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Innovation Demands Freedom

Exposing Corruption at CSIR – The Report that Got Me Fired

By Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai

In 2009, while in India on a Fulbright fellowship, I was appointed as the first Outstanding Scientist Technologist of Indian Origin (STIO) at the Additional Secretary level of the Indian Government, the highest Scientist Level H posting possible, by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India with the directive to unleash innovation across the nearly 40 labs of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). In October of 2009, based on my observations, I released an honest and detailed report with the sincere aim to promote transparency and dialog to address the significant and fundamental issues that were barriers to Indian innovation.

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India to Inventing Email to Revolutionizing Health and Innovation

A Journey Across East and West, Science and Tradition, Ancient and Modern

By Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai

Our faces reflect our journeys across multiple worlds, starting at home to beyond and back to our self. The beauty of life perhaps lies in our common struggles to find patterns of connection across those worlds. While the particular scenes and characters of that journey may differ, the search for meaning to face our self with kindness, love and acceptance remains unchanged. The journey to share my experience with you is no different.

The worlds I experienced were ancient and modern, art and science, mind and body. Across these worlds, I sought connection between the magical holism of the East with the scientific rigor of the West. A journey across East and West, Science and Tradition, Ancient and Modern.

The Land of Chaos: Mumbai, India
A typical street in Bombay, India where Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai was born.

A typical street in Bombay, India where Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai was born.

My journey begins in India where I came to love chaos and diversity. I was born in Bombay (now Mumbai, India).

Many religions, classes, castes, cultures, races, colors and languages melded into a sensory bazaar. The view from our apartment offered a jolt to one’s senses. I saw skyscrapers and modern buildings made of glass, metal and steel that stood side-by-side huts made from twigs, grass, old tires, straw, mud and wires. Our neighbors were Jews, Christians, Hindus, Jains and Zoroastrians. Sadhus and yogis meditated along the road. Transvestites, transsexuals, gays, straight men, women, and children walked hand in hand. Being multi-lingual was the rule, not the exception. At home, we spoke Tamil; in school, English; on the streets, Hindi; with friends, Marathi.

The streets were extreme. People walked. Others pulled rickshaws. Bicycles and Mercedes rode side by side. Beggars crawled. Boeing 747s roared. The smells of roasting peanuts, scrumptious curries, diesel exhaust, roadside pooris, and cow dung were all in the air. The outdoor markets offered sugar cane juice, goat brains, 24-karat jewelry, jackfruits, radios, malas, incense, parrots, and fragrant spices. Women in colorful gold, blue and red saris strode by women decked out in the latest Italian fashion. Men wearing the traditional Nehru jackets, white dhotis, and hats conversed with businessmen in Armani suits.

From Mumbai to Muhavur

In the summers, the scenes changed. Bombay disappeared. A long two-day overnight journey, on an old Wild West like caboose train took me to Muhavur, in remote South India, in the state of Tamil Nadu. This was the land of my ancestors, ancient and serene. An emerald landscape of rice and cotton fields, mango and coconut groves, streams and mountains gently awoke and soothed the senses.

Farmer walking across a rice field in a village in Tamil Nadu.

Farmer walking across a rice field in a village in Tamil Nadu.

Clean air, fresh water, small dirt roads, a million stars, sunrises, sunsets, bright smiling faces, huts of hand-made red bricks, palm-leaf roofs, innocent cows, calves and adorable temples were the backdrop. Minimal electricity, no running water, and a few scattered phone booths brought one to a different reality. This was the village of my grandparents, hardworking farmers, who tilled the fields, awoke at 4AM and slept at dusk. They lived simply, devoted to land and God.

Their home was a small two-story building. Across it stood a smaller white hut, with a thatched roof where several cows, ducks and hens resided. From the middle of that hut, a Moringa tree grew, up and through the roof. Each morning, my grandmother before sunrise, would get up and draw beautiful kolams on the entrance to the home.

Woman drawing kolam in front of her house.

Woman drawing kolam in front of her house.

She used milled white rice flour that flowed through her hands, like sand passing through an hourglass, to make abstract geometric and symmetric designs, resembling mandalas. Sometimes I would wake up early just to watch her drawing the kolam, a process whichwas indescribable, and visions emanating from her mind ’s eye onto the red brown earth leading to the home. The designs were said to evoke the Gods and put the one who looked upon them into different states of consciousness.

As one came home, one could not avoid the kolam, a reminder one was entering a special place. Two solid teak doors were the entrance into a small 10-foot by 12-foot room, which were the living room, dining room and sleeping room. Ahead, one could see the kitchen, where something was always cooking. The fragrance of cumin, ginger, cardamom, red pepper, and freshly grated coconut filled the air.

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The First Email System

Yes, A “Darkie” Invented Email. Get Over It.

By Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai

A young Shiva with his parents and sister.

A young Shiva with his parents and sister.

I was born a dark-skinned, lower caste Indian, in Bombay, India.

My parents Meenakshi and Vellayappa Ayyadurai worked hard to get an education at a time when people of our background were treated as “untouchables” in Colonial India. They both realized very quickly that there was a low ceiling for advancement in India. So, in 1970, with $75.00 in his pocket, my father moved his young wife and two small children to the United States to pursue the American Dream.

At that time, America was in need of highly trained technical people. Since my parents were engineers and mathematicians, we were granted visas to enter America. We moved initially to Paterson, New Jersey. My father worked as a chemical engineer at Mennen in Morristown, and my mother as a systems analyst and mathematician at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark. They worked endless hours to build a life for my sister and me.

With each advancement they made in their careers, my parents moved the family to a new neighborhood with a better public school system. By the time I was 13, it had become clear to both my parents and teachers that I showed great intellectual promise, but was fast becoming bored within the curriculum set for my peers. I had finished Calculus by the 9th grade and so a strategy to keep me academically challenged was forged.

Gateway to the Invention of Email

By special permission, I was recruited to join, along with students several years ahead of me, a unique program in computer science at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in New York University (NYU). I finished head of the class so other academic challenges were needed to keep me engaged.

A young Shiva with his parents and sister.

A young Shiva with his parents and sister.

My mother, a feisty woman of 88 pounds, convinced Dr. Leslie Michelson, an experimental high-energy physicist who became the Director of the Laboratory Computer Network (LCN) at UMDNJ to provide me an opportunity to use my skills in math and science amongst adult professionals in the field. Dr. Michelson’s Lab was specializing in the use of computers for scientific and data processing. At UMDNJ, as in the rest of the world, only technical people, computer systems operators, scientists and engineers, at that time, had access to and used the computer.

Dr. Michelson asked me to translate the paper-based interoffice mail and memo system into an electronic communications format. The new system needed to be practical and easy to use. Everyone from secretaries to CEOs should be able to quickly and reliably manage and process the interoffice memorandum in a digital format. Users must be able to make a seamless, effortless transition from old-fashioned typewriters to computer terminals and keyboards. (Although systems for communications among widely dispersed computers did exist at that time, they were primitive and their usage was largely confined to computer scientists and specialists.

Shiva Ayyadurai’s colleague Robert Field reminiscing on the invention of email by Shiva.

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