Books | Ideas Abound

It’s all about jugaad, ‘made-in-India’ and inventiveness

Maj. Gen. Raj Mehta (retd)

TECHNOLOGY FROM BELOW HI-TECH AND BACKYARD INVENTORSA surprise visit from my friend, Dr M.L. Das, an MSc/ MTech IIT Chemical Engineering ‘double-gun’ and principal in a reputed engineering college on 6 March 2018 had I and my war museum researchers interact with this learned academic don and his friend, retired Professor Sushil Kumar. He taught international politics at the School of International Studies, JNU.

After the social bonhomie, I was presented with a 130-page practical-cum-philosophic autobiographical recall written by Professor Sushil Kumar’s amazingly gifted, serial, inventor-entrepreneur late father, Kailash Narayan (1906-1995) and edited by him, with the hope that the book could be reviewed in a respected journal. Dr Makhan Das has collaborated in some of the chemical engineering technology developments by introducing bubble technology to the sugar/ khandsari production improvements steered by Kailash Narayan and covered in detail covered in the book.

Browsing through it, as Sushil spoke about his amazingly ethical, jugaad-led father who had a dozen patents to his name made me realise that the book was really about an approach to skilling now termed ‘Make in India’ and needed to be shared with a wider audience because of its refreshing and honest, unvarnished if sometimes naïve and very candid approach to developing and promoting indigenous skilling for getting over restrictive and expensive MNC technology controls.

The book makes a cogent point in stating that while there is a need to catch up with advanced nations on issues of hi-tech processes and products, there is an equal if not more compelling need for developing tools and processes that promote ‘backyard skills’ to hi-tech. This would help in inventing cheaper and culturally suited substitutes to imported hi-tech products through focussed experimentation using customer-generated feedback.

This is the core value that late Kailash Narayan promoted during the early 1940’s when the cement factory he worked for and which was competing in the international market benefited from inventions and jugaad innovations he engineered by way of indigenous substitutions and well-thought-through innovative packaging that brought in profits while reducing production costs and improving quality. His innovations are in use till date and are the industry standard.

From cement to production of lead pencils was an easy switch for Kailash. Identifying a void, he set up a company for producing wood-cased lead pencils. Finding that the technology for production was a monopoly of foreign market leaders, he designed his own machinery for import substitution and was granted a patent for his innovation. He then created a market strategy for increasing his market share long before the world’s top B-schools started teaching such strategy. He surmised that in a competitive market, increase in market share was not just about pricing but equally about product diversification. A market scan across the world reveals how prophetic the work ethic of Kailash was, over 80 years ago.




Constantly imagining new products and processes; the need for introducing new products and bringing in cheaper but more effective indigenous technology, his scientific mind brought in a credible, alternative pathway to poverty alleviation — and it was successful. He brought in ‘customer-knowledge management’ as a business tool decades before the B-schools did, bringing in genuine, measurable empathy for the daily needs of the under privileged even as he kept in touch with emerging hi-tech developments and broke them down to create viable local alternatives. His obsession was focussed technological experimentation using hand crafted apparatus for creating alternatives and integrating his inventions with existing systems to bring down prices, increase demand and improve quality; a cycle that promoted efficiency, capability out-of-the-box, independent, bold thinking.

A look at his product range: Self-igniting beedi’s (1934); improvement of cement/ its ‘flap valve’ packaging/ loading in railway wagons (1938/1939); improved water flushing systems; mass production of lead pencils (1944); improved vacuum brakes in trains (1967); a ‘wonder’ tap to automatically stop water leakages (1972/1988/1989/1991) very much in use today; improved ‘Open Pan’ for sugar/khandsari production (1992/1995) are some of the products created/ improved by this self-taught inventor who was comfortable with saying ‘Eureka!’ till he passed away. The book has good production values even if there are some avoidable syntax glitches. Overall, the well-illustrated, quaintly assembled book is an eye opener which should be read by industry, academics and students.

TECHNOLOGY FROM BELOW HI-TECH AND BACKYARD INVENTORS: MY STORY OF THEIR PARTNERSHIP IN A GROWTH ECONOMY

By Kailash Narayan, edited by Sushil Kumar

Viva Books. First Published 2018, Rs 1,195.00