at the edge of second row in the middle fo make it easy for him as well as for me to come out, if needed.

Finally launch moment came. Announcer did not even mention TIFAC name and even one line about the document. It just said two documents were to be launched – one is summary of abstracts and other Technology Vision 2035. Anyway it was launched by PM eventually even though in a very unceremonious manner!

Launch of TV2035 by Hon’ble PM. Click on the image to see the video of launch

Those wanting copy of Technology Vision 2035 and released roadmaps can download it from TIFAC website.

My Talk after Launch and Media

I had earlier requested DST to give me a chance to talk about TV2035 and they had agreed and made a lot in an afternoon session. Of course crowd had thinned down by then but stil there were thousands of them. Talk went well and we got good response. Media people wanted copy of document and we managed to give out to many of them. Shri Maan Bardhan Kanth, who was handling media relation on behalf of TIFAC also helped by connecting to this friends in media circle. They all wanted soft copy of the document to make it easy for them to copy content and images etc.

Image may contain: 1 person
Giving talk at Indian Science Congress after launch of Technology Vision 2035

Preparation of Technology Vision 2035 was designing future of India and involved thousandds of people directly or indirectly. However a core group of members worked tirelessly to achieve this. This is shown in the image below.

TV2035 : Key Contributors

I would be writing another set of blogs on post launch activities as this is already too long!

Covid-19 pandemic in India through my eyes

Vaccination in India is starting tomorrow (Jan 2, 2021). I am not sure, how much time it would take for showing its impact but it would be at least few weeks. As per my earlier prediction, we are close to 2.5 lakh active cases by year end. I am expecting this to drop to about 1.5 lakh cases by January end. After that it may oscillate between 1 to 1.5 lakh active cases unless vaccination starts to show its impact and numbers drop to insignificant levels. This may take time till March 2021 or so.

We started hearing about Covid-19 virus in January 2020 and its growth in China. At that time it looked too far away from us. However it did not take much time to spread globally and India started to see rising cases in March. We had planned our University foundation day celebrations on March 14th, 2020. Along with celebrations, we had also planned to hand over various awards to students. On the night of March 13th, we got indication from Govt to shutdown student activities and we had to cancel the event and ask students to not come.

Continue reading “Covid-19 pandemic in India through my eyes”

Visit to my Village Narayanpur(Darbhanga, Bihar) after 8 years

I wrote this blog mainly to describe the changes I noticed in my villlage after a long gap of 8 years. I believe that these changes happening in the rural area are not being noticed by the policy makers and entrepreneurs. I feel that there are new possibilities .

My first memory of my village goes to an incident in my early childhood when I had suffered a burn when a rice pot tumbled and I also happened to fall in the hot water. It is still itched in my memory. I remember learning to walk again by holding walls. I also remember having gone through a near death experience in my mother’s native village when I was drowning in a pond while learning to swim. I used to visit my village once in 4-5 years when some family functions used to take place. 

My first long and independent experience of staying in the village was in summer of 1977. I had completed my first year at IIT Kharagpur and there was a marriage of one of my elder cousin sisters. She used to stay with us in Nawada in the late 1960s as part of a big joint family system and my father used to take care of most of the family members at that time.

This was the first family function after we became college going and I was asked to stay in the village and take care of pre marriage preparation of the house etc. House was a mud house and I spent a month trying to make it better. There were a number of family functions along with marriage all packed in 2-3 days. I hardly slept during those days and was responsible for taking care of stores. I felt so sleepy after all the events were over that I fell asleep in the open ground outside our village house at night and people started searching for me!

Starting in 1977 with this stay, we started visiting village more often. Traditionally we used to have sacrifice rituals and we brothers did not feel it was necessary and managed to convince everyone to stop this practice. My father was a big help in supporting us. Village had hardly any development and we used to walk at least 5 Kms from the nearest bus stop to reach the village. To get even basic needs, one had to go several Kms. There was no shop in the village worth mentioning. Other than agricultural activities there were no other economic activities. Few people used to work in other towns and used to support families in village.

We started discussing how to enhance non-agricultural activities in the village. We brainstormed and felt that we needed to start two things. One was to start some religious event associated with a temple in the village that may be.an annual ritual and may become popular over a number of years and flow of people may take place during that time resulting in associated economic activity. Second was to start some kind of village “Haat”, which would be a weekly market place and would attract people from outside the village. We found that there was no such Haat on Monday in nearby places and decided to promote a Monday Haat at one of the entry point of the village next to a pond and a govt school. We printed pamphlets announcing Monday Haat at that location and distributed them in nearby villages as well as other village Haats to attract attention. Please see the detailed description given in a book co-authored by my elder brother, Shri Vijoy Prakash in the scanned pages at the end of this blog.

This yielded result and both buyers and sellers started to visit the location. It started to grow year by year and the volume of economic activity grew manifold. After 3-4 years it drew the attention of govt officials and they decided to take over the Haat and auctioned it to the highest bidder every year to earn revenue. It kept on growing and resulted in farmers growing cash crops in addition to paddy etc. 

