Friday, 19 August, 2011

DESIGNING BY THE BOOK


DESIGNING BY THE BOOK


I shifted base from Bombay to Bangalore in the year 1986, after job stints in Dorr-Oliver and Voltas International Ltd., in their Environmental Division.  Dorr - Oliver taught me almost everything I know of the business.  In Voltas, I got the opportunity to visit a number of countries including Egypt, Oman, Saudi and Yemen on business trips. More about Yemen and its Capital Sanaa, its seaport Hodeidah, and interior tribal areas of Marib, Dhamar and Ibb in a later article.

Not wishing to take up a job again, and also to move out of Bombay for reasons of health of my children, I traveled South on a reconnoitering mission.  I wanted to be on my own, offering consultancy services in the field of environmental control, more specifically in Wastewater Treatment. 

I traveled to Chennai first, scouting for business prospects there.  Chennai is a city after my own heart, having done most of my schooling there, and later my Chemical Engineering from IIT Madras.  After meeting with family, friends, associates, school and college mates, I quickly realised that there was Zero Potential for Consultants in Chennai.  The Business and Industrial scene in Tamilnadu  was dominated by Chettiars and Tamil Brahmins.  The former were universally reputed to be penny pinchers : the latter were the proverbial knowalls, who had no use for experts and consultants.  Read on, and you will agree with me on my assessment of the arrogance of Tambrahms, and delusions of superiority of their grey matter.

Head ruled over the heart, and I chose Bangalore to set up business, starting from scratch.  

Shortly after, I got myself a scooter ( two wheeler) and I traveled extensively, knocking on doors,  hawking my services and talents to all and sundry.  On one such mission, I went to neighbouring Hosur, to a Two Wheeler manufacturer, owned by a Brahmin by way of inheritance, and run by Brahmins by deliberate selection.  There I met the Engineering Manager, who confessed, they really needed a Sewage Treatment Plant, as presently the entire muck was piped away to irrigate the forest land of their 300 Acre campus.  I quickly grabbed the opportunity and offered to design the STP for them at a throwaway price.  The man with the “Naamam” was taken aback, surprise writ large on his face.  “What “, he exclaimed “ We don’t need consultants  to design an STP : we can read the books on the subject and design a plant ourselves. If we do not understand the first time, a second reading should do the trick”.  These were his very words, I solemnly declare.  I quitted Hosur, thoroughly crestfallen.

About ten years later, this very Company sought our services for operation & maintenance of their treatment plant : One look at the plant told me it was “Designed by the Book”.

Evidently the good Iyengar had struck a better bargain in the second hand book shops and got himself a bunch of books rather than invest in a current edition.  The design was poor, engineering was even worse :  Pumps were used indiscriminately at all stages of the treatment plant and some of the equipments selected were of decades old design.  No amount of rework would salvage that plant.


Dr. Ananth S Kodavasal                                                                          June 21, 2011

Footote :

Confirmation on the vintage of the books procured by the good man came, when I spied an abandoned and rusted “Fitch Feedwell” , an important part in the Clarifier of an STP, in the adjoining scrap yard.  Dr. E.Bryant Fitch of Dorr-Oliver developed and patented this mechanism only in the year 1960.  The Second hand books, were evidently earlier editions.

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