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Sriram Karri is the author of the bestselling, MAN Asian Literary Prize longlisted novel, Autobiography of a Mad Nation

When Customs asked Kohli to 'show' software

Published Nov 27, 2020, 11:30 pm IST
Updated Nov 28, 2020, 10:04 am IST
Faqir Chand Kohli, father of Indian software industry was a tiger, genius, creator and pioneer
Faqir Chand Kohli
 Faqir Chand Kohli

Hyderabad: In the cold January of 2005, Hyderabad was gearing up to hold a mega IEEE national conference, marked by several other events on the sidelines — talks, paper submissions, panel discussions, industry interactions and awards night. Most industry bodies were participating — Nasscom, Computer Society of India (CSI), Hyderabad Software Exporters Association (HYSEA), STPI, with the largest software company of India, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), being the principal sponsor.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) event had its global chairman amongst the guests, besides top CEOs of Indian software industry. President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was to link digitally to give the inaugural address.

 

TCS, which had just gone public a few quarters prior, had set the Indian tech industry abuzz with excitement with its campaign, “Software put India on the global map, but who put software on India’s map?” The answer was obviously TCS, but if the contribution and achievement had to be personified, it was its founding CEO Faqir Chand Kohli (popularly called F.C. Kohli, or even FCK lovingly by colleagues and juniors). 

As head of marketing and communications of TCS, Hyderabad region, it was my responsibility to ensure this conference was a success in terms of its marketing, branding and communications. It was a challenge but not as daunting as talk I wished to moderate with F.C. Kohli.

 

I was warned adequately against it by Rajesh Nambiar, then head of TCS region, my boss (now Chairman and Managing Director, Cognizant India). “Be warned, he is a ferocious tiger. Unpredictable, You may get reduced to a joke in public,” Rajesh told me.

I could handle any tiger, I thought, and went ahead.

Employees of the Tata Group pride the number one. Its former Chairman, J.R.D. Tata was India’s first pilot, whose license was number #1. TCS was India’s first software company. Its development centre in Hyderabad, deccanpark, had the address #1, Software Technology Parks, Madhapur. F.C. Kohli was the visionary #1 of TCS and India’s technology industry. And an alpha male.

 

As news spread, not just employees of TCS, but software professionals from other companies began assembling on the lawns of the outdoor amphitheatre by 9.30 am. The security folk were going crazy. 

The white tiger arrived. Thousands stood up. I tried to begin my anchoring act, announcing into the mike, “Ladies and gentlemen, the founder of TCS, father of the Indian software industry… may I welcome, and introduce… F.C. Kohli.”

Even before reaching the stage, the 82-year-old man, a ramrod straight personality, thundered. “No need to introduce me. I will do it myself. I know more about me than you.”

 

The interaction of over 90 minutes will stay etched in memory forever.

When someone asked him about stock options, he replied, “You (are) an idiot who wasted his parents’ money and did an MBA. You should have remained an engineer and designed great products.”

When a lady tried her luck through flattery, asking him to share the secrets of his success, he dismissed it, nonchalantly: “This is the first time in my life anyone has accused me of being successful.”

On November 26, 2020, the post-graduate from MIT, the man who joined Tata Power four years of India’s independence and was part of the first team in India to instal and manage our first computer system to run a power line between Mumbai-Pune, creator of TCS, one of the world first three to transform a power utility firm to computer-based operations, the man who retired as CEO of TCS at the age of 75 years, passed away. He was 96.

 

I did have a win in my talk. I asked him if he recalled anything unusual or funny about the starting days of the software industry in India. He recalled one.

In the sixties, he get an unusual call late one night from the customs office over a crate imported into India, worth some $2,500 odd.

When he rushed there, officials told him, “Sir, because of our respect for you, we called. We would have booked a case if it was anyone else. This document says you have imported hardware and software items. We can see the hardware… but where is the software?”

 

Bureaucrats could not see, but he saw, clearly, not some invisible-to-the-naked-eye software, but a future. If Steve Jobs created a near trillion dollar worth Apple, FCK created an even bigger Indian software industry.

Let me stop now, enough said. A word more and he might just scream from his grave… what a pathetic obituary you write… I deserve better.

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Location: India, Telangana, Hyderabad




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