Dr Kurien demanded and Mike created the environment

I had studied in my village and home town university at Gorakhpur. I was not good at spoken or written English. My post graduate degree was in Mathematics. But the lack of fluency in English was not an impediment in our conversing and delivering on the role expectations.

Mike was at that time coordinating a consulting project that IIMA was doing for a Mumbai-based group which later resulted in the formation of the Protein Foods Association of India. I had done a house to house sample survey on expenditure patterns of lower middle class families for Prof Gupta. I was analysing the data collected. There were no computers those days and Mike had an electronic calculator. I was asked to come to the Ford Foundation Guest House and use it. Mike saw me working when we greeted each other.

After a couple of days Prof Gupta told me that Mike wanted to meet me. My contract of one month was getting over and when Prof Gupta indicated that Mike wanted to meet me and that there was a possibility of getting additional work. I was tempted, hopeful but also anxious. How would I communicate with him? What if I am unable to understand his accent? What if I am not able to answer the questions he asks?

When I met Mike I did not realise how the time passed. He wanted me to do secondary research, look at National Sample Survey data of various rounds and summarise trends in expenditure group wise actual reported expenses on various items like food (cereals, milk and milk products, meat etc), education, medicine, etc. I found in him an extremely patient person, passionate about the work that he was doing and someone with an amazing capacity to explain things.

As luck would have it, in my forays into libraries of various Government organisations I was able to gather valuable information and published data in a very short time. The data compilation and analysis work that I did under Mike’s supervision turned out to be full of learning. He encouraged me to explore newer ways of looking at the same data set. I had done a paper in statistics as part of my Master’s degree. However, it was for the fi rst time that I was faced with real data to play around with and look at from different perspectives through interpolation, extrapolation and propose possible conclusions for further discussions and investigations. The learning was immense. I still preserve the signed testimonial that Mike gave me post my fi rst assignment for him in 1967. He gives me more credit than I deserved.

It was Mike’s nature to create conditions which allowed “talent” to grow naturally and to nurture the talent through exploratory questions by not putting too tight deadlines. However, when things came to a crunch and a deadline was to be met, he had no hesitation in taking things in his own hands to complete the same while giving the credit to his assistants and associates.

Journey with Dr Kurien

 At our first meeting, Mike enquired about my family background. He was impressed with my work and gave me more assignments. He wanted me to pursue studies. Looking at my family background, he offered to pay for my studies. Then there was a long gap.

On 24th November 1967, I was happy to receive a telegram from Mike (I still have it in original) asking me to meet Dr Kurien about the possibility of working with him.

I met Dr Kurien in the office of the then Joint Commissioner (Dairy Development), Government of India, Gopinath.

Dr Kurien interviewed me for over one hour. But it was an antithesis of what an interview ought to be. I was asked very few questions. I was a listener. Dr Kurien was such a story teller.

Dr Kurien spoke at length about his “Leadership Journey”. I was totally absorbed listening to the articulation of the “vision” on the future of dairying in India that he wove through the narrative of his life, work and dreams. The vision was about enabling producers of agricultural commodities fi nd their rightful place by coming together and move into the centre of any effort to integrate production, procurement, processing, marketing of milk and of inputs for milk production enhancement.

He talked about his education, his work at Tata Steel, his deputation to the Government Dairy Facility at Anand in order to fulfill the commitments made for obtaining a scholarship in lieu of his education at Michigan State University, meeting Tribhuvandas Patel, the founder Chairman of Amul, agreeing to work for the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union and finding a cause to live by and work for.

Dr Kurien spoke about the formation of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in 1965 following the visit of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister of India, on 30 October 1964 to Anand. Emphasis in his narrative changed to the importance and need to create organisations owned and commanded by producers of agricultural commodities, managed by professionals, organisations that are sensitive to the needs and responsive to the aspirations of producer members.

I would later realise that these were ideas central to the conceptualisation, planning and implementation of Operation Flood which was launched in 1970. Mike assisted Dr Kurien to give a larger plan and shape to a programme to realise the vision Dr Kurien had enunciated.

Dr Kurien went on. “We are looking for young men and women with integrity, commitment and loyalty to the cause of the organisation that they work for. If they have some technical qualifications that are good, that is fine. Otherwise we will train them”.

He stopped and said, “Mike, told me that you are looking for a job?”

I said, “Yes sir”.

“What is your educational qualification?”

I told him that I had a Master of Science Degree in Mathematics.

“Well then send in an application” he said.

I asked, “Which post I should apply for”.

“Any suitable post!”

“Whom should my application be addressed to?”

“Write to the Chairman NDDB.”

“What is the address?”

“If you write V. Kurien, Anand, it would reach me. But you better address it to the Chairman, NDDB, Anand”.

