Mike the Mentor

Michael Halse was a member of the founding board of National Dairy Development Board since 1965. He joined as FAO advisor to NDDB in 1968. Operation Flood I, was launched in 1970. He was then appointed as the Team Leader of FAO experts assigned to NDDB. He help conceptualised and helped set up the Management and Manpower Development Group in 1968 in NDDB.

Mike was earlier a Ford Foundation Advisor to the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He worked with Prof Ravi Mathai, Dr Kamla Chowdry and other founding team members of IIM Ahmedabad.

He went on a vacation to England when I moved to Anand in late April 1968. I stayed at Mike’s home in Amul Dairy Campus close to Dr Kurien’s home for four months till I rented a room in a house across the Amul Dairy campus. 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 not pay you for the medical expenses as we do not 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 with 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 , R K Nagar and others joined later during 1968 -1970 just in time for the launch of Operation Flood I.

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 multi-disciplinary group.

NDDB has been conceptualised by Dr V Kurien at the request of the then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shashtri as an autonomous independent organisation which earned the funds needed to meet its 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. NDDB engineers did projects and NDDB charged a fee on project conceptualisation, design, purchase of equipment and erection. In the initial phases, MMD was seen, at least among the youngest era 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 had just been 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

When I joined NDDB our office was in two story two bed room flat adjacent to Amul Dairy with a common boundary. In 1969 NDDB got the fourth floor of newly built multi-storey Amul Office building. The NDDB campus construction was started in late 68 or may be in 1969, I don’t remember. In 1970 NDDB office was shifted to the campus near Jagnath temple on Khetiwadi Road. Here are some old pictures that I took after office was moved to the campus. . Chairman’s office, Chummery ( now Guest House) , Directors Bungalows and the Old Hostel were first to be built.

Operation Flood-I was a project which was originally planned for a duration of five years but had to be extended to ten years. This was a project under the leadership and guidance of 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). And Michael Halse as Advisor !

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 as well.

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 provide education and training in the area of Rural Management 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 in red tape of Government approvals and lack of political will.

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 we located Mike in Nairobi. He was taken to England where he passed away.

The year 2000) was most difficult and sad for me.

That is the year I left NDDB and Anand too to begin a new third phase of my life!

From my village in Gorakhpur to Anand and then I moved to Gurgaon …

3 thoughts on “Mike the Mentor”

  1. Pingback: Meeting Dr. V. Kurien – Vrikshamandir

  2. Shailendra, what a beautiful piece and a wonderful tribute to someone who truly deserves it. The one cavil I have is your mentioning that Mike had no friends. In fact, virtually everyone who worked with him considered Mike a friend as well as a mentor, an inspiration, a model and many more things.
    When I was in Anand in August just by chance I passed by the Three Musketeers — still going strong, I hope.

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