Eightieth Birthday Of The Giant

As told by Prof Sasi :

It was a wonderful day (16th Sunday), the eve of Prof Narasimhan's 80th birthday. In a grand event, hel
d at Hotel Leela Palace, Bangalore, the pioneers of computing assembled to felicitate the giant. A gathering, that occurs very very rarely.
In a career starting in the 50s and continuing in someway or other till date, he has achieved much

The event at Bangalore was organised by CDAC - Dr Ramani and George leading the effort - and driven from Bangalore. Prof MGK Menon, another giant of a personality, was the chief guest - someone who has worn a number of hats from Director, TIFR, Director ISRO, Chairman Space Commission, Secretary of IT Department, Secretary DST, etc..

Prof PVS Rao also of TIFR fame and well known for his pioneering research in speech processing, Hemant Sonawala who made the first commercial computer in India, Prof Rajaraman from IISc, Prof Isaac of IIT Mumbai,Prof Rajeev Sangal of ex-IIT Kanpur and now IIIT Hyderabad, Dr Anandan of Microsoft Research India, P Sadanandan ex-NCST and now Intelesoft,Srikantan ex-director, TIFR, S Ramakrishnan CDAC Director-general,Maj Gen Balasubramanian, our ex-NCST colleagues Anji and Mickey, etc
were among the guests. Many of them spoke about the birthday boy of his person and the thinker. Mr Narayanamurty of Infosys also cameand spent a few minutes with the gathering on the occassion.

The event started with a welcome by Dr S Ramani, perhaps the most well known of Professor's mentees, followed by opening remarks by Prof MGK Menon. Then some of the stalwarts of those times took turns looking at various aspects of the IT growth in the last 50 years or so. Prof PVS Rao, Maj Gen Balasubramaniam,
Prof Rajaraman, Dr Ramani, Mohan Kaul, etc spoke on the occassion. Prof Rao spoke at length of the famous Defense project in instrumentation (ADGES) and some of the difficult and fun times they had during the project. Prof Rajaraman, looking at the evolution of IT education, reflected on the poor state of IT education in India today. The lack of teachers, the poor
academia-industry interaction, the proliferation of colleges/courses, all came in for review.

The evening came to a close with dinner. Breaking all predictions, George managed to convince Professor to cut a cake - perhaps the first time, he is doing so in 80 years!

The second day - actual birthday - was structured as a workshop aptly titled "research directions in computer science". The organisers managed an impressive array of speakers from among the pool who had assembled the previous day. The day began with some serious felicitations for Professor from a number of dignitaries including Dr Ramani, Shri Ramakrishnan,
Prof RK Joshi (of NCST fame) and so on. Prof Joshi presented a souvenircomprising quotes from Professor's books and writings, enriched with RK's design skills. This was followed by brief talks by Prof Menon and Dr Sadagopan. Shri Ramakrishnan anchored this opening session and then left the floor to Dr Sadagopan to anchor the rest of the day.

Prof Menon re-emphasised some of the points, particularly, the need for interdisciplinary approach, the need for research in context, etc. Dr Sadagopan brought up similar issues, pointing out that computer science is now a basic discipline, and the focus in IT is shifting to applications, from issues like operating system and platform.

The presentations started with Dr Keshav Nori, Executive Director, TCS bringing up the issue of mechanisms for modelling businesses in various domains. Mr P Sadanandan, ex-Director NCST and now Exec Director, Intelesoft looked at the problem of retrieving the knowledge that gets buried in database organisation and structure when developing applications. Prof Sangal, Director, IIIT Hyderabad looked at two specific aspects of Natural Language Processing: Part-of-speech tagging and sentence parsing. He also highlighted some of the experiments at IIIT in inculcating research mindset among the undergraduates there.

Post-lunch session saw Dr Anjaneyulu, in-charge of language technologies at HP Labs India, discuss HP's work in the area of handwriting recognition. They are open sourcing their Lipi toolkit for handwriting recognition. They also have interesting work in gesture keyboard, particularly for Indian languages. Following this was my talk on e-learning and ITS.

According to Prof Sasi - " I was nervous in talking in front of such a grant audience. But the talk seems to have gone ok. ITS was a popular topic of activity during the 80s and early 90s. As it declined in popularity, e-learning was growing. Past the initial technological hurdles, e-learning is now looking at adaptive, personalised instruction, and ITS will play an important role in this generation of e-learning.

My talk was followed by a talk on nanofuture by Lal Uttamchandani;
I could not follow this talk much. Shri Ramakrishnan, DG of CDAC was the next speaker, looking at the trends in the field
of computer networking. He did it the way, he is strong at - painting the big picture with a lot of his characteristic style of diagrams.

Next was the future of 'finding' from R Chandrasekar of Microsoft,
ex-NCST. The talk looked at the search engine ideas being explored
by the research team at Microsoft.

In the wrap-up session, Dr Nori asked people to identify a few
grand challenges in IT, specifically from the Indian context.
In a round of audience response, a few points were raised. This
is to be taken as a continuing activity, to be reviewed in something
like 3-6 months.

The day ended at about 5.00pm. On the whole, it was an interesting two days. Not all the talks were well planned, and the audience was relatively small. An event of this nature should have been used to ignite the minds of the many faculty in Bangalore/Karnataka, if not beyond. The small audience restricts the impact an event of this nature would have had. Barring these two, the event was great. The organisers led by George from CDAC side and Dr Ramani and Anji to guide, did a tremendous job.

Of course, as the famous saying goes, no words are enough to capture the mood, the gravity and the various deliberations during these two days. I have put together some of the threads from my personalview point, and could be biased.

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