Meeting Dr Kurien and Dr. Michael Halse

From my village to Anand

I met Dr. V. Kurien in November, 1967 for the first time, thanks to Prof VK Gupta and Dr. Michael Halse (Mike) who were both then working at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad ( IIMA).

I had known uncle Gupta as he and my father were friends and both had earlier worked at the Extension Education Institute at Nilokheri in erstwhile Punjab. After completing my Masters degree I was looking for a job. It was uncle Gupta who gave me my first job as an investigator and statistician in 1967 for a month on daily wages of a princely sum of Rs 15 per day! .

I had written about my meeting with Mike and Dr. V Kurien and that led to my getting employment with National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) for the 7th edition of Dairy India Yearbook, published by Sharad Gupta ( http://www.dairyindia.in). The text is reproduced below.

The Matchless Duo Who Nurtured Talent, Dr. V Kurien and Dr. Michael Halse
Dr Kurien demanded and Mike created the environment

In 1967, at the Ford Foundation Guest House in New Delhi I first met Dr Michael Halse. I was working on a consulting project for Prof V K Gupta of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) as a Research Assistant on a contract basis. Mike came into the room, looked at me, smiled and said “Hello”. He was the first foreigner, a white man, who just looked at me and said “Hello”. I stood up from my chair and said “Hello” in return.

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 (http://www.pfndai.com/history.htm). 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 first 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 first 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 find 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 31 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
My Guru

National Dairy Development Board
NDDB Anand; Now and then

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