FROM OUR ARCHIVES: …But for that One Small Move

If Prof Rajaraman could have found time to get away from writing books on
computer-program ming, fundamentals, design, he may have vied with Alan Truscott
in writing popular bridge books. The present head of the computer science
department at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, was a keen bridge player
in his younger days. Yet, the bridge world’s loss is the computer world’s
gain and specially so for students of computer science in India. Prof. Rajaraman’s
books on computer science are a legend now. Almost any engineering or science
student necessarily goes through a computer language course using his books
written at home in the evenings in the backdrop of soft classical music.


Interestingly enough, Prof. Rajaraman started his career as a hardware man,
on analog computers- way back in the mid-50s from MIT and then Wisconsin
University. In 1963, he joined IIT Kanpur as a faculty member and was there till
1982, except for a year at the University of California. In his earlier days at
IIT K he started a 10-day intensive course in computers. The genesis of his
first book was from his cyclo styled lecture notes at IITK. And yet his first
attempts at getting a book published did not receive a very enthusiastic
response from publishers. They felt that the demand would not be great. However,
the first edition itself was a sell-out. His trump card lay in presenting a
complex subject with simplicity and lucidity. This approach comes through very
strongly in Prof. Rajaraman’s way of looking at life. He still enjoys teaching
the undergraduates in the computer science courses. Despite being involved in a
number of planning activities he remains primarily an academician with no
interest in attaining position or power.

Consultancy is another area he has been quite active in. Using an
indigenously made computer, he implemented a system to reduce billet wastage at
Bhilai Steel Plant. He is also involved in consultancy for encouraging the usage
of computers in rural development, development of CAD facility, and a host of
other projects of a similar nature. He is guiding a project on research on data
architecture and data flow. As he himself says, he is forced to do a regular
time-sharing job with tight scheduling.

He is a little critical of the Indian computer manufacturers. He feels that
they have so far adopted a conservative attitude towards investment on research
activities, and relied more on foreign knowhow. He is, however, quite hopeful of
the Indian spirit of self reliance and proposes a joint research center that can
serve as a guiding star to the Indian companies. Lack of qualified manpower and
incompatible salaries tend to draw people away from the education environment
which is more conducive to research.

Today, there is a proliferation of computer science courses in colleges. But
way back in 1952, when Prof Rajaraman did his Physics Honors from Delhi
University, there wasn’t a single integrated computer science course. India
has come a long way and Prof. Rajaraman and his books have made the
understanding of computer concepts a reality for a vast majority of
undergraduates-to edge them and tip them over into this fascinating world of
computers. Today he is singled out as one of the experts and pioneer
academicians in Computer Sciences. And it is no coincidence that almost every
computer professional in India has been through his books in learning the ABC of
the subject.

This piece was first carried in Dataquest’s 25th issue in 1985

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