I forgot that I was being interviewed for a job. I asked, “Sir, What is your age? He said “Forty five. Why?”

“Sir, you seem to have achieved so much in such a short period of time”.

I went out of the room and walked to the bus stand to get back home. The conversation I had just had left a deep impression on me. I did not know who Dr Kurien was apart from whatever he had just shared with me. I had heard only of Amul as manufacturers of butter who had taken away a large chunk of the market share of Polson’s—the other leading manufacturer of butter.

On my return journey I was day dreaming about having a regular job which was so difficult to get those days. I was born in a small village in a farming family. We had more than 35 acres of land. We had more than 25 animals, bullocks, cows, buffaloes, etc. We had plenty of farm workers. We had plenty to eat and also share with others. However, when it came to “cash” we were always short. I had seen abject poverty and deprivation prevalent in my part of the country before 1960s.

It was not difficult for me to understand and align with Dr Kurien’s thinking and the vision that he had to put the farmers at the centre of their empowerment and development effort.

The next day when my father arrived back from a tour, I shared with him my discussion with Dr Kurien. He was happy to know that I had met Dr Kurien whom he had met and knew. My father at that time was working for the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. I sent in an application. But there was no reply.

Mike met me again in December that year in Delhi and wanted me to join him at IIM Ahmedabad to work again as a contract worker on yet another research project. I was unable to do so due to health reasons.

Later in mid-March 1968, I was able to join Mike in Ahmedabad. He was Ford Foundation Advisor with IIMA working with the Agriculture and Cooperation Group. I worked with Mike and Prof V K Gupta on a case study project “Anand—Bombay Milk Scheme”. It took about a month to complete the research work and involved visits to Mumbai and Anand and gathering both secondary and primary data.

Finally on May 1st, 1968 I was offered and joined NDDB in a regular job.

Mike the Mentor

 Mike left Ford Foundation/IIMA and joined NDDB as FAO Advisor in 1968. He went on a vacation to England when I moved to Anand. I stayed at Mike’s home in Amul Dairy Campus close to Dr Kurien’s home for four months till I rented a living quarter in the vicinity of Amul Dairy. Mike returned to India in July or August that year.

Mike’s home was full of books. I loved books. But barring a few they all were all in English. I loved being given a bedroom full of books. Mike encouraged me to read. He would find time to teach me Economics and also to correct my written English. I could never measure up to his standards.

Mike liked my village background. I had lived and studied in my village and grew up in a joint farming family. This would be a topic of many a discussion post dinner. Mike loved his whisky. I was then a teetotaler. Nevertheless the discussions would go past midnight at times.

At Anand, Mike led a lonely life. He had very few friends. He supported his three helpers to set up a restaurant, “Three Musketeers”, outside the Amul Dairy Complex. These three individuals were closest to him. He helped them in any which way he could: financially, design of the physical facilities, arranging training in catering and hotel management for them and marketing. Once the restaurant became operational Mike would usually be found in the evenings at the restaurant puffing his cigarette at a corner table.

The antidote to Mike’s loneliness was work, work and work. A perfectionist he always used a pencil and eraser to write reports. Short letters he would type on his typewriter. But the bulk of typing work was done by his Secretary, J H Mehta.

Mike’s ability to edit drafts made by others was phenomenal. In February 1969, before the launch of Operation Flood-I programme, he encouraged me to attend the annual Indian Dairy Conference at Chandigarh. I had to undergo a surgical operation in Delhi. He knew about it and Delhi was en-route to Chandigarh. I had not even completed one year of service but as a special case Dr S C Ray, Secretary (CEO) of NDDB, obtained approval from the Executive Committee of NDDB and I was given leave for a month to be adjusted against the leave that I would be earning on completion of the first year of year of my service.

Dr Ray said “Shailendra, we can’t pay you for the medical expenses as we don’t have any scheme for reimbursing such expenses, but we can think of reimbursing your travel cost if you present a paper at the Indian Dairy Conference in Chandigarh”. I had just completed my assignment on sampling of household and analysis of data for the Baroda Milk Market Study. Mike suggested that I write a paper!

I was hesitant. A lot of effort went into it and finally I wrote a paper describing the sampling methodology and process that we had used for deciding the optimal sample size for a household survey to estimate demand for milk in an urban area. Despite three revisions, I could not produce something that met with Mike’s approval. I had to leave for Chandigarh on the appointed day and the paper was not ready. Mike took it upon himself to completely edit it and send it with Dr R P Aneja to Chandigarh. Dr Aneja helped me prepare to present the paper asking questions. I finally did present the paper.

Such acts of encouragement and support to a young employee by seniors was something which taught me a great lesson on how to deal with those who worked with me later in my more than three decades of service with NDDB.