My father retired in 1990 and decided to settle in the village. Around that time a brick house was built after demolishing part of the mud house. In the meantime electricity had become available in early 80s and roads had also improved in 80s. In the early days electric supply was good but slowly it started to deteriorate. Road conditions also were not maintained properly. Bus service from the village had also started and some hired vehicles started to become available. We started visiting village at least once a year to be with our parents. A public telephone  booth was made available in the village too around 1990-91, which was operated by my family. This was connected using a microwave tower  to the nearest exchange and used to be powered by solar cells. This was the only link for residents of nearby villages. All news related to users of the booth was available at the booth. At times it would face technical problems and repair used to take months. Unfortunately we lost my grandmother and father in quick succession in 1995 and 1996. My mother became alone and started spending more time with my elder brother in Patna. Our link to the village reduced a bit.

Around 2006-07, we found mother starting to spend longer stretches in village. One of the reasons was the improvement in electrical supply. It started to become available for a few hours in a day. Availability of mobile phones was another reason that made it easy to communicate. We set up an overhead tank with a pump to supply water in the kitchen and bathroom. My mother used to be the only one in the whole courtyard and it was both inconvenient as well as unsafe to use a hand pump available in one corner of the courtyard. I also purchased a solar panel and LED lamp with battery backup. This also had a charging point to charge mobile phones in case of power failure. LED torches had also become available in the village. After Dec 2012, I did not get a chance to visit the village till recently (Dec 7, 2020). My mother also started to spend less time at the village due to her poor health.

My nephew got married recently at Darbhanga after his planned marriage in May 2020 had to be postponed due to pandemic. This was in Darbhanga – our home district. My village Narayanpur is about 40-50 Kms from here and me along with my elder brother and niece decided to visit the village for a couple of hours before returning to Patna to welcome the newly weds. 

My elder brother( ex IAS officer, 1981 batch) had retired as Agriculture Production Commissioner of Bihar state in 2016. He and my sister in law started to pay more attention to the village while being based at Patna. They have set up a large greenhouse of more than 2200 square meters. Some more work is remaining here before it becomes useful. There are also various trees planted. Some of them were destroyed due to flooding but replanting has been done. 

I wrote this blog mainly to describe the changes I noticed after a long gap of 8 years.

Electricity has become available almost round the clock. The Internet through cell networks and some form of broadband has become available as well. Television connected through dish TV has become commonplace in each household. Possibly due to these reasons many relatives have started staying in the village after retirement even though they have houses in metro cities. Most of them also maintain a vehicle. Four courtyards are in close proximity to each other. Each house has good quality construction with modern amenities. All the relatives were happy staying in the village with better quality of life including improvement in health. Children and grandchildren are spread across India and the globe. Internet connectivity keeps them connected. None of them were staying in the village a few years ago. 

I also noticed 15-20 permanent shops have come up near the village entrance and there is a crowd of buyers around specially on the Mondays when village Haat takes place. This has made not only life easier for residents of the village but also initiated many non agricultural activities. I also noticed that a hospital building has come up in the village too but did not get a chance to visit it. Primary school in the village had been improving day by day and even during 2012 visit it was doing quite well with more than 700 students enrolled. From outside the infrastructure looked even more developed but did not get a chance to go inside. It was also interesting to note that Amazon was able to deliver goods in the village too! What more can you ask for??? But wait, there is more – we also have a Car washing shop in village!!!

I believe that these changes happening in the rural area are not being noticed by the policy makers and entrepreneurs. I feel that there are new possibilities emerging in terms of providing services to people returning back to villages with enough money. Many of them as well as those living outside own agricultural land in the village and it is not possible for them to take care of these by themselves. If there are companies that can professionally manage these agricultural lands with better technology and financial management, it would improve the quality of life in villages even more. I also see the possibility of the “cloud manufacturing” concept, where villages can become hubs of manufacturing. This can also lead to value addition to local produce and amplify income. 

Dancing Sparks in ADITYA Tokamak(Nuclear Fusion Reactor)

This blog talks about how we started to notice sparks at different location on the top of machine, which had nothing to do with insulation failures but improper grounding and kept us clueless for long time.

This blog talks about how we started to notice sparks at different location on the top of machine, which had nothing to do with insulation failures but improper grounding and kept us clueless for long time.

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Sudden Silence in ADITYA Tokamak(Nuclear Fusion Reactor)

This blog is about an accident on Dec 1, 1999, when two of the ADITYA’s magnet coils broke apart from their support system and got thrown out. Important lessons can be learnt from this incident.

This blog is about an accident on Dec 1, 1999, when two of ADITYA’s magnet coils broke apart from their support system and got thrown out. Important lessons can be learnt from this incident.

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How Did I Start Cooking!

This is my story of how I started cooking. As with most Indian children, usual I did not get much chance to do any cooking in India When I went to USA I had got a room in International students house(I-House) in Berkeley. For first few days, mess facility was not available. Myself and one more friend of mine from Delhi went out to eeat in a nearby Indian restaurant called “Pasand”. There we met a gentleman who was a helicopter pilot. He had gone from India on contract to Sprinkle pesticides in the agriculture field. While doing this he met with an accident as helicopter caught fire. He had injury in his legs and he was not in position to fly anymore 

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