Mike’s inquiring, inquisitive mind, his ability to understand elements that make complex social, technical and ecological systems, fluency in working with both data and mastery words must have enabled him to write for himself but also important speeches for Dr Kurien. However, above all was his ability to understand and expand on ideas that Dr Kurien had on any subject.

In 1974 when I became Executive Assistant to Dr Kurien, I would observe Dr Kurien and Mike meet, discuss, and Mike going out of the room with some bullet points scribbled on his notebook. He would then make a draft which would be discussed and at times changed by Dr Kurien and at other times it was approved by Dr Kurien without any change. Mike was the editor for all NDDB annual reports, project reports, position papers, etc during 1968-1983. Such was the understanding they both had that one mind thought and the other mind articulated the thought.

I was the first person to join NDDB in the newly created Management and Manpower Development (MMD) Group and the 14th employee of NDDB. The MMD Group reported to the Secretary (CEO) of NDDB with professional guidance coming from Mike. Dr R P Aneja, P V Mathew, Dr M P G Kurup, V G Tulpule and R K Nagar joined later. The Engineering Group was the first Group in NDDB prior to MMD. The Engineering Group earned revenues for NDDB. They were executing projects for setting up cattle feed plants for three Gujarat Milk Unions. They were supported by the Projects Division of Amul under V H Shah. MMD was a net spender.

We were charged with learning, researching, gathering data, analysing and planning for projects and programmes for dairy development in the country. We had in Dr Aneja one of the most outstanding dairy technologists. Dr Kurup was our resource for animal husbandry and related matters. Nagar was a young economist with a sharp eye for data interpretation and perspective building. Mathew came from the IIMA and was our man on problem solving on managerial issues but his heart was in marketing. Tulpule was a hands-on dairy technologist with vast experience. In all, it was a compact multidisciplinary group.

Dr Kurien conceived NDDB as an autonomous independent organisation which earned the funds needed to meet our revenue expenses so that it could be run without any support from Government.

This was made possible by the work done by the Engineering Group. Our engineers did projects and NDDB charged a fee on project conceptualisation, design and erection. In the initial phases, MMD was seen, at least among the younger not so senior staff, as a group which was just spending and not contributing to the kitty of money needed to run the organisation.

One of the first jobs that I did with Mathew, who was the second person to join MMD, was to do a supply study to estimate milk production in rural Vadodara and a demand study to estimate demand of milk in Vadodara city. These were learning expeditions for the young ones like us who were just recruited into NDDB.

Later these learnings became the foundations on which the entire effort to produce Blue Books for the first evaluation mission of Operation Flood-I, was launched under Mike’s supervision and guidance. For Operation Flood-I there were 18 identified milksheds across India and so a supply study was done for each. Four metros were included, so four demand studies.

Operation Flood-I was a project which was originally planned for a length of five years but was extended to ten years. This was a project conceived by Dr Kurien, shaped by his team comprising perhaps the best professional minds in the field of dairying at that time, H M Dalaya (Dairy Technology), V H Shah (Dairy Engineer), Dr R P Aneja (Dairy Technology & Economics) and Dr M P G Kurup (Animal Husbandry).

This was followed by Operation Flood-II launched in 1980. In 1978-79, NDDB came out with a project to restructure the edible oil sector and create Amul type producers’ cooperatives for oilseed growers. I was inducted into the Oilseeds Project in 1979 and headed this function till 1987. Mike was involved in conceptualising this project.

The first International Dairy Congress to be held in a developing country took place in New Delhi in 1974. It was again the genius of Dr Kurien and his team that did the conceptualisation, planning and implementation. Dr (Miss) Amrita Patel was the Secretary General of the Congress. And, behind the scene it was Mike’s able writing, editing and producing that worked wonders.

A number of new initiatives took place which resulted in the setting up of institutions and projects like the Institute of Rural Management (IRMA) to produce management graduates for the rural sector and the Tribhuvandas Foundation (a rural health project in conjunction with milk producers cooperatives).

Some others like the rural electrification project did not see the light of the day and got bogged down.

Separation and Meeting Again

 In 1983, Mike went away to Sri Lanka where he worked for the World Bank and we lost touch with him. He approached me when he was very sick and hospitalised. He was rescued, his pension from FAO restored and he was taken to his home in the UK. He visited Anand for a short stint in 1995.

We lost Mike again when he left Anand in 1995-96 to work in Kenya. We found that Mike was living in one of the most crowded slums of Nairobi. He was not in touch with his family. His sister wrote to me and, through a friend Thomas Thevarkad (First batch IRMA) who was a student of Mike’s; I located Mike in Nairobi from where he was taken to England where he passed away.

The End (2000) is most difficult and sad for me.